Easy 3-D Papercraft – Make Your Stamped Images Pop!

This is an easy technique that requires no special tools to get the basic 3-D effect. The technique comes from the craft of “paper tole”, which if you get into it as an art form does use special tools. However, we are going to simplify the paper tole techniques here, and use only common tools (including our hands!) and I think you still get a great effect.

The basic idea is you start with several copies of the same image, and then selectively cut out pieces of them and build them up in layers so that some parts appear to be more in the foreground, and others recede into the background. Paper tole often uses highly detailed prints for 3-D projects.  But since it is easy to make multiple copies of a single image with a stamp, rubber stamps are great for 3-D papercraft!

In this example, I will use Lady Strolling from the Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps collection as my subject. You can stamp with any color and kind of ink you like, but I plan to watercolor my images so I’m going to use a VersaFine Stamp Pad in Onyx Black (an oil-based ink that dries very quickly). I’ll use a rubber brayer to get the best coverage, and I’ll stamp on bright white bristol paper to get a highly detailed image.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The first step is to stamp the image twice. One image will be the base image that will remain intact. The other one we are going to cut into many pieces so that we can build up our 3-D layers on top of the base image.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Next, color your images using whatever medium you like. I’m going to use Windsor and Newton watercolors.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Color both images about the same. They don’t have to match perfectly.  I gave the image on the right a bit more contrast and saturation because I plan to use it for my foreground layers. I have my finished use in mind, so I also painted the figure as if she had warm light coming down on her from above.  But again, do what you like and what best suits your project.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art StampsNext comes is the especially fun part…it’s a bit like making and then solving a puzzle. Imagine what parts of the image should be in the foreground, closer to the viewer and which parts should be in the background.  You will want to cut out each of those parts, so you can layer them dimensionally. Now, leave one of your images intact, but take the other one and cut it up! You can use an exacto knife and cutting board, or a small sharp pair of scissors. I used scissors.  Be patient and cut out all of the detail in the edges of each shape as best as you can.

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Next, group the pieces that you cut out, starting with those parts furthest in the background (furthest from the viewer) and working towards the foreground (closest to the viewer). The first background image will be the fully intact one, and it will also be your base for layering. I’ve made five groups.
Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

To raise each of the layers, I’m going to be using a product called Mini Pop Dots by All Night Media.  These are small pre-cut circles of foam with adhesive on both sides. You can use commercial double-sized foam tape too, but you’ll need to cut out the pieces. Look for a product that is about 2 mm thick.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Now here is where you need your best tools…your own hands!  Take one of the cut pieces, lay it colored-side down on your palm.  Now with the flat part of one of your fingernails on the opposite hand, press down on the paper, rubbing your nail from the center of the piece towards the edge.  You are sculpting the paper into a convex shape. Run your fingernail along the edges too, to shape and curl them a bit. Now you can turn it over and bend it a bit into the final shape you like. You will do this with each cut out piece.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art StampsAs a finishing step, run a black Sharpie around the edge of each cut out image. This will help hide the white edges of the paper. For the first layer, you will use a single layer of pop dots. You can use a single dot in the center of small pieces, or even cut them in half for the really small pieces. For larger pieces you will want to use several dots to provide more support – again you are using just a single layer of dots for now. In my first layer I’m using one pop dot for the bodice of the dress, and two for the skirt.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

For the additional layers, you will take the same steps, except you will add more layers of pop dots. This will build the dots into columns that will “scaffold” each successive layer to be higher than the next.  Here I’ve worked my way up to the third group that includes the draping on the skirt of the dress. The third group has columns of 2 pop dots beneath it. The next group will have columns of 3 pop dots, and so on.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Now I’ve built up all five layers. The final layer, which includes the bustle of the skirt, has columns of four pop dots underneath it! The way the scaffolding works in traditional paper tole, you insert additional cut out pieces between each level that you raise…the way I’m showing you here is much easier, and much faster, and achieves close to the same effect.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art StampsNow here is our finished 3-D lady. I’ve chosen to have her admiring a work by one of our heroes the great Vincent Van Gogh. The 3-D technique is very versatile, and can be used for a single element in a scene as I’ve done here, or you could use it to make an entire 3-D scene. It’s a great technique to have in your repertoire!

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

How we made our stamped header image art

To start out, I thought it would be fun to use several of Nature’s Blessings rubber stamps in our header image artwork. This way, I have the opportunity to  show you what kind of impression our stamps make, and I can also demonstrate some basic stamping techniques. These techniques are very easy and great to have in your repertoire, because they create a sophisticated look to your finished pieces even if you just have a few rubber stamps and ink pads, and don’t have a lot of other special tools.

First, I selected the stamps I wanted to use. For this piece I’m using several of Nature’s Blessings stamps: Butterfly, Peony, Dogwood, and Junco (a small North American bird).  I decided to stamp on bristol paper because it is very smooth, and the images will have a good contrast against the bright white paper, but for your own project you can use whatever variety of paper suits you.  I taped the paper to my table using a bit of masking tape on each corner, and marked off with a ruler and pencil the size of the header image (21 x 4 inches).  With these finished dimensions, I’ll have a bit of wiggle room if I decide to crop the image a bit when I start working with it digitally.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

For ink, I decided to use Colorbox Petal Point in Beach Ball for all of the stamped images.  I say “ink” but these are actually pigment paint pads rather than ink.  They aren’t waterproof, but have great detail and intensity, and can be heat set to speed drying and to keep them from smearing. Each colored “petal” can be slid out of the container so you can ink stamps with a single color.  You can also use the point or edges to ink just a part of a larger stamp that you are interested in (we’ll be using this technique in a moment). To begin, I’ve decided to ink the Dogwood stamp with the magenta color.  On the left-hand edge I’ve stamped it in one direction, and then rotated the stamp, re-inked it and stamped it on the right-hand side.

