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I love working with papers made with Citrasolv.  Thank you to Carol King’s post of three years ago, found here, I was introduced to what Citrasolv, a natural cleaner and degreaser concentrate, can do to transform National Geographic photos into beautiful collage papers. My two previous posts on this are found here and here.

To prepare for any Citrasolv collaging, I prepare the papers in advance so that I have a lot of colors and patterns to choose from.  I use a glass jar and pour enough Citrasolv into it to do several National Geographics. I work in the garage ( for ventilation; the smell is so strong when working with the concentrate) to do this. I lay out two rows of newspapers on the garage floor to lay my drying papers on and get busy. I set up a TV table and cover it with newspaper. Then, working from front to back of a National Geographic magazine, I either brush, spritz or eyedropper the Citrasolv on the pages with photos. Between some of the pages, I crinkle up some saran wrap for a stained glass sort of look to some of the papers (pages under saran wrap take a little more time to work). Some of the adds don’t work so I usually skip those. Spread the solution on both pages. I have had some problems with the dry page sticking to the wet page and have lost some of those prints. Then I take a coffee break or have a sandwich or something. There is a small waiting period for the solution to do its work. I find it takes longer in the cold of winter (yes! I have toned papers in the winter!  🙂   ).  Once I see the solution has done its “thing”, I begin carefully tearing out the pages and laying them on the newspaper to dry. Drying is fast; 15-20 minutes! The pages are usually pretty easy to tear out because they are softened by the fluid. Here are some examples:

To start this project, I painted, first. I have rushed to use the papers too soon, in the past. It is almost as though the artist needs to see the values in the paint before he can decide which values and patterns in the papers to choose. I suppose, if I worked in another media, I could work on the surface of these papers and I could go back and forth with my choices.  So I painted


and painted


and painted


The whole time I worked on the above painting, I concentrated on value. I wanted to use my papers as some of the darkest darks in the piece.

I then paused and waited for the above to dry while I mixed my glue. I like using acrylic matte medium with some water mixed in. Just a little water;  I don’t want my mixture drippy wet, but also not thick. I have several old brushes I devote to the glueing process. They get pretty gummed up and I usually have to soak them in warm water before I use them, as they dry like cement.


I began by cutting little pieces of darks to color in the background under foliage behind the barn on the right. I started working in the trunks and limbs of the background trees. I always brush a thin layer of the glue on top of each paper. The papers are not acid free and I read in one of my art books that the glue on front and back will help preserve the color and protect the surface of the watercolor paper. At first, it is confusing, but, as I added more papers, the scene began to appear.


In this step, I finished the trees in the background and went back in with greens and yellows to fill in more leafy forms to help it read a little better. I added the foreground electrical pole, background foliage behind the second barn and a few branches on the foreground shrub.


The next step was one of the most difficult with this particular painting. I painted the shadow shapes on the second barn. I was careful to go back into the shadow shape and delineate each board on the side of the barn after the initial shadow wash dried. I also painted some shadows behind the shrub in front of the first barn and on the left side of the telephone pole.

midwestbarns  finished painting

To finish the painting, I extended the electrical pole down to the side of the foreground road and added the wires. I know. I know. Why the pole and wires?  I think it was because it was part of the allure for me when I chose this reference photo (thankyou to Wet Canvas) for my painting.  I thought the pole and wires added to the depth and it is so much a part of a midwest scene such as this one.

I love working in collage and especially with these papers. I think it is a wonderful exercise in values and patience. They do take time.

The Citrasolv art page can be found here. It was great to learn that some of the art supply companies are now carrying Citrasolv as one of their art mediums!


  1. Leslie, thank you very much for the description. I always learn new things with your posts.

  2. Holy cow, what an intricate project, and you really did describe it well! While I can take five hours on a 2.5″ x 3.5″ art card, I don’t think I would have the patience for all this paper making business. Love the barns! So rustic and the play of light is terrific.

    • Thank you, Cindy. I know your art cards are pretty intricate and very well done. I marvel at some of everyone’s mini art.

  3. What an interesting process, Leslie. It does seem to give the work another dimension. What patience you have!

    I always enjoy looking at these rural setting. So peaceful. Thanks for posting.

  4. what an interesting process. i just recently read about citrasolv on a different blog and it’s interesting to see the step by step process of your work using this. the finished piece is stunning!

    • I love working with these papers. While on summer break, from classes, I want to devote some of my time to creating some of these collages. Thank you, Nic!

  5. You’ve created a beautiful piece, Leslie. I know I wouldn’t have the patience for this technique. LOL

    • When I create the ones without the paint, Sherry, I call it drawing with paper. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for sharing the process in detail Leslie, I was there mentaly through out doing this with you! Very lovely piece!

