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Stained Paper Collage - Watercolor Demonstration
by Brenda Swenson

Add brilliance and depth to your watercolor paintings with this stunning technique Japanese Paper You can see how beautiful the Japanese papers on the left look once they are stained with watercolor. The small square pieces below the color swatches show what the paper looks like before it is stained/painted with watercolor. From top to bottom -- Samples of stained Transparent papers Tosa Lace, by Awagami and Ogura Samples of stained Opaque papers Awagami Kozo Natural, Daniel Smith Kasuiri, Kinwashi White, Mulberry Fiber Natural Mulberry and Masa Paper (not shown)

Step 1: Staining the Paper
When I stain Japanese papers, I do a variety of papers and colors to last me for a while. I don't want to stop in the middle of a collage to stain more paper because I've run out of a needed color. For this reason I set aside an afternoon to stain a lot of papers. I do one color at a time by tearing the paper into smaller sizes (roughly 4 x 9). It is easier to work with smaller pieces, especially with the more fragile papers. I lay the paper in the center of my palette and use a 1" flat brush. The Richeson Covered Palette works great for staining paper as it has a large flat area and the lid doubles your work space. If you want a piece of paper to be especially dark, paint both sides, otherwise one side is all you need to paint. To get light colors that are opaque mix Permanent White Gouache with your color. Once I have stained a piece of paper I lay it on a paper towel to dry.

I stain them with primary colors (red, blue, yellow), secondary colors (orange, violet and green) and some neutral shades. I create a selection of light, mid and dark values of each color as well as transparent, opaque colors and neutral colors.
Think of your papers as your color palette to work from.

Step 2: Sketch the image on 300lb watercolor paper
Using a reference photo, I sketch with waterproof ink on 11x15, 300lb rough watercolor paper. I draw only the major elements in the scene to establish my placement and design. Most of these lines will disappear under the collage. If I need to establish some details I can easily redraw later with a pencil.

Step 3: Collage
I begin the collage by blocking in the large shapes first. I tear the paper to get the desired shapes. The collage paper should overlap the edges of the watercolor paper. When I need to work around a complicated shape such as the bell tower, I'll lay the Japanese paper on top of my ink drawing and use clear water on a brush to draw an outline. The paper will tear in a more controlled manner along the wet line. To adhere the collage paper to the surface, I brush the section of watercolor paper with matte medium using a stiff bristle brush. Then I place the stained collage paper on top and brush more matte medium on top to secure it. (The heavier Japanese papers often become darker with the application of matte medium.) Don't overuse the matte medium; use just enough to attach the paper to the surface. This image shows my work space as I am collaging.

Step 4 The entire surface of the watercolor paper needs to be covered with collage.
In this collage the building is white but I still need to cover the area with collage papers so I use Masa Japanese paper. Masa paper has two distinct sides and I prefer the soft side up and the slick side down. In the foreground I introduce some warmer tones of paper along with some violet colors from the sky. To keep a collage unified it is a good idea to put sky color in the landscape and landscape color in the sky. In this way the overall piece has an integrated feeling. The design format I am using is the cruciform and you can begin to see it developing.

Step 5 At this stage the collage has a rough, incomplete appearance.
I am not concerned with details at all. What I am interested in is getting the major shapes down. The entire surface is now covered with collage paper in a variety of large, medium and small pieces. The smaller pieces are used mainly around the area I wish to develop as my center of interest. I have used transparent and opaque pieces of paper. The cruciform is evident now and the overall design is established. At this stage the colors I have used are relatively limited but well chosen. I am using double complements (red & green, violet & yellow) and neutrals.

Step 6 In reviewing the collage, I have decided to make some changes.
Being able to make adjustments is one of the advantages of watercolor collage. I've decided to change the shape of the tree on the left. I add additional collage over the top section of the tree with more violet paper. I like the look of the swirl pattern in the sky. The paper is the Tosa Lace, by Awagami. The violet sky is a bit monotonous, so I add the complementary color on top (yellow). I now like how the colors in the foreground relate to the colors in the sky and vice versa. To suggest additional flowers I tear small pieces of orange and red and collage them in the foreground. Additional pieces of violet are also added to strengthen the vertical band on the left side in the foreground.

