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I  have decided to spend some time with my favorite surface which is toned masa paper. I really enjoy watching a painting come to life on this beautiful paper. I never know what it is going to look like and am always intrigued with how the colors I choose play across its surface.  Each piece of toned paper poses new considerations for the artist. Because I brush a thin layer of the matte medium glue over the top surface, I also have some lifting properties with it. (see tutorial on how to tone and affix masa to watercolor paper here and here.

gardenbridge2   click to enlarge

I draw right on the surface of the crinkled masa paper to begin. The initial steps of applying the paint can feel quite different from painting on watercolor paper. The first challenge is that the artist sees all this toned paper with dark threads running through it. It is difficult to see the pencil marks. Combine that with a surface that does not receive the watercolor pigment in the same way watercolor paper does. Large wet-in-wet washes look completely different on this surface because the flow is interrupted by the wrinkles as well as the porosity of the paper. Edges can be softened, still, by tickling the hard edge with a damp brush, but it looks different on this surface than on watercolor paper.  Above is my start with this particular painting and I think it gives the viewer a good idea of what that start can look like. I could easily become discouraged, right here, as I work to decipher my way through all the color and texture left by the toned paper. What works for me is to imagine that surface as white and paint just as I would begin laying in any watercolor. As I  design the surface, the tonal pattern begins to take second stage to the composition taking form on its surface. The tonal color becomes like the white of watercolor paper. The color from the toning does not lift off onto my brush and into the new color being applied. Thus green still looks green when you paint on a red toned surface, etc. If I am going to use any white at all I ALWAYS save that for the last step. I don’t want it running through my other colors and fogging them up. I start my painting by defining something. I chose to define the stream, first, in the above composition. It gives me an area of the painting to work outward from. I  needed it to look glassy and having this down helped me to know how much texture I was going to have to get into the foliage in order to emphasize this.

gardenbridge3   click to enlarge

In the next step, I began laying in my lightest colors of foliage on either bank and around and behind the bridge. It was important  to get that small area of land foliage under the hump of the bridge to read correctly with the reflections in the water. I also spent time defining the left bank. The greens of the grass changed from light green to dark green and I wanted to establish that. By this time, I am on my way and the textures and toning of the masa paper does not bother my eyes any longer. I can clearly see where I am going with the painting. HOWEVER! This rarely looks like my photo reference. The toned paper adds so much to a scene and changes all but its pathway of light and design. Begin to look at what you are painting as “your essence” of the reference material rather than to struggle to make this look like the reference.

gardenbridge4   click to enlarge

I then began to work in midtones behind all the lighter green and yellow foliage. This takes time and is rather tedious.

gardenbridge finished painting

In finishing I do a lot. I added all the tiny dark tree trunks and branches I saw running through the woods in the background and  darkened the tree trunks in the upper left quadrant, first. Then I begin lifting in areas I want the texture of the masa to show through. I lifted the darks on the left bank by wetting a brush and applying water to the surface of areas I wanted to texture. I then lift areas of color out. You can see that the left bank is more textured in this view than the one previous. I also lifted color from the tree tunk reflections in the lower right quadrant. I lifted darks from the reflection of the underside of the bridge in the water. Wherever a dark appears flat, I play with it in this way.  I furthur defined the reflections around the bridge in the lower left quadrant and smoothed out the area where it disappears in the surface of the water in the lower right quadrant.  I lifted tiny areas of color in the lower lefthand quadrant going up that bank and leading the viewer’s eye to the entrance of the bridge where I added some white gouache. I painted areas of the rails of the bridge in the white gouache  to define it. I lifted a little of the darks from the tree trunks in the upper right quadrant so they appeared as though some speckled light was hitting them.

To create my darks on masa paper, I always have to use combinations of staining darks. These would be colors like prussian blue, alizarin crimson, hookers green, the quinachridones, aureolin and anything labeled phthalo. Lights are usually the toned colors of the masa paper and midtones are my light and midtone colors of my palette.


