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Create, Don’t Copy! The Papercrafter’s Guide to Creating Beautiful, Authentic Paper Art on a Budget

It’s easy to copy someone else’s project, especially when they’re marketing new craft products. But copying someone else’s art can be less than satisfying and downright expensive. Let this handy guide help you develop your crafting muscle to create your own authentic paper art. You’ll create something beautiful and save a few bucks in the process!

Copied art is boring (and expensive) art

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The appearance of paper money going down the drain
Don’t let this happen to you

Sooo… you’ve been paper crafting for a while now, making cards, scrapbook pages, mixed media journals. You feel ok about your projects, but something is missing. You’re following instructions exactly. You’ve bought all the necessary tools and supplies for each project (and spent a bundle each time). The projects are pretty, but still… something’s wrong.

Before you know it, you’re in debt. You’re hiding your purchases from Mr. Right. You’re paying with a credit card because it hurts to keep buying with cash. You’ll pay it off at the end of the month, and you really need this stamp/die/paper set anyway, right? And just like a new outfit, you need the accessories to go with. A few more alcohol markers? Check. Mulberry flowers in additional colors? Check. Glitter in that color? Check, check, check.

That innocent little stamp set for that one single card can turn into a major $100+ purchase before you can even say, “Charge it.” (Do people ever say that anymore?) And that one card that you copied exactly just doesn’t trip your trigger after you finish. Yes, it’s pretty, but there’s a nagging feeling it could be better.

You’re right, it could be.

Scrabble tiles spell out "yawn" for boring paper art copied from someone else
When you copy someone else’s art

Drag yourself out of the swamp of sameness

I get it. It only takes two minutes on Instagram to feel inferior. Three on Pinterest. All those creative gurus crafting the perfect card or scrapbook page. But to get those results you need “this stamp set” or “that set of papers.” And you certainly need the matching dies (those wafer thin metal shapes that cut paper into specific shapes and  are sometimes ridiculously expensive).

But did you know you DON’T need to have the latest and greatest? Did you know you can create authentically beautiful paper art for pennies (or even FREE!)  if you already have a few tools and supplies? Not THOSE exact same tools and supplies, just YOUR tools and supplies.

Not convinced?

Been there, done that, had the debt to prove it

Back when I started my hobby blog of the same name, I was that person who had to have what the “experts” were using. All of it. The stamps, the dies, the coloring agents. Rubber stamps, acrylic stamps, digital stamps…glitters (multiple brands in multiple colors), shimmer paints, alcohol markers, watercolor pencils, watercolor crayons, watercolor markers… you get the picture. 

A huge collection of glitter of which I use 4 or 5
So many glitters, but I only use 3-5 for 99% of my projects (Art Glitter is the BEST and the only kind I use now.)

Those expensive metal dies? You bet. Of course I had to have the basic shapes, but I also “needed” the fancy versions of those shapes. (Think squares with lacy edges, doilies to go behind plain circles, etc.) Embellishments? In every color. And I kept on buying. Because this kind of shopping is an endless roller coaster – there are the highs of the purchase, then the lows of not having the “right” tools. 

I was Hobby Lobby’s dream customer. And Michael’s, and Amazon’s, and… the list was long. I should have bought stock in those companies. Instead, I fortified their bottom line with an endless stream of shopping. And the worst part? I never used some of those products. But by golly, I had them. Just in case

Because I didn’t know then what I know now – that it doesn’t take an in-home craft store to design and create beautiful projects. 

G&B Insider Tip: It’s not the variety of products you have, it’s how you put them together.

Authentic paper art can be budget friendly

Since starting my current blog, I’ve discovered that I keep turning to certain products over and over. The same basic shapes, basic dies, basic embellishments. Yet my paper projects are completely unique. How?

Well, I learned that I’d rather color my own flowers than buy 30 different colors. I’d rather color clear rhinestones and white pearls than buy multiple colors of each. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy new products. What I’m saying is that the products you buy should be able to serve multiple purposes. Take alcohol markers (I use Copics):  they’re a bit pricey, but they do so much more than just color stamped images. They color rhinestones and pearls to coordinate perfectly with my papers, and they color small metal embellishments like tiny keys or other little charm-type doodads as well. And much more.

Inspiration, not duplication – because you can’t be authentic by copying others

You don’t have to copy other people’s projects literally to make beautiful paper projects. And you don’t need every single product they use to create authentic works of art either. Instead, use what you have, buy a few supplementary products, and you should be good to go.

It’s why I use dies and stamps that I bought years ago, some of which have been discontinued. So what? They’re still beautiful and useful. And it’s why I keep suggesting in my posts that you don’t need those exact dies and stamps to create your own paper art. By using similar products, you will create projects with your own personal style and stamp of originality on them. (There’s the pun!)

