Studio Saturday: How to Transform an Art Journal Page

I think I should create a book just for my regrettable art journal pages. You know the ones—you start out with such good intentions, and then it goes horribly, miserably, wrong. If you’re wondering how to transform an art journal page you don’t like, I have a solution that is enjoyable, rewarding, and really works.

The techniques come from artist Mandy Russell, whose Jumpstart feature in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, “Art Journal Reboot,” is all about giving less-than-great art journal pages a second chance. Mandy writes of her disliked journal pages, “There was no connection to the real me. They were just plain awful. Before I ditched the journal, I decided to take another look, and I thought of a way to save it and start fresh.”

How to transform an art journal page
The transformed art journal page. Wait till you see how it started out!

Thank goodness she did! I love Mandy’s techniques and decided to try them on one of my art journal pages that was especially hideous. Now, I’m all for keeping old work, because I think that’s an important part of the artistic process. But let’s face it—not everything is a winner. Including what I’m about to show you.

This is the first journal page I did in my new Ranger Dina Wakley Media Journal. I was so excited when I got the book, and I couldn’t wait to start working in it. Unfortunately, this is what happened. As you can see, I had already started to rip it apart because I hated it that much. The page is overdone to the point of torture, and I think it wanted to be put out of its misery. Just…yikes.

How to transform an art journal page? Start with something you want to redo.
It just hurts to look at it.

When I read Mandy’s article on how to transform an art journal page, I knew this was the page I wanted to revive. To begin, I attached more stuff. I know that seems counterintuitive, but that’s part of the genius of this process. I grabbed a bunch of fabric, lace, ribbon, and paper scraps, and positioned them randomly on the page. Although you can plan this out if you have a layout in mind, I wanted to experience the serendipity of the haphazardness. The pieces were tacked down with glue stick, and then it was on to the sewing machine.

I’ve sewn on paper before, but I have to admit, I’ve never sewn a book page while it’s still attached to the book. I trusted Mandy’s process, and I wasn’t disappointed. I simply removed the extension table on the machine, placed the page under the sewing foot, and voila! I was off and running.

Sewing on an art journal page
Sewing on a journal page still attached to the book isn’t difficult at all!

You can definitely do this part by hand if you don’t have a machine, or you can simply glue the pieces down. I like that the stitching adds another bit of texture and interest, and the stitching on the reverse gives me a great starting point for that page. If my free-motion capabilities on my machine were better, I probably would have done that. But I’m totally okay with a straight stitch. Here are the results:

Sewing fabric and ephemera to an art journal page
To transform the page, you must add before you subtract.

For the next step, you’ll take this page back to a blank slate by covering it with white gesso. You can control this part, too—make it white-white, or pull back and let some of the prints, patterns, and colors show through. This is one of the key elements for how to transform an art journal page. I chose a mixture of both.

Covering a textured art journal page with gesso
When learning how to transform an art journal page, the gesso stage allows you to decide how much of the background you want to show.

I also inscribed into the wet gesso with an awl. Knowing I would apply paint to the page, I thought this might make for some nice added texture.

Mark-making with an awl on an art journal page
Inscribing into the wet gesso with an awl produces some great marks.

The gessoed page became something of a Rorschach test. I stared at it until something appeared. That something was the trunk of a tree, sitting smack in the middle of the page. Remembering how previous iteration was all over the map, I thought a tree would be a nice, solid image I could focus on.

For the first stage of painting I added burnt umber acrylic paint to the trunk, painted in some branches, and mixed up shades of green paint in different values for the leaves. I also sketched in a background so the tree wouldn’t be floating in space. For an extra collage element I painted some book pages with acrylic paint and used them to cut some rough leaf shapes, then glued the leaves to the tree. The nice thing about the gesso is that if you want to remove paint, that’s easily done with a baby wipe.

When decided how to transform an art journal page, think about what the layers and textures look like
A tree was painted with acrylic paint, then collaged leaves were added.

For stage 2, I filled in the background and added some shadows. Although the paint pretty much covers the page, I like that you can still make out the textures and patterns underneath.

Painting and collaging an art journal page
More background was added, and more leaves.

Here’s a detail of the inscribing I did with the awl; it’s more noticeable now that dark paint has settled into the grooves:

Inscribing on an art journal page
The inscribing resulted in some cool marks on the page.

And here’s a detail of the collaged leaves, with the lace peeking through:

Adding collage to transform an art journal page
The collaged leaves add visual texture and interest.