  1. Wonder how the concept came off at Seven Borders. Neat idea… wonder if it could include a PowerPoint screen – oh, maybe not…it would be a negative experience for viewers if some rank amateur got on the keyboard.

    Leslie, I hope this will say what is in my heart…you could paint on a crinkled brown paper bag and make it beautiful. I suspect I have a bit of a parallel experience in writing that thrills me to bits. When I start with one opening line and end up in the Arctic instead of Mexico, I am thrilled and delighted to be fooled!

    • Ha! I practice drawing scrunched up paper bags from time to time. It is great drawing practice; especially with a light shining on it so I can shade the different planes of it. The challenge is to see if your drawing actually comes out looking like a crunched up paper bag. 🙂 I think you have something there, though. Working on the surface with all the wrinkles is similar. Thank you for the compliment. I’m sure you have experienced much the same as you find the words to communicate what you wish to share with others.
      Thank you for visiting Al’s site. What a phenomenal way to share what it is he actually does down by the river.
      Anyone wanting to know what Amy is referring to about Seven Borders click here:

  2. Very pretty painting!

    • LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words
    • Posted July 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    what a treat!
    I really like you explaining your steps..I don’t understand most
    of it, but I will look up the different things I don’t know..
    This is a wonderful work of art…
    Thank you for sharing so much!
    Take Care…

    • Hi Ladyblue!
      I think your confusion might be because this is a continuation of the two tutorials I highlighted within the post, here. They tell, as well as I know how, how to tone this paper and affix it to watercolor paper.
      Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂

  3. Oh this is beautiful, Leslie. Light hearted. The pink under-lay brought the painting to life. Love it.

    On Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 9:50 AM, Leslie White

    • Hi Gretchen,
      I did one other with this tone under it, here:
      That one was tonal and I really wanted to see if I could pull something green off against all that warmth. The tonal color on the masa doesn’t seem to interfere too much with my color choices for a painting. There seem to be numerous possibilities with this type of support. Thank you!

  4. I want this one too. 😀

    • When you write haiku? I am often transported to places like this, Yousei. I can place you here so well. 🙂

      • Nothing said could be more flattering than that. 🙂

  5. Thank you for describing the steps 🙂

  6. What a lovely, lovely place to be, Leslie.

    • Welcome back Hannekekoop! I can see the fairies and gnomes you create playing in a scene just like this one! 🙂 Thank you!

  7. Wow! I want to go there! That great effect often looks like Batik style on cloth. Beautiful color and light! And the reflection is pure magic.

    • I kind of want to sit on the bank and dip my toes in the water. Hot here! You have a good eye, Cindy. The refection was what I had to start, first, or I knew I’d get lost with this one. Thank you!

  8. Another gorgeous painting on Masa paper and I feel like you wrote this post just for me! 🙂 I am still working (struggling) on my first masa painting, but I love all these tips and if I ever have any energy after the heat from today’s subway ride I’m gonna give them all a try.

    Always the teacher, always an artist!

    • OMG!!! I know what you mean by hot! We are hot here, also, but I just have a sneaky feeling it is not as hot as having to move around surrounded by all that concrete in New York, Carol.
      Yes….especially for you so you would know what one looks like as I’m working. I was hoping that by posting that first step, you could see that I struggle with the print already on the paper; drawing barely decipherable for all that textured color. I think that first stage is the initial challenge. Thank you for the comment and I almost feel as though we are next door neighbors sharing in this heat wave for miles and miles!

  9. This is a amazing work of fine art, Leslie. I wish I could speak more on color, but I can tell you spent a lot of time getting variation and playing with the light, making this painting come to life. I’m fascinated by the lifting of the color and how you did this on the trunks, and that bridge! and the reflection… magic. Thank you as always for sharing your process in such detail, and the manner in which you do it; That teaching is a work of art all on its own, thank you.

