Monday, July 20, 2020

Three Ways to Use Watercolor with Stencils

Hi All! It's Gwen back here today with my quarterly post on Paint & Texture. This month I thought I'd take things in a bit of a different direction from what you typically see from me while I introduce my latest passion in the world of paint; watercolor. 

In the past I've always shied away from watercolor because it seemed hard and unpredictable, but recently I was inspired to take another look and approach the medium differently - trying things in my own way and based out of my own skill set and experience, rather than trying to stress about doing it "right." There's no right or wrong in art in any case, right? 

So I thought I'd take some of the things I've been experimenting with and share three mixed media projects showing three different ways that you can use watercolors with stencils. 

Ready to get going? Grab a snack... I've got a mini tutorial for each of the three projects, so this is going to be a long one!

I think for those of us who are mixed media artists, sometimes it's easy to forget that the technical definition of "mixed media" is just that... you're mixing multiple media together in one project. And while no one is ever going to pry my matte medium, collage papers, and dimensional objects away from me (see the last two projects,) sometimes it's nice to create a mixed media project without getting glue all over my hands. lol. (And yes, I did actually just admit that.)

So first up, I thought I'd start with a relatively simple form of mixed media - layering different wet media (pens, paint, and ink) and using a pretty unintimidating watercolor technique... painting blocks as a background for stenciling.

To start this spread in my art journal (which is made with watercolor paper and happens to be the book I made in this month's StencilClub video,) I just wet both the colors in my watercolor palette and my brush (and you can use anything from a children's watercolor palette to artist grade paints - it all works,) and then used a wash to paint loose rectangles of different sizes and colors all over the background. I painted wet into dry - using a wet brush on dry paper, so that I could keep the definition of my rectangles.

Once the watercolor was dry (and it's important to let it dry, but it doesn't take long,) I took my Suzani stencils from this month's StencilClub collection and stenciled onto the painted rectangles with different colors of pigment ink. As you can see in the photo, I use a blender brush with ink pads - I've found that they make it so easy and give you such a clean and smooth image! I also used pieces of scrap paper to mask off each area I was stenciling so that I didn't get ink outside of the painted blocks.

Below you can see how I just took bits and pieces of the designs to stencil the background. I also left a few of the rectangles empty so that I could add journaling or other elements.

To complete the spread I stamped in the yellow rectangles with a bunch of different designs from my stash and then used pens to add marks in the white spaces, sketch some borders around the rectangles, and add some scribbly journaling around the borders of all of the purple rectangles. I inked the edges of the pages with brown and black Archival Ink, and that's it! A few simple techniques, fairly limited supplies, but a rich and layered art journal spread.

For the second project I stepped it up a bit in terms of the watercolor... I went from painting simple rectangles to making large, whimsical leaves. I used multiple colors and added the tiniest bits of shading in some areas, but I kept it pretty basic (for me, at least.) You can get as detailed as you like or just go with one solid color.

If it helps, you can also sketch the outlines in pencil first and then fill them in so that you feel more confident about making sure you end up with actual leaves. (Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything... lol.)

Next came stenciling with four of my stencil designs - one for each set of leaves. (I used my Decorative 6-Petal Flower Screen, Boho Striped Circle, Ornamental Floral Screen, and Decorative Flower Stamen Medallion stencils.)

As you can see below, I laid the stencil over the painted leaves and then stenciled with pigment ink and a blender brush. This time I didn't worry about whether the stenciling overlapped the painted edges, I just made sure not to stencil over top of one of the other designs and that was good enough.

Once I was finished stenciling, I pulled out my pens and added a sketchy outline to each shape as well as some marks on the leaves. I like the added definition from doing this and how it gives a more finished look to each design.

After adding the pen work I cut each of them out - instant embellishments! You can stop at this point if you don't have a specific project in mind... sometimes it's fun to make a little pile of these types of pieces so that you have them handy when you're working. I love to use embellishments that I've made myself - it's such a fun way to get more of my own hand into my work.

Time to incorporate these into a project... I started pulling different papers out of my stash and layering them on a piece of Khadi paper which I was using as my substrate.

I added some stenciling to the background with my Art Deco Sunburst Background stencil, inked the edges (as well as the edges of each of the collaged layers,) and put just a bit of stenciling on the top layer using Seth Apter's Numbers stencil. A few bits of ribbon, some beads, and a replica Chinese coin and I called it done.

For the third and final project, I went with something a bit more challenging, but definitely worth the effort (at least I think so, but watercolor has become a very zen activity for me.) Very frequently with watercolor you start with a pencil sketch. Why not use a stencil to create that sketch? I took my Chinese Garden Plum Blossoms stencil and used a pencil to lightly trace the lines onto a background where I had already adhered a bit of collage.

Next I used my watercolors to fill in the sketch. I like to start with a wet into dry wash of a single color and then add shading and details on top. Again, as with the leaves in the previous project, you can do a single color or get as detailed and realistic as you'd like.

Because I've always been a member of the "more is more" camp, I added more layers of watercolor and then used some colored pencil and pen on top. Watercolor is a great base layer for a lot of media - you could also use acrylic paints, water soluble crayons or oil pastels, watercolor pencils, etc... or just leave it as plain watercolor with no other layers - it's all up to you and what you like.

To finish I added a homemade rubon from one of my watercolor drawings of a bird, then added framing, more marks, and a scribbled border.

VoilĂ  - it's finished!

 Here's another peek at all three of the projects:

I hope you're feeling inspired to try incorporating a bit of watercolor into your stenciling and mixed media projects. There are so many things that you can do with this medium - it's fun and versatile and I just love the look you can get from it.

Have fun experimenting and until next time, happy stenciling!


  1. Homemade rub-on? Please tell me more info about this fantastic sounding addition!

  2. Same question! Homemade rub-ons sounds fantastic! Beautiful work and beautifully written, clear, and detailed post

  3. Beautiful projects! It definitely gives me a few good ideas to try. I'm new to mixed media and I'm sometimes afraid to let go and create!

  4. Wonderful tutorial! There is a whole world of watercolors! Thank you Gwen- always a gift of creative inspiration!

  5. We all want to know about your homemade rubon!

  6. Hmmmm home made rub on? Do tell us how to make those, please!

  7. Hmmmm home made rub on? Do tell us how to make those, please!

  8. So inspiring! I am just making friends with waterclor and I am pretty sure I can do this!!! Thanks for great ideas!

  9. Simply wonderful! Thank you for sharing such great ideas. I love how your added inking gives such wonderful definition.

  10. I love your work, Gwen! Thank you for sharing!!!!!

  11. Totally awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Seriously, home-made rub-on?? Do tell!! These projects are amazing, Gwen!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  13. Oh WOW! I feel so inspired to try all of that now! Thank you so much for sharing!!

  14. You have inspired me with making the simple color shapes and then stenciling over top.
    Thank you Gwen!

  15. In love with all three projects. Yup, wanting info on your homemade rubs.....


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