I added a collaged flower to the composition, and a little bit of journaling. Highlights and more shadows were added with Stabilo Woody crayons. Done. Or…was it? I had a feeling this page needed one more element, but I wasn’t sure what that was. Should I risk stepping over the line, as I did before? Or should I throw creative caution to the wind and follow my heart?

Yeah, I went for it. I added just one more tiny, itty-bitty layer by stenciling a few pale motifs on top.

Stenciling motifs on an art journal page
A few light stencil motifs were the finishing touches on this now-transformed art journal page.

Finally, really, done. This page has been successfully resuscitated, and the one underneath is just a dim, bad memory.

Transformed art journal page
Mandy Russell’s instructions on how to transform an art journal page made me a believer!

Be sure to read Mandy’s article and get the full instructions for how to transform an art journal page, lots more tips and tricks, and see her gorgeous artwork. Even if you love each and every one of your art journal pages, you can still use these techniques on new pages…I won’t tell!

We have so many great resources for art journaling and for creating cool textures in your artwork, so I hope you check them out. Remember—you have the option of adding these to your digital library with just a click, so you can start creating today!

July/August 2017 Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Learn how to transform an art journal page in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine!
Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures, with Chris Cozen
Discover how to use stamps, stencils, and mixed media to add texture to your artwork in the video Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures with Chris Cozen.
Art Journal Freedom by Dina Wakley
Create art journal pages you’ll love using great techniques for composition, color, and more in the book Art Journal Freedom by Dina Wakley.
Fun with Watercolor: Texture Effects video with Gina Lee Kim
Get 20-plus techniques for painting with watercolor and adding texture in traditional and non-traditional ways in the video Fun with Watercolor: Texture Effects with Gina Lee Kim.

The ‘Art’ of Storytelling with Cathy Nichols

Artists tell stories—it’s what we do. But sometimes we need fresh inspiration and a new way of looking at things to keep our stories dynamic and compelling. So I’m excited to tell you about a brand new kit called Storytelling Art Collection that’s all about helping you reveal your unique stories through your artwork while adding some really fun techniques to your mixed-media repertoire.

The collection features the work of Cathy Nichols, a mixed-media and encaustic artist whose work is whimsical, dimensional, colorful, and—yes—it tells a story. The bundle includes her new book, Storytelling Art Studio: Visual Expressions of Character, Mood and Theme Using Mixed Media, plus four new videos: Collage & Painting Techniques for Storytelling Art, Encaustic Collage Techniques: Storytelling Art, Encaustic Painting Techniques: Mark Making and Color, and Acrylic Mark Making for Encaustic Effects. Best of all, you have a choice of a physical kit, with a book and DVDs, or an all-digital collection.

Let’s start with the book. I think what I love about it most is Cathy’s approach to creating art. No matter what your style or technique, you have a story to tell, and you need to tell it in your own way. Cathy helps you get there by showing you innovative techniques, new mediums, and by giving you great inspiration and ideas.

storytelling art
In Storytelling Art Studio, discover new ways to tell your story through your artwork, learning new techniques along the way.

In the introduction she writes, “Remember that storytelling is a process. If, at first, you can’t draw a person or a tree, please don’t be discouraged. You’ve simply uncovered a skill you can develop. Keep practicing and concentrate on your strengths. Make mistakes. Make things up.”

Among the ideas you’ll discover is how to use trees as characters in stories. That’s right—trees. This speaks to me, since I have trouble drawing figures. Cathy takes you through every step of creating a background, drawing a tree and imbuing it with personality, incorporating collage, and adding great details like mark making. All of these things are designed to make your piece come alive.

storytelling art
Learn how to give a tree personality in the chapter The Secret Life of Trees.

The chapter Mark Making for Mood is one of my favorites; I love adding expressive touches to my artwork, and Cathy shows how to use mark making and paint glazes to take your work from okay to amazing, and it’s all incredibly easy and enjoyable to do. This book has so much to offer: tips for choosing color palettes, inspirational warm-up exercises—you won’t want to put it down, except when you have to grab a paintbrush.

storytelling art
Add moody touches to your artwork with Cathy’s easy painting and mark-making methods.

Onto the videos—and remember, there are four. I’ve seen all of them, and I honestly can’t choose a favorite because I learned so much in every. Single. One. Also, they’re paced perfectly. You’ll be able to absorb everything without feeling like you’re racing to catch up.

