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No Art Inspiration? Make Backgrounds

13 fun, intuitive, relaxing activities to make backgrounds and collage material 

collage of textured backgrounds

You want to do art but, you're not inspired OR you just don't know where to start. Especially when you don't think that you are creative.

Making backgrounds is the ideal way to really loosen up and have some fun. It will help you bring out your inner child, the one that never got to do all those fun, loose, process based art activities.

As a workshop leader for early childhood programs, I teach about the importance of allowing children to do "process only art". That translates into art where the process is more important than the product. (You can check out my site EduArt 4 Kids to find out more about this type of kids art)

Most of us grew up without process art as we copied our teachers perfect creations. This inhibited us to an extent that many of us feel like we are not creative at all. In the adult world process art is usually referred to as working intuitively, allowing yourself to just create without really thinking.

Seth Apter, a well know mixed media artist says it well...

"Making a mixed media surface..... often ends up better when the artist creates without conscious effort. I call this getting into the creative zone. You know, the one where time passes and you forget the rest of the world.

When we overthink as artists, we hand our inner critic a megaphone and end up with negative thoughts: "This isn't coming out the way I want it to. I cannot paint as well as ... (insert the name of every other artist ever seen ). If I go any further I will ruin it." It's hard to imagine feeling the creative burn with these types of thoughts running through our heads. The solution is to create random with abandon.....Focus less on how the artwork will come out and more on enjoying the process......rather than having a preconceived notion as to how the final piece should look. In other words, let go and create without thinking."

Making backgrounds is the perfect way to do so. If you are still hesitating then there may be a few reasons.

  • Are you waiting for exact directions?
  • Do you only like when things come out looking perfect?
  • Do you  feel like  there is no goal to this random creativity?

If so...then know...

  • You can get exact directions on how to do the actual technique,  just not how it will come out
  • You can get used to having pretty abstract art
  • You can have goals for creating these backgrounds..The first one is to loosen up and relax and second is that you can actually use these pieces of artwork as backgrounds for collages, stamping or stenciling projects or cut up the papers to put in collage work.

Here are 13 ideas you can use alone or combine to create your own backgrounds and collage material.

Paint with your credit card (an old one)

using old credit card to paint

Never throw out your old credit cards again. Use them to paint with. Take one, two or three colors of paint and place on your background. Use your credit to move the paint around covering the whole background until you are satisfied with how it looks. You can also use the sides of the card to create lines.

Pulled prints

There are two types of pulled prints shown here. The first one is done with a piece of Plexiglas (You can get these at a Loews or Home Depot) Drop paint  on the Plexiglas in a random manner and then spritz water over the paint. Lay your paper or card stock over the Plexiglas, rub the paper a  bit on top of the paint and pull the paper off. You should probably experiment with how much paint to use as I think I used to much this time. I was able to pull many prints with it and I still had too much left. I used acrylics for this.

spritzing dimensional paint onto plexiglass
spritzing dimensioanl paint onto plexiglass
mushing paint on plexigalss to pull print

For this pulled print activity I used card stock and metallic watercolors from a bottle. I dribbled gold, copper and silver on one page then took another piece of card stock, laid it down, rubbed and pulled.

dribbled gold and silver paint

Watercolor pencil wash

Watercolor pencils can be used as plain colored pencils or by adding water to them they have the beautiful watercolor look. I scribbled a whole bunch of gibberish across a whole page with watercolor pencils (I think I wrote the lyrics to a song) and then wet my brush and brushed over the  page with water.The more water you use the more washed out the pencil lines get.

lettering with watercolor pencils

Stencil with abstract materials

I have a whole post dedicated to stencil art  but, these activities use any kind of materials with holes in them to spray through to create patterns all over the page. As you change materials you can change spray colors.

stenciling with old piece from dishwasher

Stencil with real materials

This is the same idea but, uses real objects. The one on the right was a few large doilies that I kept moving as I changed spray colors. Someone who saw my posting on Instagram with the image of the scissors, ran out and used some ferns to get the same effect.

spray over scissor, glasses and paintbrush
spray over scissors
spraying over doilies

Bubble wrap printing

There is large bubble wrap and small as you can see here. To print with the bubble wrap you paint pieces of bubble wrap with a brush as opposed to pressing the wrap into the paint. This way you can control how much paint to put on the bubble wrap. You can do many colors and you can use both large and small bubble wrap on the same page. 

blue dot bubble wrap painting
blue and pink bubble wrap painting

Stenciling and over stenciling

This third stenciling background just shows how you can create backgrounds with just one stencil repeated over and over and a series of background stencils in a lighter color with other smaller stencils laid over with darker colors.

stencils over stencils

Newspapers and old book pages

painting over old book pages
painting and stenciling over old book pages

Using newspaper, old book pages, maps, yellow pages and the like are very popular in mixed media circles. The images on top have pieces of newspaper pasted down and then a sky and a ground painted on top covering it with the newspaper peeking through. 

In the image below I used old book pages for the wall background and some yellow pages to depict a table and then collaged on top of it. You can stamp, stencil, letter or doodle on top of these backgrounds.

old book pages covering journal page
collaged vase and flowers over old book page journal page


large and small musical stamps over background
gold stamped butterflies over green background

I have a full post on stamping in mixed media but, here are 2 activities showing you how to use stamping for background. For the one on the left I used a large musical notes stamp. I stamped over the whole page and then decided to do the hills are alive theme. The one on the right is painted over with green and then stamped with gold using a few different butterfly stamps.

Dyed paper towels

watercolors and acrylic paints in bowls
paints and eyedroppers
dyeing paper towels with watercolor and watered down acrylic paints

In the bowls are a mixture of a few different paints, watercolors and acrylics all watered down greatly. I then took pieces of paper towels, scrunched them up, dipped part of them in different bowls, opened them up flat out and finished what was not painted on with droppers. I loved using the metallic watercolors with droppers that added quite a sparkle to the pieces.

Watercolor droppers

Here I greatly watered down watercolors and used only the droppers to drip all over the paper to create a pattern.

Sgraffito painting

scratching through paint with scrafitto effect

Scrafitto is a technique used in watercolor and acrylic paint to scratch with an instrument to see the color underneath. I first painted the red, let it dry and then painted yellow. While the yellow was still wet, I pulled different object through it to create patterns allowing the red underneath to show through. 

Freezer paper or cling wrap

laying wax paper on top of wet paint
scrunching up wax paper over wet painted background
wax paper removed from painted background

The results of this are not immediate as you need it to dry before you can see the effects. You can use watercolors or acrylics for this but, you need to make sure the paint is nice and juicy. Paint all over the paper with the colors filling up the page and then quickly take either a piece of freezer paper or cling wrap, lay it down on the paper and scrunch it up. You need to let this thoroughly dry and then lift up to see wonderful patterns that the wrap creates.

So now that you've created all these wonderful backgrounds....

What do you DO now with all these papers

  • Use them as backgrounds for collage
  • Cut them up and use them IN collages
  • Use decorative punches to punch out shapes from them to collage with too
  • Use as wrapping paper for gifts
  • Cut 2 of them up into strips and weave by using one group for warp and one for weft
  • Add a meaningful quote of top of work
  • Add doodling on top of page
  • Use for book covers
  • Use as a frame for drawings by pasting B&W line drawings on top of background
  • Use them as pieces of artwork in themselves

So there it you have no excuses. You can go have fun and relax by making these really cool backgrounds one question for you...Are these activities too unstructured for you? 

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