How to make mixed media style background pages in Canva

Making a mixed media style digital junk journal page is easier than you’d think.

You don’t need a lot of computer know-how, and you don’t need years of digital art classes or experience. If you’re already familiar with making analog mixed media journals (or scrapbooks, collages, art journals), you can bring that knowledge over to Canva and make something very similar.

Any good junk journal starts with a strong background .

The background sets the style, color, and tone for the rest of the page, so a good background is the key to success. It’s also much easier to make a collage or junk journal page if you have a completed background– starting with a strong background and then filling in the rest with ephemera, photos, and text.

Background pages are also really fun to make!

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But first: why use Canva?

Canva is an online image editing website that works on desktops, tablets, and even smart phones.

Canva is very easy to use, even without having much experience with image editing software. You can also learn the basics of how to use Canva’s editing tools VERY quickly, so it’s great for getting started fast.

There are two subscription options: free and paid. The paid version (Canva Pro) has more features than the free one, such as a background remover, folders to organize your ephemera collection, access to high-quality images and graphics…it’s well worth the subscription price, especially if you’re planning on making a lot of art journal pages and collages.

Canva is currently my favorite tool for making digital junk journals and I highly recommend checking it out! Especially since this tutorial is all about making background pages using Canva. 😉

Tutorial: Background pages

Digital junk journal backgrounds can be as complicated or as easy as you need them to be. If you come from a mixed media art journal background (like I do), then you’d probably prefer a more complicated look with lots of layers and a “messy” or grungy style. Think: paint splotches, coffee rings, and doodles.

If you come from a scrapbooking background you might prefer something simple: one or two solid colors, a single photo, or even just plain white. It all depends on what you like!

Whatever your style, the idea is to make sure all image elements used in a background work together, and that the background looks like it’s all one piece and not multiple separate pieces. Because Canva doesn’t have traditional blending options like a dedicated image editing application would, we have to get a little creative.

Opacity and Transparency

The easiest way to make a mixed media style background is to start by blending a paper image element and a painted image element. To do that, you need to use Canva’s transparency tool.

The transparency tool is located on the top right in the menu bar. It’s good for adjusting the opacity of a particular image element and blending it into another piece. This’ll let you create a layered look very quickly.

Layer 1 – Paper Background

Be careful! If you stretch an image over the entire canvas, Canva will automatically move it to the back layer and make it the new base image. If you’re layering two images over one another and stretching them over the entire canvas, the second image will override the first one and become the base layer.

To get around that, put your first image down and then lock it into place. That tells Canva not to move that layer or put anything below it.

Layer 2 – Painted Background at 42% transparency

Then put your second layer on top and adjust the opacity. Canva will then try to make THAT layer the new base– hit “undo” (shortcut Ctrl+Z on your keyboard) and it’ll revert back. Hit the Lock icon again and now both layers are locked into place.

Here’s another example. The background for my piece “Pink and Gold” is a layered photo and paper image.

It’s a combination of a “galaxy” image and a vintage handwritten paper image. I put the handwritten image on the bottom, then put the galaxy image on top and adjusted the opacity to 50%. It looks a little like I’ve painted over a vintage letter! And then to finish it, I put a big ink blotch and adjusted the color to be slightly more purple.

In general, I recommend putting the non-painted image on the bottom and layer a painted image on top. It tends to blend better than the other way around.

Once you get the very base image set, you can start adding on more layers!

Stencils, doodles, and more

Adding complimentary image elements to backgrounds will create a stronger base for the rest of your piece. Try adding in smaller ephemera and textures, especially ones that look like ink, paint, or pen doodles.

Not only will these help give your background more interest and depth, but it’ll also make your finished junk journal page more personalized to your own art style.

Here’s another example from my piece “Butterfly Garden.” I started with a vintage map and then layered a painted background image on top, adjusting the opacity to blend them together. Then I added the flower border and the little doodle crosses.

Some ideas for what to add to your background:

Add a loop/swirl in a contrasting color, and then adjust the opacity so it blends. This is a fast, easy way to add texture and interest to a background. It’s similar to using a stencil, or swirling a paintbrush through a damp background. It also creates a lot of movement on the page

Add scribbles and doodles. Sometimes digital art can look too mechanical, or obviously “Photoshopped.” Adding in doodles gives your junk journal page more of a handmade look. Ironically, Canva has many doodle elements available in its image library, and you can find lots more on sites like Pixabay.

It’s also easy to make your own doodle elements and then digitize them for your digital junk journals. That’s a really fun way to personalize your art even more.

Add ink splotches, coffee stains, or paint splatters. These are great for creating a messy, mixed media style junk journal background. Again, these can all found either through Canva’s free elements or from one of the free image resources available online.

Filters and color adjustments

Once you’ve added all those extra textures and layers, be sure to make them look like one cohesive piece. The best way to do that is by using Canva’s filters tool.

Filters change the color and tone of the image; they can brighten an image or make it duller, and can even put a color overlay over something and change it entirely.

If you’re using image elements from multiple sources, one element might be brighter tones than the others. That can throw off the entire page, since it’ll stand out too much. Also, a background page shouldn’t overwhelm the rest of the piece, which can happen if the background ephemera is too bright.

If you use a filter to adjust the color tones of your background, you can fix both problems at once.

My personal favorite filters are Nordic, Greyscale and Street, which tend to both dull colors and make them look more “vintage.” They’re also the best filters for quickly adjusting an image element that’s way too bright.

You can also manually adjust the filter to make sure it looks right. Using the “Intensity” slider on a filter will change how strongly it looks on a particular image element. Try playing around with the filters to see what works for you and your backgrounds.

And that’s how to make a mixed media style background page on Canva! Layers, layers, and more layers.

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