Understanding layers: why I hide collage below layers of paint

For a long time, I simply did not understand the importance of building up layers in art journals. I looked at mixed media artists with astonishment. Why would they do that, I’d wonder, as they put down beautiful scrapbook paper on the page, only to hide it under gesso and layers of paint. Or I’d watch in utter fascination as they laid down beautiful doodles and stamps and stencils, and then again hid it under layers and layers of paint.

But why? Those looked like complete paintings too!

So for a long time, I decided to simply not use collage or doodling on the initial layers. I would simply draw and paint, make a few marks, and call it done.

But then, all of these artists can’t be wrong, I thought to myself. So I decided to just “waste” some lovely paper and give it a try.

Now, while I still believe that some mixed media artists take it a bit too far, I soon saw exactly why they did what they did. The depth that comes from the use of multiple layers in an art journal spread is nearly impossible to replicate any other way. It may not always translate on screen {videos or photos}, but it does bring a lot of depth and interest to the pages.

Remember the abstract art video I shared? Where I “hid” multiple layers before finally painting the flowers over them? See if you can make out the depth created by those multiple layers in the close-ups below:

Adding layers in art journals

Can you see the 3-D look under the layers of white, and how the scallops look like they are popping up and off the page?

adding layers in art journals through doodles

Can you see the doodles in the background peeking through the paint?

Looks much more interesting than a simple painting of flowers without any layers, doesn’t it?

Put this lesson to work: How about giving layers a whirl? If you’re not sure where to start, this step-by-step layering tutorial should help.

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I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?


  1. You are absolutely right. Why would people ‘waste’ time making layers and layers unless it had some effect? The paintings you have shared are stunning. I have to try all your techniques once this challenge is over

  2. These textures that the layering bring out are what adds to the intense quality of paintings. Otherwise they tend to fall flat. I had a thing for mixed media and would always appreciate people who practised it. By the way I love the colors seen here in these works. Vibrant and fresh.

  3. You’re right, the layers definitely add more interest to the overall piece that would have otherwise looked flat. Beautiful!

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