Mixed-Media Art Technique: Make Faces With the Phone Book

Every time I see a phone book, I think of mixed-media artist Katie Kendrick. Why? Because Katie was the first artist I know of to use phone book pages as mixed-media art supplies.

Three mixed-media paintings using phone book pages as backgrounds. Art by Katie Kendrick.

When you think about it, it makes so much sense. As Katie puts it, phone book pages "are free and abundant, and they endow [the art] with immediate contrasts through the dense columns of names and numbers that alternate with the bare spaces."

In addition, the paper is thin so it works well with gel medium, can be used in layering, and can take on a transparent quality. What's not to love?

Katie has used phone book pages as the background for many of the faces in her mixed-media art, including art dolls. What I love about this technique, beyond the phone book pages, is Katie's approach to drawing the faces. It's a wonderful way to let go of preconceived notions about how a face should be drawn and develop your own style.

Here's her how-to:


  • Telephone book
  • Heavy paper for support
  • Golden® soft gel medium (I prefer matte.)
  • Acrylic paint and paintbrushes

Art doll by Katie Kendrick


1. Tear out a bunch of white pages from a phone book. This paper will be your canvas.

2. Tape the paper onto an easel or wall, or you can work on a table, if you prefer. With your non-dominant hand and a paintbrush loaded with black paint, quickly paint the outlines of a face; feel free to fill up the entire page. At some point, switch hands and paint faces with your dominant hand. Paint a dozen or so faces, working fairly quickly; don't stress, labor, or try to paint. The goal is to paint freely, let your hand talk to the page through the lines, and let your left brain rest quietly while you play.

3. When your paintings are dry, spread them out and sort them into two piles, "save" and "trash." Resist thinking too much when you sort-do it fearlessly and intuitively. Send your critic out for a walk; this is only a playful experiment, not a critique of your painting skills. If a face doesn't look and feel right to you, throw it out. The ones you want to save may look quite crude, but something about them grabs your attention. Maybe you catch a glimpse of an attitude or an aspect of personality, maybe it's the curve of the nose that delights you; maybe you recognize a friend, a family member, or an aspect of yourself in the painting.

4. Using your soft gel medium, glue your painting down onto a heavier support, like chipboard, heavy watercolor paper, or (my personal favorite) a piece of junk wallpaper. I like to glue it onto the back. Also, coat the surface of the painting with gel medium.

5. Use titan buff or other color of choice for the skin tone. Add hints of color to accent the cheeks and eyes, if you like. Don't worry about getting paint on the black contour lines; you can touch them up later. When you're finished, you may still see hints of names and phone numbers peeking through the layers of paint, forming shadows on the nose or eyebrows, creating subtleties of texture in the skin tone.

Use the face as is in a collage or mized-media painting. Or, scan the face into your computer where you can alter and size it in Photoshop® or a similar program. If you want to use the image for an art doll face, size it appropriately and print it out on fabric that has been prepared for an inkjet printer.

Katie's tutorial, including how to create the rest of the doll, is included in a new eBook, Mixed-Media People, Part 2, now available for download.

What do you think of phone book pages as backgrounds? I also like to use grocery store receipts, take-a-number tickets from the deli, and fast-food receipts. Goodness knows I have an endless supply! Give me your ideas in the comments section below.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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