TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basic Supplies & Techniques

Watercolor is one of my favorite mediums and since we are exploring this theme all month with our DIY Challenge, I thought I’d put together an introductory post for anyone interested in trying watercolor for the first time.


TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics
There are three different types of watercolor paper available: hot press, cold press and rough. Cold press paper is what I use most often as it has a beautiful texture to it (whereas hot press paper is smooth). Watercolor paper is much thicker than ordinary paper which is very important to prevent buckling while painting. 140 lb is the typical weight of most watercolor paper. There are thicker options out there if you are planning to use heavy washes, but 140 lb paper works just fine for me.

Watercolor paper comes in single sheets, spiral pads and blocks. I use a Strathmore spiral pad for experimenting and practicing. Then when I’m ready, I’ll switch to my Arches block to create my final painting. I do this because Arches is quite expensive. Plus I like to carry my Strathmore pad with me if I’m painting on the go.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Block paper is just what it sounds like. An Arches block comes with 20 sheets of paper that are sealed together into one big block. Use an x-acto knife to carefully slice a single piece of paper off the block. Usually, I’ll paint directly on the block and slice it off when I’m finished. But you can also cut it off beforehand. To prevent buckling while painting I recommend using artist’s masking tape to tape down your paper onto a hard surface while painting.

Paper Brands We Recommend:


Brushes, Etc.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are three different types of watercolor brushes: rounds, flats and mops. All are made in a variety of sizes. The best brushes are made of natural fiber, most commonly sable. Kolinsky sable pointed rounds are prized for their ability to keep a fine point, which is very useful for detail work, but they are also very expensive. I’ll admit I tend to stick with synthetic brushes and usually will stock up on cheap student brushes rather than investing in the professional quality options. Maybe some day soon I’ll treat myself to a fancy new brush but for now these cheap brushes suite me just fine.

I use round brushes in a variety of sizes 90% of the time. If I’m doing a big wash, I’ll switch to a flat brush, but otherwise I use round brushes for all my painting.

Tip #1: You will ruin your brushes if you leave the brush end sitting in a glass of water. I’d recommend storing them in a jar brush side up. If you want to store them in a closed container make sure they are dry to avoid molding.

Tip #2: Rinse your brushes under running water after each painting session. If you find any traces of dried paint near the metal band, use a little soap to rinse them clean. Dry gently on a paper towel or cloth and reshape with your fingers.

Tip #3: Sponges, cotton balls and cotton swaps are extremely helpful tools in watercolor. They can be used to apply color or I like to use them to correct mistakes and clean up any extra watery areas. Cotton swaps are especially helpful if you want to create small highlights.


TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

There are two different types of watercolor: liquid tubes and solid pans. One is not better than the other, so it really comes down to your personal preference. I like to use a pan set as my base color palette and then I buy tubes whenever I want to try out new colors. Winser & Newton is an excellent brand that I use often (I love the Artist’s Watercolor Compact Set perfect for traveling). The paints shown in the image above are Schmincke brand which are very pricey but worth it for their amazing quality. Schmincke is my personal favorite because the pigment of their paints is so saturated and vibrant. I was lucky enough to receive this set at a birthday gift. Professional quality watercolors (like Winser & Newton and Schmincke) are expensive but think of it as a one-time investment. A basic pan set will last you a lifetime!

Professional Brands we recommend:

Winser & Newton

If investing in a professional watercolor set is not an option for you never fear! Feel free to try out a student brand. I recommend starting with Winser & Newton Cotman. Student brands differ from professional brands in that they can have a lower concentration of pigment, have less expensive formulas and smaller range of colors available. That said, they are still a great option for anyone just starting out with watercolor.


Palettes are great for mixing colors. If you have a paintbox set, then you can use the palette included with the box. But if you are using tubes, you’ll need a separate palette or pan. Palettes come in all shapes and sizes. I use a small plastic palette in addition to my paintbox.


TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

You can use as few or as many colors as you like. Some artists use only a handful of colors and mix whatever shades they like. My Schmincke paintbox comes with 24 colors so that’s what I use as my base palette. I also have a few additional tubes I love and use in addition to my paintbox.


So you’ve gathered your supplies and are ready to paint. Great! Here are some basic painting techniques to try out.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics


Blending is my favorite part of watercolor. I’d suggest experimenting with blending different colors together. To do this, first paint a shape or squiggle line with plain water only. Then dip your brush into the paint and add it to the watered area. Watch it spread, then clean your brush and choose a second color. Apply this to the opposite end of your watered area and watch the colors blend together. You can move your paper side to side to help the watercolor run together.


Next I would try out all your different brushes. Experiment with different mark-making and see what you come up with. Draw circles, dashes, lines, and dots. Try mixing lots of water with your paint and then try the opposite by applying paint with a dry brush. Play with different textures, shades and colors.


My favorite part of watercolor is the process of creating different layers. I’ve painted a simple flower to give you a taste of what layering is like. First use a pencil to lightly draw a flower. I found a photo of a flower for reference. Once your pencil drawing is finished, carefully cover the entire thing in water and then apply a ‘base’ layer. This will be the bottom layer that we will then build from. I blended two different colors to create my base layer.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

It’s very important that you let each layer dry completely before moving onto the next. I use a hair dryer to speed the drying process along.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

Once your base layer is completely dry you can begin adding in more detail. Start with one petal at a time, using your photo as reference for shading and color.

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

TOOLBOX: Watercolor Basics

I hope this post demystifies watercolor for any beginners out there and gives you a place to start. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play! I also recommend checking out a great watercolor series by The Alison Show.

Be sure to share any painting experiments with us by entering our April DIY Challenge!

Update 4/16/15

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to check out: 8 Watercolor Techniques For Beginners

TIP: Finding the Grain in Paper

I’m working on a super fun tutorial for tomorrow, and I thought I would take a minute to share a tip about finding the grain in paper.

What is paper grain?

Very simply- Most paper is made up of long fibers that align parallel to each other, which means that the paper will be more flexible in one direction (with the grain) than the other (against the grain.)

Why is grain important?

If you work with paper at all, you will find yourself working or fighting with the grain of paper. Because the paper will naturally want to flex with the grain, it will behave very differently depending on the way it is cut. This is especially true when you are working with thicker paper or cardstock.


What direction is the grain of this paper?

I always test the grain of a paper before I start planning a project or working with it. Some people will tell you that the grain typically runs parallel to the long side of a piece of paper, but I’ve found several instances where paper is cut the other way.
To find the grain of the paper:
• Take the paper in your hands and gently flex it one direction, then rotate it 90 degrees and flex it again. Depending on the thickness of the paper, you may want to flex it until it’s almost folded.
• It should flex more easily one way. That way is called “with the grain”.
• Sometimes I will make a light pencil mark along the flex, to show me which direction the grain is running.


What’s the best way to work with grain?

Here are a few activities that you might do with paper, and how the grain should be aligned.
• Book Binding – Book covers and guts should have the grain running parallel to the spine. If the grain goes the wrong way, pages will be difficult to flip, and the cover may warp.
• Folded Cards – You should always fold with the grain, meaning that your fold will be parallel to the fibers of the paper. That way your fold will happen in between the strings of fibers, rather than breaking them.
• Quilling or curling – If you are cutting your own quilling paper, it’s a good idea to cut against the grain, which means you’ll cut the fibers of the paper shorter. The paper will curve more fluidly this way, and you’re less likely to get ugly creases in your curls.
• Resistance projects – conversely, if you want to play with the stiffness of the paper rather than curling it up, you should cut with the grain so you have long strong fibers. (This is the kind of paper I was working with for my paper bird project.)
• Gluing – if you are duplexing, mounting, or otherwise gluing two pieces of paper or paperboard, you want to make sure the grain direction is the same for each piece. When paper is introduced to moisture from glue or even from the air, it will start to curl one direction. You want the grain direction to be the same on both pieces so that they don’t pull on each other.
• Tearing – Paper is always easier to tear along the grain (because you are pulling strings of fibers away from their neighbors instead of tearing them in half.)

