Get Festive with Kinetic Art Gift Tags

‘Tis the season for holiday gift giving, and these festive kinetic art gift tags are perfect to tie on to larger packages or give as standalone presents. Designed by artist Dena Ann Adams and featured in the November/December 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, the tags are easy to make using scratchboard and an assortment of mixed-media art supplies.

kinetic art
Kinetic art gift tags created by Dena Ann Adams (Photos by Sharon White Photography)

Arctic Angels: Kinetic Scratch Art Tags by Dena Ann Adams

One of my favorite mixed-media art techniques is creating tags using scratchboard. This project can be worked on in stages or made in batches. It’s the perfect project for this busy time of year. Use them as gift tags, cards, or give one as a standalone gift.

For these tags, we’ll use digitally printed or color-copied sheets of scratchboard images, allowing us to use the images over and over—and build a nice collection.


  • Scratchboard, black, a few sheets (I used 8” x 10” Scratch-Art® boards from Melissa and Doug®. Be sure to use the boards, not the paper.)
  • Water-soluble pencil, white (I used a Stabilo® ALL white pencil.)
  • Scratch art tools, also called scratch knives (Ampersand™ Scratchbord™ tools and Melissa and Doug® Scratch-Art tools work well.)
  • Awl
  • Acrylic paint pens, black (I use a uni Posca paint marker pen.)
  • Towels and/or cotton swabs
  • Water
  • Scanner and printer, or a copy shop
  • Cardstock, heavyweight for inkjet printing
  • Paintbrush
  • Matte medium
  • Scissors
  • Art tags (I used Ranger tags in Kraft brown.)
  • Metallic paints (I used Lumiere® metallic paints in Rust, Olive, and Pewter.)
  • Stamps
  • Ink pad (I used a Ranger Distress Ink pad in Antique Burlap.)
  • Cosmetic sponge
  • Found papers (I used vintage book pages for this project.)
  • Acrylic paints
  • Gesso
  • Glue (I used Mod Podge®.)
  • Water-soluble art markers (I used Tombow® Dual Brush markers.)
  • Glitter
  • Brads and brad-setting tool
  • Colored pencils (I use Lyra dark colored pencils or Prismacolor®.)
  • Fibers for hanging loops optional
  • Source photos or images, copyright free
  • Transfer paper, white (I use white transfer paper by Melissa and Doug for tracing.)
  • Photo-editing software (I use Photoshop®.)
  • Embellishments
  • Alphabet stamps (I used small stamps.)
  • Dye ink (I use Ranger Archival ink.)
  • Brad setting tool

NOTE: A traditional scratchboard is coated in white clay and then inked over with black ink. Scraping with a tool removes the ink and reveals the white below, giving your drawings an etched look.

Make your collage sheets

1. Sketch your collage elements on the scratchboard with the white pencil: head, body parts, and accessories. (FIGURE 1) Remember to keep things small, but know that you can reduce your final size more later if needed. If you are not comfortable drawing freehand, use the transfer paper and trace from your reference image.


NOTE: If you are including wings or other movable appendages, be sure to make these pieces wide enough to accommodate a brad attachment.

2. Begin scratching with the tools, removing all of the black in areas where the highlights would appear on the object first. (FIGURE 2) The curved blade tool is my favorite tool for this technique.


TIP: It is sometimes difficult to get a nice fluid line with a flat scraping tool. This is especially true when working with lettering. Use an awl for a fluid curve.

3. With your lightest areas all white now, add crosshatching to create the mid-range and darker areas. (FIGURE 3) Experiment and develop different hatching and dotting techniques to suggest volume and shadows, always keeping in mind where the light source is. (FIGURE 4)


TIP: If you make a mistake, use an acrylic pen to restore black to the surface. Once dry, you can scrape the black away again if needed.


4. When you are satisfied with your image sheet, gently wipe away the remaining white pencil marks with a moist towel or damp cotton swab. (FIGURE 5) Avoid wiping any areas that were corrected with pen, as the pen may wipe away as well.


5. Scan and print your copies in grayscale onto the cardstock. Alternatively, make color copies, which have better detail and are less likely to smear than black-and-white copies. Don’t forget to adjust the size of your prints if needed to fit the tag(s).

TIP: When you scan your images, the scratch lines are sometimes too fine to print well. Enlarge your image and open the Levels function in Photoshop. Click on the white eyedropper in the pop-up screen, and then click inside a scratched line that is supposed to be completely white. Click the black eyedropper and then click an area of the image that is supposed to be true black. Save this image in grayscale with a new name. Print from this image.

NOTE: It is not advisable to cut, collage, or glue the scratchboard because it tends to resist glue and will curl.

TIP: For mirror images of items like mittens, draw the shape once and print a second, flipped version of your sheet for the other mitten or other shape, such as wings.

6. Add a layer of matte medium to your image sheet to beef up the page and make the inkjet ink less likely to run. Don’t brush too vigorously, as this will cause the ink to run. Let dry.

Prepare the elements

1. Cut out the collage elements, leaving a narrow black border on the scratchboard images to help define the shapes. (FIGURE 6)


2. Embellish the tag with paint. I painted a rough band at the top and bottom of the tag with metallic paint. (FIGURE 7) A thin, fairly uneven coat works best. Let the brown of the tag show through. Continue to decorate the tag with stamps, paint, embellishments, or mark making as desired. Let dry.


3. Age the unpainted part of the tag with Distress Ink, using the sponge to apply the ink. (FIGURE 7) Run the edges of the tag(s) along the ink pad to add more color.

4. Cut out accessories for your figure from found papers. I cut a coat from a book page for the bear. Paint the paper with light gesso or paint, age the edges with Distress Ink, and let dry.

5. Glue the clothing into place, and attach the body parts and other elements with glue. (FIGURE 8)  Set aside any moving parts for later.


6. Color the black-and-white pieces with markers, or add a little glitter with matte medium. (FIGURE 8)

TIP: If your colors are too bright, carefully work over the area with a slightly damp paintbrush to lift some of the color.

Final touches

1. Decide where you want to attach the moving parts to the tag, and carefully poke holes through the parts and the tag with the awl. Set the brads so that the moving parts can rotate. Use a brad setting tool if desired.

2. Draw around the collage elements with pen or colored pencil to integrate the edges. I used a black pen. Make marks, add more stamping, or add other embellishments. (FIGURE 9)


3. Use coordinating fibers to make a hanging loop. (FIGURE 9)  Finish the backs of your tags as desired.

Dena Ann Adams etches strange critters onto all kinds of surfaces in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She saves every scrap of paper and loves teaching other creatives her cut-and-paste methods. Visit her website at

Want more mixed-media gift tag inspiration? Here’s a fun idea for creating tag-shaped fabric collages and another great idea for creating paper clay holiday tags!

Check out these holiday issues of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine for more festive ideas:

November/December 2017
November/December 2015


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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