Altenew: Beyond Basic Backgrounds

Watercolor: You Can Do It! – Tony Couch

Matt Resist Duo

I love the look of watercolor and so admire those with the gift of producing those ethereal, almost translucent floral wonders and don’t  get me started on the soft, barely there backgrounds. As a card maker primarily, I struggle with this medium – overworking the paper, adding too much pigment, flooding the image with water, not understanding when to ‘stop,’ mixing wrong colors/getting mud, and more!

Dodec Closeup

Now, I also understand that practice – and patience – will improve the result but I often skip watercolors in favor of a coloring medium more familiar to me. So when I saw the Matt Resist technique demoed in the Altenew Class “Beyond Basic Backgrounds” I knew that was the one to get me back into training for watercolors.

This technique focuses on creating watercolor backgrounds with the assistance of freezer paper. Freezer paper is die cut to create a stencil-like image/mask and then adhered to watercolor paper using a laminating machine. The freezer paper mask protects areas of the base paper by functioning as a resist, so easy-peasy lemon-squeezy! After painting, drying, and removing the freezer paper the result is revealed in all its glory –  much like a stencil but with really crisp, clean edges usually impossible with watercolors.

I had a bit of trepidation starting out and definitely overcompensated on my initial experiments – I’ll talk further about the problems I encountered along the way. Subsequent attempts were much more successful with final results that were “card worthy” as you can see above. Here is the detailed process and lessons learned:

  1. Set up freezer paper and watercolor paper sandwiched between parchment paper. The shiny side of the freezer paper must be against the watercolor paper otherwise it won’t adhere.
  2. Run the sandwich thru the laminator at its highest temperature – Minc @ 5; regular laminator @ 5mm. The higher temperature is needed especially if using 140 lb. watercolor paper to ensure good and complete adhesion.
  3. Run through the laminator only once. Multiple times through almost glues the freezer paper to watercolor paper – not good!
  4. Add just enough water to the watercolor paper so there’s a light sheen. Too much water dilutes added pigments and color will dry back too soft. You can always come back after dry to add more intensity. Dab off excess water/color with a cloth or paper towel if needed – this can also add a pleasing texture to final result.
  5. Let the painted piece air dry. Like double lamination, using more heat from a heat tool at this stage intensifies glue-like property of the freezer paper making it almost impossible to remove later.
  6. Let the painted surface completely dry before attempting to remove the freezer paper mask – the watercolor paper should NOT feel cool to the touch before proceeding to the next step.  Trying to remove the freezer paper mask before the piece is completely dry could cause the surface of the watercolor paper to peel or tear out.
  7. A heat tool is need to remove the freezer paper but just work in a localized area and apply heat sparingly. You just want to soften the freezer paper adhesion allowing it to be gently removed. A little patience needed here but well worth it!

The “Thinking of You” card is really just a minor variation of the card presented in the class: strong geometric pattern, single color showcasing an ombré effect, background as star of the show. This class card was what caught my eye originally so I just had to duplicate the effect; it was also a good place for a novice to try out the technique!

My “Hello Roses” card represents a stepping up of the Matt Resist technique: more open die therefore more painting/less resist, multiple watercolor colors so sensitive color selection and blending required, background as supporting character meaning it shouldn’t overwhelm the rose focal point but compliment the overall design. The bright cheerfulness of this card feels so spring-like and the colors work together beautifully – no watercolor mud … definitely a success in my book!

Now that I’ve got the hang of the process and have built up some watercolor confidence, I can honestly say this technique is becoming a favorite. And bonus … Matt Resist is so quick and easy multiple backgrounds can be made in a short time and added to a stash for future use. I will definitely be using this technique again and for many more projects!

Thinking of You:

Watercolors: Kuretake Gansai Tambi: Turquoise Green #57
Dies: Altenew: Dodec Cover, Thinking of You
Paper: Canson XL Watercolor 140 lb. Cold Press; Holtz Kraft Metallic: Bronze; Hero Arts: 40lb. Vellum
Other: Freezer paper; Nuvo Glitter Drops: Golden Sunset; Minc Foil Laminator; 3/4” flat watercolor brush

Hello Roses:

Watercolors: Kuretake Gansai Tambi:  May Green #51, Mid Green # 53,  Cornflower Blue # 61
Dies: Altenew: Leaf Frame Cover, Signature Words, Garden Picks 3D, Rose Flurries 3D, Fantasy Floral
Paper: Canson XL Watercolor 140 lb. Cold Press; Neenah Crest: Solar White 80lb.; Neenah Crest: Black
Other: Freezer paper; Wink of Stella: Clear; Minc Foil Laminator; size 6 round watercolor brush; 3/4” flat watercolor brush
Artist Markers: Leaves: G915 Parrot, G825 Olive; Flower centers: Y205 Warm Sunshine, Y612 Paper Bag; Flowers: R400 Blush, R301 Rouge, R206 Crimson, R217 Velvet, R335 Grapevine; Frame shadow: WG01 Morning Frost

  1. Erum Tasneem

    Wonderful work! Doesnt look like you struggle with watercolours at all! Our AA teachers are awesome, aren’t they?! 🙂
    I like the addition of vellum on your teal card, really softens it up a bit. Good thinking. Your second card is gorgeous too but I think the background is a tad dark compared to your leaves as they appear to be somewhat of the same shade? Nevertheless, beautiful cards!
    Thank you for entering your gorgeous work to the AECP gallery. Well done!

    • Deb Hurtig

      Thank you – you didn’t see the 10 less good versions I didn’t use ? … let’s just say they weren’t pretty. I also think my rainy day photos didn’t help show the color contrast you commented on. Again photography wasn’t my friend. Will work on a better lighting solution going forward.

  2. Virginia L.

    I could NEVER tell that you struggled with water-coloring! These 2 cards are so beautifully done with the gradient effect! I do love the blue/green background a bit more as they provide the “white space” and allows the entire design to flow–my kind of cards! Thanks so much for entering your beautiful work in Altenew AECP assignment Gallery. Beautiful colors and design. Well done!

    • Deb Hurtig

      Thank you Virginia! The Leaf Frame background card definitely stretched my watercolor skills, was wondering the entire time if I was on the right path.


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