Daydreaming on Paper
June 2016
How I Use Clip Art Books

For the past several months, I have made a deliberate effort to avoid buying new art supplies. With few exceptions, I have resisted the urge to run out and get the latest trendy product or add to my already extensive collections and stashes. Instead, I have been enjoying digging through boxes, drawers, and closets, rediscovering resources that I already have and finding new ways to use them. This has been an enjoyable and satisfying experience that has resulted in many afternoons spent in pleasant creative activity.

Rummaging through my supply closet recently, my eye fell on my decent-sized collection of clip art books. I have acquired them slowly over many years, usually from yard sales and thrift stores, but occasionally bought new. The themes range from decorative alphabets and borders to naughty French illustrations. As I sat on the floor thumbing through them, I reflected on the usefulness and versatility of these humble volumes. These days, clip art is readily available online for free or to purchase, but I still prefer the book format for convenience and inspiration. Similarly, like most people, I have used clip art files and vector images to create various projects on the computer, but I like to use them for handmade projects as well. Here are a few ways that I use these images:

  • Stamp carving
    This is hands down my favorite way to use the images in my clip art books. Although my books span a variety of styles, I gravitate toward the ones filled with the kind of bold silhouette or stencil images that are perfect to use for stamps. I generally just lay a piece of tracing paper over the image in the book, trace it, and transfer it onto my carving medium. Every now and then, I'll need to use a computer or copier to get the size I want my stamp to be (older clip art books were really good about including different sizes of the same image; newer books assume that you will use the enclosed CD to print a specific size). I always save the reduced or enlarged pages so that I can use them again.

  • As a reference for illustrating my notebook entries
    I have a difficult time drawing or even doodling from my imagination, but I am really good at copying what I see. So, if I want to include an image of a horse or a fairy playing a flute or even a stick figure riding a stylized bicycle, I will often draw it from an image in one of my clip art books.

  • Creating decorative and illuminated capitals, monograms, and borders
    Simply use transfer paper to trace the outline in pencil, then fill it in with inks, paints, and markers.

  • As patterns for paper cuts and cut-outs on journal pages or covers
    When making a simple, single-signature notebook, I like to use black cardstock for the covers and brightly colored pages inside. When I am feeling particularly patient, I transfer a stencil-like image onto the cover and use a sharp X-acto knife to cut it out, thereby letting the pretty color underneath show through the design.

  • As patterns to make my own stencils
    I save plastic report covers and use them to make my own templates and stencils. All it takes is a Sharpie to trace the image, a sharp X-acto knife to cut it out, and the patience to do this carefully enough so that you end up with something usable instead of a shapeless hole.

  • As image transfers for visual journal entries
    My current favorite transfer method is to paint a laser copied image with several thin layers of matte medium and then using a little more matte medium to "glue" the image to my notebook page (be sure to smooth out any air bubbles). Once it has dried, use the abrasive side of a damp sponge to rub off the paper, leaving the image behind. This method only works, of course, if you are using something like watercolor or acrylic paper in your notebook. You can also use blender pens, lighter fluid, and a number of other solvents and techniques to transfer clip art images into your journal as stand-alone illustrations or incorporated into layered, mixed media art.

  • To add graphics to DIY publications
    This is what clip art books were originally for and what they still work well for today. For personal zines, flyers, brochures, and other projects, it's fun to break away from the computer sometimes and use scissors, glue sticks, and removable tape to lay out your design. This manual process can be very freeing creatively and often more enjoyable than fighting with various computer software. Try it for your next project and see what you think. If your next project is a zine, I'd love to trade for a copy. Contact me!

Happy Scribbling!


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