Creative Journaling Toolkit – Basic Journaling Techniques: Creating backgrounds

Simple Painting Techniques

Acrylic backgrounds

My favourite technique for applying paint to my journal pages is incredibly simple. All you need is some acrylic paint and an expired credit card or gift card. You don’t need gesso for this technique. It doesn’t matter if your journal paper is very thin, because the scraping method we are going to us means it is quite a dry technique. In fact, it can make the page a little stronger. I use this in my Moleskine journal which has really thin paper and never have a problem.

There are a couple of reasons I like to use paint on my journal pages like this:

  • It is easy – you don’t need fancy tools, brushes, techniques etc
  • I love colour and this is a fun way to add it to the page
  • I love the way the paint is unpredictable when applied in this way – it creates a messy, textured look that is never perfect and is quite interesting
  • It adds another layer to thin paper which is good for using ink stamps over (otherwise they often show through the page)
  • The paint is dry almost immediately so I can get to writing – no need to wait for it to dry

Watercolour background

Watercolour is a really fun paint to use and there are a lot of amazing techniques and skills you can learn. I don’t really have the patience!

I just like to play with colours and shapes until I get a background I like. Here’s an example:

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Since I’m doing this in Moleskine which has really thin paper, I’m doing a layer of white gesso first.
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Just add shapes and colours however you like. Play and have fun!
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A finished background spread, ready for writing and other details.

Gouache background

I approach how I use gouache in much the same way – just play with colours and shapes until I find something I like. Sometimes I do this in an altered book for a bit more texture and interest in the background. You can see the colours are quite a bit more vivid than the watercolours:

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This is the page before I start. I like the image in there so I think I’ll keep it as part of my spread, as well as some of the text.
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This is the spread with gesso – and the image and text ‘I have the heart’ still exposed.
The finished background after playing with colours and shapes. See how the shape through the middle looks kind of like a tree trunk with roots underneath? That wasn’t planned but it has inspired me for the rest of the spread. This is one of the cool things about working intuitively. Also, the exposed text in the triangles on the left wasn’t planned – I didn’t like the colour so I wiped it off and it took off some of the gesso, exposing the text underneath. I love how grungey this looks!

Other Easy Background Techniques

Watercolour crayons

Using Gelatos or Neocolors you can create a really simple colourful background to write over. Simply scribble on the page and use a wet wipe to smear the colours. You don’t need to gesso the page first, because this isn’t a very wet technique. Here’s an example:

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This page uses a combination of Gelatos and Neocolors – I’ve just scribbled them on in a way I like.
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Using your wet wipe, start smearing the crayons over the paper until they are dissolved. You might want to use a different wipe for different colours, so they don’t mess each other up. I used one for the blues, one for the purples and one for the red/yellows.
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The page after smearing all the crayons. If you put enough pigment on you can get quite a lot of colour out of them!
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You’ll probably find there is a lot of pigment on the wipes. Don’t waste this – turn to a fresh page and play with the wipes until there’s nothing left in them!
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I did this background using only the leftover colour on the wipes. It’s more of a washed out look, but it’s still something I can use later.

Soft pastels

This is a very simple technique and is totally dry. All you need are the pastels, your fingers and a tissue.

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Start by scribbling the pastels in any way you like onto the page. Just draw straight onto the paper.
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Use your fingertips to smear and smudge the pastels around the paper. They are quite chalky so they should just smudge easily.
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You’ll get the pigment all over your fingers, so watch your clothes!
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Once you’ve smudged it all with your fingers, use a tissue to brush off the excess pigment dust, and keep dusting with the tissue until it comes up almost clean. This way you won’t get more pigment all over yourself when you go to write. The finished spread is quite subtle, but it’s a lovely simple way to add some colour to a background – so quick and easy, and great to get your fingers dirty!

Have a go experimenting with some of the background techniques above and see which ones you love! I’d love to see your pages or hear your thoughts.