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.

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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.)



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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.

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Rubbings in Your Art Journals – Not Just for Halloween!

There are many ways to use rubbings in art journaling, collages, and more.

Nevermore - an altered book for Halloween
Nevermore – An altered book for Halloween. Theme: Edgar Allan Poe.

Start with textures

You can use rubbings in your journals and scrapbooks. When you travel, rubbings are a great way to preserve visual details from your trips.

Try rubbing:

  • Brass plaques and historical markers (make sure that’s permitted, of course)
  • Texturing on benches
  • Braille plaques in many public buildings
  • Chair backs
  • Cobblestones
  • Coins and tokens
  • Doorknobs and related hardware – remember to rub your hotel room key if it’s not a card
  • Floor or sidewalk art – particularly brass art/plaques embedded in some airport walls and floors
  • Interesting wall texturing – created to reduce noise – in subways and other public settings
  • Numbers on houses/buildings
  • Part of a drain cover (manhole cover)
  • Raised designs on walls
  • Seat number tags, if you go to the theatre, ballet or opera
  • Textured wallpaper, ceilings, and door & window trim

Many food packages have an embossed quality, especially tins.

Some rubbing basics

You’ll need thin paper. Everyday printer paper is fine. Tracing paper can be a little fragile, but it’s ideal for delicate details.

You’ll need something to rub pigment onto the paper. That can be anything from chalk to charcoal, crayons to oil pastels, colored pencil, or even foil or carbon paper.

To prevent damage to the underlying surface, start with a very light stroke. Increase as needed.

Once you’ve completed your rubbing, you may need to protect it from smudging, at least until you get home. Page protectors – the kind sold as office supplies – can be ideal, but use one per rubbing. Hard plastic storage boxes (you can find thin ones at some crafts stores like Michael’s) are useful, too.

When you arrive at home, if your rubbing is easily smudged, I recommend using a spray fixative (sold in art supply stores) according to product instructions.

In general, rubbings are best displayed where people won’t be tempted to touch or rub them with their fingers.

For art journaling, you may want to insert or overlay a clear sheet of plastic (perhaps cut from a page protector) or at least a sheet of wax paper, to protect the rubbing.

More ideas

Going to the beach? With very thin paper and soft pastels, you can do a rubbing of the texture that remains in the sand after the tide goes out. Using different colors, you can overlap the wavy lines by moving the paper.

(The paper will be fragile when it’s wet, so handle very carefully. If the sand is moist, you can put plastic wrap or a cheap plastic poncho between the sand and your paper.)

You can also make text rubbings. Get a Dymo (raised letters imprinted on tape) label tool (less than $10 at Wal-Mart, in the stationery section) and print words on the tape.

Use the words for rubbings. (Save them – mounted on dominoes or other small, flat surfaces – to use again later, or to share in a class.)

Idea: This could be fun for art journaling a favorite quotation.

If the rubbing is “backwards”

If a rubbing would be backwards – for example, if you do a rubbing of a rubber stamp – you can rub with a very dark color on tracing vellum.

Then display it “upside down” (the viewer looks through the vellum) with a white or very light background as contrast for the rubbing.

More ways to use rubbings in your art journaling (and more!)

Small rubbings, particularly of three-dimensional art, can be ideal for use in shrines.

You can scan your rubbings and manipulate them, adding more images with your computer graphics program. (In the example at the top of this article, I placed Edgar Allen Poe’s face over an 18th-century gravestone rubbing.)

Or, you could put a rubbing of a historical marker in the center of a collage with photos from that site.

Remember, rubbings are limited only by your ingenuity. Once you start looking at surfaces around you, you’ll find many more ideas.

Note: If you like Halloween and Edgar Allan Poe themes, be sure to see my articles about Halloween rubbings (for art shrines) and my Edgar Allan Poe shrine.

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Elegant Rubbings with Art Foil

You can create elegant rubbings for your art journaling, mixed media art, or decor.

Note: Most of these examples were experiments with elegant Halloween decorations, or from an Artfest workshop, “Art Shrines from Dark to Light.” (The theme started at the foot of the shrine, with dark imagery – whatever that meant to the individual – and then lead up to light, uplifting images at the top of the shrine.)

You’ll start with metallic foil transfer paper, intended to look like gold leaf (or copper leaf, silver leaf, etc.).

Foil transfer papers are used for interior decorating, and they’re sold in small amounts as “Renaissance Foil,” sold at Michael’s and other art supply stores. (I’m pretty sure you can use Speedball foil from Amazon.com, just as well. I’m testing it in September 2020.)

The following illustrated instructions should help you use it effectively. (These photos are from around 2004, when Internet connections were slow, and images had to be small.)


