Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tutorial: Make colorful greeting cards from a geometric abstract painting

This is so much fun! I made this tutorial to show how you can go from a blank page to this:

And then to these wild, colorful greeting cards, which can be given as gifts or used by you. They can also double as little pieces of art that can be framed:
Admittedly, the large painting looks a little wild and chaotic before being cut up into pieces to be mounted onto cards. When the pieces are mounted on cards they show snippets of interesting texture and detail, which makes them even more interesting to look at, in my opinion. You can use all the colors (which I usually do) but I generally start with an emphasis of just two or three colors, then add highlights of other colors here and there, along with some swaths of silver or gold (or both) or some other shimmery color.

In this tutorial, I started out with the idea of green and pink, then added purple, then blue, then a tiny bit of orange. Then I threw in some red and more blue. Here is a pile of some of the paints I used:
Supply list (this is what I use, but you can substitute other things you have laying around, or whatever supplies you like to use):

- Bristol paper (or thick white cardstock) - I use Strathmore Bristol vellum surface 100 lb (you can find this at Michaels and use a 50% off coupon, or at a reasonable price at nearly every art supply store)

- Watercolor paints (I use several pan sets, as well as tubes of various brands)

- Gouache paints (I use tubes from several brands; one of my favorites right now is Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache in Opera Pink - it's incredibly vibrant)

- Golden Fluid Acrylic paints (all the colors including some shimmery silver, gold and bronze colors)

- Golden Heavy Body acrylic paints in a variety of colors - these go on much thicker than the fluid acrylics

- Pearlescent liquid acrylics (I use mostly Daler Rowney FW in the bottles with droppers, they're really pretty and you can get them at any good-quality art supply store, like Blick or Utrecht)

- Speedball block-printing inks (water soluble)

- Brayer and sheet of thick plastic or a glass plate (a flat surface for brayering the ink)

- Stencils (I use a variety of brands that I've picked up over the last few years from Scrapbook stores and Expos)

- Viva Color Inka Gold Metallic Rub (or other shiny medium)

- Primary Elements artist pigments by Luminarte (I used 'Bolivian Blue' color) - these are fantastic and so shimmery - the color and shine really don't come across in photos but it looks awesome in real life)

- Liquitex matte medium (for mixing the artist pigment powders, though you could probably use a little water or any kind of gel medium)

- Various paintbrushes + container of water and paper towels for blotting excess water

- Pens, such as Sharpie, Montana Acrylic Marker and others, for adding detail to the dried painting

- Newsprint (or other cheap paper) - I use this to lay under my painting to protect my table, and also to brayer off excess paint during the stencil process

- Rotary cutter, mat and ruler (you can use a paper cutter or scissors, but I find it is much easier to cut the painting evenly using a rotary mat and cutter - of course I keep my blades separate from the blades I use to cut fabric, just like I have separate fabric scissors and paper scissors)

- Blank cards and envelopes (you can find these at Target, Michaels, Paper Source or other stores and in various sizes, depending on the color, style, quality and cost that you're interested in - I've also created cards before by cutting up pieces of Bristol to fit inside store-bought envelopes. If you're extremely patient and creative you could always make your own envelopes...) For this tutorial I used K&Company A6 Blank Cards & Envelopes from Target - the envelopes are 4.5"x6.5" and the cards are 4.25"x6.25", so I accordingly calculated the size I needed to cut my painting to fit nicely on the cards: 4"x6". These cards are not as thick as I prefer but I didn't feel like cutting and folding a bunch of my own this time. I would probably not use these again but would find something thicker and higher quality.

