Decoration · design

Beautiful Papers

I’ve had my head into making beautiful papers for different projects I’ve been working on. Thought it would be nice to give a peek at the different ways I go about making these papers. This, sadly, is not a “how-to” post, as each technique has so many steps.

The one thing that these all have in common is that I create them using the computer.. While I have great affection for making decorative papers by hand, it’s been my experience that if I want to use the computer to print papers that it’s best to create them on the comupter.

The paper at the top of the post is created in Adobe Illustrator, using patterning I’ve learned from Islamic Geometry tutorials. These patterns are great to when I am teaching folding methods, as I can size the designs so that the designs line up nicely when the paper is folded precisely. This has made teaching certain things so much easier.

Here’s an origami box, folded with my papers. More boxes below. Same pattern, different colors.

I use Islamic Geometry a great deal on my papers, but not always.

Sometimes I just create from the tools that are unique to the programs I am using. Illustrator’s flare tool is very fun to use.

This one is made by overlaying, resizing and recoloring a rarely used tool in Adobe Illustrator, called the flare tool. It’s hidden at the bottom of the menu that contains the rectangle and circles tools. I love having an excuse to play around with flares. This one I used to build a shape in which I placed the design inside the shape so it only showed when the light inside of it was activated.

Another way a create designs is by starting with graphs of equations. Even if I don’t understand the graphs that I’m working with, I have figured out how to play around with equations then work with the resulting graph.

Playing around with graphs isn’t hard once you get the hang of it. You can do it right now. Click this link and then click the little arrows to start and stop the animation. See what happens. When I get something I like, I copy get the lines in Illustrator, create tessellations, and add color.

The pattern with the orange in it comes from the desmos graph. The blue pattern uses another set of equations. I like that the colored and uncolored versions are showing here.

This flower-like image is made from trig functions. Gold and silver embellishments were added by hand. This one ended up being a thank you card.

Now might be a good moment to mention that I just put a set of beautiful notecards up for sale in my etsy shop.

While Illustrator is my program of choice, I do dip my toes into photoshop once in awhile.

I’m pretty much a novice with Photoshop. Maybe that works to my advantage? (Wishful thinking.)

I’ve discovered I can lay down a gradient, use some filters and the gradient tool and sometimes make some really gorgeous papers. It’s quite a random activity. Soon as a design shows up I save it. There is no recreating these.

These Photoshop generated papers have become all sorts of shapes.

With the holiday season coming, I’ve been using my Photoshop papers to make these paper ornaments.

I could go on and on with the different ways I put designs on paper. Here’s just one more.

The design above started as black and white lines on Dave Richeson’s computer, which then made its way to twitter then made its way to my computer. I did the coloring with Sharpies, colored pencils, and other markers. I did try scanning this, but I knew, from past experience, I wouldn’t like the scan. Here’s what I do when I want to make copies of hand drawn designs: instead of scanning the images I simply lay them on the glass of my copy machine and make copies.


Using the copy machine retains the feel of the hand drawing, which can be really nice, as long as no one looks too close.

There, so I’ve shown you the Islamic Geometry designs, the design made from graphs, flare overlays, random Photoshop gradient washes, and using my copy machine.

Now I need to figure out how to package up some of these items that I’m making so I can justify all this ink that I’ve been using! So easy to just have fun, the business part is still in process.


All Week, designing papers for a project, not done

I would prefer to spend my time finishing a project than writing about how I can’t seem to finish it up. I’m giving up for the night. Tomorrow it will get done (“really,” I say to myself) but I just don’t have it in me to finish tonight.

I’ve been wanting to do a Spring design for the Hidden Boxes (based on Zhen Xian Bao) kits that I sell on Etsy. Wouldn’t it be nice to get this into the world in time for Mother’s Day, I tell myself.  (Seems like I’ve been talking to myself lately. #isolation) I actually started thinking about this design in mid-March. Found a geometry that I loved. Started with pencil drawings.

Worked with it by hand, drew three versions of it so to get a good feel for it. Didn’t feel ready to start in earnest to do the digital designing until about a week ago. Thought it would take 1 to 3 days. That was 5 or six days ago.

Absolutely love this project. Frustrated that I still have some little details to work out, so that I can’t yet put it in my shop.

Venting my frustration by putting up these photos here. They aren’t the kind I’d post with the kit, but this is my blog, where I can post what’s behind the curtain.

