I first created this printable project as a fun Thanksgiving craft a few years ago, but this year it felt like a good thing to talk about on Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada and the U.K.). I’ve been trying to be much more mindful of the world around me and specifically the struggles of people who aren’t just like me as sort of an ongoing personal project this year. Six years of working alone at home made my radius of awareness pretty small, it turns out! It took a pandemic, a major social justice movement, global Black Lives Matter protests, and a lot of thinking about my own privilege.
So, today, for the first time as an adult, I’m taking a moment to think about Veterans Day. Specifically, to think about it as more than just a day off, or a day when the post office is closed, or even a “bonus” day to get more work done. I don’t know what it’s like to serve in the military, but I know that every single person who has served or is serving has at a minimum given up time spent with their loved ones, and likely a lot more than that. Thank you, veterans, for all of the different sacrifices you have made. So many thanks.
Whether you’re celebrating Veterans Day or getting a head start on Thanksgiving or have a random act of kindness to thank someone for, here’s a crafty way to do it:
One of the reasons I love living in urban Massachusetts is the sort of details prevalent in neighborhoods full of homes that are over 100 years old. The more detailed, the better!
Do you like looking at old houses and hand-crafted details?
I sometimes get lost walking around my own neighborhood because I look up and around at the houses instead of down at the street signs and where I am going. It’s still dangerous for me to drive around in new areas because I really just want to stare at the houses! If you like looking at houses in your neighborhood, online, on TV, (This Old House, anyone?), or in any form of photography, you’ll know just what I mean.
The tiny details are the reason I kept creating house portraits
There is magic in the details, and bringing that to life is one of my favorite parts of creating an architectural portrait. I excel at picking out the details that make a home unique, no matter how small.
Of course, your house’s design and the scale of the finished piece, how closely the proportions match the frame dimensions, and the quality of photograph all determine the level of detail that brings your home or special place to life behind the frame. But if there’s something special, like this weathervane, that makes the home yours, please make a note of it when you contact me!
This weathervane is one of the microscopic details I’m most proud of. The bird is 0.34 in (0.86 cm) wide and 0.2 inches (0.48 cm) tall. The entire weathervane is smaller than my thumbnail!
Sometimes I get to fully build the details like this bird, but details with more dimension in real life force me to create some illusions. Take a look at the chimney below. Using 8 separately drawn and cut shapes of paper I created the illusion of depth using layering and subtle scoring and folding.
It’s all part of the process
Hand-cut corners and lines also give miniatures the feel of the real place. This is where a house portrait becomes a house sculpture! The scrollwork on this roofline is all cut by hand. The detail is about half an inch wide and crafted from three separate intricately scrolled pieces and some shorter straight pieces.
What architectural details make your home unique? Be sure to point them out when you purchase a house portrait slot!
Join my email list to get updates on when orders open, and to learn a little more about the process. You can also visit my Etsy shop to see more architecturally-inspired paper art.
One of the things I love about creating house portraits is that it takes a beloved family home and allows you to carry it with you. Many of my clients commission portraits when they are getting ready to move, and particularly when they are leaving a childhood or long term home.
As parents get older, they often want to downsize to something more manageable—or just something that’s less work! Why not spend less time managing a property, and more time doing something you love?
While it’s understandable, downsizing can be bittersweet for everyone involved. An architectural portrait preserves not just an image of a home, but the physical proportions and feel in a tangible way.
Art to Remember a Family Home
When a good friend’s mother decided to sell her childhood home and move down south, she was beside herself. She knew it was the right thing for her mom, but the home had been in her family for over 100 years. She wanted something to commemorate this big change, so she turned to art.
At first, she commissioned a photographic family portrait in front of the home, but the family members covered up key architectural details. She also realized that a photograph, while lovely, reflected the weather and season just as much as the house. She wanted to be able to take the architecture with her and capture the details she loved.
“Mom and Dad, we wanted to give you something to remember the house where we grew up and have so many wonderful memories.”
I shipped the completed house portrait directly to the parents after they moved from their longtime home (the left side of the duplex below), so I worked with their children to make sure that the unboxing and unwrapping experience would be special.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for your parents to downsize to celebrate the place where they raised you. The house portrait below was an extra special milestone birthday gift from a daughter to her father.
This next house portrait was also a birthday gift from kids to dad. This home hosted extended family for countless occasions ranging from Sunday dinners to the birthday party where dad was gifted this portrait.
I accept new house portrait commissions every two months or so. You can find more details on the House Portraits page, or join my mailing list to get more information on the house portrait process and how to prepare photographs of your house, you’ll also get updates in your inbox when orders will open again.
Once upon a time, I taught this project as part of a workshop I led at Albertine Press in Cambridge, MA. It’s been a while, and I’ve since moved on to teach some more-intricate paper flower projects, so I thought I’d offer my take on this project in a video so that you can make your own tissue paper flowers at your leisure!
