Home » Seasons » 013 Art 101 » How to produce detailed layers

How to produce detailed layers

This technique is an art journaling step by step that anyone can do, whether following the steps as I have done, or adding your own unique spin to the steps. There are actually many places where the page would be full enough to call it finished, or you could add your own words or photos, collage or just random marks to complete it, but I suggest trying all the steps at least once to see if there’s a discovery to be made and used again on future art journaling pages. This is a super easy exercise to make sure you get your mind out of the way and just jump in without giving any thought to result!

Start by gathering materials in a color palette that’s pleasing to you. I used colored markers and acrylic paint to start, first making some quick square or rectangle color blocks with the markers. I chose to make my marks in only horizontal or vertical directions, but you can make marks of any shape, direction or size. I was mindful to get a variety of color on the page, usually making three different patches of each color for overall balance.

After I’d used the markers, I put drops of acrylic paint and some ink on the page randomly. I then grabbed an old hotel key to spread the color blobs on the paper, again using horizontal or vertical motions to make color patches. Don’t worry about colors blending, I encourage you to move quickly without thinking about where it’s going. I did choose to cover the entire page, but you may choose not to. Let dry.

The next step involves playing on top of the painted page with anything you want. I stuck with poster paint pens, crayons, gel pens and markers. For this technique, try to stay within the sections of color that you have made. Fill in sections with marks, words, doodles etc. Remember that we aren’t focusing on the overall piece, but instead, letting ourselves get lost in the small sections and trying out different marks, color combinations and any ideas that come to you. This is about play and discovery! In the close up photo you can probably get a better visual on the sections or patches of color that I’m talking about.

After filling in random sections all over the page, it’s time for another round of the same. Again, this is a great time to experiment with color and line combinations. I found I really love the bright yellow gel pen on top of the maroon marker, and the grey Neo Color II crayon on top of all the darker colors for contrast.

Don’t forget to add words if you want, they can even be secret wishes or thoughts that you cover over too!


In the close up you can see how I really spent a lot of time in this phase, I tend to go for more details than less in this exercise.

After spending so much time being detailed and closely focused on the marks, it’s time to take a step back and look at your page in a more whole page sense, no longer focusing on the small sections but looking at the page overall. Of course, you could stop here, but why not continue on with the layering and see where you end up? I encourage you to “find” a shape already existing on your page. It could be flowers in a vase like I found, or a sailboat, letters, a face. The key to this part is just outlining the shape. I like to do it with acrylic paint and a brush for a less perfectionistic result, but you could use a pencil or pen to first draw your outlined shape before painting. This step is a great way to make sure that you are letting what already exists on your page inform your next choices, instead of having an idea from the outset you are trying to make happen. challenge yourself to have the outline work within the segmented patches you already have on your page.

I chose to apply the paint in a way that allowed the underneath to show through in areas, but you can choose to really make this coat of paint opaque if you wanted to add more coats or use gesso. As I mentioned, I apply with a paintbrush directly on the page because I find it encourages happy accidents and a more imperfect outcome in the end.

In the close up photo you can really see how much the background shows through in spots. I think these layers being somewhat visible add depth and dimension to your page.

An optional step at this point is to go in with acrylic paint and cover over some random sections. You can see that I did this with a hot pink and orange paint and brush. This color blocking applied on top is an easy way to get contrast and make sure that your piece has different color values and areas of interest for the eye to discover.

After letting the paint dry from the previous two steps, I then went in and outlined and detailed the flowers and vase using a Posca paint pen. I was loosely outlining the sections from stages one and two so that they made sense incorporated into my flowers in a vase overall theme.

For one final finishing touch I went back in and doodled with a white gel pen and also wrote a little note to myself about enjoying the art journaling and added the date. I think this really finishes the page off nicely. The page is interesting viewed both at a distance and up close.

The magic in this piece is in the unfurling through different, seemingly unrelated steps. All those steps add up to a lovely layered page that will certainly be unique to you. I can’t wait to see some pages done using this technique! Remember, above all else, just have fun and if feeling overwhelmed or lost, simplify the steps to something like focusing on just color experiments or mark making doodles until it leads to an instinct or idea for the next lovely layer!


Pam Garrison is an artist passionate about the pursuit of creativity. She can be found art journaling, painting, lettering, doodling or practicing some creative form on the daily. When she’s not at home in Southern California with her husband and two children, she is often travel teaching. You can take a class with Pam in person at various retreats around the globe, or online with Creativebug.com.


  1. Deborah Hosaflook

    Pam this is incredible and I love that you took us through each step. If I were to look at just the finished piece, I would think it was so lovely but I would never know all of the secret layers that are underneath. To see the first few stages and the finished piece, it would be hard to believe they are the same piece of work. One of the things I have always loved about your work is all the layers and smaller areas of interest. But being able to see the process makes it seem so much more attainable for myself.
    I look forward to trying this and most importantly, giving myself the time to get to the finished piece. Enjoying each step and not rushing my way through to see what I end up with. Just out of curiosity, about how long did it take you to complete this journal entry?
    Thanks again for sharing so many wonderful techniques with us. You’re the best!!!!!

  2. Stephanie manic

    This is amazing! But I’m afraid to make too much layers maybe because I’m afraid to lose something. But I looooooove all these areas and I’ll first try to paint and draw and aint and draw and… You are incredible!

    • Clare Davis Etheridge

      I agree! I am worried I will lose the ‘best bit’ and end up with a horror show. However, I am inspired to have a go!

  3. Holly Janssen

    I love this SO MUCH! Thank you for taking us through the steps. I have been wanting to try a page like this but had absolutely no idea how to do it! I am so excited to try. I admire your art so much. Thank you for sharing it, and yourself, with us!

  4. Jordan Hill

    This is absolutely gorgeous and I can’t wait to experiment with this technique of layering myself!

  5. Misty Granade

    I love it! So good!

  6. Sasha Zinevych

    Like Deborah saud, I would never have guessed that the first photo and the last were the layeres of the same art journal page! Love how deep you go for each of your creations. Thank you for the inspiration!

  7. Lea

    This is really neat. I admit to being a little overwhelmed, even with the “step by steps” provided. Might need to give it a go in mini form to overcome that feeling! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Clare Davis Etheridge

    Thanks Pam, showing all the detail and explaining each step is precious and I intend giving this a go, then again and again! I will force myself to keep layering I promise!

  9. Kathleen Klassen

    You’re right! The page could have been finished at so many different points, but I really enjoyed being surprised by the ending that I never saw coming. Very much like a really good movie! Thanks.

  10. Melody Willoughby

    love all the layers and “happy accidents”

  11. Gilly Welch

    Wowee this is fabulous, I can’t wait to get started, such wonderful colours all mixed together, I must admit the black step scares me but actually looks amazing so I will try this and if it turns out half as good as yours I will be happy, thank you so much for sharing!

  12. Charlotte Erichsen

    So awesome, Pam, to see one of your pages come together step by step! Love all the details and your fearless approach to covering it up again.

  13. Romana

    Terrific tutorial! I never really understood the point of layering, usually opting for the less is more approach. This has been a real inspiration to try another approach!

  14. CIndy Jacobs

    Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial! I was so scared to paint over all the things I had created on the page. Your step by step approach gave me the ability to do this in my own way,but with the support and encouragement I needed! Fabulous!

  15. Ramona M Putnam

    Such a fun tutorial! What a great opportunity to experiment with supplies. Can’t wait to try this one.