  7. Hi, Leslie! Lovely painting as usual!!! 🙂

  8. Awesome work, and your descriptions of your process are very helpful. I picked up some citrasolv and plan to try this, thank you 🙂

    • Very good! It’s great practice with values. I actually enjoy doing the collages without any paint, just drawing something and filling in the values and color with the papers. There are video demos on You Tube, also, Scott, of artists toning the papers. Have fun…and make sure you tone them in garage or on open patio. Otherwise? Your studio will be unbearable for days. 🙂 Thank you for the comment.

  9. These red barns are classic, Leslie. I enjoyed reading about the process.

  10. Another great Citrasolv piece. I have some old National Geographics stashed away, but unfortunately have no outdoor space. Maybe in the summer I’ll go out on the stoop and do it.

    I love how the pages come out and some of the pages you showed could be pieces of art in the own right. I also like the electric pole and the wires. I, too, think it gives a sense of depth.

    • If you mean your stoop in front of the building, you might capture some interest from others in what you are doing. Take extra brushes out with you and hand them out. My class, last night, sat and went through their toned papers sharing with each other the imagery they had from their toning. Very little actual painting got done. The papers stole the evening. 🙂 Thank you, so much for sharing the process on your blog so I, in turn, could share it with my students.

  11. seeing it ‘grow’ before your very eyes, is a marvellous experience, Leslie, and I swear the finished result actually moved… the telephone lines really gave that impression, .. mind you I’ve been taking ‘medicinal’ brandy for this cold, so mayhap I’ve been overdoing the doses? 😉 … I agree with your reason about adding them for they do add depth, so well.. . Now I must depart, and try to walk a straight line… 😉 xPenx

    • It’s not the cold medicine, Pen. I flipped through these on the digital camera and things do move. Clor changes also. The light is different when I take the next shot. The camera may be a stitch at a different angle. Regardless of those things, changing values, in paintings, affect the entire piece. Lights become lighter when darks are added. Foreground imagery added to a painting immediately shoves everything else back. It’s amazing how it works. Thank you for your insightful comments here. Get over that cold! 🙂

  12. Learning the detail of your steps and stages intrigue me. I’m so NOT gifted in this manner that you open a world I’ve never even questioned. I am lost re the delineation of those boards. What does that mean? If it’s even close to what I think, it seems it would be faster to paint a real barn!

    Incidentally, these two buildings, colour et al are almost exactly like buildings by one of my fav beaches. Telephone pole included.

    • We discussed the same thing in class last night. Almost every single one of us has seen these two barns at some point in our lives. I could not leave the pole and the wires out! It added so much of the feeling of the entire scene. Sometimes, something we simply take for granted becomes something that stimulates a memory or a feeling. Thank you so much for reinforcing this, Amy!

10 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] The above paintings are just a sneak peak of what I have posted on the “Student Art 2″ page found by clicking here. My students just finished a class I title Watercolor Plus. In this class, I introduce several ways that watercolor can be used with other media. This time they painted on a gesso juice surface, learned to prepare and paint on masa paper, created a gouache resist, used ink with watercolor in several different ways, and created a watercolor and Citra-solv collage. […]

  2. […] how our building/ buildings sat within the foliage and landscape that surrounded it. Were there shadows cast by eaves or trees on the side of them? Was one side of our structure in bright sunlight and the other darker? Where […]

  3. By Century Tree | Leslie White on 05 Apr 2015 at 2:48 pm

    […] in this tree and a bird (colored black like a silhouette). Can you find them? I chose blue and gray citra solv papers to cut the leaves from and glued them on. I wanted them to have a shimmering effect. I […]

  4. By CitraSolv and a Bearded Vulture | Leslie White on 14 Jun 2015 at 4:55 pm

    […] the entire bird and background before I added CitraSolv collage papers to his wings and hood. Click here if you would like to learn how to create these beautiful collage papers and use them in a […]

  5. […] fourth week was devoted to learning how to treat National Geographic photos with CitraSolv to make beautifully colored collage papers and use them to create watercolor and collage […]

  6. […] The above painting was a created by using colored collage papers that I made by treating National Geographic photos with a solution called Citrasolv. I have a tutorial on how to create one of these here. […]

  7. […] The above collage paintings were created using watercolor and Citrasolv collage papers that we made from treating National Geographic photos with Citrasolv. If you would like to know how to make these papers, click here. […]

  8. […] The last painting I completed was a self portrait of me with my new rescue dog. This is painted with watercolor, first. Then I added numerous paper collage. The dog is mostly rice paper and watercolor.  The dark creases in my sweater and the bit of blouse under my chin are citrasolv collage papers. […]

  9. By For the Birds! | Leslie White on 06 May 2017 at 12:04 pm

    […] more on citrasolv click here. For more on rice papers and watercolor click […]

  10. By Student Art: Spring 2017 | Leslie White on 12 May 2017 at 2:39 am

    […] sorts of different techniques with ink. One example using ink might be this technique. They used citrasolv collage and watercolor. They used white gouache to glaze a painting. They did a gouache resist.  Everyone […]

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