Art and Science of Pocket Shrines

superman shrine by aisling d'art First you start with an idea.

Well, maybe.

It’s where most people begin. You know, “Oh, I MUST make a shrine to chocolate!” Or Elvis, or Russell Crowe, or Barbie, the Banana Splits, or the Planet Melmac.

But where you should start–and of course, we never do what we should–is with the container.

The container should be small, of course. I mean, where will it go?

Select the container

A dashboard shrine may fit nicely in a small candle sconce, or a matchbox.

Something for your pocket might go better in a matchbook, a film canister, or slide out of a gutted dental floss dispenser.

The point is, the container determines everything. Unless you want to collect images and then scan them (or color photocopy them) down to size, start with the container.

The Three Cs:

Containers should meet the “three Cs” requirements: Cheap, Clean, and Compact. Charming is optional, kitschy is a plus.

So anyway, find your container. I highly recommend glancing in your trash right now, to see what you’ve thrown out recently.

One of my favorite shrines is shown above, the Superman shrine built in a Pringles potato chip lid.

But anyway, let’s assume you have a few containers gathered.

Next, choose a theme

Your theme can be absolutely anything. Select a person, place, idea, event or holiday. I’ve already listed a few, but don’t stop there! Movie idols, personal obsessions, fetishes, and weird/quirky stuff is what we’re looking for.

Serious topics? Why not? Draw on your spirituality, or history, or your dreams.

But find a theme anyway. Maybe it starts with a toy you bought at random from the 25-cent dispensers at the door of the grocery store. Or the fortune card you received at the penny arcade.

Maybe it’s about spike heels, condoms, bubble bath, the Trix rabbit, or Elmo… or a scary combination of some of these!

The thing is, you need a fairly clear vision/theme. You can adjust it as you find trinkets and images for your shrine, so don’t get totally locked into one idea.

Gather shrine elements

It’s time to collect bits and pieces to go into your shrine. You already know the size you’ll need…something which will fit inside your container.

There are several elements to consider when constructing a shrine. Color… either lots of color, or a single theme, such as Elvis and the color blue, as in My Blue Heaven, Blue Suede Shoes, and, “…a blue Christmas without you.”

Also, think in terms of dimension. Flat shrines are fine. No problem.

But, you can raise some elements above others, with foam tape or little blocks or something.

Think about texture, too. You can improve interest in the shrine by using fabric to cover it, or to line it. Satin is an obvious choice. Tacky red satin with mini-fringe or pom-poms for trim…excellent! (Dollhouse supply shops offer some wonderful trims.)

Images are best if they’re the right size. With a scanner or photocopy machine, you can reduce any image to the right size.

The library may have some fabulous books for inspiration.

(But, keep in mind that there are copyright issues, especially if you plan to sell your shrines using copyrighted images.)

So, once you have your bits & pieces, you’ve reached the assembling phase.

Complete your shrine

The first issue is glue: Even “permanent” glue sticks dry in high heat and/or low humidity. The pieces fall off. Yep, done that.

Another poor choice is rubber cement. It can yellow and/or turn paper translucent as the years progress. One brand claims to be archival, sort of. Read the label, and decide for yourself.

I favor hot glue, and Rollataq, or whatever you like for collage/assemblage work. (Rollataq is a glueing system which involves a special rolling dispenser filled with the Rollataq glue. Yes, it’s still messy, but it keeps glued paper smooth.)

Be prepared to change your mind about what goes where. Spontaneous art is the best art!

All done? Congratulations! It’s time to display your work. Dashboards are good. So are office desks, copy machine tables, and so on. Put a pinback on it, and wear it.

Oh sure, you can tuck your shrine in your pocket or purse, but you must promise to take it out regularly, and enjoy it.

Pocket shrines are made to display, show off, and flaunt.

Pocket shrines are FUN! Enjoy!

Elvis Matchbook Shrine

You can never have too many Elvises!

elvis matchbook shrine - outside elvis matchbook shrine - inside

I made this shrine from images I scanned from a deck of Elvis playing cards, plus some glittery wrapping paper, a plain matchbook, and a few phrases related to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The “matches” are three layers deep. I folded a couple of them over, so you can see the layers. They’re held in place with a thin bead of hot glue at the bottom.

(The glue is inside where the matchbook folds over to hold them. That’s where the striking area is on some matchbooks. On my matchbook shrine, there is no staple.)


Although you can make an Elvis shrine, there are many other themes suited to matchbook shrines. For example, you could create a shrine to orchids, or to sunglasses, or to Godzilla.

