Textures: Backgrounds for Visual Journaling and Mixed Media Begins June 1, 2019

May 2, 2019


I love to paint journal sketches on top of my textured pages.

“Textures: Backgrounds for Visual Journaling and Mixed Media” registration is now open. Class begins on June 1.  There are 6 weeks of lessons in which students work through the process of creating backgrounds for their artwork. I share my favorite materials and approaches and provide detailed information on those materials so that you can branch out and incorporate them in ways that suit your artistic voice.

Click on the above link to read more about the class and to register.

You can see see a short video outlining the types of things we’ll be doing in class here.  

This class was developed from the one-day and weekend workshops I’ve been doing on textures for over 20 years. One of the great things about having a six-week time span to teach this topic is that students get to work with the concepts at home, fitting their work into their lives and their art practice, thus extending the exploration that’s possible. Students are free to watch over six hours of instructional video over and over, to refresh their memories and inspire their experiments. It’s a class that’s open to students of all artistic levels.

This class will also be offered in November 2019. Please select a class offering for a time when you will be home and able to devote time to the homework throughout the six weeks of class.

Why Do I Use Background Textures?

When I offered this class in 2018 I thought it would be helpful if I wrote about why I used textures in my journals and mixed media work. I think it is useful to revisit this information now so that you can understand more about my approaches.

My very first blog post on October 9, 2008 contained a Graphitint sketch of a peregrine falcon on a pre-painted background. It’s just something I do. (Note when this blog transferred to the new host a page on tearing paper became the first post, but it came later.)

I make use of my texture techniques on both the covers and interiors of my hand-bound books.

I think it is probably the “quirk” in my artwork that I get asked about the most. Even after 40 years Dick is still asking me about, wait, he doesn’t ask about it any more he just says, “I don’t understand it, but I know you enjoy it.”

But others are always asking why I pre-paint journal pages and the papers and canvases I use for my standalone paintings. I think it can be broken down in the following way.

  1. I love to play with color. I love experimenting with the way paints mix, the way various mediums make textures (sometimes three-dimensional textures). It’s fun. 
  2. Even in the busiest of days I can find time to get a little painting done, so it helps me keep my journaling momentum. If you take time to make some backgrounds, before the day is over you’re going to want to get back into your journal and do some sketching or painting.
  3. I often work in gouache which is an opaque paint, and that looks wonderful on toned backgrounds. I used to do 70 percent of my artwork in color pencils and they POP on color backgrounds with variety visual texturing.
  4. I love working out puzzles. When I turn a journal page and come to a pre-painted background I have to decide what I’m going to do with that background. This pushes me to think compositionally or decide if I’m going to ignore it (either compositionally or just so I can write notes!). 
  5. Even when simply sketching contours a toned and textured background can add depth to a page, shift a mood, or give a sense of dimension that the white of the paper might not do. Here’s a simple brush pen portrait on a toned background. The peachy color gives a sense of flesh tone to the page and the texture of the brush strokes helps the eye move about the page.
  6. When you start work from a toned background that is a midtone it’s easier to move up or down from that midtone for your other values—and it makes your sketching time faster.
  7. I love to do collage. Toned backgrounds are perfect for elevating and enriching a simple collage. Backgrounds are also a fun way to incorporate sketches done on loose sheets into your journal, and use less usual ink colors as you’ll see here.
  8. I am a book artist and I find using my techniques for making decorative paper for my projects creates another level of uniqueness in that work. It makes me happy to crack open a visual journal filled with Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper so I can sketch. I love that I made that book to the exact size and specifications I wanted as a working artist. It’s even more special to me that the decorative paper I’ve used on the cover was made by me. To pick up a book you make with your own decorative papers is like getting a great, warm hug. It helps create a great mood to sketch and create in.
  9. Creating textures sets up a way of looking at my journal and my art practice without scarcity. I can make a mess, use paper up. I can even create the best texture ever and use if for a horrible sketch—and nothing happens except that I get to make more textures and more sketches. It is a very freeing way to live. Full of breath! Here’s a page spread on which I painted over a texture and embraced the mess.
  10. But it all comes down to play—not just playing with color, but playing with the page, jostling things up. When we jostle things up we put ourselves in position to make wonderful discoveries.

Are Background Textures For Everyone?

No. For some people the blank white paper of the page will always be welcoming them to make their crisp or colorful work. Whatever textures they want, they want to build them from the ground up to go with the idea they are bringing to the sketchbook or painting. They don’t worry about creating problems for themselves to solve. For them simply sitting down (or standing) to sketch is enough.

Still others don’t like the visual chaos textures can create.

I find that textures can add visual interest, visual puzzles, and unify entire projects when used throughout. (Minnesota State Fair Journal 2005.)

But this leads to the second question I get asked a lot after, “Why do you use background textures?” That question is: “Why should I use background textures?”

I can’t answer that question for anyone else. I can only give you a list of reasons why I love to make background textures.

What I can suggest is that you stop and ask yourself why you’re asking such questions. Something is pulling you. So maybe you need to ask, “Why do I feel I need a background?” You might enjoy reading this short post about shifting your energy with background textures.

So while I can’t answer whether background textures are for you, or answer why you might be drawn to them, or why you feel you should use them, I can say that if you are interested in working with background textures you can explore that interest in my Textures: Backgrounds for Visual Journaling and Mixed Media online class, which begins on June 1, 2019.

    • Eleanor
    • May 3, 2019

    I love this class and highly recommend it! Learned so much, explored a new world and had a ton of fun and challenges! I continue to use and enjoy what I have learned in my work.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for the endorsement Eleanor. It was great to work with you in this class and I love that you are still making stunning pages using textures.

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