    • Wow! Thank you, Scott. I love the fact that I can play with lifting some of the color and let the under painting that is textured show through. You guessed it just right. I spent a lot of time on that water, the reflections and trying to render the play of light on it. Much of that was done in that first step so I could “see” where I needed to go with the rest of it. Good eye!

  10. I felt as if you were teaching me in person, so much of clarity in what you share, I love the fabulous out put of your process. I feel the process itself is intriguing as much as the final painting since each step is towards an unknown result. Can I buy masa anywhere online?

    • You are so right, Padmaja. The process is what snares me with this surface. I love working out the composition and I never know what these will look like until I’m done. Thank you for commenting about that.
      Yes you can purchase it from Dick Blick or Cheap Joes. Just type in masa paper in their search category and it will come up. It is sold in large sheets (31″ x 21 1/4″ ) that can be cut down. If they don’t deliver to where you live, just google masa paper and see if a site comes up that services to your area. It is an art paper and carried by most art suppliers. Not expensive, either! I think you would enjoy this. You are so creative!

  11. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use masa paper as successfully as you do, Leslie. I still have large sheets here that I’ve been afraid to use since my first effort. Stupid really as I did like what was happening on that first go through, but fear has its hold on me. For the present. I love this piece, all the trees and greens, the bridge and stream…Much better than Monet’s work in my opinion.

    • Wow! Thank you, Sherry. Monet is probably shaking his head. I love his work and how he layed color against color and how he studied the light. You made my day. 🙂

  12. It always amazes me Leslie, to see the finished watercolour emerge in front of our eyes, step by careful (and talented) step, and voila’, I now want to stand on that bridge and absorb the peace and tranquility I just know is there waiting to be appreciated. Many thanks for sharing this wonderfully crafted piece. xPenx

    • Yay! You are not in my spam folder! Hope they fixed that for you!
      I’d stand there with you. My sister and I would station each other on either side and send a leave through on the current. I can remember her saying, “I see it! I see it!” Ah, the joys of the young. Thank you, Pen.

      • step by step Leslie, I’m being recognised again, Yaaaay!! Says it all really, 🙂 and I can just see you and your Sis, on that bridge, brings to mind Pooh Bear and the river sticks. xxxx

  13. This is gorgeous Leslie! Makes me want to try the masa paper 🙂

  14. This is amazing Leslie ❤ really beautiful 😃❤

  15. Les, you have truly mastered the technique with masa paper. The depth and shadows are exponentially enhanced with this method. Beautiful content and detail.

    • Wow! Thank you, Nancy. You are always so supportive. I DO LOVE MASA! 🙂

  16. Hi Leslie, this painting is wonderful!
    I finished the collage painting I started on the last night of class. It’s at this link:

    Hope your summer is going well!

    • Thank you, Dianna! …for the comment on my painting and sending me an update on yours! Of course I’m grinning from ear to ear. Good job on the perspective and I really like the citrasolv papers on the board walkway. You rock!

      Having a good summer with lots of time to paint. Hope you are getting some time for that, too!

  17. Hmm. Leslie, between this and Lynn’s underwater photograph image earlier I can just about forget about the 97+ humidity heat encasing the house. Thank you for the lovely distraction. namaste

  18. I love these colors. I don’t know why maroony reds and soft greens appeal to me so much, but this would fit right into my house. LOL The arched bridge in the woods is masterfully done.

    • Probably because a bridge like this would nestle into your woods just right, perhaps? When I look at your photos of where you live, I imagine places like this nestled somewhere, Ruth. Thank you!

  19. I am in awe of your ability to do details… Your work is absolutely stunning!

    • Good eye, Isabelle! These masa paper paintings seem to scream for detail to finish them off. Otherwise the viewer’s eye just gets caught up in all the texture and never a place to rest. I look for references that have something specific to detail in the last steps. Thank you!

  20. I love the colors and working on your favorite surface shows! The last two paintings have been beauties!!

  21. Your colors are amazing as always, Leslie… I love the bridge!

  22. gorgeous

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