I’ve always loved the visual effect of torn layers – billboards layered with posters, one on top of another, some ripped back to expose older ones beneath, and I once looked after an old house which had layers and layers of ancient wallpapers – some dating back as far as the 18th century. For me, such layers are almost a metaphor for time, and I think I love not just the beauty of the visual effect but also the almost archaeological thrill of discovering what lies beneath, of peeling back the layers so that you get a glimpse revealed of something older, earlier, deeper.
It also makes a pretty cool and economical technique for creating art, and one that I thought would also be fun for my youngest to try. It’s easy and accessible, and can have very effective results. So I tried one out on my own first, then prepared a second canvas for my son, with a little help and some suggestions from him as to what paper we should choose to make up the layers.
As a foundation we re-used some old canvases I had lying around (I knew they’d come in useful some day!) It’s been such a long time since we did any work on canvas, but you could just as easily create them on sheets of stiff card or board. The canvases were prepared by pasting sheets of coloured tissue paper onto the canvas in layers, alternated with sheets of newspaper, magazines and comics, wrapping paper – anything that was quite thin and decorative and which was no longer needed. We used wall-paper paste for this since you don’t need a strong glue, and I let each layer dry before adding the next, as otherwise there was a tendency for the damp paper beneath to rip as you brushed on more paste. It’s a great way to use up some of those old magazines, leaflets and comics, and I think we used about 6 layers on each.
Once we were ready to start, we sprayed the paper covered canvases with water and let it soak in for a minute or two, before beginning to peel bits away with our fingers. I did find that initially I had to discourage my son from removing complete layers of paper like pass the parcel, explaining to him that the idea was to leave patches here and there, and eventually he got the hang of it.
You can further embellish the torn paper composition in any way you like – for example I added a small amount of metal leaf to mine, but you could add paint, or crayon, glitter or anything you want. Once dry I gave the canvases 2 coats of matt UV acrylic varnish so that they would be a bit stronger and more durable.
In some respects this technique is the opposite of collage, because although you can get a similar effect by applying torn paper to a surface in layers, the whole point of this was to dig down and ‘excavate’ or remove layers, and I think the result is distinctively different.
For more artwork with comics, check out our earlier Super-Hero Comic Collage.
And if, like me, you love texture, check out my Pinterest Board devoted to the subject.