These how-to tips apply to any kind of matchbook shrine.

Making original graphics

When you plan your “match” images, ¼ inch wide is good. Allow lots of white space beneath. Distorting the image can look a little weird. If your matchbook shrine is humorous like my Elvis shrine, you can stretch the image to fit a pretend match.

Desaturating the image (in a graphics program) allows the graphics to match (so to speak) the widest possible range of background/collage colors.


Cut the collage elements bigger than you need, then trim carefully when you’re working with teensy stuff.

Scallop the “match heads” first, then cut between the matches almost to the bottom of the set of matches. Leave about ¼ to ½ inch at the bottom, where the matches will be covered by the fold-up part of the matchbook. The matches will be hot glued in place, inside that fold.

Also, when you trim them, leave a bit of “breathing space” around the top of each match.


If you’re covering a matchbook, put the adhesive on the matchbook, then stick a too-large piece of paper/fabric to it.

After the adhesive dries, trim it.

Optional: After the first side has been trimmed, you can cover the other side.

The matches are best held in place by a thin bead of hot glue along the bottom edge. It will blob up, so use just a little.

‘Create’ Pocket Shrine (winged)

Tags can combine with other elements to support wonderful, pocket-sized shrines.  In this shrine, I wanted to use familiar elements such as a matchbox, but make it a little quirky.

I’d already worked with many traditional matchbox shrines.  This time, I wanted to deconstruct one.

create matchbox shrine

This shrine was made with the cut-up-and-reconstructed inside of a matchbox. I lined it with origami paper, attached a miniature Tarot card and a small irridescent bead like a crystal ball.

On the outside of the matchbox, I glued a bit of gold ribbon, some more origami paper, and I added my “signature” antennae with gold wire and beads.  (I’d been using wings and ornate antennae starting in the late 1990s.)

I glued the matchbox to a pair of stamped wings that were reinforced with wire so they bend like real wings.

(I use this wing stamp often. It’s from Stampers Anonymous.)

Then I attached this whole thing to a small tag, stamped with the word “CREATE” (Antique Alphabet Set by Personal Stamp Exchange).

I added beads to the tag string, and glued a miniature Artfest 2001 logo to the back of the tag.

Creativity Pocket Shrine

This is my pocket shrine to creativity, in a matchbox

pocket shrine - create!

photo of pocket shrine

This pocket shrine started as a small, plain matchbox that I covered with plush black velvet and glittery purple silk ribbon.

The background image inside the box is a scan of a goddess figure, plus scans of my tubes of oil paint, reduced to fit the box. I added the word, “Create!” to the image, printed it and glued it in place. I also glued a small clear-ish piece of mica onto the image, for a bit of nature and depth.

Then I glued the same goddess figure I’d scanned for the background, into the box. Because she was designed as a charm or bead, I put a small jewel in the opening between her hands.

Also inside the box, I suspended an iridescent star on a thread. It swings freely when the shrine is displayed.

Outside the matchbox, I have a small dollhouse key, suggesting the “key” to creativity.

I also suspended a second goddess figure on a teal blue silk ribbon. She’s held in place with hot glue. The glue is very visible where it smooshed out onto the purple silk ribbon, but I don’t think it distracts enough from the shrine to try to remove it.

Closed, the matchbox measures two inches tall.

Layering Paint and Polyurethane for Rich Depth

After draping your art shrine or assemblage with plaster and gauze, you can achieve astonishing results by layering paint and polyurethane.

These photos show just a few of my experiments with this technique.

It’s best to read this entire page before shopping for paint, polyurethane, and related supplies. You may get some great, unique ideas as you read…

Start with a surface that you’ve prepared by adding texture with plaster and gauze.The surface should be painted with at least one coat of gesso so that it doesn’t absorb so much paint.

You’ll also need a paintbrush of some kind (foam is okay) and paint.

I’m using mostly Brera acrylic paints, an Italian line from Maimeri (pronounced “my-MERR-y”), in my art.

You’ll also need polyurethane with a glossy finish.

1. If you need to paint a dark background, do that first, avoiding the raised areas that will be covered with gold. You can mask the areas that will remain unpainted, by covering them with easily-removed masking tape, if you like. I rarely use this, and prefer to apply the background paint carefully.Generally, I mix two or three colors on the brush as I paint, to give the surface a greater sense of depth. If I want the shrine to be very dark and mysterious looking, as in the three illustrations above, I’ll paint the raised areas as well as the background.