Nature's Blessings Rubber Art Stamps

A note as to inking stamps: especially with high-detail, deep-etched stamps like Nature’s Blessings Fine Art Stamps, you’ll want to avoid pressing the paint pad into the stamp because the paint will fill up the crevasses in the rubber and then you will lose detail when you go to make a stamped impression. Rather, pat the pad gently against the stamp surface to get good coverage, and finish by stroking the pad gently across the top surface to make sure the paint coverage is even. This way the paint will get applied to just the top surface of the rubber image, and you will get the best, most detailed impression. Turn the inked stamp over, hold it above the paper in the position it where you want it, and then press down using light, but firm pressure. Avoid rocking the stamp or pressing too hard on it, as this will bend the rubber detail, and you may get muddled lines, or extra lines that you did not intend. A bit of practice on a spare sheet of paper will give you a sense of how this works.

Next, I inked the Butterfly and Junco stamps in dark blue. I stamped the Butterfly on the left side, and the Junco in the lower right hand side. Already, with these few impressions, there is a kind of symmetry and harmoniousness between the two sides of the piece in terms of stamp placement as well as color.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The next step requires a technique called masking. This technique is really very simple. Stamp an image of what you want to mask on a scrap piece of paper. Let the image dry, and then cut it out, staying just inside of the border of the image (the reason why you stay inside the border will become apparent in a moment). Also, if there are any fine details it is okay to cut them out, so in the case of the Butterfly I cut off the antennae. It is a bit time consuming to do all of this, but if you keep your masks you can use them over and over. I stamped and cut out three masks, one each of the Butterfly, Dogwood and Junco.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

The reason I need these masks is I want to stamp over these images with leaves, to fill in the space between them, and to make it look like a nature scene with greenery, flowers and animal and insect life. For this project, I’ll be protecting all of the images I’ve stamped so far with masks, so that I can stamp over them with images of leaves and greenery. This way, the Butterfly will appear to be in front of the leaves, and the Junco will look like it is sitting on the branches.

Now rather than looking for a special leaf stamp, I’m going to use just the leaf part of another Peony flower stamp I have. Using the darker green color in my paint box, I’m going to ink just the leaf part of that stamp, using the edge of the petal point to isolate just the detail in the rubber that I’m interested in.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Now I’m ready to use the masks that I made. I’ll start by attaching a small piece of tape to each mask, and then I’ll stick the mask down on top of the stamped image I want to protect. Now I’ll be able to stamp over it in another color, and the mask will allow that color to go up to the edge of the stamped image, but not cover it. This will give the visual effect that the masked image is to the foreground of whatever image I decide to stamp over it.

Now here is why you want to cut out your mask on the inside of the stamped border so that it is a bit smaller than the stamped image. When you stamp over it, you don’t want a gap between the mask and the image you stamp on top of it.  You can see here that I did a pretty good job with the Dogwood mask, but my Butterfly has a bit of a gap on the lower right-hand side where the leaf image didn’t go all the way up to the edge of the Butterfly image. Not to worry, we can fix this up later, but having a slightly smaller mask may have prevented the problem in the first place.

Nature's Blessings Rubber Art Stamps

Note that here I’ve applied the green Peony leaf several times, re-inking each time to get a dark impression. I’ve also rotated the image a bit each time to avoid an obvious repetition. The viewer’s eye will do the rest and just see the overall effect of “greenery.” I also don’t care that I’m stamping outside the lines that I’ve drawn in pencil. These lines are just a guide. I will end up cropping this image digitally. You can use the same technique and crop your piece by cutting it out along your guide lines after you’ve finished stamping it, or by framing it with a mat.

Another technique to try is to stamp an image a few times before re-inking. This way, you get varying degrees of intensity in your stamped image, and that will give your piece interest and dimensionality. I used this technique by stamping the Peony leaf using the grey color in the Color Box (cleaning my stamp of the green ink first). I’ve stamped the image several times, working around the edges and extending this lighter contrasting color towards the center of the piece.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Next I’ll do the same on the right side, masking the Junco and Dogwood, and stamping the leaves in dark green and then grey, again extending the grey leaves towards the center of the piece.

I’ll finish by inking my sponge dauber with the grey Color Box color, and then I’ll gently pat it around the edges of the inked areas of my piece to shade them in. This will also fill in any spots that might need a bit of camouflage, like the gap underneath the Butterfly wing I created when I stamped over the mask. Tap very lightly with the dauber, adding color very gradually. You can always add more color, but you can’t remove it, so go slowly. I’ve also added a bit of pink to the petals of the Dogwood. Experiment and see what suits you best.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

Note I’m using a commercial sponge dauber here. The sponge is very fine, without an obvious pattern, and the applicator fits over the end of your finger for easy use.  You could also try using various kinds of applicators you might have around the house like cosmetic or household sponges. Practice on scrap paper so you know what the dauber pattern will be like before you use it on your finished piece.  Also make sure to rinse and dry your applicator before changing colors.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps

And voilà, the finished piece, ready to be made into our website header image!  As you can see, just a few stamps and easy techniques, and you have a lovely finished piece.

Nature's Blessings Fine Art Stamps