In Collage & Painting Techniques you’ll work on two pieces at once, which allows you to organically work in a series. You’ll get insights into Cathy’s painting and collage processes, which are thoughtful and intuitive at the same time. She brings calm to what is sometimes chaos (at least it is for me at times) when trying to build a cohesive collage.

storytelling art
Learn how to work in a series, creating two pieces at once using similar techniques.

In Acrylic Mark Making for Encaustic Effects you’ll create a stunning piece on a wood substrate, incorporating easy mark-making methods that yield amazing results. More painting techniques are also included, such as using color to enhance the mood of your piece, and Cathy shows a great way to get the look of encaustic using special techniques.

storytelling art
Get great ideas for mixing and using color in Acrylic Mark Making for Encaustic Effects.

Encaustic art is intriguing, and it’s easy to see why; it’s difficult to get that soft, dreamy look any other way. While the technique may seem intimidating, Cathy makes it so easy, explaining the components of a basic encaustic set-up, and how to use encaustic medium and paint. Both Encaustic Painting Techniques and Encaustic Collage Techniques show you, start to finish, how to create with wax, incorporating everything you love, like collage, color, and drama. Following Cathy’s instructions as she builds her pieces is a breeze. Throughout, she always comes back to using art to tell a story—your story—with your distinctive voice.

storytelling art
Painting with wax is easy and produces incredible results—get the techniques in Encaustic Painting Techniques.

The nice thing about this collection is that you don’t have to decide which combination of book and videos to get—you get them all! Whether you choose the physical or digital bundle you’ll find, as I did, that a new door has opened—and amazing things are waiting for you.

storytelling art
Storytelling Art Collection: Create Meaningful Artwork with Cathy Nichols

Taking Art Outdoors

Taking art outdoors requires some guts and a little planning, but few things are more exciting and rewarding. Whether you’re art journaling in an outdoor café, painting en plein air, hosting a hand-lettering demo, or just doodling in a notebook in the park, being outside or with other people adds elements of inspiration and surprise to creating art.

The July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is our travel and adventure issue, and it’s filled with great projects for making art on the road—or in your own backyard. Get tips for sketching in cafés, learn how to prepare travel journal pages, and create mixed-media paintings from maps. If you’re a little reticent to go public, you’re not alone. As I write in the editor’s letter, the first time I sketched in a café I was a wreck. A sweaty, paranoid wreck. I thought I’d be judged harshly by passers-by, leaving me with shaken confidence. Turns out hardly anyone noticed, and those who did only had complimentary things to say. I now take my art journal with me wherever I go, creating art in coffee shops, at the beach, in museums—and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Taking Art Outdoors
Anxious about creating art outdoors? Follow expert techniques and advice from Jane Davenport in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine and you’ll feel like a pro! (Art and photo by Jane Davenport.)

We asked a few mixed-media artists to tell us their tales of taking art outdoors, and we got incredible responses—funny, poignant, and inspiring. Read on:

Rae Missigman (
I like to take an art bag with me wherever I go so I can create no matter where I am. You never know when inspiration will strike! Being out of my element is often the springboard I need for new and interesting art material. One day I was working in my tiny Pocket Journal™ while at the beach. I was trying to sketch and paint and journal, all within the confines of my lap, to avoid getting sand in my book. I was struggling a bit, trying to balance my palette, when a woman near me leaned over and said, “I commend you for what you are doing right now, for doing anything it takes to make a little piece of art. I gave it up years ago, and would never have had the courage or patience to do what you are doing right now.” It caught me off guard because I was so busy doing what I am passionate about. In that one moment I realized how much the creative process means to me.

Taking Art Outdoors
Discover how to create gorgeous travel journal pages with watercolor and mixed-media with Gina Lee Kim in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. (Art by Gina Lee Kim, photo by Sharon White Photography.

