Looking for a creative way to wrap a special gift this holiday season? Cover it in something unique, like this patterned hand-printed paper created by artist Elizabeth St. Hilaire. And be sure to save your scraps; Elizabeth shares a bonus holiday card tutorial! This article originally appeared in our November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Hand-Painted Papers by Elizabeth St. Hilaire
In my work, I highlight the extraordinary within the ordinary, focusing on intense and vibrant colors combined with a solid sense of design. My collage art invites the viewer to look and to linger. My technique has evolved as a result of experimentation with a wide variety of hand-painted, handmade, and textured and patterned papers. Layering and weaving, pushing and pulling the colors, patterns, and values, makes collage akin to music. I go back and forth, alternating and overlapping, until the rhythm creates something I love.
Through experimentation and application, I have perfected techniques for hand painting beautiful papers, with uses that go far beyond ripping and gluing. Hand-painted papers can be used for mobiles, invitations, note cards, gift tags, gift wrap, and more. In this article I show how to use one of my favorite hand-painted paper techniques to create a unique holiday gift presentation.
- Fluid acrylic paint (I used Golden® Artist Colors paints, including metallics.)
- NOTE: Fluid acrylic paints are translucent, which allows every layer you apply to show through the next, building up depth and richness.
- Monoprinting plate (I used an 8″ x 10″ Gelli Arts® Gel Printing Plate.)
- Brayer (I used an Inovart™ foam brayer.)
- Durable, oversized papers (I used maps and flight altitude charts. Experiment with other large printed papers, such as floor plans, architectural renderings, and blueprints.)
- Masking tools: stencils, string, leaves, etc. (I used StencilGirl Products stencils.)
- Gesso, white (I used Golden Artist Colors gesso.)
- Note card blanks with envelopes (I used Strathmore® brand.)
- Gel medium, gloss (I used Liquitex® brand.)
- Paintbrush (I used a Princeton Catalyst™ Silicone brush.)
1. Apply a few drops of your lightest color fluid acrylic paint directly to the gel plate. Roll the paint with the brayer to cover the entire surface. If your brayer is sliding around the plate, you may have too much paint. You only need a thin layer.
NOTE: When layering paints, you need to go from light to dark. The only exception to this is when using opaque colors, such as metallics, or when adding gesso to the paint.
TIP: Five or six harmonious colors are a good choice for your palette.
2. Press the plate to your paper, starting with solid squares of the lightest two colors in your chosen palette, and cover the whole paper with squares. This is the base layer. (FIGURE 1)
3. Add a darker color of paint and some masking tools to the plate, such as stencils and string. (FIGURE 2) Press the paper firmly to the plate with your hands, pushing it into all the open areas of the stencil and in between and around the folds of the string.
4. Pull back the edge of the paper to check that you have made good contact with the plate. (FIGURE 3) If some paint has not transferred to the paper, replace the paper and press harder with the heel of your hand in and around the masking tools. This doesn’t have to be perfect; it’s okay if it’s slightly spotty.
NOTE: You may choose to line up your prints or to overlap them as you add impressions and move around the sheet. I prefer to misalign my layers, making great use of serendipity.
TIP: If a layer becomes muddied and you don’t like how it looks, it can be rescued with a layer of opaque paint such as a metallic, or by adding some white gesso with paint to the plate and mixing it as you roll it out with the brayer. An opaque layer will cover problem areas, allowing only masked parts to show through.
5. After you pull a print, remove the stencils and masking materials from the plate to reveal the paint that is trapped beneath the masks. Working quickly, press the paper and pull a second print (called a ghost print) to transfer this trapped paint pattern onto your paper. (FIGURE 4)
6. Experiment with more and more objects as masks, such as leaves, sequin waste, and mesh bags. The beauty of the translucent quality of fluid acrylic paint is that parts of the printed paper will show through on the finished sheet, adding yet another layer of visual interest (FIGURE 5).
BONUS: Create a holiday card
As a collage artist, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about ripping and gluing. After you wrap your gift, use the scraps of your hand-painted paper to create beautiful and unique holiday cards.
1. Lightly sketch the shape of a holiday object or icon onto a blank note card with pencil, making sure the lines are very, very light. I drew a vintage tree ornament, sketching only the outline of the shape to use as a guide.
2. Apply a thin layer of gel medium to the front of the card within your drawn shape.
3. Tear pieces of the painted paper scraps and, using the drawing as your guide, press the pieces into the gel medium. Use a paintbrush to press down, secure, and flatten the pieces to the card, and then apply more gel medium over the top of the collaged papers.
4. Coat the entire front of the card with a thin layer of gel medium to create an even sheen.
NOTE: This same technique can be used to create one-of-a-kind tags for special gifts.
Elizabeth St. Hilaire was born and raised in New England, but has been escaping the cold in Central Florida for more than 20 years. She holds a B.F.A. in advertising design from Syracuse University, which prepared her for a dual identity as both graphic designer and fine artist. Elizabeth is a full-time fine artist. She has earned Signature Member status with the National Collage Society and crisscrosses the country several times a year to take her paper tidbits on the road. Teaching her hand-painted paper collage technique through her Paper Paintings workshops is her passion. Visit her website at PaperPaintings.com.
Discover more fun gel-printing ideas in this Technique Tuesday blog post!
Plus, don’t miss Elizabeth’s book, Painted Paper Art Workshop: Easy and Colorful Collage Paintings.