4 Ways to Use Words in Art

Using words in art is a powerful way to creatively communicate, push boundaries, and add meaning to a piece. No wonder words show up everywhere in mixed-media art, filling art journal pages, being imbedded in clay, incorporated in collage, and even stitched as textile art. You don’t have to be an expert letterer to include text, as I’ll show you with these four (and a half) quick ideas for adding words to your art.

Incorporating words in art can transform your artwork, adding meaning, style, and value.

Image transfers: Text is perfect for image transfers, as you can control the amount of text, the placement, and the volume. For this technique, which requires an inkjet photocopy, you must reverse the text. Most copy machines have a mirror image function, or if you’re working from an image already on your computer, flop it before printing.

I had abandoned an art journal spread because I wasn’t sure where to take it next, but doing an image transfer with text seemed like a good direction. I printed out reversed text from a 17th century book, tore a small piece, and adhered it face down on the page with matte gel medium. Both the page and the copy were brushed with the medium, and I used a bone folder to make sure there were no air bubbles.

This technique takes just minutes, but adds an incredible element to art journal pages and collage.

When the text was dry (it will be room temperature), I wet my fingers with water and began gently rubbing off the paper. This takes a little patience, but is well worth it. The goal is to remove all the paper, leaving just the image. Allow the transfer to dry to make sure you’ve gotten all the paper off. If you see a white film, continue to gently rub the area. Because I did this over acrylic paint, I didn’t have to worry about the color smearing or coming off.

Seeing words appear after removing the paper backing is one of the thrills of this image transfer technique.

I dabbed some gesso around the text to integrate it into the page, adhered another small piece at the top of the page, and added a vintage photo. I love that the effect of the text is subtle, yet adds another intriguing layer to the page.

Tearing the edges of a transfer helps meld it into the page.

The photo was so lovely that I decided to do one more transfer technique and incorporate text. Packing tape transfers are not new, but that’s no reason to overlook them—this is another great way to add words in art and create dimension. I made an inkjet photocopy on copy paper, adhered the right side of the copy to a piece of clear packing tape, pressed it with a bone folder to remove air bubbles, trimmed the photo to the size of the tape, and once again used a little water to rub off the paper backing.

Anything that’s white will show clear, and the dress became a perfect window. I stamped some hand-written text on cream cardstock, attached the transfer with brads, and made that the focal image on a tag. I love how the writing shows through the photo, and that’s why I’ll never stop using this technique.

Revisit a favorite technique—packing tape transfers—for a great way to incorporate words in art.

Text on Fabric: Fabric is a terrific resource for text; so many fabrics have great modern, retro, and vintage writing and fonts. I look for words I can isolate and make stand out. To complete another half-finished page in a fabric journal I used fabric with a rose theme that included text. Instead of just cutting out the words from the fabric and attaching them to the page, I decided to make them stand out even more by turning the scrap into a dimensional label.

Fabric with text on it is easy to find; isolate favorite words and add them to your artwork.

I cut the text a little larger all the way around the words I wanted to use, then cut a small piece of linen to fit inside. I turned in the excess fabric all the way around and ironed it.

To make this fabric label more dimensional, add a scrap of fabric inside.

Next, I stitched it to the page with a whipstitch and sewing thread, as well as some X stitches and embroidery thread. I also added a few other elements, like more applique and some stenciling with fabric paint. You can use acrylic paint as well, since it won’t be washed. The words are the most eye-catching element on the page.

words in art
Words are the focal image in this fabric collage.

Cut-up Handwriting: This technique for using words in art was featured in the article “Love (of) Type” by Dorit Elisha in the March/April 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, and it’s one of my favorites. For my take on this method, I monoprinted some backgrounds on white cardstock, using a gel plate. Always do several prints—you never know which one will work best, and you’ll have leftovers for future projects.

Start with monoprints, or any patterned or plain paper.

Using black permanent ink and a twig with a blunt end, I wrote words on the backgrounds. You can have the worst handwriting in the world and still end up with great artwork. Just write anything, with any writing implement. By the way, the twig idea was inspired by Art Lessons Volume 20: DIY Lettering Tools by Laura Lavender.

Try writing with commercial pens as well as ones you make yourself to create a variety of styles.

I chose the print with the sloppy writing and cut it into rough pieces, then adhered them to a piece of cardstock. Here, words become the art in such a surprising way. The marks are familiar, but nothing is legible. What a fantastic technique to use for art journals, cards, or just to frame.

Any type of handwriting works for this technique, since it’s the suggestion of words you’re going for.

Monoprinted Words: Rubber stamps are great to use for gel plate monoprints, but text isn’t an option—unless you don’t mind words being backward. But if you hand-carve a stamp, you can use it for printing. I plotted the word soar on graph paper, transferred it to a piece of rubber, then carved it. When it’s stamped, it’s reversed.

Carving your own stamps ensures you’ll always have the words you need.

However, when you use the stamp for a gel plate print, the stamp will be right side up! I brayered acrylic paint over a gel plate, then used the stamp to remove paint before pulling the print.

Stamped words can become the focus of a piece or act as a background when stamped multiple times on a gel plate.

Create stamps with your favorite words and always have them ready when you want to make gel monoprints.

How will you create words in art? With all the possibilities, trying as many techniques as possible is a fun challenge.

Learn more about creating your own tools for hand lettering in this blog post.

Hand lettering is even more fun when you make your own writing tools! Let Laura Lavender show you how in Lettering Lessons Vol. 20: DIY Lettering Tools.
In Joanne Sharpe’s Whimsical Words video, discover ways to make words the focus of your artwork, and learn how to transform your own handwriting.
Be inspired by the power of words in art in Inspirational Quotes Illustrated: Art and Words to Motivate by Lesley Riley.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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