Jodi Ohl (
To be honest, creating art in public is something I rarely do. I have a bit of a fear of being judged or scrutinized by people. However, when I make a commitment to paint or create in public I really enjoy it, and the anxiety goes away once I’m in the moment. A couple of years ago I was asked to create a painting during a First Friday art event downtown in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Music, food trucks, tons of people, sidewalk sales, kids’ games, and more were going on while I worked on the biggest painting in my life in front of a crowd. I was stressed beyond belief because of the number of people there. What if what I created was junk? What if I choked? Those fears could have paralyzed me if I had let them. Kids came up wanting to help, so I let them add brush strokes or their names to the piece. Adults wandered in and out of my booth, most with kind and encouraging comments, or they took pictures. One man stopped by and asked me what was I creating—other than a mess. Ha! If that had happened at the beginning of the event I probably would have cried. But, after a couple hours in, and seeing that my painting was starting to come alive, I dismissed what he said and told him that I was creating my life. After the event I took the painting home, finished it, and brought it back to the shop to be put up for sale. I ended up selling the largest artwork I have ever created for the most money for an individual piece. One person’s mess is another patron’s treasure.

Gina Rossi Armfield (
I walk the walk as an artist, author, and educator, so when it comes to No Excuses Art, I truly mean no excuses. The great thing about watercolor is that you can do it anywhere—and I mean anywhere! I have worked in my journal in restaurants, planes, boats, airports, at the beach, in the car, and even at the base of a mountain watching my boys ski. A favorite pastime when I travel is finding a quiet spot in a coffee house or bookstore, and spending a few hours working on watercolor sketches in my journal. I usually do this alone—or sometimes even better, with my sister. It’s so rewarding to have strangers come up to me and ask about my work. They often share their own experiences with creativity, telling me how they used to draw as a child or teenager, but gave it up. I always find this such a wonderful opportunity to encourage them to keep going. My mantra is, you don’t have to be an artist in order to draw or paint—you simply need to enjoy it! I can’t dance and sing like Lady Gaga, but that doesn’t mean I don’t sing along in the car or shake my groove thing on the dance floor. I am an introvert in many ways and can find my happy place working in my sketchbook, drowning out the world. But I’ve found that creating in public allows me the wonderful opportunity to share my passion for art and connect with the most amazing people.

Taking Art Outdoors
More hotels are featuring artists-in-residence; some, like Margaret Berry, pictured here, create in open-to-the-public studios. Read more about Margaret in the July/August issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. (Photo by Casey Wurst, courtesy of the Cornhusker Hotel.)

Chris Cozen (
For years I have done live demos for groups where I have painted in public. But the most fun I have ever had painting in public was last year when I organized a painting booth at the Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland, Ohio. We prepped large canvases with black and white gesso, put them on easels of various heights, and invited people to come paint with us. It was pretty great watching parents, toddlers, teens, and seniors stopping by to put their marks on these big pieces. This painting event was planned as a marketing tool for my niece to introduce her new Montessori school to the public, and it worked like a charm. The booth was never empty, and we filled up six 3′ x 5′ foot canvases. My niece used a couple of the painted canvases as backdrops for class photos. Showing that you are comfortable painting in public really invites people to come over and visit.

Taking Art Outdoors
Use a map as inspiration for your next mixed-media painting; Annie O’Brien Gonzales shares her techniques in the July/August issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. (Art by Annie O’Brien Gonzales, photo by Sharon White Photography.)

Mandy Russell (
The funniest (or maybe not so funny) thing that happened to me while taking art outdoors occurred several years ago on a warm, sunny day in Bath, Maine. I was sitting in a small historic downtown area, perched in my portable camp chair on a sidewalk with my sketchbook, and positioned (unbeknownst to me) very close to a storm drain. The street was hilly and crooked with granite sidewalks and cobblestones. I packed light that day with my art supplies, trying to simplify my routine. I had a cheap black ballpoint pen and several Caran d’Ache Neocolor II crayons—the glorious water-soluble artist’s crayons that are expensive, but worth every penny. You can see where I’m going here…I had been drawing the street scene for a bit, and I felt the need to reposition myself. I got up, forgetting that I had put the crayons in my lap. The crayons leapt out of my lap, hit the street, and a couple of them rolled down the storm drain. The moral of the story? Have a better organizational plan. Pack light, but don’t depend on your lap for storage!

Taking Art Outdoors
Pack your art supplies like a pro, following tips from Jacqueline Newbold in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. (Art and photo by Jacqueline Newbold.)

Before you head out to take your art on the road, get more techniques for creating art and travel journal pages!