- Glue, sticky squares or double-sided tape (I generally use double-sided tape but a nice acid-free glue would also work, but cards might need to be pressed for a few hours while drying to keep them from curling)

First thing is to gather your art supplies and get out a blank piece of paper. I started with some watercolor paint and put some brushstrokes down on paper.
Then I added more greens and some pinks, using a paintbrush to add different shapes and lines.
I kept adding paint, filling in the spaces with different shapes. I like making circles and dots and triangles and squares and curly lines and waves and floral motifs.
Then I added in some darker colors, including a paynes gray, to add some visual interest.
Isn't this little artifact (red/purple) so interesting? It happened when I dropped some red acrylic paint into some wet purple watercolor. I really like the effect.
I also like some parts in this: the pink gouache with blurred edges, and the pearlescent pink paint dropped into wet gouache, plus some purple watercolor splatted on the page in little droplets:
After I finished putting what I felt was the 'right' amount of paint on the page, I moved on to the Luminarte artist pigment to add some highlights. Here is a bit of matte gel medium and some of the artist pigment powder in Bolivian Blue (it's on a paper plate I was using to mix colors, hence the bits of purple, green and silver):
I used a lightly wetted paintbrush to mix the pigment powder into the medium:
Then I traced the blue pigment around some of the shapes:
The pigment is really shimmery and lovely and it comes in a range of colors. I bought it at a scrapbook store but you could probably get it online - here is a link to the product website.

After letting the page dry, I stenciled on some Speedball block-printing ink.
I mixed some purple and blue ink together using the brayer:
Then I brayered the paint onto a stencil and transferred it to the paper by rolling the brayer up and down the other side of the stencil. The nice thing about these inks is they rinse off easily in the sink since they're water soluble. That makes clean up quick and easy.
I added some white to the blue/purple mix to change the color for the next stencil. You can also just rinse off the brayering surface but I like to use as much of the ink on the surface as possible (plus you can come up with some interesting colors by mixing the inks, and if you roll the inks a certain way, you can create an ombre effect which I've successfully done before but not illustrating here):
Here is a stencil just pulled off the paper - you can see the marks it made on the paper:
Here is a detail shot of some of the other stencils I added - the hexagon one is really delicate and lovely and lets more paint show through than some of the others:
Another detail shot:
And another:
This is the whole page with all the stenciling added. It looks kind of chaotic as a whole but as you can see from the above shots, the details are great and visually interesting:
After letting the ink dry, I added black pen, including fine tip Sharpie, Pitt artist pen, Copic multi liner, and an Edding 300 marcador permanente. Really, my favorite is the Edding 300 which is awesome and doesn't get gummed up by the paint like most of the other pens I use, but it's a fairly large tip and I would love it if I could find a finer tip in the same pen:
I like to vary thick lines and thin lines, and make all kinds of marks - circles, floral, swoops, triangles, x's. Aren't the colors in this detail shot so wonderful? I love how the grayish-blue stenciled paint really highlight the colors in the layer beneath it:

Then I added some Golden fluid acrylic silver pearlescent paint with a paintbrush, and some lovely vibrant Gold Inka rub (here is the product website for that). The texture is like shoe polish and I rubbed it over several places on the page using a paper towel.
Here you can see the shimmer of the gold rub and some silver dots:
More silver paint highlighting some of the shapes on the page:
The whole page:
After letting the page dry, I used a rotary cutter, mat and ruler to cut the page up into ten 4"x6" pieces. My original page was 14"x17", so several of the pieces were 1/2" shorter on one side in order to squeeze four pieces out of the strip instead of three. You could always cut 5"x7" pieces or 3"x3" pieces depending on the size of your card base and the size of your starting paper.
I mounted the ten pieces onto the 4.25"x6.25" K&Company card bases using Scotch permanent double-sided tape:
Don't these look interesting?
I love the colors on this one and the little dots in the middle bottom part:
I think this one is just lovely, with so many interesting shapes and lines and colors to look at:
These are fun to give as gifts - you can bundle them in a group of four or five and tie a pretty little ribbon around them with a bow.
Here's the finished stack with envelopes, I really love these and don't know how I'm going to part with them, but I will manage:


  1. Hi Leah, thanks for posting, your cards are very beautiful and you are right, they are more appealing in cards format.
    Wow, you have plenty of materials!! It is wonderful!
    Thanks for your tutorial, I think that right now, I couldn't do the half you did in this process but is very inspiring.
    Thanks again!!

  2. Wow! So creative! It makes me want to paint and create.