Skip navigation



Once again, my class is working with watercolor and rice paper collage. I always encourage them to create an abstract for their first assignment. We use the same glue (acrylic matte medium with a little water mixed in so it is not so thick) and tear our rice papers or cut them and glue them to our painting. We, then, go back in and paint some more as each layer dries.



Above are some examples of rice papers I use.




We begin by choosing a color palette and making marks on our watercolor paper in abstract patterns. This phase can include drips (by turning your wet painting several directions), splatter, light and loose washes and marks with different brushes. I always advise my students to keep some of the white of the paper and ask my students to look for potential areas to work toward a center of interest on or near a “sweet spot”. In the above painting, it is that area that is so dark near the upper right sweet spot. I wait for this initial wash to dry and then begin tearing and cutting different rice papers and adhering them to the paper with the glue I made. Make sure you use only enough glue to adhere the paper. Too much glue dries thickly and interferes with future applications of watercolor. The above photo has some rice papers already glued into it. I try not to think too much in the first layer. I am always working toward the area that I think will become my center of interest. I try to allow the painting to tell me what it wants and try to not get too dark or muddy in the first two layers. The gluing phases of these creations always takes longer to dry, so I try to have two paintings going at the same time and alternate between the two.



The above image is what my painting looked like after three layers of rice papers and watercolor painting.  My center of interest was still not strong enough and I wanted to add more gold  and some of that lime color to make it pop some more.



In the above, you can see I added those greens and golds to grab the viewer’s eye. Then, I chose a rice paper with some shiny silver things in it and designed a moon-like image on my sweet spot. I chose to lead the viewer’s eye there with some torn strips of that sparkly paper. After that dried, I took a small round brush and darkened some lines and shapes leading to the moon with diox violet.

Here is one I created last year.

I really like that I never know what I am going to get. It allows me to relinquish some of my control and let the values, lines and shapes draw me into what is forming on the paper. No two paintings are ever alike and there are endless possibilities!


  1. Hi Leslie, this is beautiful. I like the color palette very much and the rice papers really gives this painting different areas of interest. The center reminds me of the center of a flower in the summer when the pollen is just about to either fly off or a bee is going to land and pollinate the flower. I know sometimes abstract paintings are just that. But I think human nature often tries to identify an image. It stands both as an abstract and to me as a flower. Love the lines of diox purple too.

    • Wow! Thank you, Carol. I saw the same thing while creating this. It suggested something floral. I was thinking “like the promise of petals and things to come from the spring greens and the golds and the changing of the moon, etc. It pleases me that you saw the floral aspect, too. Thank you for this comment! I went with the violet because I had so many orange, gold and green colors going that I leaned toward using a dark color from the secondary triad.

  2. The freedom behind the abstract creation and the lack of pressure on the end result always makes so much of a difference to the process. I love this flower that bloomed from no where, the soft and subtle colors accentuated its beauty.

    • You saw something floral in it too! Thank you Padmaja! Oh yes, freedom and the feeling that the inspiration is coming from what is happening on the paper.

  3. Great instruction to paint abstractly. Really takes the mind out of messing with the new experience.

    • I agree with you, totally. What better way to explore the use of rice paper collage. Each paper tears and cuts differently. Each paper looks different on the surface of the watercolor paper. Each paper takes the paint differently. Then there is the consistency of the glue and how the pigment lays on it after it dries. The only thing I ask them to do is work from or into some area that will serve as a center of interest for their abstract and they are off to the chase. Thank you for this comment, Gretchen!

  4. Leslie, I always miss your classes when I am not around but when I come back I always get inspired and enjoy your work. love those collage abstracts very much… I am taking a short walk to see what I missed… take care X

    • Thank you, Doron. I stopped by your blog the other day and became a little worried as I saw you had not posted for awhile. It is good to hear from you!

  5. How interesting to read and see how you created this watercolor abstract ! I would never have imagined it looking at the pictures. I see a kind of “sea flower”, meaning the sort of vegetation (algues) that is brought back on the shore sometimes. Love those shades and textures too. Thanks for explaining how you worked. This is beautiful.

  6. This is so exciting! The deep, saturation of color really captures my eye. I see a furry type of tarantula, lots of legs, and the body in the center, and it’s wonderful as an abstract piece as well. Your students must have loved this assignment!

    • I thought that, too, Marian, as I was working with the image. That is the special allure of an abstract and one of the reasons they are so much fun to work with. Thank you, so much!

  7. Stunning! Free, almost wild, perhaps watery. Regardless I love it.

    • Inese Poga Art Gallery
    • Posted April 29, 2015 at 2:03 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Your projects are so cool! I haven’t seen any rice paper in the art store here, but it seems a very worthy thing to try. Your paintings are gorgeous and these abstract projects, too!

    • Thank you, so much, Inese. We have one art store that carries a pretty good selection and then I found a fantastic online art store that is jam packed with beautiful rice papers called I really enjoyed your recent post with pictures of your students and their work!

  8. Never having attempted an abstract, I’m amazed that so much planning goes into them and appreciate your clear description of how you arrived at such a pleasing painting. Love the idea of a “sweet spot”.

    • I had to go in search of discussions of composition and wanted to design a class that touched on the major points of designing a painting or drawing. I liked one of the author’s I read who described the areas that were best for a center of interest as a “sweet spot”. That made sense. I know not every artist takes composition to mind when creating an abstract but I, personally, am drawn to abstracts that have elements of contrast in value, line, color and texture and that move outward from something interesting and a little different. Thank you for this comment. 🙂

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Here is a another post that describes this process. […]

  2. […] we created abstracts by experimenting with the different textured rice papers we had purchased and layering watercolor […]

  3. […] 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 […]

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

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: