Any excuse I can find for adding stitching to a mixed-media project, you know I’m all over it. When I saw Danielle Donaldson’s method of sewing paper to create Inspiration Blocks, I was really all over it. Her technique, featured in the May/June 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, is such an eye-opener that I had to try it for myself. As I worked on the project, the potential for incorporating it in all kinds of projects blew my mind.
Danielle started making her Inspiration Blocks as a starting point for her mixed-media illustrations. Along the way, she discovered that the blocks were more than a great color and texture element to artwork—they’re also a teaching tool, informing her color palettes and design motifs.
To get started, Danielle suggests rummaging through your paper and fabric stash and pulling out patterned sheets, all kinds of ephemera, and fabric scraps (a project that encourages using up scraps is right up my alley). She has a great method for letting fate dictate the elements of the block, which you should not miss. I wanted to work monochromatically, and with the color yellow. Yellow isn’t a favorite color, but I’ve been drawing lemons for some reason lately (The start of summer? A vitamin C deficiency?) and thought I’d use them as my subject. Here’s what I pulled, and I was thrilled to find some alphabet scrapbook paper with the letter “Y” done in shades of yellow. Knowing I’d include a leaf in the drawing, I pulled some bright green papers as well.
While amassing this collection of yellows, I understood what Danielle meant about this being a teaching tool. I got lost in the various hues and values of yellow, noticing the subtle differences in the shades of gold, butter, sunflower, and neon yellow, the feelings they evoked, and how they played off each other. The papers were cut into bite-sized pieces and machine sewn onto a piece of pre-measured tissue paper. Danielle includes great tips and ideas for assembling and sewing these blocks, which can also be stitched by hand or glued on. I used my workhorse sewing machine and added straight and zig-zag stitches, but if you have a machine with lots of fancy stitches, knock yourself out. When sewing paper there are no adjustments you need to make to your machine, just make sure that you change the needle before sewing on fabric. Sewing paper dulls needles quickly.
Moving onto the watercolor, I created my drawing in pencil on a piece of 140-lb. cold press watercolor paper. If you love exploring watercolor, make sure you check out Danielle’s new book, The Art of Creative Watercolor. She has amazing techniques for this beautiful medium, and it’s perfect for all skill levels. You’ll see that she uses these Inspiration Blocks throughout the book.
Watercolor was applied in layers, and I let each one dry before adding the next. I always keep a scrap of watercolor paper handy so I can test colors before I paint.
As I continued to paint, I placed the Inspiration Block onto the watercolor sheet to see if my colors were on point, and to take inspiration from the hues and patterns. It was obvious that the block added so much to the piece—texture, color, and excitement. Amazing how something as simple as sewing paper scraps could turn a plain watercolor sketch into something much more.
For the background, I created a water wash around the lemons, dropped in some color (picking up some of the warm reds and bright greens in the block), and sprinkled salt in the wettest pools. When that dried, I brushed the salt off to reveal some great texture. Just a bit of shading helped make the focal images pop.
After adhering the Inspiration Block I went back to the sewing machine and stitched around the perimeter of the entire piece a couple of times. Creating this was such a fun and enlightening process, and I can see so many applications for sewing paper and fabric into these beautiful blocks: art journal pages, cards, image transfers, book covers. Considering I have enough paper scraps to last a lifetime, I’d better get going on the next one.
Danielle offers some great ideas for using stencils with watercolor in this guest blog post!
Curious about what else the May/June issue has in store for you? Take a peek at our lookbook and see many more fantastic mixed-media projects.