What happens if you ignore the grain?

Terrible things! Books that don’t flip! Warped duplexed paper! Rough folds on your cards! Bends and creases where you don’t want them!

Know the grain. Respect the grain. Keep making stuff.

How do you play with paper? Does the grain effect you?

SHOW + TELL : Paper to Petals Book

Since we’re still a little ways off from real flowers, I’ve been finding myself thinking more and more about the paper version. I thought I would share this beautiful book with you.

Paper to Petals is an amazing collection of vibrant paper flowers that’s sure to impress even the most weather weary. It’s quite hefty, and packed full of tons of beautiful inspiration.

But, it’s not just a coffee table book. The back has tutorials for all of the flowers, and details about tools, materials, and methods– all so beautifully laid out that they are almost as compelling as the flowers themselves.

I’m not much for following tutorials, but the details are extremely useful for learning new methods of working with paper. 

I also sometimes use this book as inspiration for my illustrations. I love the graphic nature of the flower shapes they build.

All in all, this is a wonderful book- full of inspiration, instruction, and eye candy. You can pick it up at your local bookstore, or on Amazon (Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand)

TODAY: Get your space in order.

Yesterday I picked up an unlabeled box, fought to pull the lid off, and was greeted by an explosion of confetti.

You might think that’s a funny prank- except that it was me who had the bright idea of putting the confetti in that box in the first place. Dumb. My own prank would have been thwarted by a simple “Confetti” label on the box. Next time- maybe.

If you’re like me, this dreary weather makes staying under the covers all day pretty appealing. I’ve been in kind of a creative rut, and even a self imposed vacation didn’t fix everything. Well, time to try something new…

Order to fight the blues.

It’s time to clean, organize, dump, and declutter. Here are a few ways I’ve been getting things in order:

• Organizing, filing, and labeling my tools and materials. I am much happier when everything has a home. I am ecstatic if that home makes sense and is easy to access. I try to keep my most-used tools handy, and put less-used tools and materials in labeled boxes that will be easy to find when it’s time to use them.
• Trying out those “I bet I could…” projects and tools. I have a tendency to accumulate ideas and materials, but it’s hard to get to everything. If I have little projects that have been sitting in my head for a while, I try to take an afternoon to try them out for real- even if it doesn’t feel like the best use of my time. If the project is a dud (which happens) I’ll know it and be able to move on to other ideas.
• Dumping materials and tools I’m never going to get to, or don’t really want. I’m trying to be really honest with myself about what I really want to spend my limited time doing. If I have a hole punch I will never use, or paper that I abhor, I’m better off passing it onto someone who would like it. If it’s something I saved from the recycling bin (no judgement) then maybe it’s time for it to go back in there… and maybe that “confetti” was really just the holes punched from a binding project.
• Similar to the “I bet I could” projects, I’ve been working on the small quick projects I put off in favor or more in-depth creative pursuits. Framing and hanging posters at my house, designing signage and displays for the shop, etc.

Do you have any tricks you use to simplify your work and your workspace? We’d love to see!

TOOLBOX: Dremel Micro Review for Glass Etching


I have a secret. I’ve been hoarding glass bottles… and jars. Sure, I’ve been drinking out of a set of 6 jars, but what no one knows is I have a whole box of them in my closet.

Shoot. Now you know.

The big plan was to use etching cream to mask and etch them into glass masterpieces– but something always stopped me. It may have been that the first time I pulled out the etching cream, Safety Husband insisted on reading the ingredients and warnings. He then set out a strict list of suggestions for using the DANGEROUS stuff I got from the craft store. I followed the suggestions once, but lived in fear of getting out the cream ever again. “Wear gloves. You don’t want it eating through your skin… to your bones.

