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I began this painting with an abstract watercolor and rice paper collage. This would serve as my background for the painting I wanted to create. I thought this particular painting suggested an aquarium-like feeling, so I went in search of a photo reference of a fish.


Thank you to Wet canvas reference library for the photo reference of the fish. I drew the fish on a large sheet of drawing paper, first. I then selected a textured and fairly transparent piece of rice paper and traced the fish drawing onto it with a black sharpie. Any kind of waterproof ink can be used for this phase. The drawing can even be transferred to the rice paper using brush and ink.Β  I then cut and tore my fish image from the sheet of rice paper and affixed it to the surface ofΒ  my abstract painting. I used one part water to three parts acrylic matte medium to create my glue mixture. I was careful to smooth the image down to the surface of the paper with my brush, I brushed from the center of the image outward in order to get rid of any air bubbles trapped under the image. I waited for this to fully dry before proceeding.


I painted many of the colors from the background through the fish rather than painting the fish to stand out from the background. It was a personal choice but brought some challenges with it by doing so. My fish appeared flat and lost in its background of colors. Had I chosen to use colors less like the background, he may have stood out better.


I carefully cut dark strips of rice papers for my fish’s tail and fins and glued in some colored shapes along his back. I used india ink to blacken his eyes. I used white acrylic for the gills and white around his eyes and mouth. I then tore strips of textured rice paper and shaped some strands of seaweed in and around him. I hoped this would create some depth to my painting.


After the rice papers dried, I painted the seaweed with several shades of green watercolor and acrylic white. This helped to give some depth to the painting as well as help the fish to become more visible within it.

aquariumabstractΒ finished painting

The last thing I did was to push his head forward more and make it more visible by washing in acrylic white and cerulean blue washes under his chin and left side of his face. This helped to lighten the background without getting rid of the local color and shapes already there.

To view other rice paper paintings I have created click here.


  1. Its pretty I like it. πŸ™‚

  2. I feel as if I’ve been present at the birth of a new life. Leslie.. Wonderful process and great result.. xPenx

    • Ha! …and a fish, no less. My Grandfather took me fishing off the Wilmette pier on the north side of Chicago when I was six years old. I caught one, but the experience of threading the worm on the hook and getting the fish off the hook cured me. I would accompany him from then on out but always took drawing paper and pencils or crayons and watched people to occupy my time. No more fishing for me. So… make a long story short? It pleases me that you saw me bring a fish to life. Thank you. πŸ™‚

  3. Oh, Leslie, I so love what you do with rice paper. This one just came alive during your process, and I am so grateful you take us along on your journey!

    • Thank you, Kate. It pleases me that someone who does not paint enjoys the steps of the process. Rice paper paintings require us to spend more time with a subject and it almost demands that we be more creative with our reference material. It’s fun and challenging, both.

  4. Hi Leslie love this. The fish has truly been born out of the background. I’d like the 3rd picture down on a bag/poster etc

    • That third painting down is sort of a hide and seek image, isn’t it? I saw the possibilities with that also. Interesting comment. Thank you!

  5. I loved the process, a perfect fit for this subject Leslie!
    I didn’t guess that you would introduce the weeds midway, I was hoping to see a companion for him instead, but the weeds did give depth that you hoped for.The final result looks great!

    • I thought about that companion, Padmaja! I had that other reference image of another fish on the ready but was afraid to take the plunge, chicken as I am, because I would have had to add layer upon layer to define it. Seaweed was the easier route. You caught me! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  6. This is just great.

  7. Hey Leslie – I love the bright colours you are using – you really are released in all of this

    • Absolutely. Have to get rid of references and go with the flow, after awhile, Stephen. I sit here getting glue all over my fingers and solving problems and pushing values and textures. Thank you for coming by and commenting! πŸ™‚

      • Ah yes – a voyage of discovery – an odyssey – a messy place – you are so inspiring my friend

  8. How beautiful! I love what you did here, Leslie. I so wish I could sit next to you and work along with you. I might learn a thing or three. Thank you too for the masa paper instruction.

