I remember when I first started paper crafting. I would put together a card or scrapbook page and then look at it and think, “BORING!” What is it that makes a project look interesting and finished? It doesn’t just happen. Some folks have a natural knack for it, but most of us don’t. Fortunately, there are guidelines you can follow to take your projects from ho-hum to show-stopper.
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We often think that for symmetry we need to keep things even, but that’s not always as interesting. In general, an odd number of elements is often the most pleasing and striking. Compare these designs in which I’ve used the same elements, but with evens vs odds.
A mix of fonts
Choose a variety of complementary fonts to use throughout the project. It’s much more interesting than just a single font. Here’s a simple recipe. Use together–
- a regular font
- an all-caps font
- a cursive font
With #1 and #2, it often helps to use one serif and one sans serif font. Here are some examples of font mixes:
A tried and true formula
I used to LOVE watching the show “What Not To Wear.” There was a principle I learned there that I remember every time I create a card or scrapbook page. The formula is to include 4 elements every time: color, pattern, texture and shine.
So for a paper project, that means I start with a patterned paper. Then I find one or more of the colors in it to use as my solids. I use embossing, fiber, textured paper, etc. to add texture. Then for shine I use metallic embellishments, glossy embossing powder, metallic or glossy paper, etc.
Here are some examples. See if you can spot the 4 elements.
Elements off the page
This is a concept taken from art. You want your eye to expand beyond the page. That allows your imagination to fill in some of the picture and the whole project seems larger.
Notice in the scrapbook page just above, my aspen trees go all the way to the top and right edges of the page. That makes the trees seem to extend beyond the confines of the page.
Let’s go back to the designs I showed you above with the trees, birds and fish. Compare those to these.
A flat project is less interesting that one with depth, because our world is 3D, not flat. Let’s talk about some ways to create depth.
You can use layering of elements as one way to create depth. Notice in the scrapbook page above, I’ve created layered depth by putting the photo mats over the trees and adding several small, layered elements at the corners of those mats.
HINT: If you’re using something like vinyl, or layering a textured HTV, your pieces need to fit together like a puzzle. With vinyl, you’ll see the line of the lower piece on the upper if you to the partial layering. And you can’t layer on top of textured HTV.
Materials of varied thickness
Thicker or textured materials also create depth. You can see that with the buttons and wooden figures in that scrapbook page.
A great way to add depth is to use foam pop dots to elevate some of your pieces. That creates not only height, but also a natural shadow. Look at the photo of the “1 bite at a time” book above. The elephant is raised with pop dots. The phrase “they were right” at the lower right edge of the scrapbook page is the same.
Sometimes you would like to do a print and cut rather than cutting individual pieces. But a print and cut can look really flat and boring on a card. You can do a hybrid by creating a stacked print and cut. Your bottom layer is the full design, the next layer up has only some of the pieces, the top has just a few. Attach the upper levels with foam pop dots to create depth.
Mats and shadows
A mat or shadow behind your element also conveys depth. Here are a couple of print and cut designs where I’ve added that shadow.
Particularly with nature, you can create depth with your colors. As an object is further away, the color is lighter. That’s what gives the illusion of depth on these mountains.
Size of elements
Here are those 2 trees I showed you in the beginning of the post. By just varying the size, it’s more visually appealing. The birds add some balance.
As objects are farther away, they are smaller. So varying the size of your pieces. In this example, I’ve used variation in size and color plus layering to create depth.
Varied base line
Don’t rest everything on the same horizontal plane, because that’s not how things are in the real world. Here’s a design where the lower edge placement is varied on the elements.
Varied angles and mirroring
When using several of the same element, try varying the angles, or mirroring some, to add variety. (My middle waves have been mirrored the whole time). That combined with size variation and layering are making my fish design more interesting.
Here’s another idea borrowed from the art and interior design world. The way to place your pieces can convey movement or set a pleasing balance. Let’s look at a few techniques here.
One trick is to use the triangle principle. Let’s say you’re using red for pops of color. If you space those around the design in a triangle, then it looks balanced. (Ignore the center of rotation tool in the middle that I forgot to turn off).
Or take my example of the birds and trees. My birds are placed in the design in a triangle, not a straight line. (Also notice again the lightening colors to create the illusion of depth).
Another very common trick is to create a diagonal sight line. That keeps your eye moving around the design. Here’s an example where my elements are along a horizontal line…
…versus a diagonal sight line. See how much more interesting this is?
If you are putting your pieces in a horizontal or vertical line, then vary the height or width so the eye keeps moving along the page in stair-step motion. Look again at this set of trees to see that.
In this graduation announcement I made for my son, the width of each line of text is the same. But the varying height is what provides the interest.
Here’s another tip to keep in mind: the 2/3 + 1/3 rule. Divide your page or design into thirds visually. Have one element take up 2/3, another element or set of elements in the other 1/3. That creates a very pleasing balance. Notice in the graduation announcement that the photo is 2/3 of the page, the text box 1/3.
In my pic of the houses and tree in diagonal, my houses comprise 2/3 of the page, the tree the other 1/3. The 1/3 can even be empty space, which gives room for the eye to rest.
Here’s another design. I’ve added guidelines to show you how I broke the page into thirds.
Here are the techniques I used:
- Top to bottom, the church and trees comprise 2/3, the phrase the other 1/3.
- The church is 2/3 the width of the page.
- There are trees, snowdrifts and part of the church that go off the edge of the page.
- The sets of trees are in triangles by color.
- I’ve mixed 2 types of fonts.
- The trees in the back are the lighter colored ones.
- The darker blue of the church and “wonderland,” so the strongest color, are in a diagonal.
- There are some blank areas for your eyes to rest.
Text to path
Putting your words along a path is another great way to make them more interesting.
For more on how to do that, see this post.
Good pattern mixing
Just like in an outfit or room, it’s great to mix patterns to create interest. But how do you do that effectively? You’re going to look at 3 things: color, scale and type.
- First, make sure all the colors in your patterns go together. They don’t have to match – just complement.
- Secondly, vary the scale of your patterns. Use a variety of small, medium and large scale. That way they aren’t competing but complementing.
- And third, use variety in the types of patterns. Instead of trying to use 3 different striped patterns, use 1 polka dot, 1 stripe, and 1 floral. It’s easiest to mix patterns of the same general style. For example, it doesn’t always work to mix a farmhouse-looking pattern with a techno type.
Here are a few examples of pattern sets:
I’m definitely no expert, but I hope this helped has you. Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them! Next time, I’ll show you some ways to make your project designs more cohesive.