I get asked a lot how I do my backgrounds for my journaling and I must say I never think about it too much. I just layer, layer, layer and work over the paper or canvas until I end up with something that satisfies me. I typically don't proceed in an extremely predictable manner; as soon as I think I've discovered my "signature technique," I change things up and develop another look. I do, however, go through periods of time where I do stick with a fairly regimented method and so I thought I would break down this particular technique for you all. I am currently using this technique on canvas board; lighterweight foundations would buckle badly under all the moisture. Secondly, I am NOT priming the canvas with gesso so the colors can really get into the grooves of the canvas.
Step One: Wash the canvas with 3 acrylic paints mixed with water to a runny consistency. I like to apply the colors just touching and then tilt the board to help the paint run together in places. Let this dry or encourage the drying process with a heat gun. Once dry, seal with one application of mat medium. Let dry again.
Step Two: This is basically a repeat of Step One, using the same colors but in a slightly thicker consistency. I try not to cover up any particularly interesting patterns that have started to appear. Let this layer dry just a bit and wipe off some excess. This is not an exact science. Relinquish some control and let the background tell you where it needs some help and where it is coming along splendidly. Once you wipe off some, let it dry completely and repeat with the mat medium. These repeated layers of mat medium help gradually fill in the tooth of the canvas board so I have an easier time writing on it later.
Step Three: Lightly sponge on the same acrylic paints, adding some more intense areas of color. Work a section at a time and blend gently as you go. I typically load up three makeup sponges with wet paint and hold them all at once in my left hand between my fingers. Then I can work faster, changing out colors as I need to blend the colors together. Once the paint dries, I also sponge in some dye inks that are similiar to the paint colors I have chosen. Inks are transparent so they will accent the colors but allow the layers to show through. I let this dry and add yet another layer of mat medium.
Step Four: Here I add in some torn bits of a complimentary tissue with decoupage glue. I LOVE tissue and use it in almost everything I do. Since I finish off the back of my canvas panels as well, I wrap the tissue around to the back just a little. I'll cover up the ends with a piece of decorative paper when the piece is completely finished. Let this dry completely before you move on. If you rush things, the tissue will bubble up as you apply moisture over the top. You can choose a tissue that clashes with the background, blends in or lends itself to the future subject matter of the piece. Add mat medium again and let dry.
Step Five: Wash around the edges of the canvas with a darker color (contrasting or complimentary) and wipe off the excess. Finish off with a final layer of mat medium. Note that mat medium is not intended as a final sealer (or so the bottle says). I simply use it to turn the canvas into a more suitable writing surface since I like to use colored pencils, markers, and crayons in my journaling and canvas is a lot bumpier than the usual watercolor paper I use in my regular journals.
Here's an "oops!" that happened with this piece. The dark color I chose for the edges completely stained my tissue into oblivion. See the dark blue beneath? To "fix", I simply layered on more of the same tissue. This gave it even more depth and I liked the result. If something happens like this, don't panic! All is not lost! Take a minute and think about what you can do to bring the look back in line with your original vision. Or the "oops!" may turn into a "whoo hoo!" and your background technique will metamorphize yet again. This phenomenon of welcoming the "mistakes" as delightful accidents makes the creation of backgrounds an ever-evolving process.