Above: Rubbings on black tissue paper:
religious medal / gravestone casting / MBTA subway token


You will need paper or fabric for your rubbings.

  • If you’re using fabric, it should be very thin such as a lightweight muslin.
  • If you’re using paper, it should not be stiff. Regular printer paper is fine, and – if you handle it carefully – tissue paper works well, too.

You’ll need gesso, painting medium (gel or liquid), OR acrylic paint and water. (Gesso and painting medium are better than acrylic paint for this project, but it can vary with the brand of paint.) You’ll need a brush to apply the gesso, medium, or paint.

You’ll also need a textured surface as the subject of your rubbing, and a hard rubbing tool such as the side of a pencil.

Finally, you’ll need a gold foil product such as the one sold as Renaissance Foil, that you can find at Michael’s in the same section as their gold leaf products. This foil is sort of like carbon paper, except that the impression/rubbing sticks only to prepared surfaces. (I’m pretty sure Speedball’s foil works the same way.)


1. Paint your paper or fabric surface with gesso, painting medium, or acrylic paint. A thin coat is enough, as long as the surface – where you’ll be rubbing – is fully and evenly covered.

Black gesso

In this example, I’m using regular white printer paper, treated with black gesso.

If you use acrylic paint, thin it with water or painting medium. Paint can thicken the paper and prevent you from being able to highlight as many details.

2. When the prepared surface is fully dry, layer your supplies:

First, place the subject of the rubbing on the bottom.

Then, place your prepared paper or fabric over it. On top, place a piece of transfer foil, shiny side up.

(In the illustration, they’re angled to show the layers. During the actual rubbing process, each layer is centered over the one below it.)

3. With the rubbing tool (I’m using the side of a pencil in the photo), rub firmly all over the area where you expect a design to appear. You’ll probably need to rub more than you expect to.

If you lift the foil to see how it’s working, be very certain not to move the paper from its position atop the subject/rubbing surface.

You can move the foil, but if you move the paper your image can be distorted or blurred.

Continue rubbing until the image has transferred to the paper or fabric.

Save the foil. You can use it several times before all of the gold has worn off.

And now, you’ve finished!

Two examples – printer paper & tissue paper

Two different rubbings are illustrated in the photos below. The left image is on regular printer paper, treated with black gesso. The rubbing on the right is black tissue paper treated with gel medium (matte); you can see a streak of gel medium that hadn’t dried when I began working on this sample.

The image on the tissue paper is clearer, but because the paper is so flexible, it’s easy to rub areas (and pick up gold leaf) where there are no lines or designs. The contrast in image on the printer paper isn’t as clear, but the image is sharper.

Foil rubbings 1Foil rubbings 2





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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: https://aisling.net/freebies/poebig.pdf

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

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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.

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Capolan exchange: Relic Room Assemblage

This is an Altoid tin shrine created for a 2000 Capolan exchange, and titled the Relic Room Assemblage.

The outside of the box:
Altoid tin, secured with an antique button, and hemp twine with beads.

Preparing the Altoid tin:

First, I hammered it to age it. Then I sprayed it with a cream-colored epoxy paint, intended for use on large appliances. Finally, I sprayed the tin with copper and gold spray paints, to create a spattered effect.

The closure: I hammered two holes in the cover with an awl, and tied an antique button to the top. The button is used to hold the tin closed. The tin is secured with hemp twine, on which I strung wooden beads, glass beads, and a semi-precious stone.

Inside the tin: (Numbers are keyed to the illustration.)


1. On the bottom inside of the tin, I glued text from an old snake oil (patent medicine) magazine.

2. Inside the lid, I glued red paper, plus (real) antique stamps. I rubber stamped it, too. The hemp twine which secures the antique button on top, is tied inside the tin, so the knot shows here.

3. A card describing the owner of the tin, with his photo. The 19th-century photo actually shows one of my Irish ancestors, James “Jamie” Cronin.

The card says:

    This box and its contents were found in the jacket pocket of Dr. James Cronin, late of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland.altoidcardDr. Cronin was an amateur anthropologist and student of the Tuathai. He had formed a unique thesis regarding the juxtaposition of Christian and metaphysical icons, in relation to miracles.

    Dr. Cronin’s next destination was Hy-Breasail, where he planned to test his theory about the number five representing perfect stasis and change in the Tarot.

4. Each box contains a small brass monkey. It’s a reference to the golden era of “adventure” fiction, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and so on.

5. Part of a playing card from a fortune-telling deck. It’s aged (sandpaper and folding), smudged with gold leaf, and punched with the number 5, using an antique check-writing punch.

