craft

Beachcomber Chic

Beachcomber place settings

Regular readers will know that I have a passion for the sea and all things coastal; whenever we can, we pile into the car and head for the shore; there’s something about the endless skies and water, the sea-salt and the sand that is magical.  We’re heading for Cornwall soon to go rock-pooling and to brave the Atlantic waters, but till then I’ve brought the sea a little closer to home with these bauble place-settings filled with beach-combed finds, made for a casual al fresco dinner with friends…

Coastal style place settings

I bought a set of fillable Christmas baubles from Michaels when we were in New England last Autumn, and in the frenzy of festive preparations managed to forget about them completely until, inspired by the endless beautiful pictures of coastal dining and projects in magazines (especially the current issue of Country Homes and Interiors), I decided to use them as summery place-settings for a simple outdoor get-together.

I gathered up a hodgepodge of beach treasures from previous holidays and added in bits of ephemera I’ve gathered on my travels (including some old watch faces which I bought by the bagful from the eclectic  Marché aux Puces flea market in Paris, bits of broken jewellery and feathers collected in the springtime on our many trips to feed the ducks..)

Beachcombing finds

..And dug out a handful of corks, gathered over the years from various celebrations  - celebrations as big as weddings and as small as the arrival of the weekend at long last…

corks

I prised the top off each bauble and tipped in some sand (I used a scoop of play sand from Harry’s old sandpit), then dropped in my treasures.  You might want to use a pair of tweezers or cooking tongs to move things around; it’s like learning keyhole surgery without a textbook…

Making coastal bauble place settings

Push in a cork, and then tie on a simple paper tag with each name.  I printed names onto a sheet of cardstock then cut into strips before  punching a hole in each and tying on with household string.  Broken shells look beautiful threaded on to the tie;

Coastal Bauble Place Settings

And voila, a simple yet stylish summer place-setting which can be played with endlessly as your guests get tipsy and start trying to fish out interesting contents with their cutlery, adding a dash of sand to each course in the process (trust me on this; or maybe it’s just my guests…)

Summer dinner party style

If you want to try this but didn’t have the foresight to buy a fistful of empty baubles at Christmas before leaving to gather dust in the back of a drawer, there are a number of craft shops which either stock them year-round, or - quelle horreur! - are already showcasing their festive collections for this year.  Online, try eBay or craft mecca Etsy for beautiful glass versions.  In the UK you can find them here, or Baker Ross has a slightly different design.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

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Hand-Drawn Summer Postcards (and Inspiring Illustrators…)

Holiday Postcard with Quentin Blake Frame


Harry loves to draw – at the moment.  His enthusiasm goes in fits and starts, so I try to go with the flow and encourage him to have fun with painting and drawing and thus delay for as long as possible (forever, I hope) the moment when he throws down his pencil, decides that he’s ‘no good at art’ and is lost to the sports field forever.

We’re going on holiday soon and I’ve designed Harry a pack of blank postcards to draw on during the long waits for dinner, or in quiet times between dips in the pool and races on the beach.  We’ll post them home to family and friends – and address one to ourselves for our Memory Box – and it should be a fun, creative way of capturing the best bits of the holiday. He’s already feeling inspired..

Hand-Drawn Holiday Postcards 1

The back of the postcard is a simple template with  - crucially – space at the bottom for the artist to sign their name (and because after all that hard work drawing, it’s only fair that the grown-ups should have to do all the rest of the dull writing and address-filling);

Postcard Template

And the front of the cards I’ve either left blank or used this brilliant free download from the illustrator Quentin Blake’s website (see later) to make the white space a bit less daunting and provide a bit of additional inspiration..

Postcard DIY

I’ve packaged Harry’s into a box with a set of fun twistable crayons and we’ll pack them in his case at the last minute, along with approximately 104 other things that he considers to be critical for a week by the sea (Batmobile, pirate telescope, Lego, winter boots, random household objects etc).

