Telling Stories with Art

My love of storytelling is the primary reason I became a writer and editor. But when I discovered mixed media, I found that I also love telling stories with art. When it came to choosing a theme for the 2018 Art Lessons, storytelling with mixed media was the clear frontrunner, and Cathy Nichols the idea person to kick off the year. Her February 2018 Art Lesson, Painting a Metaphor, makes the English lit major in me so happy, and I loved using her techniques to create an altered book page that features—wait for it—a squirrel.

Using metaphors in literature is a common device, and Cathy (who has a master’s degree in literature) explains the process as it applies to mixed media. To start, find an image that, as she says, “invites transformation” and sparks your imagination. Images of people doing things are perfect for this, and you can find them in copyright-free books and online sources. Next, think about how that transformation can be expressed through your artwork, getting the idea of the metaphor across. In the Art Lesson, Cathy offers great examples of metaphors, which will get you off and running.

telling stories with art
In Art Lessons Vol. 14: Painting a Metaphor, Cathy Nichols has fantastic ideas for telling stories with art.

I started with an image of a flying squirrel that I found on The Graphics Fairy. For me, a flying squirrel is a metaphor for a superhero. You think that squirrel you spy in a tree is ordinary, hunting and hiding acorns. But not this lady. She conceals a bonafide flight suit in that fur, so do not underestimate her. The image was sized to fit the altered book I was working in, and printed on mixed-media paper.

A book page was brushed with one coat of white gesso and allowed to dry. I wanted to see some of the text underneath, so I didn’t add a second coat. If you’re going to be using acrylic paint on the page, a coat of gesso works great as a primer.

When working with acrylic paint, you can’t go wrong by starting with a gesso foundation, whether white, clear, or black.

On a sketchbook page I drew the idea for my piece and thought about how I would be telling stories with art. The cutout squirrel was taped to the page, and I penciled in the swoosh from her flight, using swirls and stars.

Sketching a design before committing to them gives you ample time to play with ideas.

Going back to the altered book, I created a background, mixing Payne’s gray and ultramarine blue acrylic paint with a little water, then brushing it over the page. My goal was to create a night sky, but a happy accident occurred. Trying to distribute the paint across the page, I started wiping it with a paper towel. That resulted in really cool swirls, and I loved the effect.

Allowing yourself to try new techniques often results in unexpected, but welcome, results.

When that dried I sprayed the page with Ranger Dylusions Ink Spray in White Linen to give the look of stars. The page was also speckled with dark blue paint splatters that I created with a paintbrush.

Mixing mediums is a great way to add layers and depth to your artwork.

To create a cityscape setting for the squirrel, I salvaged some stamped buildings from an old art journal page I wasn’t terribly fond of, glued them to the bottom of the page, and cut tree shapes from book pages. Before adhering my superhero squirrel, I painted her with acrylic paint mixed with glazing medium, which gave the paint a bit of transparency. This part of the project, creating a little world and setting a scene, was so fun. With Cathy’s prompts, the ideas came easily, and I have tons more ideas for other projects. I love the almost 3-D effect of the elements against the painted background.

In her Art Lesson, Cathy offers tips for adhering elements to the substrate.

One the squirrel was in place, I added swoosh marks with paint (I used the bristles and the end of the paintbrush), a paint pen, and small stars punched from decorative paper. Cathy offers fantastic concepts and techniques in the Art Lesson for ways to bring your metaphor to life by layering paint, pens, collage, and more.

Adding a painted element to the piece really makes it come alive.

My squirrel needed just one more element. Of course, no superhero is complete without a cape, so I colored a small piece of gauze with acrylic paint and sewed it to the page.

telling stories with art
Telling stories with art allows your imagination to soar!

Don’t miss the companion video in the lesson, where Cathy demonstrates some of the techniques in real time. Telling stories with art is so satisfying, and these methods are sure to get your imagination rolling.

Cathy has so much more to show you! In this tutorial, find out how to make an altered book page story card.

Discover ways to turn a metaphor into stunning mixed-media artwork in Art Lessons Vol. 14: Painting a Metaphor.
Did you miss the January 2018 Art Lesson? In Fairy Tale Collage, learn how to use words and images to convey a compelling story.

Road Test: Experimenting with Nuvo Embellishment Mousse

Nuvo Embellishment Mousse is quite versatile. This acrylic, paste-like shimmery product with pigmented mica powder is water soluble and permanent when dry. It mixes with ink, acrylic paint, and even watercolor paint, as well as acrylic mediums. The consistency is thick and ultra creamy. This mousse has little to no odor, and mixes quickly and easily with water, allowing you to use it like paint. My favorite way to use this product is with my fingers. I love scooping out a bit of mousse and rubbing it on a journal page as a background layer, or spreading it through a stencil. It almost melts in your hands.

My overall objective for this Road Test was to try the mousse in several typical art journaling situations. For each piece, I used 140-lb. watercolor paper as my substrate. I experimented with the mousse as a background layer, a fluid paint, and with a stencil. I had a lot of fun with this product because of its creamy, butterlike consistency. It resembles an iridescent buttercream frosting and is oh, so inviting.