We live in a world of excess caution, over here.

Safety Husband recommended safety goggles and a respirator- talked down to spectacles and a dust mask.

For Dremel Etching, Safety Husband recommended safety goggles and a respirator- accepted spectacles and a dust mask.

The box of glass lived to taunt me. Sitting in there, instead of going to the recycling bin where it belonged; until I got the bright idea of looking for alternate etching options. There are a lot of great, videos, but the one from Dremel sold me. It was time to replace our old rotary tool, so after some shopping I decided on the…
Dremel Micro, which is cordless.
•I bought two diamond bits, but I’ve only got around to playing with the one that looked most useful, the Dremel Diamond Wheel Point Bit.
** UPDATED 12/14 – I’ve since started using two different diamond bits with more success. 7105 Diamond Ball Pointand 7103 5/64-Inch Diamond Wheel Point


I tried several different ways of getting my initial artwork laid out, including drawing the design on with a Sharpie, as well as using masks that we had made with the intention of using the etching cream.

Tara Bliven drew and cut out this beautiful mask for me.

Tara Bliven drew and cut out this beautiful mask for me.

We drew and cut these masks out of contact paper, but you could also use masking tape. They are a great way to start out, because the mask will help you learn to control the tool. If you jog out of the lines, the mask material will shred before you mark the glass, giving you one chance to screw up without consequences.

The mask is definitely the most time consuming and tedious way to go. I’ve moved on to freehand patterns, and occasionally use paper templates that taped to the other side of the glass. (More on that later.)



•Higher Speeds (controlled with a button on this model) work much better for etching glass. I usually use the second to highest speed. The highest works even better, but the sound is skull-splitting, so I only use it when absolutely necessary.
•Using the bit I’ve listed above, you will mainly be making thinnish lines, so plan on going over your artwork a couple of times. It works best to hold the bit as close to parallel with the surface of the piece.
•Make a jig for round items. I took a couple of wood scraps and made a kind of rail for the glasses to lay in. (See in the photos above.) Make sure it’s small enough to move around, as you will want to be able to approach your piece for all angles. After my experiments, I sprayed the whole jig black so I could see my work more easily.
•Wear Protective Gear… or you’ll get in trouble. I found a dust mask and glasses worked for me, but it might be good to start out with even more coverage. Remember that your glass could shatter at any time.
•Start with thick glass pieces, and don’t grind too much in one place. This is not a tool for drilling, so you’re more likely to shatter your pieces than cut cleanly through.
•Start with trash pieces you’re not afraid to throw away. There’s definitely a learning curve.
•Hand-wash any pieces, to make sure you’re not shocking the thinned glass with hot water.
•Work outside. You’ll be generating a ton of dust. While I haven’t had any sharp pieces (yet) it’s nice to let nature get rid of the dust.
•This is a no-distraction project. Don’t plan on watching TV while you work with power tools.

Things to Love

•It’s lightweight. Initially I was planning to use a flex shaft like they use in the video, but the cable is not very flexible, and I decided the lack of cord would be a benefit.
•It compact and easy to transport (although it does not come with a carrying case.)
•The battery lasts longer than I do. I haven’t had to stop what I was doing to recharge.
•I haven’t hurt myself (yet). This is always remarkable.

Things to Hate

•The “Lock” button sticks out just above the power button, and I have hit it accidentally a couple of times while the Dremel is running. It makes a terrible sound to tell me I’m killing it to death.
•It’s still a little clumsy. Even though the end is tapered so you can hold on to it, it’s more like trying to write legibly with a Squiggle Pen than an actual writing implement.
•It is quite tricky to get make a curve. A lot of this has to do with skill, and the kind of bit I’ve been using.
•The sound, especially at higher speeds. It makes a high keening when you’re using it on the glass. The birds have been complaining about this as well. It’s just life in the etching game.