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 2

They make good small gifts for Harry’s friends as we prepare to say goodbye at the end of term…

Hand-drawn Holiday Postcards 4

You can download my template below if the idea appeals (and there’s no reason why this should be just a children’s activity of course; I’ll certainly be painting a few of my own to mail alongside Harry’s ;-) ).

Postcard Printable

Talking of inspiring children to paint and draw, I love discovering how some of the best-known illustrators are providing resources and encouragement to help kids do just that.  I mentioned Quentin Blake earlier, who has a site full of activities and projects, like this one where you are encouraged to decide – and draw – the marvellous person who has just arrived at the door;

Colour_in_no_4The Guardian newspaper in the UK featured a series of awesome illustrators showing how to draw famous characters from their books and animated films, like Emily Gravett, who is helped by the unreliable Cedric in teaching us how to draw dragons;

How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-001 How-To-Draw-Dragons-by-Em-004

…and the wonderful Polly Dunbar who draws pigs, step by step… (follow the link for the whole tutorial).

Polly Dunbar draws pigsdrawing by Polly Dunbar

I remember that when I was growing-up, copying pictures and learning how to draw the characters and things I loved were what slowly built my confidence… and I’m hoping it does the same for Harry.

I’d love to know who your favourite illustrators are, and any other links and resources… the more the merrier!  Here are a few more of mine;

Eric Carle (The Hungry Caterpillar) has a great site with kids colouring pages but also resources for artists on how to create wet-tissue works like his.

Fans of the Gruffalo and Axel Scheffler’s drawings  can find lots of brilliant crafting activities here

Elmer is our current favourite bedtime book; David McKee explains here how to draw elephants like Elmer – or if colouring-in is more the ticket, find a printable here.

Have a great week!

Kate

 

How to get your 7-a-day of Fruit & Veg.

Paper Fruit from katescreativespace

This week the British government announced that we should each be eating at least 7 portions of fruit and veg every day for optimal health and longevity.  Apparently, the raisins in a fruit & nut chocolate bar don’t count, and nor, really, do the dried banana chips I carry around in my bag.  To bolster our household fruit supplies, I have ingeniously resorted to Pinterest and the beautiful DIY fruit bowl templates created for the wonderful Mr Printables site here.  They may not be strictly edible, but they’re certainly very decorative – and great fun to make.

DIY Paper Fruit


When I stumble across lovely things like this which catch my eye I tend to download them and then save them for rainy nights in; this week gave us a couple, so Harry and I did some scissor-practice and wielded our glue sticks to great success.  The fruit are described as toys, though they’re not really resilient enough for any kind of hard-loving or action play; ours simply sit on the mantelpiece looking cheerful and decorative.  I printed them out as supersize templates (download them and print at 150% if your printer can cope with A3; or blow them up at a copy shop).  This makes them larger than life and much easier to fold and stick, especially for little fingers.  A great project for the Easter holidays, or for grown-ups (this particular craft project  was mainly for me, I confess…).  You see them here on Harry’s play kitchen scales and picnic basket – each piece of fruit is about 15-20cm in height.

Paper Fruit Picnic Basket

They are so tactile and colourful; if Harry was younger I’d be tempted to string these into a mobile or a garland for his bedroom (which we’re doing-up currently; more on that soon).  A lovely ornament for a nursery perhaps; out of reach of curious, uncoordinated hands but perfect for capturing attention and imagination.

Tempting paper Fruit


Before I go and rearrange my virtual fruit bowl, thank you SO much for the lovely comments on last week’s post; I’m delighted that the rabbit drawing/download has been useful and inspired a good few projects -it’s always a joy to hear when something has worked and been used in other creations.  Easter preparations continue here, albeit amongst the frenzy of work & deadlines, and a new backdrop of mists and frost.  More pics and news from the home front next week.

Have a good week, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto.

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Fantasies of Heat and Dust

Homemade leather travel journals

I write this week from a beneath a pile of clothes, suitcases, scarves, swimwear, camera kit and general travel-related bounty; we’ve booked a last-minute trip to Morocco, and feverish excitement is high.

