Quick and Dirty Vintage Backgrounds

Jester by Kathryn Sturges

Jester by Kathryn Sturges

There is something about the vintage look that just makes art look that much more inviting! I discovered this technique a couple of years ago, and recently I cannot get enough of it. Backgrounds can get pretty stale if you do the same thing all the time, so try this out when you want a different look altogether.

This background turns a flat page into an irregular, juicy surface with lots of peaks and texture. So plan on doing a loser watercolor sketch on the work unless you actually flatten out the paper before you paint on it. I will describe how I flatten papers in this post so that you can do so if you wish.


watercolor paints

Tim Holtz Distress Ink in Vintage Photo or Walnut Stain

watercolor paper


spray bottle filled with water

paper towel, rag or tissue

  1. First you want to mist the paper so that it is fairly damp. Then start spreading around your colors onto the page in a loose way, just to get some color on the page. I chose orange and yellow for the above painting. Once you have some paint applied, mist the paper again and use your tissue or rag to smooth out the color and get a more even look without the harsh edges, blurring the colors together.

  2. Next mist the paper one more time, then scrunch and squish the paper so that it is all crinkled up. To get a consistent look, be sure all the edges are scrunched. Then open up the paper and using the distress ink pad, go over the paper in an irregular fashion. Focus the ink on the peaks of the paper which gives a great effect. Once you are happy with the overall appearance, let the paper dry.

  3. You could go ahead and paint on the paper at this point, like I did. But if you want to do collage or need a smoother flat surface for a more intricate work try this. Wait 24 hours because the inks don’t become permanent immediately, they stay workable for a while.

  4. Flip the work upside down onto a stack of newsprint, mist the back evenly and lightly and then put more newsprint on top. Place books onto the paper stack using enough to cover the surface, or a large plexiglass sheet and leave everything pressing until the paper dries completely. You can check the paper periodically or just wait three or four hours. That will give you a smooth surface to art on.

Have fun playing with this technique! If you use different colors it will produce a totally different result. The vintage look is all the rage, and this quick and dirty background will be perfect for adding an old time feel to your work.

TutorialsKathryn Sturges