Things to Try

•More bits. I tried scratching the glass with non-diamond bits with little result, but now that I’m hooked on the etchin’, I’m going to try everything. (If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.)
•More freehand designs.
•On flat surfaces, like plates, trays, etc. On mirrors.
•Make a set of matching glasses, with patterned numbers, using paper templates. That’s pretty specific, huh? I guess a DIY is in the works… but until then, have fun!


BIZ: Feedback makes things better.

You don't have to work in a vacuum. (It's too cramped in there, and too dusty.)

You don’t have to work in a vacuum. (It’s too cramped in there, and too dusty.)

In advance of their Fall Conference, Schoolhouse Craft asked me to write a little post with some business advice, and I decided to take the time to write about one of the things I’ve learned from running the store.

One of the best things about my job is that I have daily chances to interact with customers and creative types. I don’t even have to try!  They just walk through my door, and react to my work. I didn’t do a great job with this before I opened the shop (although I always encouraged friends to let me critique their work.) It takes a lot of courage to ask the tricky questions about your work and your business.

The benefits of that back-and-forth are so valuable, and will encourage you to push your work in new directions, to perfect your business, and to be a well-rounded maker. Since not everyone has the benefit of sitting in a gift store, so I thought I would share some ideas for bringing a little creative input your way.


The Kind Of Things You Might Ask About

You probably already have a good base of people to ask about these things. It’s worthwhile to keep adding to you collection, but in the meantime be sure to get feedback as often as you can.

Feedback On Your Products As A Whole.

This is the hardest thing to ask for, and the hardest advice to take, but it’s incredibly important for the development of your work and business. Encourage your audience to be candid– and make sure to take a deep breath before reading anything that might be negative.

Your Packaging And Promotional Materials.

Ask people to proofread for you, and offer edits. Make sure to run it by people who have no idea what you’re working on– it should make sense after they see everything.

Shipping And Bagging Procedures.

Send a package to a friend, and see if everything makes it there alright. Ask people what they are looking for when they buy a similar product- do they want a cute bag and tissue? A gift box? A Thank You card?

Your Prices

Ask if they would pay that for a similar product. This is also a good opportunity to ask what things you can add or change to give more perceived value.

Suggestions Of Materials, Tools, And Techniques.

This is a great thing to run by people who work with similar processes, but you might even get good results from out-of-the-box solutions from people who have a completely different knowledge base. Some people can be close-mouthed about their technique- but I think that sharing information is good for everyone involved.

Advertising and Networking Opportunities

Is there a chance to reach your niche audience that you haven’t considered?

Sales Opportunities

You can try all day an never round-up all the craft shows, shops, events, and other great places to sell you goods. Other artists can give you ideas of what has worked for them, and non-artist friends have surely seen great opportunities too.

Other Business Practicalities

like software or person for booking and accounting, an excellent Lawyer (just in case), Liabilities you might not have thought of, etc.


Other Ways to Get Feedback

There are ways other than one-on-one question pestering to get your questions answered.

Attend Conventions And Meetups For Creative Businesses.

(Like Schoolhouse Craft.) Be sure to schmooze and look for people who have similar interests- and get contact information for everyone.

Make a Mailing List

Put together an email list of people who are willing, and who you can count on to give you honest feedback. When you have a new design, run it by your list, and see what they have to say.

Join or Start A Facebook Group for Creative Feedback

You can keep it private, if you don’t want just anyone to see what you’ve got going on.

Offer To Look At The Work Of Other People

Giving advice is a great chance to work on your own experience, and it you help people, they are more likely to help you with feedback down the road.

Befriend People with Different Backgrounds and Experience

People with lots of opinions and ideas. People like your friendly local shop owner.  You know the one….



DIY: Tie-Dye Tissue Paper

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue
Tie-dye paper was one of the first crazy-idea-craft-projects Alison and I ever did together. You can read about our mishaps and crafty shenanigans from that day here.

