I’ve always loved Eric Carle’s books. I loved them as a child and now I love them as an adult. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a favorite with pretty much everyone in the world, of course, but I like some of his lesser known books as much or more. A few months ago I was reading Pancakes, Pancakes! to Augie at bed time and I started really studying the illustrations. I knew that Carle works primarily with collage but I’d never really taken the time to try to figure out how he put them together. After Augie dozed off, I slowly flipped through the pages of the book to see if I could determine what the artist’s process was. As I looked at the illustrations, I knew I had to try his technique!
I thought a little bit about what sort of project I could do and I decided to make some art for the wall of Wyatt and Augie’s room. I wanted something bright and effervescent so I came up with a plan to decorate a canvas with polka dots and a big monogram for each of the kids.
Here’s how I did it.
Begin by gathering your supplies. You will need:
- 18 by 24 inch canvas — or any other size canvas you would like.
- 4-5 sheets of white tissue paper — you can also use other colors as you like
- Mod Podge in gloss finish
- Assorted colors of acrylic paint — I used satin and glitter paints
- Paint brushes in assorted sizes
- Other paint brushes designed to achieve decorative finishes — I used sea sponges and a dragging brush
- Large circle paper punch
This is a pretty messy project, so the first thing you should do is fully cover the surface you’ll be working on. I used cut-up paper grocery bags which have replaced newspapers as my favorite surface covering. They are super sturdy and can be used many times before they need to be recycled.
The first step of this project is also the most fun because you get to play and experiment with paint. Spread a sheet of tissue paper out flat on your work surface. Choose a paint color and dilute it slightly with water. I chose bright colors — red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise — and some glitter paints in orange and green. The paint will need to be a bit of a thinner consistency than what comes out of the bottle or it will cover the tissue too well and be boring. Much of the beauty of this project comes from imperfection, so you want the paint to be streaky and leave brush marks on the tissue paper.
You might need to experiment a little with the consistency of the paint before you get it right, but because mess makes it interesting it’s virtually impossible to screw it up. I used some of the colors just as they came out of the bottle, I mixed some together to make new colors and I also put two colors on my brush at once to get a sort of striped effect.
I divided most of my tissue sheets into blocks of three colors, but I painted a few sheets all one color to use for the big letters. I assumed the boys would pick red and green — their favorite colors — for their letters but they both ended up choosing green, so I was happy to have plenty of tissue to work with. It’s very difficult to see it in the photos, but there is a lot of variety in the paint on the tissue paper. I streaked and swirled the paint with my brushes. I doubled up colors (orange and lighter orange up on the top, blue with green on the bottom). I used the sponges to remove paint in some places and dab it on in others. The dragging brush was a lot of fun too. I used that to create circles and swirls — especially on the green sheet.
Here I used a sheet of yellow tissue for richer color. The top of the sheet uses satin paint, but the bottom portion is painted over with orange glitter paint.
When you have finished painting your tissue, allow your sheets to dry thoroughly. I stopped at four sheets of painted tissue which was plenty for this project, but I would have been quite happy creating more.
After your tissue is completely dry, it’s time to cut circles. Cut your tissue into long strips about 8 inches wide, then fold them lengthwise a few times so that you have a piece four layers thick. Use the paper punch to cut the circles. This was a little worky because the tissue paper got caught in the punch pretty frequently. When that happened, I just used the scissors to cut out the stuck part (or I just tore it out). I also used the scissors to cut some of the circles free-hand.
Next, cut your letter from the tissue. I used a half sheet of tissue for each letter. Sketch your letter on the back of the tissue paper. My kids’ names start with “A” and “W” so I could just write them on the back of the paper normally but if you are cutting a letter that isn’t symmetrical (like “R” or “S”), you will need to sketch the letter reversed. You can also sketch it on the front if that’s easier, but you’ll have to be careful to keep the lines hidden when you cut it.
Cut the letter from the paper.
Now you can begin gluing!
Pour some of the Mod Podge into a cup and dilute it a little with water. You want it thin enough that you can easily spread a very thin layer of glue on the tissue paper. I use a cruddy old paintbrush for this purpose
Randomly place your circles on the bottom half of the canvas. Rub each circle with your finger to be sure there are no air bubbles and the edges are fully adhered. I tried to keep a pretty good balance of color and I overlapped the circles frequently. I think it would have looked cool to do alternating rows of single colors too.
Place some of the circles over-hanging the edge of the canvas as well. When I did this, I just wrapped them around the canvas.
Keep gluing and layering circles until you are satisfied with the background.
Lay your letter on the canvas to decide where you want it to go. When I put my “A” down, it was directly over a few green circles and I was unhappy with how it looked. I layered a few orange and blue circles on top of the green to provide a bit of extra contrast between the monogram and the letters.
Spread glue on the back of your letter and then, working quickly, place the letter on the canvas. Be careful not to let it double over when you are lifting it up. You can get it apart pretty easily, but it’s kind of a pain. Ask me how I know. You’ll have a few minutes to lift up your letter and rearrange it before the glue dries if you don’t get the letter in just the right place the first time but you increase the chances of ripping it if you do that so do your best to get it where you want it the first time. Again, rub the letter with your finger to remove air bubbles.
I had trouble getting some of my letters to stick down, so I just ran the brush under those edges to add a bit more glue. I also found my tissue wrinkled up a bit , but I liked how it looked so I didn’t sweat it too much.
Allow the canvas to dry thoroughly.
When the tissue and glue have dried completely, seal the canvas. Again, pour some Mod Podge into a cup and dilute it with a little water. Using a large brush, cover the entire canvas with a thin layer of glue. Be sure to cover the side of the canvas if you wrapped any circles around the edges too. Repeat this step two or three times, allowing the glue to dry completely between coats.
Hang your canvas and enjoy it! I made one of these for each of my kids and I’m planning to put them over their headboards.
If you’d like to learn more about Eric Carle and his art, his web site has a wealth of information. I especially liked the slide shows showing how he paints his tissue paper and then how he uses his tissues to create his illustrations.
Disclosure: I was not compensated to write this post, but I did receive all the Martha Stewart painting supplies I used as part of a previous campaign I worked on. I liked them enough that they have inspired me to create this project of my own free will.