Taking Art Outdoors
Learn how to create a visual diary of your travels by combining painting, journaling, and ephemera in unique ways with Jacqueline Newbold in the video Art Journals On-The-Go: How to pack, prep, paint, and more.
Taking Art Outdoors
Create postcards on the road, make a travel journal, get inspiration for tote bags, and more in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Taking Art Outdoors
Forget the excuses—Gina Rossi Armfield shows you how to art journal anywhere, using her fun and innovative techniques, in her book No Excuses Art Journaling.
Taking Art Outdoors
Stencil, collage, paint, and create personalized lettering on art journal spreads with Jodi Ohl in her video Art Journal Jam: 15 Techniques and Prompts.
Taking Art Outdoors
Get art journaling prompts galore with Rae Missigman as she shows you how to get the most out of your art supplies, and guides you through exercises in color, texture, dimension, and detail in the video Art Journaling Exercises: 15 Creative Prompts.

Happy Hand Lettering

Artist and author Jen Wagner designed Happy Hand Lettering to help readers learn the basics of hand lettering and incorporate lettering into different areas of their lives. Her lettering adventure started with a challenge she gave herself to learn a new art skill. After several months of practice and learning, she accomplished her goal. In Happy Hand Lettering she discusses everything from basic lettering terms to kerning to composition, and much more. Wagner provides plenty of information, and lots of fun projects, too. It was definitely something I had to check out.

Hand Lettering

Whether I’m just doodling or creating something special, there are always letters involved. What I loved about Happy Hand Lettering is that it offers so much information and inspiration—and not just concerning letters. Once you have your lettering skills down, you’ll use the letters in lots of fun ways.

Wagner helps you take your basic hand-lettering to the next level, stressing that “imperfection is a wonderful thing.” Learn to thicken lines, add flourishes, use a paintbrush instead of a pen, and . . .

Hand Lettering

Add decorative elements. She makes it look so easy! This delicate flower started with dabs of paint. Adding water with a clean brush, she formed loose petals and leaves to complete her design. Easy, but impressive! Wagner’s many samples and step-by-step instructions will have even the most timid painter creating beautiful blossoms in no time, enhancing any lettering project.

Hand Lettering

Hand Lettering

If you want to take your new lettering skills even further, there is plenty of instruction for making place cards, menus, gift tags, decorative signs, and more.

One of my favorite projects is a decorative mug. Simply lettered using an oil-based paint pen, it’s sure to please someone on your gift list.

Hand Lettering

The longer days of summer offer the perfect opportunity to try something new, and Happy Hand Lettering is a great resource to get you started. Think of the possibilities!


~ Barb

Studio Saturday: Paper Cutting

Paper cutting has fascinated me for years, but I’ll let you in on a little secret—I’ve been too intimidated to try anything but rudimentary designs. Some of the cut paper art I’ve seen is so intricate that I can’t quite believe a human being made it. I thought it would take countless hours of practice to produce something good. Nope—I just followed expert instructions from Samantha Quinn, and I’m thrilled with the results.

Samantha’s Paperology article in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors breaks down paper cutting techniques into doable bites, so that in a short amount of time you’ve got a fantastic finished project. She shows how to make a dimensional, layered paper-cut frame using a rose design, and offers fantastic tips for working with tools and paper. Paper cutting is a growing trend in mixed-media art, and no wonder—the effects you can get with a simple sheet of paper are nothing short of stunning.

Her template is available to download (see our Online Extras), but Samantha gives you enough information that you can easily use your own design. I did just that, using a photo of some lilacs as inspiration.

I starting with a 4″ x 6″ photo of some lilacs I took in the spring. I thought some of the four-petal flowers would work well for paper cutting.

Flowers as inspiration for paper cutting
These lilac flowers became the design around the paper cut frame.

I created a ½”-wide frame on a sheet of copy paper and sized the blossoms in the photo to fit the frame. I chose a few of the blossoms in the photo and traced them around the frame, using a light box. The copy paper was sheer enough so I could see through it, and I made sure the petals connected to each other and the frame, so it was one piece.

Tracing flowers for a paper cut frame
Using a light box, I traced the blossoms, making sure they connected.

When I was happy with the design I scanned it, flopped it 180 degrees, and printed it onto a piece of 8 ½” x 11″ pale pink cardstock. Using this as a template, I cut out the flowers.

Paper cutting template traced onto cardstock
The paper cutting template was printed onto pale pink cardstock.

Among Samantha’s tips: Cut the small areas first; in this case, the centers of the flowers, the cuts in the petals, and the spaces between the flowers. If you cut the large areas first, it weakens the paper, making more detailed cuts difficult, and upping the risk of tearing the paper.

