Dark But Not Dreary: Holiday Mixed-media Collage



I’d like to tell you about my profound love for all things black. As an art school grad, you can guess that I’ve had many a black outfit in my closet. I love the look of black grout on a terracotta tile floor—even though it took me days to get the black off my knees from grouting that tile!

I always add a little black accent to every room in my house. You’ll never see me without black mascara on (unless you catch me at the gym—and if you could pretend to not see me there my pride would be extremely grateful). And, I love black gesso. LOVE, love, love it.

What? You didn’t know that gesso came in black? Well, it does and I own a big bucket of it! I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this before—shame on me. I started using black gesso a couple years ago after flipping through back issues of Cloth Paper Scissors looking for inspiration. (Actually, hoping inspiration would strike me over the head!)

So here is the deal. You know how intimidating it is to face a blank canvas, right? I’ve often heard the suggestion of just painting a color or gluing a piece of paper onto the canvas to get you started, even if whatever you add will be entirely covered up. That works for me…sometimes.

Know what works for me always? Painting the entire surface black.

I wanted to share this simple little holiday project that you can try right away (once you get black gesso, of course).

Holiday Mixed-media Collage



  • Canvas
  • Black gesso
  • Paintbrushes
  • Fluid acrylics, watered-down acrylics, and/or glazes (shades of green)
  • Holiday-themed book pages or sheet music
  • scissors
  • Soft gel medium
  • Acrylic paint (black and white)
  • Found objects


  • Pearl mica flakes (Golden Artist Colors®)
  • Felt
  • Tacky glue
  • Saw-tooth hanger and hammer
  • Rubber bumpers


  1. Cover the front and sides of the canvas with black gesso and set aside to dry.
  2. Add a transparent layer of fluid acrylics on the book pages and set aside to dry.
  3. Cut out simple triangle shapes from the dry book pages and adhere to the canvas with the gel medium.
  4. Paint snowy hills around the bottom of the trees with the white acrylic paint. (It’s ok if some of the black shows through.)
  5. Paint black over the background to cover up most of the black gesso.
  6. Add found objects with gel medium. I used vintage brads, a length of a vintage cloth tape measure, and an old key.



Optional Finishing

  1. If desired, add small amounts of the pearl mica flakes.
  2. To finish the back, cut a piece of felt the slightly smaller than the back of the canvas and glue it own with the tacky glue.
  3. Add the saw-tooth hanger to the top for hanging.
  4. Add two rubber bumpers to the bottom of the back to protect the wall.

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, consider making a snowy tree-lined scene sans the ornaments—perhaps with a snowman.

If you try to use a paint color on your black gesso that isn’t popping, try adding a layer of white acrylic paint underneath your other paint. The more opaque the paint, the more pop you’ll get.

I hope you try using black gesso very soon! I promise you’ll never look at a blank canvas the same way again.




Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques


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