Nuvo Embellishment Mousse
All art by Mandy Russell (Photo by Sharon White Photography)


  • Nuvo Embellishment Mousse from Tonic® Studios (I used Peony Pink, Cornflower Blue, and Spring Green.)
  • Water
  • Mixed-media or watercolor paper (I prefer 140-lb. watercolor paper.)
  • Acrylic paint, colors of choice (I used cadmium red and quinacridone magenta)
  • Watercolor paint
  • Watercolor paintbrush (I used a #4 round brush.)
  • Mark-making tool (I used a knitting needle.)
  • Rubber stamps
  • Permanent ink pad, black (I used a StazOn® ink pad.)
  • Ephemera
  • Matte medium
  • Stencil(s)
  • Paint markers (I used Sharpie® Poster Paint Extra Fine Water-Based Markers.)
  • Colored pencils (I used Prismacolor® Premier pencils.)

For “Green Shoots Win the War,” I created a scene using watercolors, acrylic paint, and the mousse. My objective was to see how the mousse would act as paint. I added a bit of water and acrylic paint to the mousse, mixed it well, and painted all of the green shoots. I learned quickly that the mousse keeps its iridescence well when mixed with a bit of water (roughly 2:1 water to mousse). However, that sparkle is greatly reduced when acrylic paint is added to the mix. Luckily, I was able to retain some sparkle. I finished the piece with a watercolor wash and hand lettering.

“Green Shoots Win the War”

For “Rain, Rain, Go Away,” my objective was to see how well a thick layer of mousse would receive a stamped impression and a bit of collage. I painted the entire page with bright cadmium red acrylic paint, leaving a small white border. When the paint was dry, I scooped out a small, quarter-sized dollop of Cornflower Blue mousse, and rubbed it all over the page, leaving a bit of red showing on all of the edges (below, left). I quickly incised a drawing into the creamy layer with a knitting needle. The clouds and puddle show up well because of the contrasting red underlayer. Once dry, I added stamped images using permanent ink. Since the mousse dries with some sheen, the stamp slipped around on the surface a bit, so be careful. Overall, I’d say the stamping was a success. I then adhered ephemera with matte medium. I stenciled a small motif in the clouds, using Peony Pink mousse and sheetrock tape. The result was subtle, and would have been more noticeable on a contrasting background (below, right).

“Rain, Rain, Go Away”

The objective for “Hot Pink is My Favorite Color” was to first see if I could achieve a new color by mixing two colors of mousse together. I also wanted to see how well the mousse worked with a thick chipboard stencil. I rubbed a mixture of Peony Pink mousse and Cornflower Blue mousse through the stencil. The two colors mixed fabulously to create a light purple (below, top). The thick layer dried pretty quickly and was lightweight when dry. If you’re looking for lots of thick texture, this product works great. I added a watercolor wash around the stenciled area and, once dry, added details on the rest of the page with acrylic paint markers and colored pencils (below, bottom). Paint markers work well on the dried mousse.

“Hot Pink is My Favorite Color”

I found the mousse worked best when used alone, or when a small amount of water was added to make an iridescent, fluid paint. That mixture isn’t glossy when dry, but it certainly has a satin finish.

I love the feeling of rubbing the product around on a page or through a stencil. It’s luscious. The versatility of Nuvo Embellishment Mousse mixed with a bit of imagination provides lots of creative opportunities.

Mandy Russell is a full-time mixed-media artist with a darling little studio called The Painted Dog, in the heart of Brunswick, Maine. She has a menagerie of goofy pets, two fabulous children, and a super supportive husband. When life isn’t too hectic, she finds time to clean the house. Read more about her artistic adventures and workshop offerings on her website:

This Road Test article also appears in our March/April 2018 edition of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Check out our lookbook preview to see more of the exciting mixed-media art inside this issue!

Get a print or digital copy of our March/April 2018 issue!

Making Handmade Books with Meaning

I always thought it was ironic that, as a writer and editor, I had trouble filling the handmade books I created. Finished books would sit idly on a shelf, with no purpose to their lives. I think that’s why I immediately fell in love with Rachel Hazell’s handmade books—they’re beautiful and interesting to look at, and each one tells a story. When I discovered Rachel’s work I knew I had to ask her to do an article for the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. I’m sure I’m not alone in my fear of the blank page.

Her article was a revelation for me. The way Rachel approaches adding content to handmade books is easy to understand, and completely doable. We all have stories in us, and we need to get them out. These books are the perfect vehicle.

To start, Rachel recommends thinking about how you feel at the moment, what’s going on in your life—the here and now. I thought my books should have lofty, complex narratives, but that was just stupid pressure I put on myself. When I started this project it was a gray day, chilly and rainy, and it made me think about my connection with winter. Since moving to New England from Southern California a few years ago, winters have been both amazing and challenging, so I thought I’d start there.

“Reflect on your surroundings,” Rachel writes. “What can you see? Where would you like to be? What inspires you about this place? How does your immediate landscape affect your spirits?” These were exactly the prompts I needed to get going.

I dove into my pile of ephemera and came up with a few things I thought would help tell the story. Another of Rachel’s great techniques for handmade books is to generate text by circling words on book text that resonate with you. I quickly found several words and phrases that worked perfectly.

Ephemera for content for handmade books
My ever-growing ephemera stash was a great place to start to make these handmade books.

I wanted to keep the book structure simple, which would help me focus on content. I chose an accordion, which Rachel uses for her project. Accordions are incredibly versatile—you can go with just folded pages, sew into the mountain and valley folds, add tip-ins, or create pockets. For even more ideas, be sure to check out Rachel’s article, which features a number of her books.

I folded two pieces of a vintage map I found at a flea market, making the pages 3″ x 3″. Many of Rachel’s books are small, like little treasures. Between the map pieces I added shorter accordion folds of walnut-stained watercolor paper from a previous project. The yellow and light blue palette was a great foundation to build on.

Accordion pages for handmade books
Accordions are perfect for handmade books with content; you can easily add elements and extra pages.

From there, I used new and vintage ephemera to craft my narrative, including a book illustration of blackbirds, which I stitched around with embroidery thread:

Adding stitching and ribbon to handmade books
Adding bits of stitch and ribbon to the book gives it great texture.

A catalog page featuring tree branches in snow, to which I added a fussy-cut fabric bird and book text:

Page sewn in to an accordion fold
A page from a catalog was the perfect backdrop for this fabric bird.

A photograph I had taken in winter of a favorite walking trail, with some mesh stitched on top:

Layered page for an accordion book
Rachel Hazell’s beautiful embellishments inspired me to create to create my own; a photo peeks through mesh.

Here’s the page revealed:

Book text used to tell a narrative in handmade books
Text taken from books helps tell the story; here I used the words “a tree close by” and “heard.”

A painted and collaged winter scene:

A painting added to an accordion book
Simple paintings with acrylics or watercolor showcase your artwork and add to the narrative.

And a peek-though page made from a tag. The design was cut with a paper punch, and a postage stamp image can be seen underneath:

Paper punch used to create a see-through page
Even small elements, like this paper punch cutout, add interest to handmade books.

Here’s a view of the inside, which shows how some of the extra pages and elements were attached. Some were sewn with a pamphlet stitch to mountain folds, and some to valley folds. Others were glued onto folds or tipped in.

Pages added to an accordion with the pamphlet stitch
Extra pages can be easily attached to mountain and valley folds with a pamphlet stitch.

For covers I cut down an old book cover, and I added a closure by gluing a piece of vintage ribbon to the inside back cover.

Ribbon glued to the back cover of an accordion book
Strong ribbon makes a great closure for accordion books.

The last page of the accordion was glued over the ribbon, and the first page was glued to the inside front cover.

Accordion closure for handmade books
To secure the ribbon, glue the last page of the accordion on top.

The cover features the word ‘present.’ The word has multiple meanings: It reminds me to always be present in the moment, to think of winter as a gift, and to take in the here and now when creating books.

The lessons I learned from this article will forever have an influence on the handmade books I create, and that is huge. I encourage you to try Rachel’s techniques and see how much you enjoy telling your own stories, from cover to cover.

Looking for more handmade book ideas? In this tutorial, learn how to make a fabric collage book using easy techniques.

January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Get all the instructions for making your own handmade books with meaning in the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Accordion Books Three Ways, with Erin Zamrzla
Discover three great techniques for making accordion books in the video Accordion Books Three Ways, with Erin Zamrzla.
Cloth Paper Scissors Folded Books and Paper Art: 14 Projects to Create
The best folded book and paper projects from your favorite Cloth Paper Scissors magazines are now all in one downloadable eBook! Folded Books and Paper Art: 14 Projects to Create includes accordion journals, book sculptures, and much more!

Gel Printing Tutorial with Dina Wakley

I have long been enamored with printmaking in all forms. I especially love gel printing, since it’s easy and the results are so varied and interesting. The new line of gel plates done as a collaboration with Ranger Dina Wakley Media/Dylusions and Gel Press are fun because we got to choose custom sizes for the plates. I get a lot of use out of the plate that is 3 ½” x 6 ¾”, about the size of a #8 tag. The plate is perfect for creating quick and easy backgrounds on the tags.

Recently I was making prints and wondered how, or if, Scribble Sticks would work on them. Scribble sticks are pigment sticks that can be used to sketch like crayons, but are water-soluble and can be blended.

First, I scribbled into the paint with them, and they didn’t really work. Then I tried dipping a Scribble Stick in water before drawing on the plate, and voila! Magic! The Scribble Stick pigment, combined with acrylic paint, made for stunning results. This tutorial shows you how to combine the two mediums to create a monoprint.

Materials (all products are by Ranger)

  • Gel Printing Plate, 3.5” x 6.75”
  • Printing Brayer, small
  • Dina Wakley Media Acrylic Paint (I used Turquoise and Magenta.)
  • Dina Wakley Media Stencil (I used Wallpaper)
  • Dina Wakley Media Scribble Sticks (I used Marine from Set 2.)
  • Tim Holtz Distress Tags, #8

1. Load the gel plate with Turquoise and Magenta paints. Squeeze some of each color onto the plate and use the brayer to spread the paint over the surface. I like to overload the plate with color, so I use a heavy hand with the paint. I like it to be thick.

gel printing
A brayer makes it easy to apply paint to the surface of a gel plate, and you can even mix colors.

2. Press the stencil onto the plate and roll the brayer over it. Lift up the stencil.

gel printing
Stencils are useful for adding patterns when gel printing.

3. Dip the end of the Scribble Stick into water. Draw onto the plate, directly into the paint.

4. Dip the stick in water again and keep drawing. The stick must be wet in order for a good amount of pigment to adhere to the plate, so don’t forget to wet it often. Work quickly, though, so the mediums don’t dry on the plate before you get a chance to print.

Water-soluble Scribble Sticks dipped in water are perfect for drawing directly on the gel plate.

5. Lay a #8 Distress Tag on the plate, and roll the brayer over the back of the tag to burnish it. Pull the tag off to see your print.

A #8 tag is the perfect fit for this size gel plate.

6. Quickly lay another tag on the gel plate, brayer over the back again, and pull it off. This second print made from the paint left on the plate is called a ghost print, and it’s often better than the first print.

Revealing your unique design is what makes gel printing so creatively satisfying.

7. Let the prints dry and use them as desired. I like to use mine as backgrounds for stamped collages.

gel printing
Add stamped images and words for a beautiful collaged tag.

Dina Wakley is a mixed-media artist who loves everything about art. She teaches both in-person and online workshops, and is a Ranger Signature Designer. Her line of mixed-media art supplies with Ranger includes acrylic paints, mediums, brushes, stamps, and more. Dina is the author of Art Journal Freedom and Art Journal Courage, has seven instructional art videos, and has kept a personal journal since she was nine years old. See more of Dina’s work at, on Facebook at Art of Dina Wakley, and on Instagram at @dinawakley.

Dina has more great techniques to share with you! Here’s another idea for creating with tags, using mixed media.

Dina Wakley is our February Artist of the Month! Her books, videos, and downloadable Art Lessons are packed with great ideas for collage, art journaling, and more.

No matter where you are in your art journal practice, Art Journal Freedom lets your creativity and self-expression soar by offering a great foundation of tips and techniques.
Discover how to make artwork that stands out with Dina’s techniques for using colors in correct proportions in Art Lessons Vol. 11, 2015: Using the Gallon/Quart /Pint Rule.
Let Dina show you exciting ways to use stencils to add depth and dimension to art journal pages in Art Journal: Stencils & Masks.
Get fail-proof methods for creating random looks in your art journal in Art Journaling Live 2: Random by Design with Dina Wakley.

Creativation 2018: Trend Report

If there is a heaven on earth for mixed-media artists, it might be the Creativation 2018 show, an annual trade show for the craft industry that takes place over several days, hosted by the Association for Creative Industries. Manufacturers, designers, press, and buyers convened in Phoenix recently to see what’s new, track trends, take classes, and connect over a mutual love of art supplies, creativity, and art supplies. We were there, and would love to show you what’s on the horizon for your next inspired adventures.

Even if you’re not eagerly tracking The Next Big Thing, chances are you’ll see evidence of these trends in magazines and videos, on social media, and elsewhere. They’re an indication of where our collective creative brains are, and often parallel what’s going on in the worlds of fashion, food, and design.

• Marbling: Marbling lends a fun, sophisticated look to paper, fabric, and other surfaces, but some techniques are labor-intensive. Today, the look can be achieved effortlessly with a variety of products. Plaid Enterprises’ FolkArt Marbling Paint is water-based, nontoxic, and ready to go out of the bottle for beautiful striated effects.

Marbling a variety of surfaces is so easy with new no-mix products, like Plaid Enterprises’ FolkArt Marbling Paint.

Faber-Castell’s new Marbling Art for Beginners kit includes an array of materials: 12 colors of Soft Pastels, paper, tags, gold foil transfers, glitter, and a design guide. Marabu’s Easy Marble offers marble effects on paper, wood, plastic, glass, and much more, using an immersion technique. A demo at the show proved how simple this is, and the effects are incredible. We can’t wait to try these products for hand-decorated papers, canvas backgrounds, and more!

Imagine making your own hand-marbled materials in minutes. With Marabu’s Easy Marble it takes no time to achieve effects like these.

Big paper flowers: The trend in enormous paper flowers that hit the wedding industry and is popular in fashion is finding an audience among paper artists. Kits, dies, and templates make producing these jumbo florals super easy, which means mixed-media artists can spend more time putting their own spin on things. The possibilities include flowers made out of hand-painted papers, book pages, and gelatin plate-printed papers. The Celebrations collection of die cuts by David Tutera for Sizzix includes a peony, dahlia, magnolia, daisy, and more; and a Framelits Large Rose die set looks like the real deal. Lia Griffith not only has great paper flower kits, but also a new coordinating tool line with Fiskars. Start with Echo Park Paper Co.’s sizeable Paper Petals die-cut flower kits and art them up to your heart’s content to create unique blooms.

Big paper flowers are blooming everywhere! This floral screen was part of the Lia Griffith booth at Creativation 2018, where paper floral kits were attracting attention.

Even more paint choices: We mixed-media artists love our paint, don’t we? Well, make room in your workspace for more, like Plaid’s new FolkArt Watercolor Acrylic Paint, which can be thinned for beautiful washes, or used more concentrated out of the bottle. This paint is permanent when dry, and samples on fabric at the show felt incredibly soft, with none of the stiffness of regular acrylic paint.

Get the look of watercolor with Plaid’s new FolkArt Watercolor Acrylic Paint, which can be used on paper and fabric.

Paint pours are all the rage on Instagram and YouTube; if you’re dying to try it, DecoArt has come up with Pouring Medium, an additive that thins paint to the right consistency for pouring, and it won’t crack or craze. There’s also a Clear Pouring Topcoat that provides a glossy, lacquer-like finish. DecoArt Media’s Fluid Acrylics pair well with the Pouring Medium, or can be used alone for any type of mixed-media painting.

In addition to Easy Marble, Marabu also featured their Art Sprays, an acrylic spray paint that comes in a non-aerosol pump bottle. The colors (as you can see, there are a ton) are intensely pigmented, and work on a variety of surfaces.

Try acrylic paint in a non-aerosol spray; Marabu offers it in an array of colors.

Color, shine, and texture: Why go for boring when you can ramp up your artwork with eye-catching color, lots of shine, and interesting texture? Faber-Castell’s popular Gelatos now come in a new Translucents set that can be layered for incredible effects.

Faber-Castell Gelatos now come in translucent colors that can easily be layered for great looks.

If glitter is your thing, you’ll revel in new paints that are packed with sparkle and metallic sheen. Try Testors Craft Color Shift Aerosols, which produce colors that change with light and angles; and Intense Glitter paint, brush-on color that offers a vivid glitter finish for various surfaces.

Making its debut at the Ranger Booth was Tim Holtz Distress Resist Spray, which offers a splattered resist effect when used with water-based color mediums like stains, inks, and crayons.

Here’s something from Creativation 2018 that we can’t resist: Tim Holtz Distress Resist Spray, offering cool splatter patterns when used with stains and inks.

Seth Apter introduced a new line of Baked Textures embossing powders with Emerald Creek Craft Supplies that promise to rock your world. We caught one of his demos and watched as he used the powders over vintage paper, then mixed colors and embedded items in the melted powder.

Seth Apter had crowds in awe as he showed how to work with his new line of embossing powders called Baked Textures.

Baked Textures can also be glued on, and come in colors like Patina Oxide, Rocky Road, and Ancient Amber. Vintage Beeswax can produce a number of aged effects.

After building up layers in the embossing powder, Seth embedded items and combined colors.

Still going strong: Some trends show no signs of slowing, such as planners, expandable travel journals, hand embroidery (on clothing and paper), and sophisticated die cut, embossing, and stamp designs that are perfect for art journaling and collage. Keep your eye on companies like Carabelle Studio, Visible Image, and PaperArtsy.

The Ranger Dina Wakley Media line keeps growing, with new stamps, stencils, collage papers, paint colors, and more!

We met up with Jane Davenport in the Spellbinders Creative Arts booth, where she was proudly showing off the new signature Die Cutting & Embossing Machine, along with a slew of new products.

Jane Davenport was in her element at the Spellbinders booth at Creativation 2018.

Jane introduced her new line of dies, stamps, inkpads, stencils, stickers, and more, all pure Jane. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and the sample artwork was amazing!

With Jane’s dies, you’re only limited by your imagination.

Lettering continues to be popular, with companies like Ranger and Plaid introducing new products and programs.

Lettering is still a hot trend in mixed media, and Plaid’s brushes and paints make it easy to create words and letters on all types of substrates.

The trip was a whirlwind, but we were thrilled to be able to see first hand what will be on your worktable soon. Keep watching the blog, our social media sites, and Cloth Paper Scissors magazine for more updates!

See how I experimented with new supplies from last year’s Creativation show in this blog post!

Get familiar with your mixed-media supplies with great techniques from Jane Davenport in Art Lessons 2014: Jane Davenport’s Supply Stash Series Collector’s Edition.
Dina Wakley shares insightful tips and techniques for using color in art journals in the video Art Journal Color Courage.
The Mixed-Media Techniques Kit with Seth Apter has just what you need to start your artful adventures: technique videos, plus Seth’s stamps and a unique set of paints.

Painting Techniques that Make You Trust Your Gut

I’m guessing there is no shortage of acrylic paint in your workspace. Mine either. Since I frequently use paint in my mixed-media art I’m always looking for new painting techniques and ideas, just to make sure things don’t get stagnant. Feeling like I needed to shake up my routine, I opted for a project in the book Intuitive Painting Workshop by Alena Hennessy. My experience can be summed up in one word: Wow. My creativity has just gotten a shot of adrenaline.

Alena’s book is perfect if you feel you need to work more intuitively, which I definitely do. I sometimes get so caught up with trying to choose the perfect palette, or not messing anything up, that I fail to have faith in and enjoy the process—and that’s what mixed-media art is all about. As Alena writes, “There needs to be some letting go, and ultimately some trust needs to develop. This is when accepting and feeling akin to your inherent mark and visual voice are so valuable.”

painting techniques
Learning new painting techniques opens doors to great creative discoveries.

For my project I chose “Botanical Beauty,” which explores botanical shapes and designs. Alena suggests using reference books on flowers for inspiration, and I researched botanical prints to get some ideas for floral motifs and composition.

For the background layer, I masked off a border on 11″ x 14″ 140-lb. watercolor paper and painted blocks of color with a foam brush, with no pre-planned palette in mind. This was incredibly freeing, and I took a deep breath, let go of control, and trusted that everything would work out. I instantly loved this layer. Even though the painting techniques were simple, they produced a strong foundation.

Using colors that appealed to me at the moment, I created a background layer on watercolor paper.

When the paint was dry, I cut flowers and leaves from colorful handmade papers and arranged and glued them on the background, building my composition. I had to stop myself from overthinking this part, too, and just went with what felt right. I created one main flower and one little flower-plant thing, leaving areas for more painting later.

Create any flora or fauna you like—real or imagined—for your mixed-media piece.

With the piece before me at this stage, I really had to trust the process—and myself—as I added more paint layers with paint pens and acrylics. This would usually be the time I’d reach for a stencil or a stamp to add some designs. While there’s nothing wrong with that, this time I wanted to go without. Using fluorescent pink paint, I created two series of circles, and embellished the petals and leaves with various colors of acrylic paint pens.