I go through all your needed supplies and tools (it’s a short list) in the video below, but in case you’d rather have it in writing, here’s what you’ll want to have on hand:
Tissue Paper! This is pretty self-evident, but I’ll unpack it a little: if you have pristine tissue paper in perfect flower colors, go you! If you have random odds and ends from your stash of gift wrap, you’re in great shape! If you have an old phone book that you don’t mind tearing apart, I think this would still work for you. The thing you need is thin, lightweight paper. That cheap wrapping paper that isn’t opaque enough to hide what you’re wrapping might work. If you still get a paper newspaper delivered to your house, or you have a catalog or magazine with particularly flimsy paper, I think you’re in good shape. You want your sheets of paper to be at least 6″x10″ or so, and you’ll want at least four sheets that size. There’s no such thing as “too big” for this project, in my opinion, so go for it!
Scissors! Or other sharp object capable of cutting through a few layers of whatever paper you end up with, just please don’t cut through yourself in the process.
String! You could use yarn, a twisty-tie, a piece of ribbon, a pipe cleaner…anything that lets you knot or twist tightly around the center of your soon-to-be paper flower.
Once you’ve got your supplies, clear yourself a workspace proportional to the size of your paper, and let’s get to folding!
My favorite thing to do with these flowers is to wear them:
One of the best parts of creating architectural portraits is hearing the stories that go along with the homes I’m depicting! This is the first in a series of blog posts sharing some of these stories.
This week I’m profiling vacation homes I have worked on, in particular one family vacation home that became two keepsakes to share. While many people choose house portraits to celebrate their first home, as a first anniversary gift, or to celebrate the end of an era as a downsizing gift for parents, these two homes honor the shared connection of living family history.
When a pair of sisters spotted my work at a craft fair in Somerville (if you’re in the Boston area, see where I’m popping up next!), they knew that a house portrait would be just right for their parents. When I saw the house, I was excited to get started—with lots of interesting architectural details as well as a beautiful tower, this house is a looker!
When it came time to start the illustration, I asked for as many photos as they were able to source—the house was far away, not something that could be easily reached to take specific photographs. Fortunately, since it has been in their family for a very long time, they were able to find photos showing the house from a few different angles, and some more recent photos that showed clearer details.
The finished architectural portrait only includes the details I’m able to see, so it’s important for me to be able to have clear, high-resolution photos if at all possible, but I can typically work with what’s available to create the closest possible portrait. Since windows and porches are often the most time-consuming part of my work, I knew that it was extra important to get them just right in the illustration.
This sprawling castle was lovingly added on to and renovated by each generation, resulting in a completely unique structure. The house has also changed significantly over the years, and it was important to settle on which version the family wanted to capture for their paper heirloom
One house, one family, two keepsake portraits
The first cottage was completed in March 2019. The sisters reported back that their parents were blown away!
In fact, the family loved the result so much that they requested a second portrait. The second version was completed in January 2020.
Since I had already built this house once, the second edition of the architectural portrait was far less intimidating. Compare the two towers below:
Despite hand cutting some of these tiny details, they are virtually identical. It takes practice and patience, but each of these paper objects is worth it.
The biggest question for the new version was which color background to choose! I shared digital mockups of the house on a handful of different colors, but we landed on this rich dark gray, and it really makes the house pop:
It’s always a surprise to see what a pop of color will do! Despite being almost identical, the background color emphasizes different elements of each architectural portrait. The first one feels like you can walk into it, the second feels like you can see through it. Completely different emotions come up when looking at each of them. It’s a joy for the family to be able to experience both.
Vacation homes & family history
Vacation home portraits honor both extended family history as well as your own memories. The cottage above is shared among members of an extended family, and is used to remember a special place that’s far from them. This Maine island vacation house portrait, however, was gifted to the family that owns the island and it lives in the house itself.
The Island House was built in 1878, and has been owned by the same family since then. It’s a unique Colonial that includes a widow’s walk, original details, and a long porch, all overlooking the ocean.
The finished architectural portrait now lives with other house portraits in the house itself – a gallery wall to visually represent the house’s history, and show the passage of time. Each portrait represents the different styles of the era they were made in. The latest house portrait shows the Island House in a fresh, modern light.
One of the things I love about living in the Boston area is how many other small creative businesses there are around here. Many are even run by kind, brilliant, energetic people who are game to share and learn and be welcoming and generous. Since I started yeiou with really no idea what I was doing, I have always been curious to hear other people’s stories and processes and peek “behind the scenes”. Early on, I discovered Abby Glassenberg’s blog, While She Naps. I really appreciated how open she was about how her business works, what work earns money, how things shift year over year, and just generally being frank about the realities of working solo. When Abby co-founded and launched a professional organization, Craft Industry Alliance, I jumped at the chance to be part of something created out of this attitude of generosity and open sharing!
