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