There was an article in Somerset Studio recently about altering scrapbook paper by painting over it with a wash of gesso. I have lots that I never use - some "duds" that were included in a package of paper, some too loud, too bright,or just too-too for my taste. I took out some of those papers and decided to focus my 2012 calendars on making more creative backgrounds.
Here's a piece of artist paper from SS that started out too busy for me. I didn't take a totally "before" picture, but here it is with just a swipe of watered-down gesso and the circles over-stamped with more gesso.
Just painting over patterned paper with gesso may be all you need for some of your stash. I love how it mutes colors, unifies designs and adds some depth and texture. You can stamp-off into the gesso - no ink, just stamp to remove some of the gesso and create great patterns. Use fun things like bubble wrap, shelf liner in addition to real stamps.
Here's the finished calendar page I made with this gesso-improved paper:
I added some white-gel pen details around some of the printed design, then a text page painted with more gesso and stamped. The letters were swiped with some yellow pigment ink from one of those wheels of little wedge-shaped pads - some of the neighboring green and orange pads leaked on it - I like the mixture- and then clear embossed to finish them.
Here's another :
You can see the blue marbled pattern - really pretty, but busy! Again, a wash of gesso (I don't really measure - just add some water to dilute the gesso but not so much that it's watery.). The gesso allows the background to peek through but not take over. Some gesso stamped stars, post cancellations and a bit of over-stamped ephemera - and a real sea star - give this page an ocean vibe.
This page was a real challenge. It started out as a dark red toile print on an ecru background. I painted on some dark red paint around the edges and then a wash of gesso that transformed the print into something from a bad day at the crime lab! It took 2 layers of diluted gesso to tone it down. Then I over stamped the text with gesso, stamped some yellow dots with a rolled up piece of shelf liner and added some pencil-eraser gesso dots.