6. Each box has at least one actual bit of currency from an exotic country.

7. Matchbox, covered with reproduction newspaper from Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War. It’s stamped with the number 5 from a clock stamp set. I aged the paper with coffee.

8. Each box has a slightly different content, but each one contains an antique strip of paper on which I stamped “I will grant you three wishes.” The boxes also contain fetish items, including (sometimes) an animal figurine of wood or quartz, and/or a small golden ring.

9. On fabric, I transferred the image of St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes. The miracles of St. Jude are tremendous. On the reverse side, I transferred a cryptic mix of images, including a dark photo of Disney’s Haunted Mansion being struck by lightning, plus a scan of a Tarot card, The Tower, from a deck called The Vision Tarot.


I made a total of four of these tins for the Capolan/Relic Room exchange, in July 2000. (I made a fifth one, for myself.)

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Easy Embellished Vinyl Tote Bag

These are notes from my popular Artfest 2001 workshop about using images and word art to embellish purses and tote bags.

sample collaged vinyl totebag made on the airplane en route Artfest 2001

Supply list

  • Vinyl bag with at least one transparent side.
  • Plain white paper as your collage support
  • Collage elements – flat (or nearly flat) items and images
  • Some kind of paper adhesive
  • Clear laminating plastic, clear 2″ wide packing tape, or clear adhesive-backed shelf paper
  • Optional: beads and cord or floss, or small dimensional embellishments (see directions for ideas).

Guidelines (not instructions – this is your bag!)

First, select a vinyl bag. (My sample came from Michael’s Arts & Crafts store. In 2001, they were $1.99 each.  In 2009, they’re still under $5 if you shop carefully.  Sometimes, you can even find them at pound or dollar stores.)

Use a plain sheet of paper for your collage base/support. Otherwise, the back of your work will show through the other side of the vinyl bag.

Create a collage using modpodge, gluestick, gloss medium or other adhesives.  As long as it doesn’t pucker the paper, almost any glue will work.

You can use charms, trinkets & raised elements, but they don’t stick well. Sorry. Hang them from the bag, instead.

If you like, you can create two collages, one to go on top of the vinyl, and one to show through from the inside.

You can even cut the vinyl so the inside one shows through better.

central collage on workshop sample bag

Cut your laminating plastic to size. Trim closely, but allow at least a half inch around your collage, so the plastic will stick.

    • I use shiny laminating plastic sold on a roll at A. C. Moore. A similar product at Michael’s is often matte, like Contac paper. I like the shiny stuff. Sometimes, you can find this at Staples or an office supply shop. You can also use 2″ wide packing tape, or any clear adhesive product that suits your mood and artistic vision.
Artfest logo, colored with oil pastels on the workshop sample tote

Next, place your collage, face down, on the laminating plastic. When you pick up the laminating plastic, the non-sticky side and the collage should be facing you.

Stick the plastic-covered collage onto an appropriate place on the bag.

Embellishment ideas

IF you like: Punch holes in the vinyl using a 1/8″ punch. Add tiny grommets/eyelets using the tool, hammer, and wood block. Tap lightly!

words on foam board strung from grommets at top of totebag

– String evidence or charms/trinkets from ribbon or thread, tied so they hang through the grommet/eyelets.

If you’d like… attach more “evidence” (a term we used to reference journaling-type additions) at the bottom edge of the bag. Grommets are not required here if you’re sewing something the width of the bag. Just go ahead and sew through the vinyl. If it rips later, use clear packing tape to repair it.

– You may want to replace the handles with something better. For example, a strong measuring tape may make a great handle, or you could use braided ribbons, or…?

– Use your tote, accept compliments, and make fresh tote bags regularly since these are easy, inexpensive, and fun!

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Free ATCs to Print

Online picture of a free poster and ATC - Imagination by Aisling D'ArtThe following ATCs are free for you to download and print.

By the light (R-rated for nudity) – A nude figure and flowers.

Dream (R-rated for nudity)- Faerie themed, with a nude in a woodland setting.

Everlasting – Eerie image of a little girl with teddy bear.

Face behind the words – A mix of historical, Asian and feminist elements.

Ghosts in the old saloon (R-rated for nudity) – Inspired by a Texas ghost story.

Gold Leaf – A card with an illusion of gold.

Gold Leaf – ATC tutorial – How the card was made.

Memories – A nostalgic ATC.

How the Memories ATC was made – a four-part tutorial:

How to Create a Digital ATC

Adding more layers

Giving it meaning

Finishing the ATC

Midnight in New Orleans – A dark and eerie ATC.

Nevermore – An ATC tribute to Edgar Allan Poe.

Haunted New Orleans #1 – A digital collage of Pirate’s Alley.

Reality/Imagination – another free, printable ATC, and a free poster, too.

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