Berber man

Map of Marrakech

Photo by Christopher.michael/Flickr. Illustrated map by Mariko Jesse for CondeNast

We were searching for an escape from the relentless rain, wind and grey drizzle which seized Britain in December and has yet to let go; Morocco offers a complete contrast and at just  a 3hr flight away feels deliciously close.  We’ll be staying near Marrakech but venturing up into the Atlas Mountains and generally exploring – I can’t wait.  (Have you been? Any hot tips or must-sees?).  The weather at this time of year can be unpredictable but the one thing we know for sure is that it will be better than here..

One night this week I made a simple travel journal each for Harry and for myself; Harry’s contains crayons and envelopes for drawing pictures and the capturing of treasures; both took just a few minutes to make.  Instructions below if you like the look and want to have a go (these make great gifts too).

Handmade travel journal

Materials and step-by-step instructions after the jump ;

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Christmas; A Week in Pictures

Happy New Year!  Did you have a lovely break?  I hope so.  We’re slowly emerging out of our cocoon and back into the real world again, after a wonderful – if chilly – Christmas.  A few highlights to share; firstly, of course, that the Big Man himself came…..

Santa has been

We had carefully counted out nine carrots and measured a mug of milk and some mince pies, so anticipation had been high, not least after Harry found Santa’s telegram in the hearth on Christmas Eve morning;

discovering the north pole telegram

There was much debate about where to hang stockings, before Harry decided that the end of the bed was the surest approach.  On Christmas morning, he discovered a letter from Santa in the top of his stocking, talking about how busy life has been at the North Pole; describing the winter colds which have been affecting the elves and which Mrs Claus has been treating with her special medicine, and the sprint-start training which Rudolph has been leading the reindeer in to ensure the whole world is reached over the course of a single night.  Harry was transfixed – momentarily – before being thoroughly distracted by the tissue-wrapped packages in the stocking itself.

Santas letter

Our boiler resolutely failed to start, despite the efforts of several engineers, so we spent Christmas wrapped in scarves, hats, jumpers, thick socks and blankets, huddled around the open fires in the kitchen and snug.  Bathing was limited to kettles of water, which Harry saw as another Christmas present in itself (no hair washing!), and which the rest of us shivered through.  Fortunately our visiting relatives are a hardy lot, so we pretended we were camping in the wild and consigned all planned festive outfits to the back of the wardrobe in favour of warm layers; there was no glamour here this year.  Harry, incidentally, seems to have a unique thermostat that never registers the cold; he spent Christmas day mostly in his vest, accessorised with a new Batman cape and mask;

batman outfit

When it came to feasting, I focused on creating a feeling of warmth with minimal effort, so used the antlers which usually adorn the log basket to form a centrepiece, sprinkled with glitter and with neutral baubles tucked at intervals.  Glitter-dipped pinecones acted as place-name holders, and a length of black paper underneath complete with chalk sticks made for much fun between courses.  The most popular game with our rotating collection of family and friends over the break was to see who could scribble down the names of all of the reindeer first.  Have a go, it’s harder than you think;  though it’s perhaps a sign of the potency of my homemade Christmas Martinis that someone had noted ‘Nixon’ in their list.

Christmas Eve Table

 

origami log basket

Our main Christmas present to each other was a New Year escape to a beautiful little hotel in the Cotswolds, for a couple of nights of warmth, fun and relaxation; it looked so welcoming even as we pulled into the drive;

calcot manor hotel

…and Harry was immediately won over on discovering his bed (as were Digby and Marvin, who accompany him everywhere)..

hotel cookies

Back home we’ve been busy packing up Christmas decorations (how is it that the number of them seems to grow every year?)

bristle tree forest

…And making thank-you cards for the many wonderful gifts we all received.  For Harry’s, I designed a simple note and then added a picture of him in cowboy costume on the front.  I recently picked up some old and rather battered childrens’ books in a church sale and have been cutting out pictures to use as envelope liners, so this Christmas thank-you notes will come with gorgeous images from Elmer;