Paint pens are great to use for adding lines, marks, and doodling.

There were also a few things I didn’t do: I didn’t rush the piece. When I felt frustrated or not sure where to go next, I took a break and put it away. Looking at it with fresh eyes, I was confident about what to do next. I also didn’t hold back from trying different painting techniques to add interest. One of the great things about Intuitive Painting Workshop is the gallery of artwork that follows each project. I’m a firm believer in borrowing ideas and making them your own, and I did that here, drawing motifs, shading, and adding marks with the end of a paintbrush and the paint pens. Glazing medium was added to light and dark shades of paint to make it more translucent, and I spread it across areas with a brush and my fingers, incorporating a variety of values.

I also added water-soluble Gelatos, which offered even more translucent color. Doing all of that made me appreciate the versatility of acrylic paint, and how many painting techniques and layers you can incorporate in one piece without overwhelming it.

I love how the finished piece came out, and I can’t wait to get started on another one. One more bonus: the book includes a list of art terms, and Alena explains concepts such as perspective and rhythm in ways that are understandable, allowing you to incorporate them easily into your work.

painting techniques
Working from and with my intuition, I incorporated painting techniques that felt right and worked great.

Here’s a quick bonus project that I learned from Rae Missigman: Scan your art and print it out on a sticker sheet, then use parts of it for other artwork, like cards, collage, and art journal pages. I punched a circle and used it for a unique envelope seal.

Stretch your artwork by scanning it and turning it into sticker sheets!

I hope you find as much joy in the process (and in your finished artwork) as I have. Just remember to listen to your inner voice!

There are a lot more great painting techniques to discover. Try this fun method with watercolor, from Gina Rossi Armfield!

Let Alena Hennessy show you how to trust your instincts when it comes to creativity in Intuitive Painting Workshop.
Create a stunning watercolor composition using eye-catching painting techniques in the video Creative Girl Workshop: Watercolor Illustrations with Danielle Donaldson.
What else can your acrylic paints do? Find out in the video Acrylic Painting: Color, Texture and Value with Chris Cozen, as she shows you how to work with color, texture, composition, and more.

Inside the Mind of Assemblage Artist Jen Hardwick

We’ve all marveled at pieces of spectacular artwork and wished to know more about how they were created. In this column from our January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, mixed-media assemblage artist Jen Hardwick gives us a glimpse into her inspirations and artistic process. We hope her story inspires you in your own assemblage adventures!

“Salvaged Sanctuary” (All artwork by Jen Hardwick; Photo by Sharon White Photography)

Artistic Salvage by Jen Hardwick

After decades as a painter, I’ve spent the last few years working in assemblage, and I find that a huge part of the draw for me is how precisely I can lay out my pieces and create patterns of color, texture, shape, or whatever my materials inspire. I’m a neat person; there’s simply no way around that. I like things to be straight and clean and square, and painting doesn’t lend itself to that very well. That never bothered me when I painted. In fact, the messiness is what I loved about painting, but I found myself increasingly drawn to even, balanced lines once I started working with assemblage.

The patterns that emerge from my pieces are always deliberate but never truly planned. I’ll occasionally sketch out an idea and work with it on paper before I start to assemble, but for the most part I find an essential focal piece, lay it out on a panel, and begin to try out other materials with it. I’m always looking for that balance, that equilibrium of visual weight, that contrast of colors and textures that brings the piece forward as a whole without promoting one detail over another. This is when the patterns of the piece make themselves obvious to me. I find the strongest theme—a vibrant color or an arresting shape—and carry that into the rest of the work. Repeating that color or shape helps to pull the entire piece together.

Photo by Jen Hardwick

My primary working materials are industrial castoffs: rusty old hardware, broken pressure gauges, manual typewriter arms, plus cogs, wheels, gears, and springs that spent most of their working life deep inside machines and tools. I love the sense of history and purpose that they carry with them. As an artist I love how easy they are to work with. What makes them so easy to work with is that they were machined into very regular shapes at their creation. No matter how rusty or grimy or dented they’ve gotten, they haven’t lost that symmetry. Repetition of that symmetry, the vibrant colors and those arresting shapes, reinforces the patterns inherent in the piece.

The first thing I do when I get a haul of “junk” from a garage sale or a thrift store is to dump it out on my workspace and sort it. There’s nothing quite like sorting through a huge box of rusty old metal and seeing what interesting shapes and textures come to light.

“Man or Machine” (Photo by Sharon White Photography)

The larger reason for the sort, however, is to organize everything in a way that makes it easy to put my hands on what I need when I need it. Putting like parts with like parts gets me thinking about patterns before the assemblage even begins. It allows me to see what’s available, and how things will fit together: hardware in one pile, game pieces in a second, old tools in a third. Then items are broken down further: washers here, screws there, everything sorted into its own bin. Scrabble® tiles get their own drawer, as do Monopoly® houses. Fuses, gear wheels, gauge faces—everything has a place. Once I’ve started to work on a piece and the creative flow is high, I know exactly where to go for the next shape, texture, or color that I want. There’s no need to stop and hunt through a huge pile of undifferentiated bits.

