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The above painting was created by using watercolor in conjunction with rice paper collage.  My watercolor students are currently exploring the use of rice papers in their paintings. For the first exercise, we painted a cruciform design on our paper. This is an exercise that Gerald Brommer suggests in his book Watercolor and Collage Workshop.

The image, above, is my initial cruciform design. He tells us we can splatter, work wet-in-wet, and  make small and large marks. One thing we needed to watch out for is to try to not “muddy” our colors in this stage. We waited for this intial design to dry before going on. If we were in a hurry this phase can be dried with a hair dryer.

We, next, tore or cut  pieces of textured manila and white rice papers and affixed them to our initial design using a glue we mixed ourselves. We used 4 parts acrylic matte medium with 1 part water as our glue. Use old brushes to brush the glue onto the paper (less is more) and then apply them to your composition in an interesting  pattern. Cut pieces of rice paper would appear to be more man-made structures and the torn pieces looked more like forms in nature. I have learned, from experience, that I need to be very careful to not brush the glue off the rice paper and onto the adjacent areas of watercolor paper as this changes the way my pigment lays on the paper.  Some rice papers are so thin that I can lay them on the surface of the watercolor paper and stroke the topside of the rice paper with my glue brush. The glue seeps through the porous paper and adheres that to the watercolor paper below. I then stroke gently and lift the excess glue from the top of that piece of rice paper. Once my pattern of glued papers is dry, I again paint into my design. I concentrate on colors that will not create “mud”, often using the colors I used in the initial design. I may, after the pigment is dry, incorporate more rice papers. Sometimes the values are not clear and the artist needs to use more papers to rescue the light values again. I decided my composition, above, fell into that category.

To finish my piece I used permanent white gouache to accent areas of lighter value and went in with my original darks and accented the shapes I wanted to darken with them.

I thoroughly enjoy working with watercolor and collage in this way. It frees me from being tied to reference material and allows for self exploration of texture, value and color. I create these with nothing in mind other than what the paper and pigment direct me to do as they mix and form in front of me.

Two other examples of this technique can be found here  and here.



  1. Thank you very much, Leslie. I love this kind of posts in which you propose to explore new mediums and procedures. They are a great source of inspiration and knowledge.

    • You are welcome, Nuno. I thank you for reinforcing me to continue to do this with new things I try.

  2. Hi Leslie! This is beautiful and I can just guess how freeing it feels to work this way! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your techniques and tips. It always makes me want to dive right in!

    • When I was finishing this, Beth, it reminded me of your rolling landscapes. I really enjoy working this way. It takes longer and I may have to set it aside several times before I see where I need to go with them, but they are always enjoyable to work on. I don’t understand much about abstract work but feel I might be touching the surface a little. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Really do love what you can do with this technique. It gives a depth to watercolor, more of a texture that I miss from oils and acrylic.

    • What you say about the depth is true, Yousei. …and I am just beginning to learn about the texture that these papers can provide. It is fun and more like a journey than a project. Thank you!

  4. I love seeing this, looking at the colours, lines and shapes. It reminds me of the beautiful unconscious patterns in nature. Although it has probably nothing to do with your painting; it also makes me think of some wonderful art made with fabrics and textiles.

    • You hit it on the nose, Hannekekoop. I almost titled this strip farming. It looked like a vast rolling landscape to me. I thopught of ice and snow as well as desert and green meadows while creating it. Is that the moon or sun peeking over the last ridge? 🙂 Thank you for this.

  5. Very intuitive work, the final result just amazing Leslie.. quite a lot to learn from you as always!

  6. Never much of a fan of abstract art, but I can say that I so love your beautiful palette and crisp and clean colors! I am going to have to try to find rice paper. I’ve thought of trying it for years and years and still don’t recall seeing it in the store. Though admittedly, I usually forget about it the few times I am in an art store…

    • I am beginning to look more carefully at them and am finding I am enjoying them more for their texture, use of color and movement, right now. I would bet I’d like them more if I could talk to each artist and inquire what inspired them or moved them and the challenges they undertook. I am using any rice paper that has visible texture to it that is white, beige or manilla colored. I mostly tear my pieces of rice paper rather than cut them. 🙂 “Babysteps” is what I keep telling myself. Thank you, Sherry.

  7. The funny thing about this is you wouldn’t expect to be able to see the original cruciform composition. You can still see a bit of it and you’ve created more of a stratus form in the end. Both seem fitting. I love this one but I also like the Spring one shown here

    • I know. You’d think that cruciform design would go away. For the most part it has, but there are always parts I like to have there at the end. I guess it is sort of like having a chart of where I have been. I always like a bit of my initial pencil marks to show through on my traditional watercolors, also. I don’t erase anything away, really. Thank you, Roni! 🙂

  8. Oh, Leslie! I ABSOLUTELY love this! What gorgeous colors! What wonderful soft mouvements !

  9. Hi Leslie. I always find it interesting how the brain always wants to find identifiable patterns in abstract work. I see waves with a bird flying overhead. No matter. Thank you for your explanation and your beautiful spring vision.

    • I get birds a lot in these, Carol. …and thank you for suggesting water and waves because I see that now, also. I always want to relate an abstract to something and I do believe it is natural for us to do so.

  10. Real nice abstract nature Leslie…

  11. It would be such a joy to experience this kind of creative unfolding with colour. Good for you, Leslie. I’m convinced you’d make a wretch of a discarded bulletin board look like a masterpiece!

    • Ha! I decorated many a bulletin board while teaching in the public schools; my own and others as soon as they found out I enjoyed being creative. You definitely are intuitive, Amy! Thank you for this wonderful comment.

  12. It’s kind of crazy that I wouldn’t know there was paper collage mixed in there unless you told me. I’m sure it’s more obvious in person, but still, so neat! I have this muddying problem myself which I have not quite conquered, but is improving. I can’t see that you had any muddying at all! But I can see where you “rescued” the light values and wow, it makes such a big difference! Beautiful colors in the final result. And thank you for another great technique post!

    • This photo probably could have been better as it was a rather gray day when I snapped the photo of it. If you enlarge it, Cindy, by clicking on it, you can make out the threads of the different rice papers, in places. The idea, though is to add texture to a painting and do it in such a way as the papers actually become part of that painting, so I guess I am succeeding with that. Thank you! 🙂

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  1. […] is an attempt to begin a watercolor and rice paper collage in the same way as the  previous post here. While working on it, we were to search for something recognizable and bring it forward without the […]

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