Nov 03 2008

Textured Backgrounds for Mixed Media Painting

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Here’s some inspiration for employing textured backgrounds in your paintings or mixed media collages.

There’s a number of ways to create texture. One of my favorite techniques is perhaps the most simple: embedding plastic wrap into paint.  This can be done with watercolors, acrylics, or oils.  Also, you can use rolled plastic (saran wrap, etc), or recycled plastic bags.

The above examples were done in watercolor, whereas those below were done with acrylics.  First, apply a layer of one color, let dry, then apply a second layer and press plastic before the paint dries. Acrylics dry quickly, so make sure that your mixture of paint is very fluid, then firmly press the plastic into the paint before it dries. Then leave the plastic in the paint until it is dry or almost dry.  (The underground color is the part where the creases are).


I frequently create an acrylic background that’s lighter in color than the one that I glaze over it.  I usually do an oil glaze over this, which I embed the plastic wrap into.  If I’m doing an acrylic wash instead, I add some glazing medium into the paint so that it won’t dry before I have a chance to texturize it.

You can also create wonderful textures by bunching up the plastic, swooshing it around into your paint mixture, and then pouncing it onto the surface of your painting.  This is especially helpful in creating textured foilage, though it’s also great for abstract patterning.

Taking the plastic wrap technique a step further, you can also use bubble-wrap textures to create patterned circles.

You can do this by either pressing the bubble wrap directly into the wet paint, OR by using a brayer to get the paint on the surface, then pressing the wrap onto your painting.

I used bubble-wrap as a texture in my painting, “Mating Dreams”.  My preference is to let the texture be subordinate to the main content of the piece.  Below is an example of an artist, Mary Yim Kliauga, who painted directly onto bubble wrap to create texture in her painting.

Pouring and dripping paint is another fabulous way to create a background texture.

When pouring paint, you can have the canvas or board sitting flat on a horizontal surface, but if you want the dripping to be evident, you’ll want to have it almost vertical but at an angle.  The tilt of this angle depends on the fluidity of the paint.  When using acrylic, it’s important to add both polymer medium or a glazing medium, as well as some water.  For oils, you’ll want to add mostly turpentine (preferable odorless, since you’ll need a fair amount of it).  Make sure you use some plastic and newspapers to prevent overspill of the paint onto any surfaces.

In my painting, “Disquieting Harmony”, I combined the techniques of dripping paint from the top edge, embedding plastic into wet paint, and sponging.  I also used gold leaf and a textured gel pen on a layer of plexiglass that floats above the background texture.  (I’ll go over these techniques in another post).


Sponging is a great way to get some texture into your art. It’s been utilized quite successfully as a “faux finish” technique, used to texture walls and furnishings, but there’s no reason that artists can’t employ this into their work. Use a large, natural sponge for the best effects.

Spattered paint can also create wonderful textures.  You can do this by simply loading your brush and hitting it against your other hand, or you can apply smaller spatters in more detailed areas by using a toothbrush dipped in paint, then pulling your thumb across the bristles to release the wet paint.


For more controlled effects with spattering, you can utilize stencils, (you can also use stencils with the sponging technique) to create hard-edged forms and patterns.  Stencils can be the type bought for decorative (tole) painting, or you can create your own stencils by cutting out shapes in heavy-weight paper, such as bristol board.

Staining and Painting Papers for Collage

Many of the other techniques above can also be applied to paper.   Collage artists frequently paint or stain paper, before they collage it onto other surfaces to build up a background for an artwork.  This can be done on rice paper, tracing paper, newspaper, wrapping papers, etc. Try different effects of painting, soaking or applying paint with a brayer.

You can partially obscure text by first covering the pages with acrylic medium or modge-podge, put a layer of paint, then rub off paint where desired.


Practice combining techniques on various types of paper, store your papers til they are needed.  The papers can then be cut or torn into various shapes when the right project comes along!

