Here's a quick an easy background effect to build your cards with.
For each of these Oriental themed cards I've used images from a Singaporean newspaper article relating to Chinese New Year.
To isolate any parts of the image that you don't wish to show up in the background, paint over with white gesso.
For added interest I've also brushed some gold acrylic paint.
To eliminate a parched, dry feel to the finished background, just lay a sheet of waxed paper on top and iron with a moderately hot, dry iron. Be ready to peel it back before it grips to the paint though.
Complete your card with chosen elements.