“Queen of Things Discarded and Forgotten” (Photo by Jen Hardwick)

When I lay out an assemblage piece I tend to work outward from a single item that’s caught my eye and informs the shape and size of the entire figure. A rust-speckled washer may serve as a bug’s right eye or a tarnished chrome wrench can become a robot’s left arm, for example. Those pieces give me the spark to begin, but as soon as I choose them and lay them out, my sense of order kicks in and I seek out ways to balance them on the other side of the piece. Part of the inherent fun and challenge of found material assemblage is gathering parts that complement each other, rather than seeking precise matches.

Colors, textures, and shapes all play a part in adding patterns to the pieces. Game pieces add color, buttons add sparkle and texture, typewriter arms add interesting shapes. The bits differ, but the overall effect is one of regularity and completeness. The arrangement of features draws the eye from one side to the other, from the top to the bottom. The details are what the eye lingers on, but the initial figure informs those details in a precise way and gives the viewer the context to understand the piece as a whole.

Photo by Jen Hardwick

I like finding those neat lines, those pleasing harmonious angles. The patterns that emerge are the natural result of following that artistic path, bringing together shapes and colors thematically. Assemblage—bringing order and union to a chaotic jumble of rusty industrial remnants—has taken me to an artistic realm I was never able to reach with paints and paper. It’s a place I plan to explore for as long as I can lay my hands on rusty hardware and shiny brass gears.

“Crow Home” (Photo by Sharon White Photography)

Jen Hardwick is a self-taught artist. She pulls inspiration from her life, but her materials are what inspire her most. Jen lives in Seattle, Washington, with her son and husband and a garage full of junk that will, some day, become treasures.

For more artistic inspiration, read Carrie Bloomston’s tips for becoming a more confident artist. Plus, don’t miss these products:

Discover a wealth of information and instruction for creating mixed-media faces in our Faces special issue magazine. Fifteen projects are featured, including an assemblage portrait by Jen Hardwick.
Two things make Altered Curiosities stand out: the projects (full of oddities and the unexpected) and the techniques (several of which have never been published before).
Learn collage and assemblage techniques and project ideas from The Mixed-Media Workshop Season 1.

Discover Mixed-Media Abstract Art in our March/April Issue!

Are you a trend follower? I’m a little obsessed when it comes to keeping up with trends in mixed-media art, and I consider it one of the most fun aspects of my job. I see trends as more than just mindless fads; there’s usually something interesting behind a shift toward one thing or another. For the past year or so I’ve noticed that many of you are discovering mixed-media abstract art, and that’s why we put abstracts front and center in the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. You’ll discover abstracts in all forms: art journal designs, collage, painting, and even textiles.

Mixed-media abstract art is captivating and the process is intuitive, and both of those things contribute to its growing popularity. I think mixed-media artists are becoming more daring and seeking new adventures, and abstracts fulfill that desire. The work of artists like Jodi Ohl, Laly Mille, and Dawn Emerson shows that when it comes to abstracts, all styles and techniques are welcome.

Explore mixed-media abstract art techniques with confidence in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, and discover how varied abstracts can be!

When an abstract piece speaks to me, I consider what I find fascinating about it. But when it comes to creating abstract art, I’m often confounded by where to start. Without a realistic subject or focal point, how does a piece evolve and come together? How do you relate a narrative? If you find yourself with the same dilemmas, or are simply intrigued by mixed-media abstract art, this issue has everything you need to get started, and to explore fantastic techniques and discover new materials.

Jodi Ohl lays out a great foundation for getting started in abstracts, including basic design principles and step-by-step instructions for creating an abstract on watercolor paper.

mixed-media abstract
By learning a few simple design concepts from Jodi Ohl, you’ll see how easy and fun it is to create a mixed-media abstract painting. (Art by Jodi Ohl, photo by Sharon White Photography)

After that you’ll no doubt feel confident about trying Laly Mille’s collage and paint techniques to create beautiful, romantic abstract florals in your art journal. Laly’s artwork is featured on the cover of the book Incite 4: Relax, Restore, Renew from North Light Books. When I saw that stunning artwork, I knew I wanted her to be part of the issue. As a bonus, Laly’s home studio in the Loire Valley in France is featured in Studio Spotlight in this issue.

Create these dreamy, romantic florals in your art journal, using techniques that will make you feel relaxed and free. (Art by Laly Mille, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Dawn Emerson introduces you to a captivating printing method using an easy carving technique to make a monoprint plate; her approach also incorporates vivid pastels for a piece that bridges realism and abstracts. And Tansy Hargan takes fabric scraps and turns them into a mixed-media abstract spring landscape filled with amazing color and texture.

Make monoprints of your own designs that bridge abstracts and realism, then add pops of color with pastels. (Art by Dawn Emerson, photo by Sharon White Photography)

There’s another trend I’ve been seeing: artists using art apps for sketching, creating digital artwork, and as a starting point for physical art as well. In this issue, Lisa Thorpe shows how to take digital images you create and transform them into physical collages, pillows, and great embellishments for clothing. There are so many possibilities!

mixed-media abstract
Take those piles of fabric, ribbon, and thread scraps and turn them into stunning mixed-media abstract pieces. (Art by Tansy Hargan, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Talk about a packed issue—don’t miss Karen O’Brien’s adorable stuffies that use paintings as inspiration. We’ve also got Barbara Roth’s mixed-media drawing buffet techniques for creating cohesive compositions, Jill McDowell’s charming painted flexagon, and Becky Nunn’s incredible method for turning plain resin into faux pressed glass pendants.

