Valentine’s Day Project: Tangle-Inspired Valentine

I am an unapologetic sappy romantic, and I love Valentine’s Day. I’ll use any excuse to let my friends and family know how much they mean to me, and I especially like to show them by giving handmade gifts. This year I made a tangle-inspired Valentine with paper clay, using a tangle design from my sketchbook.

A tangle-inspired Valentine project | Jeannine Stein,

I was inspired by the book Zentangled Untangled by Kass Hall to create a pattern that became a mixed-media Valentine. If you don’t have this book in your library yet, you should—even if you’re not a doodler or aren’t into Zentangle, there is so much to explore and learn from. The idea that thoughtfully creating patterns and tapping into our creativity results in calm and focus is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. I am a believer. On my worst day, if I take 15 minutes to concentrate on creating a pattern or two, suddenly all is right with the world.

Zentangle Untangled by Kass Hall
No matter what type of art you do, Zentangle Untangled will take your creativity to new heights.

I discovered that the patterns I create can be translated into other mixed-media pieces. This Valentine is a case in point; I’ve been working on a pattern in my sketchbook that’s just not coming together—I was trying to create dimension and sort of a tufted look, but the results have been less than great (you can see it below). So I decided to make the dimension really dimensional, and try it in 3-D by creating a tangle-inspired Valentine.

Doodle sketchbook inspiration for a tangle-inspired Valentine
A pattern from my sketchbook became a tangle-inspired Valentine.

I created a heart shape out of paper clay, about ¼” thick—since this is such a basic shape I freehanded it, instead of creating a template first. I placed the clay on a plastic bag and used a small piece of mat board to shape the sides, a technique I learned from Rogene Manas in her article “Make Merry: Creating with paper clay” in the November/December 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.

Shaping paper clay with mat board
I used a small piece of mat board to shape the paper clay.

The occasional lump, bump, and crack were smoothed out with my fingers and some water.

Smoothing paper clay with water.
A little bit of water helps to smooth lumps, bumps, and cracks on paper clay.

Next, I created a grid, using the tapered side of a ruler. I eyeballed the lines—normally I measure things like this, but I was in a mood to go for it.

Creating a grid on paper clay for a tangle-inspired Valentine
As I did with my sketch, I created a grid as the basis for my tangle-inspired Valentine.

With a toothpick, I made small indentations at the point of each triangle to represent the lines in the pattern, and hopefully mimic a tufted look. I really liked it, and it definitely gave the tangle-inspired Valentine a lot of dimension.

Creating marks with a toothpick on paper clay
Making little marks with a toothpick created the tufted look on the clay.

While making this piece I also found that I was as relaxed as I was working on patterns in my sketchbook. The rhythmic repetition of creating the design, and the joy in seeing it emerge were the same, and I loved that this pattern translated so perfectly to another medium.

I thought I’d add some little paper clay button embellishments to the piece, so I rolled tiny balls, shaped them into domes, and used the toothpick again to create an ‘X’ on the top of each one.

Creating accent buttons from paper clay.
To accent the tangle-inspired Valentine, I made little domed buttons and pressed an ‘X’ into each one.

When everything was dry, I glued the heart to a 6″ x 6″ piece of 1/4″ wood with thick white glue, and painted the whole thing with black acrylic paint, including the sides. I also painted the little domed buttons black. This is another of Rogene’s techniques that allows the dimension and the texture of the clay to really show when a lighter coat of paint is brushed on top.

Painting the panel and the tangle-inspired heart black
The tangle-inspired Valentine was glued to a wood panel, then painted black.

Quick tip: When painting a dimensional design like this, make sure you push the bristles of the brush into every nook and cranny of the paper clay piece. There should be no white showing through.

I painted the heart with red acrylic paint, mixing a few shades to get a nice, rich color, and dry brushing it just over the top of the heart and the buttons; this lets the black show through, creating depth and emphasizing the pattern and the tufted look. I did this in three coats, letting each one dry in between, and ended with a slightly lighter shade to add some highlights. I also painted the buttons red as well.

Painting over paper clay design.
The heart and button embellishments were painted red, which revealed the design.

Quick tip: Don’t worry if you get some paint on the black background; you’ll be covering this over in the next step.

For a collaged background I tore strips of vintage book pages (thanks for the inspiration, Rogene!) and glued it to the painted wood, using a 50:50 mix of white glue and water. The text provided even more patterning.

Collaging with torn pieces of book pages
A collaged background was created with torn pieces of book pages.

Quick tip: When collaging the paper, it will appear dark when saturated with the glue mixture. When dry, it will be much lighter.

When the papers dried I trimmed the edges flush with the wood, and applied one layer of matte gel medium over the collage, let that dry, applied a little black paint to the edges, then finished it with a coat of satin varnish. The satin provided a nice contrast to the mat heart. The buttons were adhered around the border with thick white glue.

Tangle-inspired Valentine translated into mixed media
Creating a tangle-inspired Valentine made me realize that tangle patterns can be used with all types of mixed media.

I can’t wait to give this tangle-inspired Valentine to my husband for Valentine’s Day, and I look forward to trying more tangle patterns, both in my sketchbook and outside of it. Soon I’ll dive back into Zentangle Untangled and discover more about creating patterns, using this as a way to help me reach my happy place. Because we all need to go there once in a while.

Wishing you a happy and creative Valentine’s Day!


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques, Paper Art and Zen Doodle

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