G&B Insight: crafting is all about finding inspiration, then re-imagining it your way. Create original, authentic representations of YOU.

I like to call this “budget crafting.” Let me explain…

So what exactly IS “budget crafting?”

Let’s get one thing straight – “budget crafting” is NOT crafting with macaroni on your kindergartner’s construction paper. (Is construction paper still a thing?) It’s not winding string around an empty soup can to make a pencil holder. And it’s not gluing popsicle sticks to a jar and calling it a flower vase. “Budget crafting” isn’t about being cheap, it’s about being resourceful.

“Budget crafting” is quite simply using what you already have on hand, OR judiciously buying tools and/or supplies to supplement what you already have. It’s NOT buying a complete outfit for one project that limits itself to that type of project. <I’m looking at you, cutesy pie stamp sets with matching dies.> Because while having loads of stamp sets is fun for the moment, it can be exhausting to keep up with the cardmaking “influencers,” and it can literally break your budget as well.

G&B Tip: “Budget crafting” aka “stash busting” is using what you already have to make projects inspired by others but not copied product for product.

Let’s be clear – you DO need to have the basics. Basic tools, a few basic supplies, and a few basic embellishments. But you don’t need to have ALL the tools. ALL the supplies. And ALL the embellishments, because stamp and ink companies are constantly coming out with “newer and better,” and unless you’re hiding Ft. Knox in your basement, that’s going to get pretty costly. Not to mention those supplies eat up space like nobody’s business, and your basement is only so big.

So let’s dig a little deeper into the tools and supplies most papercrafters and mixed media artists have on hand…

Tools

Forget the scissors – a  good paper cutter is worth its weight in chocolate and glitter.  I use the Fiskars SureCut Deluxe Craft Paper Trimmer, which gives a good, clean cut. There are measurements on the surface to make cutting basic shapes easier, and the swing-out arm lets you cut 12 x 12 papers as well as 8.5 x 11. A boon for scrapbookers.

Die cutting/embossing machines are another can’t-live-without for paper crafters (I use the Sizzix Big Shot). They not only cut paper using metal dies, they also imprint paper with raised shapes known as dry embossing. A few metal dies and a few embossing folders provide a wealth of design opportunities. (So you don’t have that flourish? Use the one you already have.)

Note: Eventually, you may want to purchase an electronic die cutting machine. I’ll say it right now they’re not cheap. But even after so many years of paper crafting, I STILL don’t have a single metal word die because my Silhouette Cameo cuts any greeting I want, in any size I want, and in any FONT I want. You just can’t get that with metal word dies. (Not to mention all the other cutting projects the machine can do. My Cameo has paid for itself many times over.)

When paper crafting, there are always going to be little areas that need cutting that a paper cutter or die cutter can’t do. That’s where a craft knife comes in handy. Use it with a mat specially designed for the purpose.

A heat tool for heat embossing, melting shrink plastic, drying painted surfaces, etc.

A bone folder for giving a hard crease to paper

Tweezers for picking up tiny embellishments

Scissors (large and small)

A hole punch

Supplies

Paper – A papercrafter’s bread and butter, it all starts with the paper. Solid colors, designer prints, 8.5 x 11 or 12 x 12, you’ll need paper. Start out with white, cream, a few neutrals, like black, kraft (a useful warm brown), and grey, then supplement with colors in your favorite shades of blue, green, red, pink, yellow and orange. That’s a whole rainbow of paper and should keep you going. Add prints as necessary. 

G&B Budget Booster: Instead of buying packs of printed papers and only using a few of the designs, create your own using stencils and stamps.

Speaking of which, you’ll want a few stamps. But rather than splurging on the newest cutesy pie stamp set, invest in a few more versatile images. My faves are fine script and music background stamps, flourish stamps, and a few word stamps. Two of my favorite stamp sets come with the single words “Congratulations” and “Happy,” and are supplemented with various occasions for using those words. “Congratulations… on your new baby, on your new job, on your engagement…” That sort of thing. Super versatile = super money-saving. (Word stamps by Inspired By Stamping, script and flourish stamps from Stampin’Up, and music stamp is of unknown origin.)

Inks – papercrafting and mixed media need inks. But you don’t need 40 colors. Four to six are a good starting point, including black, grey and a few colors. If you’re into vintage crafting, you’ll be sure to want Tim Holtz Vintage Photo and Tea Dye Distress Inks. These are indispensable for inking the edges of your papers with a vintage look.

Embossing ink and powder (for heat embossing) – I use Versamark ink (it’s clear and dries sticky to hold the embossing powder) and I almost always use black embossing powder. Once in a while I’ll use a metallic embossing powder or iridescent clear/sparkly, but not very often. Black is usually the order of the day. Those other 20 colors? They sit in their basket, lonely and unused. Don’t do that – stick to two to four colors until you need more.