Harry thank you 2013 Harrys thank you cards  saying thank you after christmas

And now the festivities are truly over, and we’re left with a house that looks deliciously calm and uncluttered – and warm at last, with a happily chuffing boiler once again firing away. Spring seems a long way off still, so my thoughts are turning to all things green and to how I can ward off the January gloom with a bit of colour and new life dotted around the place; that’s the challenge for this weekend, before work beckons once again.

narcissi

Have a wonderful weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

Kate

Detecting The Flamboyance Gene

Harry discovered the art of disguise at an early age.  It was clear even at two that a man can never have too many pirate eye-patches, cloaks, swords, racing driver goggles or superhero capes; you never know when they might be called upon in the ups and downs of everyday adventure.

I look at my husband and the genetic sequencing becomes clear.  Here is a man who has variously dressed-up as Madonna – complete with conical bra – a hippy, a zombie and Father Christmas, and has his own trunk filled with accessories and war-torn party outfits.  (nb I will set aside the question of the Madonna outfit for now, and dwell on it in private later).

It became clear last week that storing all of Harry’s dressing-up clothes in a chest wasn’t working; everything gets flung on the floor in the frantic search for THE crucial piece of kit (usually pirate-related). I looked online for a fun clothing rail but it seems that only girls are allowed to have these, if the number of heart-bedecked, pink shimmery rails are anything to go by.  So we made our own…

DIY Witches Broom Dress Up Rail

I recycled an old clothing rail from the loft and replaced the top rail with a long-handled, bushy natural broom from the local garden centre (a bargain at £5).  Although the broom was in their display of general tools, it struck me as deliciously Witchy, and Harry agreed.  We are obsessed with the lovely Room on the Broom book at the moment, so this felt like a brush with fate (unforgiveable pun, sorry..).

Bracing the side rails is important, so if you make one of these be sure to lash your broom securely at each end, to avoid them leaning inwards.  I wound string around tightly for, ooh, about 5 minutes at each until it felt like they weren’t going to move AT ALL.  And that’s it; the quickest DIY ever.  I also recycled a bathroom waste-bin for sword storage, and slotted Harry’s superhero cuffs onto the rails for easy access – hallelujah; a walk-up wardrobe of delights is born.

Dress Up Rail Montage

I added another outfit to the rail last week when Harry came home from school with a request that he come dressed as a cowboy to the back-to-school BBQ.  In my general ineptitude, I discovered this note about 24hrs beforehand, so we constructed an outfit mostly out of things we already had, spending a grand total of £5.  Breakdown below…

homemade cowboy outfit

The shirt and jeans are Harry’s own; I roughly hand-stitched  lengths of animal print fabric onto the legs, loosely enough to flap a little but stay in place.

cowboy chaps

The waistcoat first featured in this post, soon after I bought it in a charity shop – a surprisingly rich hunting ground for mini-waistcoats and jackets for dressing-up outfits, presumably because they are purchased for one-off weddings or events and then rapidly grown-out of.

Our bandana was fashioned from a tablecloth stolen from Harry’s play tea-set, knotted loosely around the neck.  The cowboy hat was our only investment, bought as part of a set (together with the toy guns in holsters) from the 99p shop – honestly, so much tat for under a pound; it’s more addictive than Class A drugs…

Cowboy Hat

I glued a polkadot ribbon around it (in suitably manly colours), and designed & printed a paper sheriff’s badge to stick over the top.  I then stitched the plastic gun holsters to the belt loops of the jeans, and used a length of washing line for a lassoo.  Job done..Dancing cowboy

That’s Harry doing the Cowboy Dance by the way; a spontaneous jig which he feels compelled to launch into when fully-clad in his outfit, usually in front of a mirror and with much self-admiration.  Just like his father again…

Not an outfit with impressive durability by any means, but a very easy flung-together costume for when life demands something a little more flamboyant than the everyday.