In this demo, I’m using Brera Violet #443, Brera Phthalo Blue #378, and Winsor & Newton Finity in Permanent Rose. I’m leaving the raised areas white, so the gold will be especially light, too.

2. When the background is fully dry, paint gold onto the raised areas. It’s okay to be a little sloppy. You can use one regular layer or a couple of thin layers of paint, depending upon what works best for you. In humid climates, two thin layers are usually best, allowing them to dry fully between coats.In this demonstration, I’m painting with Brera #142, Luster Gold acrylic paint. You can use any brand of interference-type gold for this, or even gold ink or a gold leaf type of paint.

When wet, the paint will look whitish and opaque. The white vanishes as it dries, leaving the surface translucent gold. If you painted the raised areas with a dark color first, you will definitely need two coats of the gold paint over it, to get a “real” gold look.

3. When the gold has dried, apply a very moist layer of paint in the color of your choice. Generally, you’ll use the same colors as your background. Press the paint into the holes in the gauze and the depressed areas in the texturing.If you’re covering a large area, paint some of it and wipe off the paint (see step 4), then paint another area of the surface, and wipe the paint off, and so on. In the photo, the lower left corner has been painted, the upper right has been painted & wiped, the and rest is still gold, waiting for paint.

If you were sloppy with your gold, also paint over the areas that were highlighted. Let the paint dry for just a minute or two. (I used Cobalt Blue for this layer.)

4. Using a paper towel or soft rag, gently wipe some of the fresh paint off, leaving some of it behind, especially in the depressed areas. Then, let the paint dry fully.In this photo, you can see how the paint remains in the tiny holes of the gauze, and in the depressed areas of the shrine.
5. Paint with a high-gloss polyurethane. Acrylic polyurethane is not as shiny, but it dries faster and without toxic fumes. Regular polyurethane must be used with good ventilation, takes at least four hours to dry, requires turpentine or paint thinner for cleanup, and can yellow slightly with time.I use the paint-on kind of polyurethane, with a foam brush. However, you can use spray polyurethane in a well-ventilated area. Several light layers are better than one thicker layer.

Important: Let each side dry flat before turning the shrine to polyurethane another side of it.

6. When the polyurethane has dried, repeat steps 3 and 4, using another color of paint in the same and/or different areas on the surface.(Don’t cover the whole thing again. I like to paint areas no larger than one inch squares, and sometimes just 1/2 inch streaks.)

Add up to four layers of paint (use polyurethane after adding two colors, for maximum depth). If you add more than four layers of additional colors, it can look gaudy or muddy. (But, if you make a mistake, you can generally scrub down to the last polyurethane layer, and try again.)

If you want a “golder” look–and I usually do–highlight just the peaks of the texturing with gold. Press small pieces of gold or other leafing into the almost-dry paint, if you like.

Add one or two coats of polyurethane after the final layer of paint. Additional layers can add to the ‘dichroic glass’ illusion.

Optional: When you paint the raised areas with gold, you might try painting the entire surface of the piece with a thin coat of Luster Gold or an interference gold. This paint is generally translucent.

In the photo on the left, the light is shining directly on the box. To the right, I’ve tilted the box slightly so that light penetrates the gold paint, and you can see the color beneath it.

Remember that, although these effects look like metal, they’re still based on plaster and gauze. So, the surface can be brittle if dropped or chipped.

The more you coat it with polyurethane, the better your protection.

However, it’s best to treat these objects as fragile.

They’re lovely to look at!

Embellishments for Mystery & Dazzle

Plaster and gauze are ideal materials for embellishing your art shrines and assemblages.

To learn the basics of using plaster and gauze, see:

When using plaster-embedded gauze, you can create fabulous textural effects with common household and art objects.

Among my favorites are soft drink bottlecaps. Place one with the open side up, and drape the wet gauze over it. Press it around the shape, inside the cap, and leave enough gauze around the bottlecap to hold it in place on the shrine.

After it dries and you’ve painted the shrine, a  flat-bottomed glass beads/stones fits perfectly, one in each bottlecap. (My current package of those beads is labelled, “Glass Decorative Gems.”  They’re inexpensive and available at arts & crafts stores as well as budget import shops.)

Here’s how it looks when finished:

bead in a bottlecap embellished shrine

However, you can use other supports for the gauze.

One of my favorites is a Pringle’s potato chip can lid. This creates a circular area with a lip that is perfect for putting the focus on an inset image such as a religious icon, or small embellishments such as a rusty lock, etc.