    • Thank you, Sherry. I sometimes forget how important it is for others to view how an artist uses their brush and solves rendering what they see. I have a beginner class right now and we work together. They watch me do something and then they try it. I teach other techniques, also, that I don’t often use. I want my students to discover what works for them. There are so many possibilities with watercolor. The established, more advanced group? I rarely demo for them other than to show them how to mix the glue and apply the papers, etc. They all have styles that they work in and I don’t want to disturb that. Would love to have you looking over my shoulder. Thank you.

  9. Nice compromise. Hiding the fish a bit behind the seaweed actually makes you look for him and recedes the background.

    • Thank you, Ruth. Problem solving is always present with these rice paper paintings, for me. I’ve worked on many but not enough, as yet to feel proficient. It’s an adventure! πŸ™‚

  10. This is wonderful….Good use of creativity with medium, paper and projection… The colours are beautiful and the aquarium achieved!…

  11. Really like to see the process of the work. The abstract start is lovely, with the rice paper over the paint.

    • Thank you, roos. I like creating the abstracts, very much. …just playing and creating, following what the piece suggests. I don’t get that feeling when working from a reference.

  12. Hi Leslie, I was amazed at how this took shape. Looking at your first painting and seeing it evolve into this beautiful aquarium was fantastic. You are just so creative.

    • Had I never viewed what your sister does with collage, I would probably not be so brave everytime I venture forth to begin glueing and creating and trading the brush for the paper, Carol. I really like getting lost in these and trying to discover a way to finish. Thank you! You do know you gave me this bug on that post you posted on citra-solv collage a few years back! πŸ™‚

      • Ha! I’m so happy one of my posts inspired you. You’ve really taken it and run with it!

      • Yep. It was you. πŸ™‚

  13. Wonderful Leslie. There is something very playful/inviting about the process and the result is lovely.

    • This is one area where I can get a little more creative Hannekekoop. Thank you for this comment. πŸ™‚

  14. You always were a wonderful artist Leslie
    and what a feast of artistry I have been missing
    over the many months since my last visit πŸ™‚

    I hope that you are very well and enjoying a sweet Friday πŸ™‚

    Androgoth xx

    • Hi Andro. Thank you for this visit and your comments.

        • Gray Dawster
        • Posted April 20, 2013 at 10:26 am
        • Permalink

        πŸ™‚ It has been really
        nice calling in Leslie πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ xxx

  15. Leslie! Hello!
    Adore this fish with all the oranges and blues! You’ve captured its motion and wandering exploration perfectly. Very refreshing painting indeed.

  16. PS. This may sound odd, but I love the image of the “start” of your process as much as the conclusion. Really. πŸ™‚

    • Me too!!!! Good eye, Eva. I’m not very goord at abstracts but find creating them with rice paper very interesting.
      Thanky you for both your comments!

  17. So neat! I think the seaweed may be my favorite part! The rice paper just gives it life and it’s totally 3D and wonderfully textured.

    • The seaweed was the easiest to create. That’s for sure. Thank you! πŸ™‚

  18. Interesting technique, Leslie. I’ve just looked through your other examples of it, too – I like it. πŸ™‚ And curiously, as well as the end result, I like the second stage of nearly all of them… they could stand alone really.

    • That is music to my ears, Val. Thank you for that. I feel as though this is a technique that is wide open for discovery.

  19. this is stunning Leslie. it was really interesting to see your process and it turned out fantastic. the colours are gorgeous.

    • Wow! Thank you Nicola. You know, taking the journey with these is just as much fun as it is challenging because I never know what I’m going to end up with.

  20. Beautiful work! I can’t wait to get back from vacation, so I can spend time digging deeper into your older posts; I know I’m going to love every moment exploring ~Scott

    • I think you can use rice paper with acrylics for texture, also, Scott. The transparency would be a little more difficult unless you use your acrylics more transparently. I really enjoy playing around with collage ever since Carol posted about citra-solv collaging here: Thank you!

        • artscottnet
        • Posted May 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm
        • Permalink

        Thanks for the link! Some very interesting effects with the citra-solv, and she has tons of wonderful things to explore, thank you πŸ™‚

      • Carol’s great. She puts a smile on my face and I really like her paintings.

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