Here’s a beautiful photo that I can’t use because it’s not a square.  But, thank you, I can show it off here.

Here’s a screenshot of my digital workspace. I know it’s not just luck, but I feel so lucky that I can make these designs.

Part of my good luck is that Daria Wilbur wrote about this particular variation of the Zhen Xian Bao, which was such good luck for me, as it’s so much more doable for a kit than the full Zhen Xian Bao that I’ve written about. Another piece of good luck is that Samira Mian keeps publishing videos on how to create these geometries that I like so much.

Here’s a peek at the hidden boxes inside. Just took this photo. The photo is okay, but would be better in natural daylight, which is one reason why I will not finish up tonight.

Here it is wide out.  I need one more photo, one that’s in between this one and the one above. That’s on the docket for tomorrow, too.

That’s it. I’ve got this out of my system for tonight. Thank you

Addendum May 2

This kit is up and listed!


simple book binding

Last Minute Gift Tags, and maybe some really tiny books

Here’s a PDF of the image above. Each tile is a little less than a 2 inch square. I designed a few of these for some projects, then kept making them just because I like them so much. They are my gift to you. I recommend printing them on cover weight paper if you have some.

Please don’t be disappointed if the colors your printer gives you aren’t as luminous as what’s on the screen. That’s just a fact of life. Once you get away from comparing to the screen, these look lovely.

Here’s how I am thinking you might use them.

Gift tags

Cut out two together. Fold in half. Use as a gift tag.


…cut out singly, Use as a gift tag.

Then there’s the option of making a little library of little books.

This is easier if you know even the smallest amount about making books, but, even if you don’t, it’s absolutely possible to figure this out.

All the steps laid out to see at once

Cut a strip of four of squares. Cut off half of the first and half of the last square. Fold the strip in half. Fold in the half parts towards the center. Sew in a few pages. You can use the snipped off parts as bookmarks.

Finished little book with inside flap lightly glue to first page of book block

The folded-in parts are the inside flaps, which can hold the first page down, I generally use five folded pieces of paper in these books. That gives me enough to tuck one page under the folded in book flaps (I glue the flaps on to the first and last pages) and there’s still 16 pages to write in big thoughts.

The final suggestion I have for these is to write a little note on the back of a single one then….

…secretly hang it somewhere for someone to find.

If you absolutely positively must have many more of these, I understand completely. There’s a whole other page of designs over in my Etsy shop.

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season.

summer art/math

Cards, Compasses and Lights with Teenagers, Summer 2019

Yesterday was my first of six weekly meetings with rising eighth graders and their two college-sophomore camp counselors. This is not an age group that I’ve worked with extensively, so I’m challenged to try to come up with projects that I hope they find compelling. These teenagers are doing art projects with dynamic teaching artists arts on other days of the week, as well as doing nature activities. This program here in Salem NY is invested in giving these young people a great summer experience.

Turns out that nearly all these kids like math. I wasn’t expecting this! But maybe it explains how quickly they took to this week’s project.

Practicing with making circles
Practicing with using a compass to make circles

We started out by making a number of patterns in different ways, Then I broke out the compasses. It didn’t surprise me that they didn’t have experience with them, and that they were awkward with the tool at first, but what did surprise me was how quickly they picked up the skill of making circles with the compasses. I definitely didn’t rush through the process of letting them find their own rhythm with the compass, but, still, it was impressive how they worked through the unfamiliarity.

They lost no time creating patterns.

There was a hush over the room as they worked on responding to their designs with color.

When they were finished with the coloring, many immediately started creating a second piece.

They knew, though, that I’d be asking them to punch a hole in the center of their design to wire their art for light!

I’ve been wanting to do a lighting project for a long time! This was such the perfect group to do it with.

Here’s a video explaining the process, of wiring a card for light, which I got from Julia Ross, a former co-worker of mine at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. (Thanks Julia!)

I wondered if anyone would object to punching a hole through the center of their art work. Yeah, a couple of them didn’t want to do this, I encouraged that they make a separate card, doing some simple rotations, then add a light to that, just to have the experience of it.

Press down the corner and the light comes on.
Press down the corner and the light comes on.

Only one person chose to spend the whole time working on the design, and not do any lighting. The fact that he created this unusual, thoughtful and stunning piece made it unthinkable for me to challenge his decision.

So now I have a sense of these young people. I’ll be trying to design projects that are for kids who are open, competent, artistic and mathematical.

This should be interesting!!!