Cutting small areas of the design first for paper cutting
Cutting small areas of the design first helped to keep the paper strong.

She also recommends changing your blade frequently, something I had to remind myself to do. This tip (one of many) is a life saver. And if you feel guilty going through blades, don’t. Blades can be recycled, and it’s an important habit that will help ensure great paper cutting results. Also, don’t rush the cutting. You can take breaks and do it in stages, but this should be mindful work. I found it extremely meditative. One more thing—there’s a very quick learning curve. Following Samantha’s instructions, I was able to see my technique improve enormously in just this one project. That’s how good she is.

When I finished cutting the frame I printed the same design onto a piece of green cardstock, and cut around just the outer border. To add a little more layering to the piece, I cut tiny pieces of lavender and yellow cardstock and adhered them to a few of the flowers on the pink cardstock so the colors would show through the cuts. In her article, Samantha shows an even better way to add more dimension to your piece, so don’t miss that.

Adding layers to paper cutting
Creating layers for paper cutting designs adds dimension.

The photo was adhered to the back of the frame, and a piece of foam core was adhered to that. Then the green paper cut was adhered to the other side of the foam core. That little bit of spacing adds a wonderful 3-D effect.

Paper cutting is fantastic for cards, art journal pages, handmade books, and collage, and paper cut art makes an incredible gift. Since doing this project I’m a little obsessed with it, and it’s now a permanent part of my mixed-media repertoire. Why not make it part of yours?

The complete instructions for beautiful cut paper art can be found in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, and these other resources will feed your love of paper, too!

July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Get tons of great techniques and tips for making beautiful paper cut art in the July/August 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Cloth Paper Scissors Paper Lovers Collection
This Paper Lovers collection of issues of Pages, Paper Art, and Paper Holiday magazines has projects galore for the paper obsessed.
Folded Books and Paper Art eMagazine
Find compelling projects for paper and book art in the eMagazine Folded Books and Paper Art, compiled from issues of Cloth Paper Scissors, Pages, and more.
Painted Paper Art Workshop by Elizabeth St. Hilaire
If you love paper you can’t live without the book Painted Paper Art Workshop by Elizabeth St. Hilaire; learn techniques for painting papers by hand and using them in collage.


Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid and Watercolor

Hand lettering is more popular than ever, and lettering enthusiasts are always looking for ways to add to their repertoire. In the July Lettering Lesson, Alexandra Snowdon uses masking fluid to create crisp white letters within watercolor shapes. I loved the look, and decided to give it a try.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

I chose two simple shapes for my lettering project: a sun and a star. After drawing the shapes, I added the lettering in a chunky font as Alexandra suggested. This gave me room within the letters, making erasing easier and also offering space for embellishing if I chose to do so. I also added some decorations within the shape.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

After shaking the masking fluid, I poured a small amount onto a plate and, using a silicone brush, I painted inside the letters with masking fluid, working right up to the pencil lines. Once the letters were done, I added a ¼” line of masking fluid around the outside of the shapes. This would help contain the watercolor in the next step. The masking fluid had to dry before I could continue, so I set them aside for about an hour.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

I applied a wash of water to the star first and then painted it with a slightly dilute yellow watercolor. Working wet-on-wet helped guarantee a nice even coverage. I did the same for the sun. I let them dry for a few minutes, and decide they needed a little something more. I added a little orange here and there on the sun, dabbing the paint with a paper towel, and did the same to the star, adding some blue. I think that was a nice addition.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

After allowing the paint to dry for a while, I rubbed the masking fluid with my finger, peeling up an edge, and removed it from the outlines and the lettering. It peeled off easily and the letters and other drawn elements really stood out.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

Time for some more color! I chose to outline the small stars on the large star shape, and colored in the tiny dots with a dark blue colored pencil. I also traced over the lines within the letters. On the sun shape, I colored in one heart with red colored pencil, and traced the other heart and decorations with the same pencil.

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

Hand Lettering with Masking Fluid

I really like the look I was able to achieve with the masking fluid. I did have a little trouble erasing some of the lines because I went over them with paint, but next time I’ll be more careful. I look forward to doing more lettering with this technique.

