{X} X-acto knife: carving stamps and cutting stencils

Stamps and stencils, as you may have noticed, can be an invaluable tool in your art journal kit. When I started out, I used to scoff at the HUGE variety of stamps and stencils that are available in the market. In fact, I still think that if a design is special use only, it is a waste of money to buy a stamp or stencil – it’s far better to learn how to draw that design, or better yet, create a custom design for your personal use.

All you need to invest in is one tool – an X-Acto knife – and you’re pretty much on your way.

Stamp carving 101

You can carve beautiful, complex designs on linoleum blocks, or you can take the quick and dirty route {like I typically do} and create some beautiful designs quickly and easily.

The easiest way to carve a stamp is to get your hands on a ubiquitous white eraser. Draw your design on the eraser and cut away the negative areas. Just remember that the stamp will give you a mirror image of your design, which is of particular relevance if you’re cutting alphabet stamps.

Hand carved fox stamp. Image courtesy

Don’t have an X-acto knife yet? Don’t worry. Just grab your scissors and a sheet of craft foam. You can create lovely shape stamps by cutting out shapes from your craft foam and sticking it on to a piece of cardboard in a pleasing arrangement.

Want something even quicker? Take your sheet of craft foam and draw your design on it with a pen. You’ll have to press down as you draw – ink it up and stamp away!

Stencil cutting 101

Cut your own stencils Image courtesy

You can splurge on a silhouette die cut machine that can also cut out stencils. Or spend a little elbow grease and cut out your own stencils. You’ll need an X-Acto knife and a piece of cardboard or a clear transparency sheet. Draw your design and cut away. If you cut carefully and retain the shape of the cut-out perfectly, you also have a mask for your stencil! Easy-peasy!

Put this lesson to work: Try carving a stamp or cutting a stencil and use it as a main element in your art journal.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

{W} Wabi-sabi: Adapting the Japanese philosophy into your art

wabi-sabi-philosophyWabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy, like Kintsugi, that embraces imperfection. Wabi-sabi, which is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and revering authenticity above all, emerged as a reaction to the 15th century aesthetic of rich ornamentation and lavish opulence. It is characterized by asymmetry, roughness or irregularity, simplicity, austerity, modesty, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes. The concept is derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence – impermanence, suffering and emptiness.

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs. – from Wikipedia

So how can you adapt this philosophy in your art journal practice?

Give up “perfectionitis”

There will be times on your art journey when your ideas are bigger than your skill level – it’s sad but true. Instead of beating yourself up for not knowing how to do something, take the opportunity to learn and hone your skills further. And as you try and learn, give yourself some grace. If you don’t love something you’ve created, rip it out of your journal and use it as collage {I’ve never done this, though, no matter how frustrated I am with a page}. Or simply turn the page and start afresh.

Embrace “dirt”

That page on which you threw a hissy fit? Gesso over it. Bits of it will peek through from under the gesso, but create over it anyway. In this manner, you embrace your imperfections, and build over your mistakes. You will also get colors and effects and layers that are impossible to replicate when you work this way.

Highlight mistakes

These circles were just blobs of texture that had no relevance to the page. So, I added a lot of white around the area, drew in petal shapes, and doodled all around it to make it look like it was planned. Between you and me – it totally wasn’t! This is a macro from a much larger spread.

Made a boo-boo on the page? See if there is a way to make it look deliberate. Or to draw attention to it somehow. Or work around it to turn it into a focal image if you can. Or just stick something else over it and see if that works! This is also a great way to work with layers!

These are just a few ideas on embracing wabi-sabi philosophy in your art journal practice.

Do you have any other ideas to add? I’d love to hear in the comments!

{V} Veering away from the journal page

This was done on a roughly 18 by 22 size, 300gsm watercolor sheet. Let’s play! {Click image to enlarge}

Human beings are social creatures. As you start to get your art groove on, chances are that you will want to share your art with your friends. And by share, I don’t just mean flooding social media with your art work – I mean sharing a small piece of what you do with the people you love.