We learned a lot from that day back in 2011 and have been making tie-dye paper ever since. We love using it to make tissue paper flowers, to wrap gifts, and even to glue into pages of journals. This tutorial will walk you through how to successfully tie-dye tissue paper (because believe me it’s actually a little tricky).

Supplies Needed

• White tissue paper
• Liquid watercolors
• Plastic cups
• Paper towels

Step 1. Fold Your Paper

This is the basic folding technique for tie-dye paper. First you fold it accordion style, back and forth until you have one long rectangle.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue
DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

Then fold the bottom right corner to the left edge to make a triangle. Continue turning and pressing until you have one large triangle.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue
DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue
DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

Repeat this folding process for as many sheets of tissue you’d like to tie-dye.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

Step 2: Dye Your Paper

First you want to prep your dyeing area. I like to use a large baking sheet lined with paper towels as a work surface. First pour the liquid watercolor into the plastic cups or bowls.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

Then begin dipping the corners of the folded triangle into the different colors. You’ll want to hold the paper in the dye for a few seconds to allow the watercolor to soak into the folded paper.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

I like to dip my paper into three different colors (one for each corner of the triangle). Once you’re done dying, place it on the paper towel and let dry completely.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

You may be like me, and not have the patience to wait until the paper is completely dry before unfolding, but if you try to unfold wet tissue paper it WILL tear. So keep calm and wait it out.

DIY: Tie-Dye Paper #craft #tiedye #tissue

Once your triangles are completely dry, carefully unfold the tissue. You can use a warm iron to flatten the paper completely and remove some of the creases from folding.

Some Tips

Tissue – I originally tried using tissue paper from the Dollar Tree and didn’t get the best results. The watercolor had trouble soaking into the tissue. So next I tried some tissue from my local craft store and had much better results. I guess some tissue paper is less absorbent? If you don’t get the results you like, simply try another brand.
Liquid watercolor – can be difficult to find. I found the Artist’s Loft brand bottles at Michael’s in the art supply section of the store. Alison also recommends using Blick Liquid Watercolors.
• For a fast dry, set your oven to it’s lowest setting and place your paper towel lined baking tray in the oven for approx. 10 minutes.

DIY: Watercolored Business Cards

Watercolored Business Cards
Last week I combined a few of my favorite things and letterpress printed A-i-M cards on scraps of cotton paper. I wanted to make them super special (and representative of our creative spirit) so I pulled out my handy-dandy liquid watercolors and went to town.  I tried a few different methods, and wanted to show how they turned out.

I really like working with Blick Liquid Watercolor. I use it for my paper flowers, and pretty much everything else. I can water it down as much or as little as I want, and it washes out of everything I accidentally spill it on. (Very important. I’m a little messy.) I keep several plastic containers around to mix colors in.

The paper scraps were Crane Lettra 110# Cover, and I used a rubber based letterpress ink on them.

I think this would also work on other papers, including watercolor paper and uncoated card stock. You could also try adding your print with a stamp (like this tutorial from Akula Kreative) or use a non-watersoluble printing method (like a laser printer, or copier.)


Dipped and Dry Brushed

My first instinct was to take each card individually and dip it into a few colors. Some of them I then tapped on the table, to distribute drops, and some I used a dry brush to sweep through watercolor puddles.

IMG_2475-2 IMG_2490

Edge Painting

I discovered a really wonderful thing while I was dipping small stacks in the watercolor. The color would soak into the edges, but not into the face of the pieces in the middle of the stack. I started dipping each side of the stack into a different color, and ended up with these lovely ombre edges. There is a little bleed onto the face of the cards, but it’s very subtle.


A Happy Splatter Accident

Remember what I said earlier about being a messy experimenter? Well, this time it worked out for me! I was partially working on a glass palate, which eventually was covered with lots of little drop of watercolor. I pressed one of the cards against the splatters, and ended up with these lovely color patterns.

IMG_2506IMG_2569I had a great time playing with the liquid watercolor (again) and love how easy it is to introduce color and pattern on a simple card.

