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.

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.

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, 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





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.

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.)

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!

How to Collage in Your Art Journals – 2008 Art Journaling Update


art journal collage



Collage is an easy way to add art to your diary or journal.

For years, I started each day with a quick torn-paper collage, the same as I used to create my handwritten “morning pages,” taught in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

Collages are a visual version of “morning pages.”

I wrote about my collage process in 2002, when I was the owner of the ArtistsJournals (and AJ2) Yahoo!Groups. 

What follows is my 2008 update, as my art journaling process changed (slightly).

Most days, I allow an hour for each collage, and I try to create them in the morning, soon after I get up. That seems to be when my right-brain (creative side) is most active and open to imagery.

Sometimes – but not often – I go back several times throughout the day to add things.

Preparing the journal

Usually, I work on pages in a spiral-bound sketchbook, just as they are.

Sometimes I’ll gesso a few pages my journal, ahead of time. Then they’re strong enough to support heavily embellished collages.

That’s all gesso does: Make the page stronger, for embellishment, and – if you’re going to use paint – gesso prevents the paper from soaking up too much paint.

Most of the time, I don’t use gesso. I work directly on the paper.


Remember that gesso is entirely optional. In fact, most people don’t use it at all.

I just like the option of adding paint or heavy embellishments to my art journaling pages. For that, gesso creates an ideal working surface in your sketchbook or other paper support.

I use any acrylic gesso that’s cheap, from any store that carries gesso. Michael’s can have some great deals, especially their house brand or as a student-grade product.

I buy the largest container they’re selling, for the best price.

Yes, you can buy gesso in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it, using dye, food coloring, or watercolors, or mixing in acrylic paint.

Now and then, I use black gesso for art journal pages on which I’ll stamp text in white, or use a white gel pen. Here’s an example.

art journal collage

For more information about gesso, see my other article, Gesso – What it is, how to use it

Photos, pictures, and other images

I store a variety of images – ad flyers, tickets, programmes, handwritten notes, vintage paper and photos (etc.) –  in folders. For now, they’re kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to create a collage.

In plastic bins, I store stack of magazines & newspapers, too.

(In addition, I keep a separate “junk bin” for junk mail flyers. I put those beneath my images as I’m applying glue to the back of the collage elements.)

I’ll grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment.

If they connect somehow, great.

If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me after I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

My favorite magazines for collage include the fashion magazine,  W, because it includes great images, heavy paper, and very large words and phrases that show up nicely on my pages.

I also like glossy magazines such as National Geographic, because the colors are great, the images are unusual, and – since the pages are clay-based – I can use the magazine for image transfers.

(I’ll talk about that at another time. It’s a more complicated collage and embellishment technique.)

Gel medium

[As of 2021, some of the following information is outdated. I’ve stopped using gel medium for most of my art journaling collages. I’m getting far better results with Yes! Paste.]

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed.

The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me, but I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 – 15 cents each during Michael’s store sales) regularly.

Wax paper keeps the pages from sticking

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and work on another page in my journal.

If the damp collage is facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured.

Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

For more about using wax paper when creating art, see my article,
Wax paper and art journals.

Other art journaling embellishments

I highlight some of my collages with leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything.

When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

art journal collage
On a “hurting” day, a band-aid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Look around you and see what might work for your collages. Give them texture. It can enhance the originality!

Most completed journals won’t fully close

5" x 8" journal entitled "Hogwarts Journal."I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat.

Frankly, by the time I complete lots of pages, my journal may be so thick – or so buckled – that it hasn’t a chance of closing flat, ever again!

I may sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

Art journaling as self-discovery

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts and in my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

Journaling Your Past – Free eBook

You can write your own life story in just 15 minutes a day.  Really.

I’m probably best-known for my personal journaling workshops and online art journals.

Journaling Your Past - free workbookI want to share one of my favorite workshops with you in this free PDF about journaling your own history.

Journaling Your Past is a free 26-page manual, and it’s like taking one of my workshops at home.  (This PDF was the foundation of my Artfest 2001 workshop of the same name.)

You’ll learn how to create a rich and rewarding journal of your personal and family history easily, in just 15 minutes a day.

Whether you’d like to record your life story for future generations, or introduce your family to the fascinating study of genealogy and family history, this is a great way to start.

This workbook includes class notes, reproducible worksheets, and tips on how to teach this class yourself.

It’s also ideal for homeschoolers, Scouts or church groups, or for family evenings at home.

This ebook is a PDF you can read with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader program.

To read or download this free ebook, click here:
Journaling Your Past by Aisling D’Art

Family history shrines

You can make your own family history shrine or display using this free 14 page PDF.

  • This illustrated ebook includes a supply list, plus step-by-step instructions.
  • It also includes helpful tips for finding family photos, preparing them, and assembling your own family history shrine.
  • In addition, you will find suggestions for teaching this as a workshop.

You can download it as a PDF file, and share that link with others.

You have my permission to make additional copies for other people.

The only conditions are:

  • Keep my copyright notice on each page and
  • Don’t charge money (beyond what you were charged, per copy) to distribute it.

You can also freely teach this as a workshop using this PDF as a handout. Just make it clear that I’m the one who designed the project.


Family History Shrines – PDF file