I used a Pringle’s lid for this shrine:

Pringle's lid as part of assemblage on art shrine

You can also drape the gauze over wooden shapes such as stars, moons, a Celtic cross, numbers, letters, and so on.  Check arts & crafts stores for inexpensive wooden cut-outs that will add interest to your shrine.

You might want an eerie effect, draping it over a doll’s face, similar to the “mummies” that were popular in art a few years ago.

There are an endless number of textured and dimensional objects to try under gauze. Check your toolbox, trash, or even your drawer of kitchen tools for ideas.

Remember two things:

  • This gauze sticks to anything, including Altoid tins.
  • And, be sure to drape enough of it around the applied object, so that it is held in place when the gauze dries.

Applying Plaster Gauze to Your Art Shrine

Plaster and gauze – the same materials used in medical settings for traditional plaster casts – can add excitement and dimension to your art shrines and assemblages.

This is page two of instructions that started at Art Shrines – Add Texture with Plaster Gauze.

5. Dip gauze all the way into the water, and remove it quickly.

The longer it sits in the water, the more plaster washes off the gauze, and the less rigid the final results.

Also, it’s not necessary to squeeze water out of the gauze. In fact, if you squeeze the water out, you may also lose some of the plaster.

6. Drape the wet gauze directly onto the surface that you’re embellishing.

Once you have it in place, you can flatten it if you want less texture; otherwise, just leave it where it is.

In this photo, the cigar box had been gesso’d before embellishing. You can gesso afterwards, if you prefer. It doesn’t make much difference in most cases.

This gauze will stick to untreated Altoid tins, without gesso and without removing the paint first.

If it starts to lift up after the gauze dries, the paint and sealer usually act as glue to reattach the gauze.

7. To vary the texture of the gauze…

You can smooth parts of it with your fingers, gently spreading the plaster so that it fills some of the holes in the gauze.

I like to smooth no more than 50% of the gauze in my art.

The holes will catch the paint later, so that your finished piece will look even more ancient and mysterious.

8. As soon as that piece looks good, leave it alone.

Repeat with another piece of gauze, adding more layers or areas of texture to your surface.

The gauze sticks to itself best when wet. Try to apply all of the gauze in one sitting.

9. Impatient? Speed the drying time by heating the gauze.

You can speed drying time with heat from a tool like an embossing gun. However, be sure not to scorch it.

In some cases, the painted surface of the object may bubble or melt under the extreme heat of the embossing gun. Use it cautiously, if you use it at all.

Heating is not necessary.

Even if with extensive use of the embossing gun, you should still wait at least an hour or two before painting the gauze.

In general, it’s good to let the gauze dry overnight rather than rush it with heat.

It’s not necessary to cover the entire surface with gauze. In fact, I recommend leaving part of it untreated.

Let each surface dry to the touch before moving the box to embellish another side.

Wet gauze can slide off the box if it is tilted too soon.

A mix of smooth and rough areas on the gauze will result in a more interesting and varied painted surface when the embellishment is complete.

10. Seal the gauze with gesso.

For best results, cover the gauze with at least one coat of gesso before painting it.

Be sure that the gauze is fully dry before applying the gesso, or the gesso can seal the moisture inside the fabric.

11. When the gesso is dry, apply paint and other embellishments.

Plan to paint your art shrine – or other mixed-media piece – in layers. Let each early layer dry fully. Those layers will form a further seal that prevents the gauze from absorbing moisture.

Here’s what one of my cigar boxes looked like, ready to paint.

Here’s what it looked like with two layers of paint. First, I applied gold paint and let it dry thoroughly. Then, I added a light coat of blue in some areas, and a heavier layer of blue on one side.

Then, when those layers had fully dried, I started getting wild with color. Generally, I’d paint some color on, and then wipe some (or most) of it off.

This shrine had about five or six layers of paint, each a different color.

Sometimes I’d wait for the color to dry. At other times, I’d work a new color into the still-wet pigment.  Then, I’d add another color, doing the same thing.

At the conclusion, I added some further embellishments. They included a deep bottle cap. I think it was from laundry detergent, and I covered it with plaster gauze, too. The final touch was a smooth glass gem, which I think had been a playing piece from a board game.

And here’s another cigar box art shrine, treated similarly. The round shape was a plastic lid* from a Pringles potato chip container.

I hope those give you some ideas for your own mixed media artwork using plaster gauze.