The splatter was definitely my favorite. What do you think?


TOOLBOX: Alison’s Essential Drawing Supplies

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

My favorite supplies have changed a lot over the years. Right now I have a loose-leaf system that works great for me, and along with my travel kit, it’s incredibly portable. (Portable tools mean you’ll get more done, more places!)

Since I have a tendency to do things a little differently, I thought I’d share a little about my process and supplies; then let you decide if you think I’m crazy- or a crazy genius.

I’ve included links to many of the supplies, in case you’d like to try them yourself*.

Paper and Stuff

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

I like to work on 8.5 x 11 inch loose-leaf pages because I can carry them around easily. From time-to-time I’ll cut pages down so I can have an even more portable set- but I keep the same selection of papers.

A. Papers

I use Smooth White Cardstock  for early sketches and drawing. Cardstock handles a lot of erasing a redrawing.
When I can’t erase any more, I’ll do additional edits on  cheap tracing paper.

I use higher quality Canson Marker Paper for final drawings, and for inking. I tried a bunch of different papers, and this was the best with my Uni-ball pens. It doesn’t bleed too much, and dries quickly enough that I’m less likely to drag my left hand through wet ink.

Graph Paper and Miscellaneous Guide Sheets  I’ve found it’s handy to keep guide sheets that I can use with tracing paper. I usually have sheets of graph paper, script slant guides, and other handy shapes I use a lot.

B. Clipboard

I love this low profile aluminum clipboard. It’s lightweight and means I can draw anywhere.

C. Project Filing

I keep each project I’m working on in a clear page protector. When I’m done, I can discard the pieces of my process I no longer need, and retire the whole protector to a binder or other file for safekeeping.


Tool Kit

TOOLBOX: Alison's Essential Supplies #drawing #tools

I do as much work at the store as I do in my studio, so I’ve come up with a very extensive travel kit to carry. (I like to be prepared for everything.)

A. Pencils

I love using Woodless Graphite Pencils  for shading, thick lines, and because they are awesome. I use BIC Mechanical Pencils  a lot in my early sketching phases. Blackwing Pencils are my newest obsession. The erasers are especially useful, and replaceable! I prefer the harder “Pearl Pencils”.

B. Pencil Sharpener

This small metal pencil sharpener is essential if you want to use anything other than a mechanical pencil.

C. Erasers

I use a Mars Plastic Eraser for heavy duty changes and a narrow eraser for getting into tight spots

D. White Pencil

I often us a white Prismacolor Pencil to correct mistakes that can’t be erased, I also like to be able to draw on surfaces that aren’t white. (See the pictures of my work table.)

E. Ruler

This 6″ Ruler was one of the best things I added to my kit. You can’t eye-ball every line.

F. Compass

For years I used a cheap school compass, and when I upgraded to this guy, suddenly my life got so much better. Perfect for making curves, and circles.

G. Inking Pens

Uni-ball Pens are my preferred pen for inking on marker paper.

H. Scissors

A tiny pair of scissors like this comes in handy often.

I. Permanent Marker

I love the twin tipped Sharpie Markers. Sometimes I want to go nuts and make a permanent drawing impact (ie. leave my tag somewhere.) I don’t usually do that, but a permanent marker is great to have on hand.

J. X-acto Knife

I think everyone should have a quality X-acto Knife. I use this one from Martha Stewart Crafts because the lid stays on well, which is important in a tool that travels around with me. I also like to keep a few extra blades on hand; this box set does just that, and has a place to store the old blades.

K. Glue

It’s important to keep glue around for when you want to add something to your drawings. A glue stick works well, and leaves less mess in your bag. I also carry around a small roll of scotch tape.

L. Miscellaneous Tools

You probably need a Bone folder. I also try to keep something that will poke, but isn’t sharp, like this embossing tool, or a small wooden skewer. Think of other miscellaneous tools you might need – a needle and thread?