Unused embossing powders on the left, my four favorites on the right
4 embossing colors cover 98% of my paper crafting needs: black, antique gold, metallic gold and iridescent

Metal Dies – These are rolled through the die-cutting machine to cut shapes. They come in basic shapes, often nested, for a variety of sizes, and they’re much more versatile than shapes which only cut around matching stamp images.

Nested metal dies for a variety of paper crafts
Useful to the zillionth degree

Embossing folders – two or three should be sufficient for dry embossing. Something dressy, i.e. a flourish, something modern (a brick wall pattern) and something graphic (layered stripes or polka dots).

Embossing folders (too many on the left vs the three that I use most often on the right)
I use the 3 on the right for 95% of my embossing projects

Coloring agent – the sky is the limit here. Alcohol markers, watercolor pencils, pastel chalks, gel sticks (Gelatos, so deliciously soft and useful), etc. Something to add color to stamped areas, papers, backgrounds, custom-colored ribbons… their uses are limited only by your imagination.

Adhesives – liquid glue, glue stick, pop dots, glue dots. These four types of adhesives should be sufficient for most crafting needs. There are variations of them, but these are the basics.

Embellishments

This is where a crafter can really get into trouble – embellishments are the frosting on the cake and it is so easy to go overboard here. Here are my favorites:

  • Stick-on pearls, 
  • Stick-on rhinestones,
  • Mulberry flowers, and 
  • Seam binding ribbon (for those deliciously soft, squashy bows)

What not to do…

A jar half full of colored paper roses that I almost never use
I haven’t used these in years

Vs. what saves money, storage and enhances projects with custom colors…

Paper art embellishments, including pearls rhinestones, seam binding and flowers, all white waiting to be custom colored
Custom colored when needed to save money and dress up projects

I buy the pearls in white, the rhinestones in clear and I use alcohol markers to color them for custom accents. I buy white or cream flowers and color them with alcohol markers or my homemade shimmer paints. And I buy white seam binding ribbon and color it myself with inks, watercolors or Gelatos. (A tutorial is coming soon!)These are the basics that I use in my craft room the most. 

So you have the tools and supplies… now what?

Now it’s time to explore Pinterest or Instagram and see which paper projects trip your trigger. Found something? GREAT. Put the credit card away and head to your craft space. Pull out those tools and supplies and get busy. 

This is where you start exercising your brain. Just like any muscle, the more you use it, the better you’ll get. It’s easy (though expensive) to just copy what the others are doing, and that’s fine for some. But YOU, my dear, are an original work of art. And you have something unique to say with your art. And you can’t say it by copying someone else’s work.

If you want your authentic creative voice to be heard, you have to say what’s on your mind, not someone else’s. This is the time to start playing around with your supplies. 

Maybe you like the layout of a card, how the main image looks with the supporting papers, images, or colors. Maybe they’re showing a new technique. Before warming up the credit card, try it with your own supplies. 

Or maybe they’re highlighting a new product. If it’s one that can be used multiple ways, that’s the time to head to the store. 

I’m always reminded of a certain food expert/teacher on a certain food channel who starred in one of the most interesting food shows I’ve ever watched. His policy on kitchen tools and gadgets was to only use multi-use tools. There was only one tool in his kitchen that served a single purpose, and that was his fire extinguisher. All other tools had to earn their keep multiple ways.

Let that be your mantra in the craft room as well.

Time to go shopping… in your craft room, of course

Now that you’ve given your bank account a reprieve, check out your stash of tools and supplies. Then click on Pinterest or Instagram (or my blog!) and pull some inspiration for some delicious paper art. Now get to work making them your own. 

I have some good tutorials for creating original embellishments such as “faux glass flowers,” how to print on tissue paper, and how to use leftover bits of printed paper to make a pretty herringbone background, to name a few. This is where your projects will shine with one-of-a-kind personality. Let it be YOUR personality.

Come on over to the G&B Facebook page and share your art. And if you’re on Instagram, tag me there too. Original art is always worth sharing with the world, and now you can say you did it YOUR way.

Happy (authentic) crafting!


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You might also like…

My Top 5 Favorite Paper Crafting Tools
Art Journal Musings – Mixed Media on Paper
Flower Garden Art Journal

2 thoughts on “Create, Don’t Copy! The Papercrafter’s Guide to Creating Beautiful, Authentic Paper Art on a Budget”

  1. Awesome post. I have gotten rid of so many craft supplies over the years. I rarely buy supplies anymore. I have everything I need.

    1. Shea McNaughton

      Same here! This is a subject I am SO passionate about, that we should be adding our own brand of individuality to our projects instead of just slavishly copying someone else’s. Thank you for commenting!

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