*****

 

A Painted Romance

DIY watercolour heart

I’ve come over all romantic this week. Perhaps because the week began in Paris, city of lovers, where I had my long-awaited weekend away (more on that later), but probably because tomorrow is our wedding anniversary, and I’m inevitably feeling reflective about the last five amazing, exhilarating years.  To celebrate, we’ll be slinking off to local country-house hotel in the middle of the afternoon  ….to eat lots of cake.

A decadent Afternoon Tea beckons, and whilst it may sound somewhat less glamorous than a passionate mini-break à deux it requires no babysitters or complicated logistics, and very little schedule-juggling & budget. A couple of hours to relax, reconnect and just be, aided by a glass of champagne and enough calories to slow down Usain Bolt. I can’t wait.

DIY watercolour moonMy anniversary card to Mr B will be homemade – of course- and I’ve been dabbling with my watercolour paintbox, creating the images above and below and mostly just playing with colours and shapes, adding text to those I like…

home is where the heart is

In each case I’ve painted a simple shape in a single colour with a loaded, wet paintbrush, so that the paint pools into interesting patterns as it dries.  For those inspired to give it a go, there’s more detail below.

You are my sunshine

I used the same technique to make fun menus when we had friends over for dinner last weekend, painting watery stripes of colour in complementary shades, which blended at the edges as they settled and dried…

painted menus

I decorated the table with garden flowers in a similar palette, and sprayed this log white as a centrepiece.  Tiny tea-light candles in little porcelain cups completed the picture…

Paint palette tablescape

If you love the watercolour effect but would rather cheat than labour away at your own (and I applaud you for this; hurrah for short-cuts..), you can find PDF downloads of my images and the painted menu backdrop at the bottom.  If you’re feeling artistic, whip out your paintbox and read on…

make me smile

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Neon for Grown-Ups

DIY neon candles

If you had to pick a handful of major recent design trends, there’s a good chance that neon and ombré, graduated colour would be amongst them.  (Did you think you’d clicked on the wrong blog for a moment there?  Some super-hip, of-the-moment edgy site?  Fear not; I maybe commenting on design trends, but reassuringly at least a year after everyone else has done so…).

Despite having lived through it – just – in the late 80s, I find myself seduced by the re-emergence of neon pink.  Also a bit alarmed, as mostly it seems to appear in micro-skirts, glow-in-the-dark lipstick and bra tops, none of which are complemented by having a toddler swinging from your arm and a weekly shopping list in hand.

So here’s a dash of neon for grown-ups; DIY ombré neon candles, which glow beautifully as the evening light fades and dusk falls across your summer dining table.  These exhibit just the right amount of bling, without causing conversation to falter or attracting lost hikers out of the forest.  Best of all?  They’re really easy to make..

DIY ombre neon candles

Take a handful of plain white candles and some cotton wool balls, and source a bottle of neon pink water-based acrylic paint.  I used the DecoArt brand below, but any acrylic paint which is water-based should be fine for use with candles.  (Avoid the temptation to use neon aerosol spray paint; it tends to be highly flammable, so unless you are prepared to blow out your candle as it burns down towards the colour, you might be inviting more pyrotechnic explosions than you had anticipated..)

DIY neon candle tutorial

Use a paintbrush to apply the colour from the base of the candles, and then blur it using a cotton wool ball to create a soft ombré tapering effect around the midpoint of the candle.  A circular buffing motion will create the effect shown above.  In order to do this, I simply stuck my candles upside down in a candle holder to keep them steady whilst I worked.

Neon candles tutorial

The paint dries very quickly and you’re good to go… dim the lights, light the candles and prepare for some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’.  These would also look great in banded stripes (simply mark off with masking tape and paint chunky stripes 1 inch apart), and in a myriad of more subtle colours for those who shudder at the thought of neon*.

*Quietly I applaud you for your good taste; I just can’t help but love it…

Think Pink: Painted Bottle Vases

painted glass bottle vase DIY

I was looking for a way to quickly brighten up our summer dining table yesterday, and this super-quick DIY was born, using leftover paint samples to decorate glasses and vases to fill with garden blooms.  I used water-based emulsion paint, roughly mixed for a layered, ombre look.  I wanted a temporarily decoration that I could scrub off again later – if you want to create a permanent effect, just used oil-based paint and a primer.