Trivia: Those snap-on lids – like the ones on Pringles chips – were originally created to seal cans of house paint.

However, house painters didn’t warm to that idea, so the patent was sold… I think it went to a coffee company, next.

(The original idea was my grandfather’s. He was the founder of the California Paints, which later expanded to include California Products.)



Art Shrines – Add Texture with Plaster Gauze

Plaster gauze can add exciting dimensions to your art shrines, mixed media art, or even your art journaling book covers.

The effects are completely unlike a “plaster cast.”

Here’s what a finished product can look like. (It started as a cardboard cigar box. Cigar stores often sell them at a good, low price.)

Art Shrines with Plaster Gauze (Part 1)


To embellish your art shrines and other mixed media art, you’ll use plaster-embedded gauze.

Years ago, it’s what doctors used for casts on broken limbs. Vets still use it sometimes. You can buy it as an art supply, or from a medical supply house, or through your veterinarian. Some DIY home improvement stores sell it, too.

Amazon offers several brands, including CraftWrap.

You’ll also need the surface that you plan to embellish, a cup or bowl of water, and household scissors. You may also want to include optional surface embellishments. (Also see “Embellishments for mystery and dazzle.”)

1. Open the package and unroll some of the gauze.

Usually plaster gauze is packaged in a plastic bag. That’s because it can be really dusty, and difficult to clean up.

Work over discarded newsprint, such as a newspaper or sheets of ads – “junk mail” – you receive by post.

That’s important. Otherwise, your worktable will be covered with a fine plaster powder.

plaster gauze for art shrines - packaged

2. Cut with inexpensive household scissors.

Use inexpensive scissors to cut the gauze. (Shears of any kind from the dollar store – or pound store – will work fine.) The plaster will dull your scissor blades, and might ruin a good pair of scissors.

After working with the gauze, I usually cut through fine sandpaper to resharpen the scissor blades. That’s worked well.

3. Trim the gauze into irregular shapes.

This isn’t mandatory, but – from my experience – it helps… a lot.

My largest pieces are usually about two inches on the widest edge. My smallest pieces are about 3/4 inch on the narrowest edge. Start with at least six pieces when you are trying this technique.

It helps to cut all of your pieces before getting your hands wet.

4. Dunk one piece of the gauze into a cup or bowl of water.

When you start your work, be sure to have a bowl of water close to the support (such as a cigar box shrine) you’re embellishing.

The water temperature does not matter, and you only need enough water to cover the gauze completely.

Click here for Part 2.

Edgar Allan Poe Shrine – Free Print

My Edgar Allan Poe shrine was such a success, I scanned it and turned the art into a mini-poster.  You can download it and print it.poeprintYou can download a free print of this shrine. It’s in PDF format, designed to print at 150dpi on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper.

(In the UK: You may need to crop the top to print it on an A4 sheet.)

Also, the art is from a very old scan. You may want to scale it down to improve resolution.

Here’s the link:

For more information about the original art, see my article about this shrine.

Asparagus Wand

The Asparagus Wand was created for Sukie’s “Fairy Wand Exchange,” in July 2001. I made four of them to add to the wands already being sent by my daughter, Applefaerie, and me.

The Asparagus Wand is shown below.


It started in Michael’s Arts & Crafts store, when my daughter and I were wandering the aisles for ideas.

When I saw the plastic asparagus, it struck me funny. It also made me think… jewel-encrusted asparagus in the hand of an elegant faerie…


It also reminded me of one of our favorite–but retired–Disney World attractions, Kitchen Kabaret, which used to be downstairs at EPCOT’s attraction, The Land. (We still have moments of singing, “Veggie, veggie, fruit-fruit!”)

So, when Applefaerie’s schedule prevented her from completing all six of her wands for the exchange, I had a good excuse to embellish the asparagus.

The completed wands are rather simple, with just a few beads emerging from between the petals on the stalk. Most petals are embellished.

Close-up: Beads and pearls in the asparagus petals

The beads are all an irridescent peach color, with golden and greenish highlights. The pearls are freshwater, peach-colored pearls, as well as some white fake pearls. Each wand is slightly different, with 20-gauge gold-toned wire at the top, holding a star bead and one or two other beads in place with a curled-wire top.

My vision included fresh asparagus stalks in the fields in spring, with their jewels just beginning to peek out between the petals.

By harvest, these wands would be heavy with opulent jewels as if from the Tower of London exhibit.

However, in the lighter, just-starting-to-grow phase, these asparagus are perfect for the faeries to use as magick wands.