So today, I invite you to move out of the book and onto a lose sheet of paper. For best results, I would recommend an 18 x 20 sheet of 300 gsm watercolor paper. {If you can’t find a single sheet of watercolor paper in your area, you could use a thick sheet of drawing paper.}

When you get the paper home and into your art area, it can be quite intimidating – such a huge expanse of white! But fear not, you don’t have to do anything “cohesive” on it. Just have fun playing with all the techniques you’ve learnt so far. This huge sheet will eventually get cut up into smaller pieces.

Gather together 3-4 of your favorite colors plus white and start painting randomly. Once the paint dries, stencil and stamp in some random areas around the sheet. Apply some drips with acrylic or waterproof inks. “Fade out” some areas with thinned down white paint. Doodle with a waterproof black pen {my favorite is the Sakura Identity Pen}.


Once you’re done and everything is dry, flip the sheet over and draw your guide lines for cutting. The size will vary, depending on what you want to make. In this example, I cut up my sheet into visiting card size pieces to use as prompts. You can cut them out to make bookmarks or postcards or even as little abstract pieces of framed art – and since it’s a large sheet, you can make a few of all of these from one single sheet!


Once you have all your pieces cut out, you may find a few that may not have too much interest – feel free to doodle, stamp or stencil on those pieces if you wish.

Questions? Ask away!

{U} Upcycling: re-purposing thrash into art

Stamps. Stencils. Ink pads. Die-cuts. Distress paints. Silk glaze. Crackle paint. Dylusion spray inks. Color bloom ink spray. Washi tape. Collage sheets…

The world of supplies is huge and crazy. There are tons of art products in the market, with more introduced almost every day. With so many beautiful supplies to choose from, things can get a bit overwhelming. Not to mention hard on the pocket.

DIY stamp Image courtesy

But, you don’t need a ton of supplies for art journaling. And a lot of supplies can be easily substituted for similar effects. Best of all, you can upcycle a lot of things from around the house in your art journal! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Don’t have too many stamps? Go back to childhood “supplies” – potatoes! Cut shapes in potatoes for one-time use stamps.
  • Save bubble wrap from your next package – use it as a stamp
  • Finished reading your magazine? Instead of throwing it out on the recycling heap, use it for collage fodder.
  • Bought a book that you absolutely hate? Tear out the pages and use as collage.
  • Don’t throw away used tea-leaves. Boil them again, maybe with half a spoon of fresh tea leaves {experimentation is key here} and use the water to antique your pages.
  • Use the cardboard from cereal boxes to practice new techniques. Or as a substrate for your next painting. Once it’s painted and framed, no one will know it was done on a cereal box.
  • Keep the chopsticks you get with Chinese takeout – use it with paints or ink for mark making.
  • Don’t bother to buy circle stencils – they look really tempting, but a little extra work can give you the same effect. Use jam jar lids, the cardboard tube from a used kitchen towel roll, an old bowl
    Upcycled cardboard notebook Image courtesy

    , or the back of your paintbrush to draw/stamp circles.

  • Use cardboard cereal boxes or cardboard packaging to cut your own stencil designs. If you cut them carefully, you can keep the image to use as a mask.
  • Chipboard elements can be pricey – make your own simple elements with packaging boxes. This gives you complete control over the size and style too!
  • During wedding season, keep all the wedding cards you receive. You can use them as collage elements, or if they are on nice, thick paper, you can use it as a substrate for your painting.

Your turn! Can you think of any other things from around the house that you can incorporate into your art? Let me know in the comments!

{T} Technique Saturday: A few of my favorite videos for your viewing pleasure

Sometimes seeing is the best way to learn. So here are two of my favorite videos that really helped me when I was starting out on my art journal and mixed media journey.

Christy Tomlinson‘s beautiful mixed media canvases really inspired me to start drawing faces in my journal. Just watching her create can spark multiple ideas…that’s the best kind of technique video in my book!

Roben-Marie Smith creates beautiful, layered art journal pages. Watch her process video below for some inspiration.