Palette-Knife painting is a great way to create thickly textured (impasto) effects.  You can use either a palette knife or a putty knife to add paint to the surface (canvas or panel), or to subtract paint, scraping pack to previous layers.

credits: Nancy Eckels, palette-knife painting, above right.
Brian Giberson
, used a putty knife or spatula to scrape back paint, at left.

Left: Nancy Eckels, comb through acrylic glazes;
Right: Shawn Wells, scraped a serated knife and comb through heavy-body acrylics.

Below are several more examples of textured artworks created by Brian Giberson:

In the examples above, Brian embedded materials such as netting, straw, woven fabric, and copper directly into thick gesso (this could have also been achieved with modelling paste or thick acrylic texturing paste).  Speaking of his process, Brian says,

“I love to work with texture. I think of the first stage as purely sculptural. I like to build up the surface of the canvas or wood with thickened gesso, copper, sand, glass, or any thing else that appears interesting. By creating deep highs and lows, it suggests a feeling or direction I want the painting go in. Then I add the color.

You can also use a palette knife dipped into heavy gel medium to create impasto techniques.  The above example shows that you can even draw the medium on with a palette knife.  After drying, the artist can then add pigment.  The effect is that it will appear as if the painting used thick impasto paint, though the texture is, in this case, applied before the painted layers.

If you’d like to learn more about the various gel and texture mediums offered in art supply stores, visit either of the following links:

Videos Related to Creating Textured Papers/Using Papers in Collage:

Creating texture with plastic wrap:

Fabric paper, using tissues, papers glued to muslin, with mica:

Acrylics with Alcohol Resist: (this can be done on a board, or to prep papers)

Brayer Techniques: (several textures applied to paper or cardstock with a brayer)

liquid acrylic on plexiglass, transferred to transparency sheet, then to mulberry paper:

Painted Foil Textures: (cool technique… turn down the music, though!)

Weathered Backgrounds for Art Journals and Mixed Media:

Textures, Layers, Metallics: (promotes a workshop video, but the brief demos can give some ideas)

Art Inspiration Articles:
View the index of all of my articles that are created specifically for class projects:

15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Textured Backgrounds for Mixed Media Painting”

  1. Mara says:

    you are superb.You cant imagine how many things you have thaught me.
    Thanks a lot. Its very instructive. Very elucidative.

  2. Sarah says:

    Awesome article! Great tips I can use when making my mom’s Christmas present which will be a nice abstract painting!

  3. Tamara says:

    I have use the plastic wrap and sponge in watercolor, and love the way it looks. I look forward to trying the bubble wrap, thanks for the idea!

  4. ben says:

    thankyou very helpful

  5. jessica says:

    i love your tetures actually i did that to the painting that i am working rigth now by accident tring to remove some extra paint, with paper towels instead with the plastic

  6. Nancy says:

    Absolutely beautiful textures; I can use these with my 4th grade students (who, P.S.–desperately need something beautiful and non-“state testing” oriented to enrich their lives!)

  7. Alex Cortes says:

    I really enjoyed all the info you gave in this section. Specially when I have a blank canvas infront of me! this tips will create the mood of my painting. Thank you so much, I really like your work.

  8. Farhana says:

    I find this article very helpful. Thanks for sharing your techniques. Can’t wait to try some!

  9. Jesenia says:

    Thank you for the tips, this was very informative. 🙂

  10. Angie says:

    Thank you for posting photographs of these lovely textures and effects. I find them truly inspiring

  11. kasturi says:

    Dear Robin,

    Loads of ‘thanks’ for educating us on textured painting. I am as crazy about colors and textures as you are and I feel blessed to have come across you to be able to learn so many techniques. I was going nuts about trying to understand as to how artists bring about such amazing background designs. Your work looks soooo awesome. Loads of love and hugs and best wishes. God Bless you.

    Love and Kind Regards.

    • Robin says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Kasturi. I’m so happy to know that these posts might be serving to inspire the creative explorations of others

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