How to Make a Mixed-Media Messenger Bag

Looking for the perfect bag to carry on all your travels near and far? This messenger bag decorated by Tracie Lyn Huskamp is just the ticket. To make it, you’ll take a store-bought messenger bag and put your own special spin on it using a variety of mixed-media art techniques. Tracie will even show you how to create a detachable mixed-media pin that you can use as an added embellishment. This article first appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Put your own artistic spin on a store-bought messenger bag!
Put your own artistic spin on a store-bought bag! (Photos by Sharon White Photography)

A Personalized Messenger Bag, by Tracie Lyn Huskamp

As artists, we are constantly adding our personal touch to the world around us, speaking to others through the visual language of our art. Putting our artistic spin on bags, clothing, furniture, and other utilitarian items seems like a natural progression. Here, I offer my inspiration for expanding your artistic horizons by creating a signature messenger bag with a mixed-media butterfly embellishment.


  • Messenger bag (I used one made of cotton canvas.)
  • Parchment paper, 1 yard (I used ½ yard to cover my work surface and ½ yard inside the messenger bag.)
  • Paintbrush(es) (I used a ½” flat brush and a #3 round.)
  • Acrylic paint, a variety of colors, including white (I used Golden Artist Colors® Heavy Body Titanium White.)
  • Pencil (I used a mechanical pencil.)
  • Optional:
    • Graphite paper
    • Copyright-free images printed on copy paper
    • Pen
    • Covered button kit, various sizes (I purchased a button kit at a fabric store.)
    • Fabric swatches (I used various fabrics from my Nature Inspired and Garden Tales collections from Windham Fabrics.)
    • Iron and ironing surface
    • Pressing cloth
    • Steam-A-Seam2® or Mistyfuse®
    • Felt (I used wool felt.)
    • Embellishments (I used beads and glitter.)

1. Place the messenger bag on a protected work surface. Put a sheet of parchment paper in the bag, and flatten the bag for painting. Prime the front flap and back side of the messenger bag with white paint. (FIGURE 1) Allow it to dry for 24 hours, and then apply a second coat. Let dry thoroughly.


NOTE: The canvas requires two, sometimes three, coats of paint to create a solid surface. The faded/lighter edges on my bag are the result of 1 coat of paint. I wanted some of the canvas to show through.

TIP: Alternatively, use gesso, Golden’s Absorbent Ground, or Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground to prime the bag.

2. Sketch a design onto the painted areas in pencil. I chose a floral design, covering most of the painted area. (FIGURE 2)


TIP: If you’re uncomfortable creating your own sketch, transfer an image onto the bag (SEE TRANSFERRING AN IMAGE BELOW).

3. Using the outline as your guide, paint the design with acrylic paint in a variety of colors. (FIGURE 3 AND 4) I find it’s best to break the design (each flower, each leaf, etc.) into 2–5 large color areas. Start by laying down the large blocks of color, creating a foundation of paint, and leave the detail work for later. Don’t ignore any area. It’s important to work the entire piece, so that same level of detail is consistent throughout the painting. This also gives wet areas time to dry. Be sure to include some dark areas in your painting to create the look of shadows. This will help make the image appear more realistic.


TIP: When there is a shift from one hue to the next, blend the colors together. Avoid leaving hard lines between the color shifts, which can make the subject appear choppy and unconvincing.

4. Optional: Embellish the body of the bag with miscellaneous mixed-media elements.
I added custom covered buttons that were created with a kit. (FIGURE 5) I also designed a mixed-media butterfly pin (SEE CREATING A BUTTERFLY PIN BELOW).


Transferring an image

1. Print your chosen image onto copy paper; enlarge the image if necessary.

2. Place the messenger bag on your work surface, put the graphite paper on top of the bag graphite-side down, and then place your copied image on top, image-side up.

3. Holding the paper in place, carefully trace the outline of the copied image with a pen to transfer the image to the bag, tracing details as desired.

Creating a butterfly pin

I created a mixed-media butterfly pin embellishment for my bag. This technique works well with other nature subjects, such as birds, flowers, and leaves.

1. Using a copyright-free image, print a copy of a butterfly.

2. Cut a piece of muslin to the size of the butterfly image and trace the image onto the muslin with pencil. I used a light box for this, but you could hold the muslin and image up to a window, or use graphite paper as before.

3. Using your copied image as a guide, paint the butterfly with acrylic paints. Lay down large blocks of color, leaving the detail work for later. Don’t be concerned with capturing every detail perfectly. Let dry.

TIP: Be sure to include some dark shadows to help make your image appear more realistic.

4. Place a pressing cloth on your ironing surface, put the painted fabric wrong-side up on the cloth, and iron a piece of fusible web like Steam-A-Seam2 or Mistyfuse, to the back of the fabric following the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Place a piece of wool felt in a coordinating color on top of the fusible web, cover it with a pressing cloth, and then iron the felt in place.

6. Carefully cut out the butterfly with sharp scissors, and then attach a pin back to the back of the butterfly. Embellish as desired. I added beads and glitter.

Tracie Lyn Huskamp shares her love of art and nature in her book, Nature Inspired, and by teaching workshops. Tracie’s work has been featured in various publications and books. Her art appears on licensed products such as fabric, calendars, stencils, gifts, and stationery. Visit her online at

Learn how to put your own artistic spin on a T-shirt in this tutorial!

Find out just how far you can take acrylic paint in this fantastic collection of articles from Cloth Paper Scissors, Zen Doodle Workshop, and Faces magazines.
In this Art Lesson, Darlene Olivia McElroy presents a variety of ways you can incorporate transfers in your mixed-media art to add wonderful texture.
This eBook from Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson is filled with image transfer techniques, showing you everything you need to know in order to master this popular technique.


Art to Wear, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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