In our Artist Profile you’ll meet Dean Nimmer, who shares his eye-opening views on abstract art, discusses his love of teaching, and talks about making 1,000 drawings in a year. And Carrie Bloomston shows how to pack a little creativity into every day in her column, The Spark.

Learn how to give these quirky stuffies a unique look with great coloring techniques on fabric. (Art by Karen O’Brien, photo by Sharon White Photography)

It’s going to be a busy couple of months, and I can’t wait to get started!

Did you miss our January/February 2018 issue, which is all about how to become a more confident artist? This blog post tells you about the great articles you’ll find!

Get a preview of the fantastic articles you’ll find in the March/April issue of Cloth Paper Scissors in this lookbook preview!


5 Ways to Get Out of Your Creative Comfort Zone

Living in your comfort zone is nice, isn’t it? Feels great. But after a while, that cozy place can get a little stifling. Something inside you says you need to see what else is out there, even if finding your way around can be challenging. There are great rewards to be had if you break out of your creative comfort zone, like gaining more confidence and having a more fulfilling and satisfying art practice. You just have to be willing to sacrifice a little security to become the best artist you can be. Ready?

Here are five ways you can bust out of that comfort zone and take your talents to the next level:

1. Take a class in something you’re interested in, but know absolutely nothing about. Becoming a rank beginner is not easy, especially if you’ve spent years perfecting techniques in certain areas. Nothing is more humbling than starting from zero, but there are also few things more rewarding than mastering something completely new. One-shot workshops are great, but if you can swing a class that spans several weeks, go for it. That will encourage you to practice and embed the ideas and methods into your routine, making it more likely you’ll continue to use them.

In a class setting you’ll also become accustomed to showing your art and possibly receiving helpful critiques from the instructor. Both can help you grow tremendously as an artist.

Have you tried mixed-media encaustic art? In the September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Cathy Nichols has a great project that includes collage and encaustic painting. (Art by Cathy Nichols, photo by Sharon White Photography)

2. Share your artwork with the world. I believe that art shouldn’t live in a vacuum. You don’t have to put everything you make on social media to break out of your comfort zone; maybe the first step is showing your work to a good friend or family member. Don’t fear rejection or unkind comments. Even if you encounter a little of that, it will pale in comparison to the encouragement you’ll get and the community you’ll find. I was terrified when I posted my first drawing attempts on Instagram—I thought the negative feedback would come pouring in, or I’d hear crickets. Neither thing happened. Instead, I received some lovely praise and support, and that gave me the courage to keep going. I love seeing other people’s work, and hearing what inspires them, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Get great advice for your creative life in Carrie Bloomston’s column “The Spark: The Big Reveal,” in the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. (Art and photo by Carrie Bloomston)

3. Go public. This is different from showing your artwork to others—I’m talking about creating something in a public place. That could be sketching at a coffee shop, painting in a park, or collaging in a laundromat. Creating in your workspace may make you feel secure, but there’s no variety of inspiration. When you’re out and about you can’t control everything, and that’s good. You may hear a song that you love, smell jasmine in a soft breeze, or pet a sweet dog. All of these things can be fresh influences on what you’re creating. Don’t worry about people seeing you and your work—they’ll be focused on their own tasks. If someone is curious about what you’re doing, it could spark a great conversation.

4. Create when you don’t feel like it. I know that there’s a school of thought that says you should only make art when you’re full of energy and the stars are aligned and your studio is in tip-top shape. I don’t buy it. If I waited for those moments I’d get next to nothing done, because life usually has other things in mind. My husband and I have a standing date night once a week, and I use that time to draw. Sometimes I’m tired, or I’ve had a bad day, and I could use those or any other excuses not to draw. Instead, I pull out my sketchbook and get to work. And after a few minutes I’m feeling calm and focused, and I’ve done something for myself that I love. Yes, there are times when I create terrible art. But most of the time I draw something I like, and that makes me happy and confident.

Going to the gym is an analogy that’s often used for this method of getting out of your comfort zone, but it fits. I can think of a million excuses not to work out, but when I push myself and go, I’m always glad I did, and I feel so much better afterward. Think of this as exercising your art muscles!

Robyn McClendon challenged herself to create a collage a day for a year, and she shares the results in the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. (Art by Robyn McClendon, photo by Sharon White Photography)

5. Create a piece of artwork that’s intensely personal. Dig deep for this one and use a powerful feeling, a pivotal event, or a special goal as inspiration. You don’t have to show it or tell anyone about it. The idea is to tap into those raw emotions, whatever they may be, and translate them into art. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with painting pretty flowers—I do it all the time—but as artists, we need to go further in order to make significant breakthroughs. The artwork I connect with most usually reveals something about the artist that’s tangible and resonates. That inspires me to create artwork that has the same effect, and I hope it inspires you too.

Learn how to stretch your talents and create handmade books with meaningful content in the article “Books that Speak” by Rachel Hazell in the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. (Art by Rachel Hazell, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Taking on an art challenge is a great way to break out of your comfort zone. Get some great tips for taking on an art challenge in this blog post!

Don’t miss Carrie Bloomston’s The Spark column in the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, and learn how to become a more confident artist!
Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold features prompts, advice, and strategies to help you develop your unique voice and help your art practice thrive.
Trying new techniques is perfect for getting out of your creative comfort zone—give encaustic art a try! Get started with the video Encaustic Collage Techniques with Cathy Nichols, and see how to combine your favorite materials with the art of wax.