I used Ensidig vases from IKEA; cheap as chips at just £1 each, and a lovely clean, simple shape like a retro milk bottle.

painted glass milk bottles

To make these, simple clean and dry your glass (drinking glasses work really well, as do all kinds of jars and bottles). Roughly mix up your paints – in my case a rosy pink and pure white, and use masking tape to define the area you want to paint.

water-based vase painting

Layer on your paint, then use your brush or finger to blend to create the look that you want (using one colour looks great too).

painted milk bottle vases tutorial

Peel off the tape when the paint has dried, and you’re ready to go… I added a tag to one of mine ready for Grandma’s bedside table when she comes to visit (quite a large tag, to accommodate Harry’s fledgling letter formation!)

DIY vase for grandma

A set of these would look great in rainbow colours down the centre of a table (use water-based acrylic paints from a craft store for vibrant colours), or even with stencilled initials or motifs. Handle the finished vases gently; splashes of water won’t cause any harm, but they’ll be vulnerable to scratches and knocks.  To remove your paint afterwards, just scrub in warm soapy water.

And finally; four minutes of magic for today;

I’m a huge fan of TED talks, but somehow had never come across this one by the incredibly talented spoken-word poet Sarah Kay, who talks to her as-yet-unconceived daughter about how to be brave in this world.

It’s four intense, passionate, fevered minutes of oratory (the whole talk is worth listening too, but at least the first 4minutes..), and for me it captured all of the things we want our children to know from the moment we first hold them; the mistakes we know that they will have to make,  the things we know they won’t believe until they see for themselves … and most fundamentally of all, the one message that we hope above all to instill; that there’s someone in your corner no matter how tough it gets, and that your port in the storm will always be here. With us. Whatever life brings.

Enjoy.

In Praise of Fathers, new and old…

fathers day hat

When your husband also becomes the father of your child, there’s no question that the relationship changes immeasurably.  You go through things together that you could never imagine as a footloose, fancy-free couple (childbirth, for one…); through a whole roller-coaster of adrenalin, hormones, thrills, spills and life-shortening panics… and most fundamental of all, joy.

Now, on this fourth occasion of Fathers’ Day, we are celebrating the general awesomeness of Daddy in a variety of ways, big and small.  We have a special honorary party hat ready for A to wear at breakfast time on Sunday (above), which I designed on my PC and then taped into a cone before decorating with braid … and then to complete the ensemble, some home-made LEGO cufflinks – a very satisfying quick craft;

LEGO cufflinks for fathers day

I ordered some blank cufflink backs on Ebay and asked Harry to select some Lego squares from his toy box. Harry is obsessional about Lego so it also commemorates this year’s passion and a favourite Harry/Daddy past-time.  Attaching the Lego bricks with Superglue makes for a very strong bond, and we were delighted with the end result.  Some men may hesitate at the thought of making such a flamboyant style statement, but we know our man well; he has been known to wear Superhero Cuffs to work and has his own dressing-up box after all (I know, I know; some things you just have to accept as unique in a marriage…)

lego cufflinks close up

lego cufflink on cuff

Tucked into his card will be a hand-made book of vouchers, giving him various treats such as time off to do Man Things (usually involving bikes, the watching of sport, rummaging in the garage and other such male pursuits), dinner and also a few activities which Harry can get involved in, like telling Daddy a great story on request.

dad vouchers 1

dad vouchers 2

dad vouchers 3

I’ve included a download of my printable below if you want to make one of these; I simply cut around the vouchers and clipped them into a book made from leather-look card stock.

fathers day voucher book

And on the subject of fathers..

