Creating depth and dimension without bulk

There are a ton of ways to get some gorgeous depth into your art journaling that doesn’t involve a lot of bulky doo-dads. I’m going to show you how you can use simple tools and techniques to achieve a dreamy layered feel to your art.


I’m starting off with two blank, white pages. One of them I’m almost covering with black paint (the operative word being “almost”). By leaving some edges raw and unpainted you get the feel of layers.


The second page has a multitude of elements on it: Black paint smears left over from painting the other page, purple and orange ink stains and transparent watercoloring of differing intensity.

The main trick here is to use transparency and partial coverage to achieve the layers. Also, the contrast of the different mediums and applications help reinforce the illusion of layers.

Note that I also used smudged fingerprints from when I was painting my black page to add detail and texture.

The best way to achieve this contrasty watercolor look is to first apply a light wash of color, then wet the brush again and saturate it with pigment in your watercolor pan. Now dip the saturated, wet brush into parts of your light wash to intensify certain areas.


See how I keep the watercolor really contrasty? On this piece here I actually cut out a partial page to add in between my other two pages. This adds even more of a layered effect.



The most obvious and effective way to add layers is to use cut out pieces of paper and adhere them to your page.


I cut out a dreamy portrait from a magazine, little shapes from patterned origami paper (both super thin papers) and more little shapes from a scrap piece of watercolor. I keep nearly all my scraps for this exact situation.



Now I layer the little pieces around my spread and using a stapler to attach them. The staples also give a hint of layered elements – plus they’re very secure and your little bits won’t be going anywhere. Note how I crumble up the magazine portrait a tiny bit for added dimension. I want to avoid having it look like a solid block so a little distressing makes it look softer.

gm_ninachristensen_flat-layers_07 gm_ninachristensen_flat-layers_08

Next up is journaling. A go-to technique of mine is to use an alphabet stencil to do part of my journaling. Maybe there are words I want to feature or maybe there’s room to write the whole sentence using the stencil.


The cool thing about the stencil is that you can easily create the outline of letters. The hollow letters add a great feel of transparency and depth. I use a variety of pens – thick, thin, different colors – to write out my journaling. Even within the same word the letters may change. All this adds wonderful visual texture.


So here we have the finished spread.


Even though it’s quite simplistic in terms of mediums and materials used, it comes off very layered, messy and dreamy.

I hope you feel inspired to add more flat layers to your art journal pages. Remember, these are simply my most loved methods. How can you create transparency and depth with your favorite mediums? Can’t wait to see what you make.


Nina is a self-­employed graphic designer from Denmark. She’s always been way into paper, paint and crafts but totally neglected it during her teens and early twenties. When she had her daughter in 2010 Nina discovered scrapbooking and suddenly realized that inky hands and paper play isn’t just for kids.


  1. Jennifer

    This is so dreamy Nina! Thanks for sharing your rich layered process! I knew it was your style just from the first image and I’ve always wondered how you achieve such messy dreamy freedom in your pages.

  2. Melody Willoughby

    Oh wow I never thought of these techniques as layers. Can’t wait to try it.

  3. Essie Smith

    This is brilliant – I can’t wait to try some of these tricks.

  4. TC Larson

    I love how practical this is. Sometimes chunky elements end up looking just that — chunky. This is rich and has depth but no chunkiness. 🙂 Love it. Thanks for sharing your techniques!

  5. Katie Smith

    Wonderful tips, Nina!

  6. Sandra Karlsdóttir

    This is so beautiful! I can’t wait to start experimenting with these kinds of layers in my own journal.