Creative Vintage Photos: A Fun Image Transfer Tutorial

vintage photos cassia cogger

I love vintage photos and the questions they spark. Who are these people, and what are these things in the picture? Where was the photo taken? What was happening in the minutes leading up to or following the shutter click? I also love painting imaginary landscapes that border on abstraction, and I recently began to wonder how I might marry the two. The immediate answer was collage, yet cutting and pasting didn’t excite me. I wanted a flat plane, like a piece of paper, in which the photo and the painting existed together, with no seams or glue. It made me wonder: What would happen if I scanned a photo and then laser printed it onto watercolor paper? Would it work from a technical standpoint, and if so, could I paint new backgrounds to change the narrative of the photos? Those questions led me to these techniques, which I’m happy to share with you.

Note: I have been experimenting with Adobe Photoshop® quite a bit, and wanted to use this exercise as an opportunity to merge both digital and traditional techniques. However, you can also explore these techniques by copying a photo and cutting and pasting it onto a sheet of paper.

vintage photos cassia cogger


  • Images scanned into a computer
  • Photo-editing software that allows you to separate the images from their backgrounds (I used Adobe Photoshop®.)
  • Epson watercolor paper, 8 ½” x 11″
  • Laser printer
  • Assorted watercolor and gouache paints (I used Turner Acryl Gouache.)
  • Round paintbrushes, various sizes
  • Optional: Eraser

vintage photos cassia cogger

Prepare the Images

Using the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop, I extracted the images from the original vintage photos. I then created a new file for each image and sized the images to fit the finished paintings (one painting is 5 ½” x 8 ½”, and the other is 8 ½” x 11”). I placed the images on the digital page in an interesting composition. Unless your composition is symmetrical, I find it’s best to place an image off center to create a more engaging composition. I wanted to experiment with both gouache and watercolor, so I shrunk two of the images to allow for plenty of white space around them. I sized another image to fit the sheet so I could tint the image with watercolor. I saved the images as 300dpi jpgs and printed them onto Epson watercolor paper, using my office laser printer.

Note: The first print had excess toner on it, but I was able to remove most of it with an eraser.

vintage photos cassia cogger

Create New Backgrounds

The more artwork I create, the more I delight in the juxtaposition of contrasting elements. In the two smaller paintings I explored using abstract shapes and symbols in combination with the photographic images to tell a story.

The photo of my late grandmother is the perfect image of her. I wanted to paint a big heart behind her that expressed my love—she was always a lovely lady and happy to serve. I also miss her very much, and often feel a bit of sadness, so I painted a cloud with rows of dots symbolizing rain.

vintage photos cassia cogger

After painting the first two shapes with gouache, I brightened the work up by painting a yellow circle fragment representing sunshine. I always work from large to small, finishing the bigger shapes first, then adding smaller patterns.

vintage photos cassia cogger

The second image of my grandparents outside a house (I think it’s in Bisbee, Arizona) was created in a similar manner. I wanted to maintain the narrative of them standing outside of a structure in a warm climate, so I painted shapes with gouache that were evocative of a house and foliage, and added a sun.

Note: Using gouache on both of these pieces allowed me to achieve a flat field with a matte finish.

vintage photos cassia cogger

Tint Images with Gouache

As I worked on these pieces I became curious about adding water to the gouache to tint some flowers on my grandmother’s dress. I could have used watercolor to achieve the transparency I wanted, but watering down the gouache worked well.

Looking at the photo above, I was reminded that at one time my grandmother had the entire upstairs of her home wallpapered and decided she didn’t care for the color of one of the blooms in the pattern, so she repainted all of them!

After painting the backgrounds on the first two pieces I wanted to see how watercolor would work for tinting an image. I discovered that the paint worked well. The toner-based images are waterproof, allowing me to create wet washes over the desert painting without affecting the crispness of the printed images.

vintage photos cassia cogger

I allowed each colored wash to dry completely before working in the area next to it.

vintage photos cassia cogger

Note: Although the laser-printed images are waterproof, the toner can rub off if you use too many brushstrokes or brush too vigorously.

