Breakthrough Shrines – Notes

My Artfest 2004 workshop, Breakthrough Shrines, was very controversial.  The class had been designed as a process-based experiment to push students towards artistic expressions that were new and different… and perhaps uncomfortable.

There was nothing “safe” about this class.  Students either loved it or hated it.  Some caught the spirit of the exercise and produced amazing work.  Others sat there and stared at me.

Would I teach that class again?  Maybe.  If I did, it would be only for extreme, process-oriented, experimental artists.  And, I’d teach it very differently.

These following notes reflect what I taught during the class, and at the pre-class meeting the night before.

Where to begin

To get the most from this process, start with a box or container.  Drape the outside first, using plaster and gauze as described in the “Easy antiquities” directions.

Then, work on your shrine’s interior.  I recommend using rubbings for your background.  Although my examples are very gothic in nature — intended to challenge students with unfamiliar motifs – any rubbings will work.

(Try rubbings from a screen door, the sidewalk outside your home, the numbers from your front door, objects in your jewelry case or from your kitchen tools, keys and coins in your wallet, and rubbings made with rubber stamps.)

After completing the inside of the shrine, finish the outside by layering paint and polyurethane, completing the directions in the “Easy antiquities” section.

Pre-class preparations: Easy antiquities

In-class work: Rubbings from Colonial carvings and other surfaces

Artfest 2004 Collaborative Journal – 1

These are scanned pages of a round-robin style art journal created for Artfest 2004. It is one of two similar (but unique) journals.

Participants included: Lisa Guerin, DaNelle Haynes, Tammie Moore, Rhonda Scott, Sabrina Molinar, Shannon Breen, Rose Bedrosian, Jill Haddaway, and me, Aisling D’Art.

After I scanned the art in this journal, it was on its way to Carol McGoogan, the next participant. Then it continued throughout the list.

The pages go from left to right in the table below.


Continued on the next page: Artfest 2004 Collaborative Journal – 2

Otherworld Shrine

Otherworld Shrine by Aisling D'ArtThis is a pocket shrine, created for a shrine exchange hosted by Patty Harrison in the UK, September 2000.

Artist’s statement:

This box represents the “other” world. It’s the fantasy land of the faeries. In legends, it’s a world similar to ours but also different.

The black sky represents the darkness people travel through to reach this land. The flowers (painted, and dried, natural flowers) are part of the dazzling beauty of this fairy world.

The dangling opalescent star is what gives the shrine movement and life. The small bit of quartz crystal in each box represents “magic” in everyday life, which we add in our own, unique ways.

How each one was created

Preparing the container

I started with small wooden boxes, purchased at the local fabric store, JoAnn Fabrics. They’re each about four inches tall and have a removable lid with a star cut in it.

I stained the outside of each box to a light oak color, and added color stains using a stencil that I cut in a five-pointed star shape.

The inside of the lid is painted with gold. Inside the box, I used a moss green shade of Lumiere paint. The back of the box is lined with black plush velvet, which I glued to and wrapped around a cardboard base, before gluing it in place with Aleene’s Tacky Glue.

Then I drilled holes in the sides of the box, inserted part of a bamboo skewer (from barbecue supplies) and painted it matte black, so it’s sort of like a rod in a closet.

The shrine elements

In the very back, I have a moon-and-black-bird image that I created for one of my websites. The bird represents the Morrighan, of Irish mythological history. She is one of the Tuatha De Danann, also called fairies.

Next, I drew a dolmen, and painted it with watercolor. Both this and the moon/bird images were scanned a printed on shiny photographic paper, which I trimmed neatly before gluing the images in place on the velvet.

The flowers and elements of the green world were drawn with a zero point Rapidograph, and painted with Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated watercolors. These were scanned and printed on a heavy matte paper.

These pieces (two per shrine) were glued, diorama-style, using tabs I left on the sides of the art, when I trimmed it.

Next, I trimmed and glued bits of moss and dried natural flowers in the shrines. I used Aleene’s Tacky Glue for this.

Then, I added one small quartz crystal in each shrine, slightly hidden in the greenery.

Finally, I suspended an opalescent star bead from the “closet rod” in the box, using black thread. I glued one opalescent glitter star to the “closet rod”, and one directly to the black velvet background.

(The black rod conceals the topmost edge of the moon, in this scan. The rod is visible in the real shrines, but does not generally obscure any of the images.)

Completing the shrines

The outside of the box was highlighted with gold, and varished using a glossy polyurethane finish.

Each of the four shrines sent to this exchange contained a small plastic bag. In it, there was a quartz stone with a hole in it, strung on a purple satin ribbon. In fairy lore, if you look through a stone with a hole in it, you may be able to view the faerie world.

I made a total of eleven of these shrines.

Four went to the exchange, three are kept in our family, three were sent to “four creative somethings*” subscribers who requested them.

The remaining one was sold to a collector at Artfest 2001.

*”Four creative somethings” was a four-part subscription to small pieces of art, sent at random to people who signed up. That art subscription is no longer available.

‘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.

Easy Embellished Vinyl Tote Bag

These are notes from my popular Artfest 2001 workshop.


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!

totewordswords 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. (You can use my free words handout. It’s updated from the 2001 version, and it’s a PDF.)

– Attach more evidence at the bottom edge of the bag (only if you like). 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!

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