First off, thank you all so much for the kind words on the first part of my tutorial. This second part may make you question my sanity, but let me just say: try it first. Then call me crazy. You see, I am one of those strange birds also known as "mixed-media artists" who believe it is fair game not only to paint, glue, bleach, stitch, scratch, or embellish any and every available surface in the quest for artistic expression, but also to rip and tear, melt with a heat gun, sand until unrecognizable, or even bury in the backyard any object of our choosing in the holy pursuit of "texture". We can be very technique driven and, immediately after the first semi-successful attempt at the latest greatest technique on the radar, our second thought is: Oh, cool! I wonder what will happen if I try it on x? Add to this a strange attraction to all things equally precious or mundane, and you eventually end up with the painted paper towel. Let me see if I can show you what I mean.
At the end of our first tutorial, you end up with a workspace that looks something like this:
You've used the Calypso Blue on everything within reach and now you are anxious to try out the Santa Red, but you're left with a brush and a pallet still loaded with blue (maybe you won't be quite so ambitious next time). So, you grab the paper towels I told to have on standby and give it all a quick clean up.
It is then that you realize, "Hey, that paper towels looks really cool!" and you begin looking around for more paint to clean up, hoping to discover a random splatter of Bubblegum Pink that would contrast with the blue quite nicely....
Tutorial, part 2: Dyed Paper Towels for Paper and Fabric Arts
- acrylic craft paint
- foam or bristle brushes
- mixing tray or disposable bowls
- water, in a cup
- paper towels, solid white (experiment with different sizes, weights and textures)
- fusible webbing
- kunin (or acrylic) felt (usually the kind found in sheets in most craft stores)
- sewing machine with free-motion foot
- matte medium (similar to matte decoupage medium and can be found in arts & craft supply stores usually on the same aisle as the artist grade tubes of acrylic and oil paints for around $8)
- heavy watercolor paper or canvas
1. They say "Waste not, want not" but I say, "Waste nothing and never lack for inspiration!" So, instead of cleaning that brush in a bowl of water to be dumped down your drain and clog up your pipes (But you'd never do that, would you??), just squeeze off the paint onto a paper towel and watch the magic happen. Keep dipping the brush in water and squeezing it off onto the paper towels until the brush comes off mostly clean. Do this every time you change paint colors or make a little spill and soon you will have one colorful paper towel.
2. Keeping adding paint to your paper towel as you work until it is fairly saturated with water and paint. Then you can squeeze it into a ball so that the color gets mixed around all areas of the towel. Once it looks interesting and mostly covered, set it aside to dry flat.
3. Once you open up your towel, you may still notice spots of white peeking through. You can wipe the color off your brush directly onto these spots, but for the most part, don't think too much about the process just let the color fall where it will. I promise, you'll be pleasantly surprised each time you open up that little treasure wad of toweling.
4. Soon you'll end up with a great big stack of gorgeous raw materials to use in your artwork. Remember, this is a technique you can practice while you are actually working on something completely different. But if the paint is already out, might as well sop it up and make something pretty out of the mess. Am I right? This is re-purposing at its best.
5. After your towels have dried, they are still just paint covered paper towels until you iron them. The ironing transforms these humble beginnings into a sheer, lightly textured decorative paper of your own original design. Plus, if you use 2-ply toweling, you get two pieces for the price of one! As you iron the towels flat, you will notice the layers begin to separate easily on their own. Hint: you might want to iron your painted towels with a piece of drawing paper or a pressing cloth covering your ironing board to keep it clean. If you end up with gunk on your iron (and you shouldn't if you let the towels dry completely), you might want to check out this genius post I read yesterday to make your iron pretty as new. I haven't tried it myself yet, but I plan to.
6. So what do you do with a stack of painted paper towels?? Why, just use your imagination! But I'll give you a few ideas to get you started.
Paper Art Ideas:
The pieces above were made by cutting strips of the sheer towels and layering them onto art paper. I find that matte medium works best to glue them down smoothly. And because they are so porous, you can just lay the towel down on your paper surface and brush the matte medium right over the top of the towels smoothing out the wrinkles as you go instead of having to brush the matte medium onto the paper first. Make sense? Think of decoupage here. The glue goes on top of the the object to be glued down. Everything will dry with a nicely textured surface, but if your paper warps a bit, you can always press it again with a hot iron once it dries.
The paper can be used as a background or base for collage or used just as you would any other decorative paper. This journal cover was made from a dyed paper towel glued to heavyweight watercolor paper and then hand-stitched. I love the texture it creates and the white paper background really makes those paint splotches pop.
You can also cut the towels as they are to cut into shapes for collage as I did in these mixed-media pieces:
Bright New World, mixed media on canvas
Twilight, mixed media on canvas
The flowers and trees were cut from towels and layered onto the canvas with matte medium. After they dried, they were further embellished with stamps, colored pencils, etc. If you're going to do this, it is good to keep a supply of dyed towels on hand in every color to use whenever inspiration strikes. Remember: the paper towels are like any other paper you might use in your art, but they're better. First, you designed them yourself so no one will ever look at your work and immediately think "Basic Grey" or any other commercially printed paper and, second, it is sheer and can be layered to create a depth of color you wouldn't imagine. For fun, try layering them with printed tissue papers (see stars in Twilight).
Fabric Art Ideas:
Believe it or not, you can make your own fabric out of those pretty paper towels. I've had the best results using Wonder Under or similar fusible webbing to fuse the towels to a felt backing. Just fuse the webbing directly to the felt, remove the paper backing, and then iron the paper towel to the felt. Make sure your iron isn't too hot when using kunin, or acrylic, felt or it will melt. I do think using the lightly heated acrylic felt makes the fused surface even stronger than wool felt might, but you should experiment to find which you like best. I've used muslin as a backing for the paper towels as well, but I prefer the more cushioned felt backing. It makes a nice quilted surface when you top stitch right on top of it.
One more thing. Obviously, I wouldn't recommend washing your paper towel fabric. But, then again, try it and see what happens! But there are still a million ways you can use your new fabric in art quilts, applique, handbags, bookmaking, etc. Just use your imagination! I discovered the quilted fabric makes excellent pin cushions!
Now, hopefully, the creative juices are already flowing and you at least have an idea of how great the artistic potential can be even in something as common as a paper towel. And I hope you never look at trash the same way again. Now go experiment, have fun, and come back here to show off your stuff--please!