Creating New Narratives

I find myself incredibly excited by this process, and believe you will be too. The technique allows you to engage with vintage photos on a different level than just a viewer. You can explore symbolism and your relationship with the people in the pictures, as I did with the painting of my grandmother as a Red Cross volunteer. You can tell more vivid and colorful versions of existing stories, as with the painting of my grandparents standing outside a house, or you can simply juice up photos you love by tinting them with transparent watercolor. Regardless of the approach, playing with vintage photos this way allows artists to create new, exciting narratives.

vintage photos cassia cogger

Cassia Cogger is an artist, teacher, and author who is inspired to create artworks, creative courses, and experiences that allow individuals to enter into greater relationships with their surroundings, becoming present to that which is essential. As much as she is excited by color, shape, pattern, and beauty, she is more excited by what the creative process reveals. Her work has been featured at the National Academy Museum in New York City, she has appeared in Watercolor Artist magazine as a rising star, and has had her work featured in a host of galleries and private collections. Check out her new book from North Light Books, Creating Personal Mandalas: Story Circle Techniques in Watercolor and Mixed Media, and discover more about Cassia at

Start with a simple circle to find incredible techniques for visual storytelling in Creating Personal Mandalas by Cassia Cogger. Twenty step-by-step exercises help you explore personal exploration and self-expression with watercolor and mixed media.

Gelli Plate Printing with Joan Bess

If you haven’t discovered the unbridled joy of monoprinting with a gel plate, you have not lived, my friends. That’s why I’m so happy to bring you this fantastic guest blog from Joan Bess, the author of Gelli Plate Printing: Mixed-Media Monoprinting Without a Press, and the inventor of the Gelli Arts® Gel Printing Plate. Monoprinting with the Gelli plate is nothing short of revolutionary, and Joan’s book is packed with incredible techniques and tips for creating amazing artwork. Even if you’ve done some monoprinting, these methods will take your creativity to new levels. Here’s Joan with a fun tutorial that you’ve got to try! ~ Jeannine

While exploring printmaking techniques, it’s amazing how simply using a new or different material or tool can lead to exciting creative results.

I’m currently obsessed with the masking fluid technique featured in my book Gelli Plate Printing on pages 94-95. Lately I’ve discovered the advantages of using a Fineline Masking Fluid Pen, and I’ll show you my new discoveries in this tutorial.

Applying masking fluid with the needle-tip applicator gives you more control, making it a great tool for drawing, doodling, and writing words on your paper before you print. To create a monoprint using masking fluid, follow these easy steps:


  • 8”x10” Gelli Arts® Gel Printing Plate
  • Fineline® Masking Fluid Pen
  • Golden Artist Colors® Open Slow-Drying Acrylic Paints
  • Speedball® 4” Soft Rubber Brayer with Pop-In Roller
  • Strathmore® Bristol Smooth Surface 9″ x 12″ paper, 100-lb.
  • Optional: Rubber cement pick-up eraser

1. Draw a design on the paper with the masking fluid, using the needle-tip applicator to draw a design. Allow the masking fluid to dry completely.

gelli plate printing joan bess

2. Brayer a layer of acrylic paint onto the Gelli plate, then press the masked paper onto the plate. Rub to transfer the paint, and pull your print.

gelli plate printing joan bess

3. When the print is fully dry, gently rub the mask off the paper with a clean finger or the rubber cement pick-up eraser, revealing the masked design.

gelli plate printing joan bess

4. Here is the final print; you can print multiple layers on paper with dry masking fluid on it. The dried fluid is easy to remove, even with layers of paint on it. In the finished artwork below, I created a layered effect by placing cut paper circles on top of the inked Gelli plate.

gelli plate printing joan bess

5. This detail of the finished artwork shows how you can get a dramatic mix of patterns and colors using the masking fluid.

gelli plate printing joan bess

Here are a few more tips and ideas:

•  Thin areas of masking fluid dry quickly, but thick areas or blobs take more time to dry. I like to prepare several masked papers and let them dry overnight.

•  Dry masking fluid is dimensional, which can cause a halo effect around the masked areas in the print. To avoid that, apply extra pressure when printing. Brayering the back of the paper before pulling the print helps push the paper into the gel plate and transfer the paint. Experiment with the amount of paint on the plate.

•  It’s best to peel off the masking fluid soon after a print is completely dry.

•  Masking fluid applied to black paper reveals rich black lines when the mask is removed. Printing with metallic, interference, and iridescent acrylic paints on masked black paper creates dramatic images.

•  You can further embellish masked areas on prints with various pens, pencils, watercolors, and more.

•  This masking fluid technique broadens your image-making possibilities, just as each technique in the book provides inspiration for explorations in monoprinting.

Joan Bess is Co-Founder of Gelli Arts® and originator of the gel printing plate concept. Since 2010, she has been developing numerous and varied techniques for monoprinting on the Gelli plate. Joan is the author of the North Light Book Gelli Plate Printing, which features many of those techniques. See more of Joan’s work and get more techniques for the Gelli plate at