Step 7 I am always amazed how easily and quickly the painting stage unifies the collage.
The idea is not to have the painted section stand out, but blend in and tie things together. Since the Japanese papers were stained with my palette colors, they appear to merge with the surface painting. Before I begin the painting stage I need to unify the surface of the collage with a coat of matte medium diluted 50% with water and let thoroughly dry. It is important to remember that even though you started with a sheet of watercolor paper and you are using watercolor paint, the surface is nothing like a watercolor. The surface of the paper is no longer absorbent since it has been sealed with matte medium. It will require less water be used with the paint.

I start painting by glazing over the right and left side of the sky with Quinacridone Violet. This helps to make the sky richer in color and more dramatic. I use a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Blue for the deep green in the tree behind the building on the right. The dark green against the white of the building creates the value contrast and sharp edge needed in my center of interest. Next I move on to the tree in the foreground. I use the same green mixture in the foliage to give the tree form and to define the trunk. I also start to define the tile roof with Quinacridone Sienna & Transparent Pyrrol Orange. I still like the yellow in the sky but I want to tone it down slightly. I use a small amount of Permanent White Gouache near the top of the building and fade it out with water. This is just enough to tone the yellow down.

Step 8 At this stage I begin to think about details.
I paint the cast shadow on the building by using a glaze of Cobalt Blue and before it dries I drop in Quinacridone Sienna. (The first time I painted the shadow I wasn't happy with the result, so I wiped off the color with a damp brush and blotted the surface with a paper towel. After drying, I repainted it. It is very easy to make corrections on this surface!) I paint a darker value of Quinacridone Sienna & Transparent Pyrrol Orange under the overhang of the roof. I also use a small amount of Permanent White Gouache to highlight a few of the red tiles.

Step 9: "San Juan Bautista Mission"
I carefully review the collage/painting and make adjustments in values and color. In the foreground I use negative painting to suggest the flowers. I find that using this technique keeps the area from becoming too busy. I also prefer the approach of suggesting more and painting less. I add a few white flowers with Permanent White Gouache. This helps to balance the large white shape of the building. When you look at the white flowers you are not so much seeing a "flower" as seeing a passage of white that leads up to the building. This moves the viewer's eye through the foreground and into the center of interest, the old mission. The last thing I do is glaze down the two front corners and trim the ragged edges of the collage. Darkening the corners moves the viewer's eye away from the edges into the center.

In Conclusion
There are similarities to the reference photograph as far as architectural style, but more importantly the final piece expresses how I felt. If you use photographs, don't let them control your work. My collage expresses unmistakable JOY! No photograph could ever do that. www.swensonart.net

DANIEL SMITH Watercolors:
Green Gold, New Gamboge, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, Permanent Yellow Deep, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Carmine, Quinacridone Violet, Cobalt Violet, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Blue, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Teal Blue, Phthalo Green, Quinacridone Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Lunar Black.

  • Gouache: Permanent White (not Chinese White watercolor)
  • Brushes: Rounds size 6 to 14, Flats from 1/4" to 3/4". Stiff bristle brush 1/2" for use with acrylic matte medium. Don’t use your good watercolor brushes in the acrylic matte medium!
  • Palette: Richeson Covered Palette.
  • Watercolor Paper: 300# rough (11 x 15 quarter sheet).
  • Waterproof Pens: Pitt or Pigma Micron Black.
  • Acrylic Medium: Daniel Smith Matte Medium.
  • Japanese Paper: Tosa Lace by Awagami, Thai Lace, Kasuiri, Kinwashi White, Kozo Natural by Awagami, Masa, Mulberry and Ogura Natural paper. I select papers with a diverse variety of textures and thicknesses including papers that range from transparent to opaque.