One of the lovely things about writing this blog is the connections that it creates.  Usually with strangers who reach out and share stories, comments and feedback which lead to virtual friendships, but perhaps even more surprisingly with the people whom I already know and love.  When I wrote about typewriters here in February, I had a letter from my father who shared how it had brought back vividly the memory of receiving his own first typewriter, as a reward for passing a school entry exam;

‘..my parents promised me that if I passed the exam I could have a typewriter.  My recollection is that the life-changing letter came on a Saturday morning in June.  That very same morning we went off to a small shop in centre of Coventry, and I became the hugely proud possessor of an Olivetti Lettera 22.  It was one of the most beautiful objects I have ever owned.  The smoothly stylish Brancusi curves, the elegant typeface, the fluid touch of the discreetly rounded keys, the leather carrying case fusing design perfection and total practicality.  It was love at first sight…

..It was a brilliant object in its own right (and something my parents must have struggled to afford –I believe it cost £26 which in the mid-1950s, in our household, was a small fortune), but it has also become a symbol of that transition to a school that opened the doors to a future that would have been beyond my parents wildest imaginings – the opportunity of a grammar school education, university and … the world’.    
I was incredibly touched by my Dad’s letter, which went on to say that though the typewriter is long gone, it has always been for him  the talisman of the life-changing opportunity that a great education gave him.  This year for Fathers’ day my Dad will unwrap a vintage Olivetti Lettera 22, sourced on Ebay from the loft of one careful owner, who was delighted to know it was going to someone who would cherish it.  He is banned from checking my blog before the weekend, so hopefully the secret will be kept…

lettera 22

To Dads everywhere, here’s to you; may you have a glorious weekend…

fathers day voucher book

Fathers Day Voucher Book COVER

How to impress with your watercolour skills, even if you have none…

watercolour stencils DIY from katescreativespace

You can bet your bottom dollar that the likes of Turner and Kandinsky refined their watercolour skills over decades, diligently painting day after day as they mastered the art of pigment on paper, water and brush.

Not us, oh no.  This is, after all, the home of slapdash crafting where most projects take less than an hour and benefit from the accompaniment of a glass of wine.  And I’ve discovered, somewhat by accident, that using basic stencils can create impressively accomplished results with very little skill.  It’s a great thing to try when you have a few minutes to spare, and the results are likely to be as good if you’re 8 as if you’re 80 (and there’s not much we can say that about).

watercolour palette

A few basic materials are all you’ll need; simple stencils, watercolour paints and something to mix them in (I used an inexpensive plastic palette), heavyweight paper and brushes.  The choice of paper is the most important thing; using 300gsm paper will help the paint flood within the stencil but then be quickly absorbed, reducing the risk of it running.

DIY materials

Once you’ve chosen your stencil and assembled your paints and paper, simply hold it in place lightly with your fingers and brush your chosen colours into the stencil.  Work quickly, so that the colours can mix before they dry.  Warm colours work beautifully together (pinks, oranges, reds and golden yellows), as do cool ones (blues, greens, lemon yellow), but there are no rules.

bird in pinks

If you have a steady hand, you can whip your stencil off straight away; otherwise, wait for the paint to dry completely.  I’ve found the best technique varies from one stencil to the next (I guess it’s to do with the shape); for my hummingbird I was able to lift the stencil off instantly and the still-wet paint retained a perfect silhouette.  For the pigeon at the bottom of this post, it took 20 minutes patient waiting and a cup of coffee before it could be successfully revealed.

watercolour stencils tutorial

Once I’d done a few stencils, I began experimenting with rubber stamping, into both wet and dry paint.  Make sure you do this with the stencil in place to get a clean finish within your chosen shape.

watercolour stencil and stamp

watercolour pigeon with stamping

pigeon stencil how to

I used these bird stencils, but letter / monogram stencils would also look wonderful .  If you don’t have any stencils to hand but do have craft punches, simply punch out a shape in a sheet of thin plastic or cardboard, and use it as a stencil.  Use the finished paintings for cards, gift-tags or collage, or even frame them as paintings in their own right.

So; a morning’s artistic activity where you should be able to refine and develop your prowess in the space of an hour.  Much better than a lifetime spent starving away in some bohemian artist’s garret and waiting for the muse to strike…

stencil painting