Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Collage Drawing Painting Printmaking Theory and Resources

Watercolor-Painted Collage Papers

Meghan Burch

If you’re a parent or educator, hearing the name Eric Carle probably brings many colorful pictures mind. His iconic tissue paper collages are loved by many.

Are you drawn to his art? What do you like about his images? When I ask this to students and visiting educators here at The Carle, inevitably mentioned are the vivid colors, exciting visual textures, and simplified, or abstracted, shapes. The visual appeal and accessibility of his images make children and adults alike want to try creating their own Eric Carle-inspired art.

Eric creates his painted papers with acrylic paint and tissue paper. You can see slides of his process at his official website. Acrylic paint is not a material I typically use with young children for a variety of reasons, and it’s not a material widely available in most early-elementary classrooms.

Teachers tell us they attempt Eric Carle-inspired tissue paper-painting projects with their students using tempera paint, with mixed success. Occasionally it works. If the tissue paper is too thin, however, the paint bleeds and the tissue sticks to the work surface. In other instances, the tissue paper has been so thin it turned into mushy pulp. 

We’ve come up with a few alternative materials and processes so that children and adults can have a fun and successful experience creating their own visually textured collage papers.

Four colorful papers created using watercolors and crayon rubbings.
We’ve already shared how we use purchased and homemade stamps and stamp pads to create visually-textured collage papers, so here I want to share in detail how we make watercolor-painted texture rubbings for collage.
A set of materials laid out including liquid watercolors, paintbrushes, crayons, rubbing plates, tracing paper, and blotter paper.
This process starts with creating a texture rubbing on tracing paper using crayons. Our favorite rubbing plates are those we’ve made in the studio including ones from natural materials, glue, or found materials. Otherwise, you can purchase a set of washable plastic plates that we have in the Art Studio.
A crayon is rubbed against a paper with a rubbing plate underneath it, revealing circle patterns on the paper.
Next, we paint with watercolors over the texture rubbing. It’s a beautiful magic, when the crayon resists the paint. I like using liquid watercolors for this part of the process, but watercolors from pans or tubes work too. How much to dilute the colors is a matter of preference and experimentation.
Collage papers made in this way remind me of how Eric’s collages look in Mr. Seahorse.
The book Mr. Seahorse by Eric Carle on top of a stack of watercolor-painted papers.

After a slew of papers are dry, they are ready to be cut or saved for just the right project.

When we make Eric Carle-inspired collages in our programs we like to let our students decide the subject matter of their picture rather than require they make one of “Eric Carle’s” animals. Borrowing a phrase by the artist Henri Matisse, we invite our students to “draw with scissors,” or tear their papers, and see where that leads them. Sometimes they make representational art, and sometimes not.

What would you create with watercolor-painted collage papers?
Two collages created from the watercolor papers with some drawings incorporated into them.

Be sure to visit the collage category of our blog more ideas and inspiration.

Happy Creating!


Meghan, smiling and wearing a grey shirt with a blue background.

Meghan Burch

Art Educator from 2003-2016, Meghan has a BFA in Illustration from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She tries to think with materials and work with her hands every day.
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