M. Pencil Bag

A gorgeous pencil bag will inspire your work. Check out this lovely one from Slide Sideways (now Year End Co.)

Well, now you’ve seen what I’ve been working with lately. It’s not your usual collection of art supplies, but life is all about trying unusual things!

*Support Adventures-in-Making by shopping from our Amazon store. We’ve selected a few things that we love, and think you will too. If you purchase through us, you pay no more for those items, but we get a small portion of the sales to further the adventures. Check out the whole store at

SHOW + TELL: My Favorite Craft Books

My Favorite Art & Craft Books #inspiration #craft #books
The past week has been grey and rainy here in the Pacific Northwest; our last week of ‘normal’ weather before we dive head first into summer (I can’t wait!). This last week of spring has me curled up on the couch, sipping tea and looking through my favorite books. To be honest, I’m not much of a reader, but I have a great collection of books I find inspiring in my library. Today I thought I’d share some of my favorite craft books with you! These have been on my shelves for years and are something I love getting out when I’m in need of some crafty eye candy.

1. Bead Simple by Susan Beal

My friend Alissa recommended this book when I was interested in making jewelry for Camp Smartypants. Bead Simple shows tons of different techniques and jewelry patterns you can easily customize for your own projects. Great for beginners and jewelry makers interested in learning new techniques.

2. I Just Like To Make Things by Lilla Rogers

Lilla Rogers is a world-renowned art agent and creative genius. I picked up her book after I signed up for her online course, Make Art That Sells. The book is a perfect companion to her e-courses and a great resource to anyone interested in turning their creative hobby into a business some day. One of Lilla’s mantras is, “People buy your joy.” Having fun and being passionate about your work is such an important part of the creative process. In I Just Like To Make Things, Lilla discusses this and much, much more!

3. Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People by Amy Sedaris

I am a HUGE fan of Amy Sedaris. Her first book, I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence, is what first sparked my passion for planning and hosting parties. Her second book, Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People is equally great. Amy lets her humor and creativity run wild as she shares tons of hilarious and fun craft projects.

4. Find & Keep by Beci Orpin

I’m a huge fan of Beci Orpin, an Australian artist and graphic designer. Her style is so fresh and playful. Her book, Find & Keep is bursting with colorful and unique craft projects and inspiration for you to feast your eyes on.

My Favorite Art & Craft Books #inspiration #craft #books

5. How To Make Books by Esther K. Smith

Bookbinding has been a much-loved craft activity for me. I love making my own journals and notebooks. This book by Esther K. Smith provides great instruction for a variety of bookbinding techniques including accordions, stab stitch, chapbooks, long stitch and more. I love that she uses unlikely materials like fabric, envelopes, recycled papers, and vintage postcards to create unique journals, albums and notebooks.

6. Vintage Craft Workshop by Cathy Callahan

I absolutely love vintage crafts and this book definitely gives me my retro crafty fix! Not only are the projects fresh takes on crafting techniques from the 60’s and 70’s, I also love her “Crafty Lady” features where she shares a little history about crafty pioneers like Aleene Jackson (inventor of Aleene’s Tacky Glue) and Hazel Pearson (Queen of Kaboodle craft kits).

7. Happy Voodoo Gris Gris by Mademoiselle de la Brindille and Anne-Claire Leveque

I remember this being an impulse buy at Powell’s, but I’m so glad I have it on my bookshelf. Happy Voodoo Gris Gris is a wonderful book with over 45 fun projects for the free spirited. Learn to make good luck charms, talismans, amulets, and more.

8. Mend It Better by Kristin Roach

This book is written by my friend, Kristen Roach of Craft Leftovers. It features sewing projects that use recycled or reused materials. Kristin discusses the basics of mending and altering as well as featuring sewing projects by her and other crafters. Check out page 204, where I share a fun tutorial on how to transform an old pair of jeans into a bleach-dyed skirt!

*A-I-M is an affiliate of We earn a small commission from items purchased from our Amazon Store. Thank you for supporting us!