CIA is a great organization for people in the craft industry, especially those making and designing kits or patterns, but even as my business has shifted from craft kits to fine art, it is still a valuable conversation to be a part of, and they’re adding new benefits all the time – discounts on tools and services, exclusive online courses and webinars, and ways to interact with the community. So good!
One of the other great services of the CIA is the podcast! The podcast grew out of the podcast Abby had been running as part of her blog for years but has been migrated recently to be an official part of the Craft Industry Alliance. There are so. many. good. interviews on this podcast. A lot of them are geared toward fibers/fabrics/knitting sorts of people, but Abby’s interviews always touch on the business side of things, so there’s great learning regardless of your specific interests.
I had the immense honor of hosting Abby at my studio/home in December. We had a wonderful conversation that aired on the podcast earlier this month. I still can’t really believe my face is on the Craft Industry Alliance Podcast page with so many of my small biz heroes, but it did happen, and I figured I should mention it here!
In my interview, we chatted about how I ended up making house portraits, how the Etsy Design Award nomination game around, and how I came to be someone who works for myself making things out of paper, among other things! You can listen to the podcast below, head over to the Craft Industry Alliance site to listen, or listen on your favorite podcast app!
Many thanks, again, to Abby and to Craft Industry Alliance. I am so thrilled to be a part of all of the good things you’re doing in the world!
I like to say that I can make anything out of paper, and every once in a while I get an inquiry that challenges that statement! A client reached out a few months ago to see if I could create a logo out of paint chips. Of course I said yes!
It was so interesting to learn how to work with paint chips, which require a slightly different handling than plain paper. It was exciting to work with such a range of colors, since I tend to work mostly with white paper. And it was a fun challenge to pull the whole thing together.
Earlier this year, Etsy put out a call for entries for their first ever “Etsy Design Awards” or “The Etsies”. I submitted my custom house portraits to the contest, and then went on with my summer. Between keeping up with commissions as they came in, and making sure I had inventory for my summer events, my days were full!
I got a call late summer letting me know that Etsy chose me as a finalist. Out of all of the entries, my house portraits were chosen as one of the 150-ish finalists! There are some amazing items in my group of finalists, the “Creative Collaboration” category, all products that are custom or customizable.
I’m now focused on getting through all of the orders I promised in time for holiday gifting, and orders are still coming in for shipping in early 2020.
As part of the publicity around the Design Awards, I was interviewed in my studio by our local NBC news station. We talked about the Etsy contest and I shared a little peek behind the scenes. They filmed me going through each step of the custom house portrait creation process. It was so much fun to spend a few hours in my studio with the crew! They did a fabulous job telling my story, and you can watch the video here:
March marked the 12-month point from when I created my first paper house portrait. Since March of last year I’ve delivered 24 custom house portraits to art lovers in 7 different states. The commissions range from a famous church in Greece to a girlfriend’s childhood home in the Midwest, to a family’s vacation home in Florida, to a construction company’s office, and more. Several were gifted to clients or friends who just purchased a new home, or as a wedding, anniversary, or birthday gift. It has been remarkable to be a part of such momentous occasions in people’s lives, and be able to create an heirloom that will hopefully be a tangible reminder of the memories and relationships that center around these homes and spaces.
My primary observations after a year, in no particular order:
I’ve challenged myself to work larger. My original portraits were 8″ square, and lately I’ve been creating more pieces that are 11″ x 14″, and even one that’s 20″ x 20″. Working larger has allowed me to add more nuance and detail to the houses, since I’ve learned that one can only cut a piece of paper so small before it kinda just falls apart.
I’ve experimented more with using colored paper for different areas of a house, to add contrast between the roof and the walls, or the walls and the shutters. I look forward to exploring this more, and I’m currently trying to figure out how I can store more different kinds and colors of paper, so that I can expand what I keep on hand to include more colors that make sense for homes and buildings.
I’ve learned that porches are tricky to make, especially the kind with lots of posts and a roof. I can’t tell yet if it’s the sort of thing that will get easier with practice, or if every house portrait is so unique that every porch will be tricky. For one of my house portraits, I spent an entire day just trying to get the porch right. I may have to add an extra fee for houses with big porches, but I’m going to try a few more times first.
As I head into the summer art show season, I have temporarily shuttered my online shop so that I can focus on the house portraits already in my queue and spend some time coming up with fun new products (and hopefully making progress on organizing my workspace – it’s been a disaster for a long time). The shop will re-open mid-May, just in time for my first weekend of outdoor shows, the Bedford Plant & Art Sale and Inman Eats & Crafts.
Fall is my favorite, it has always been. I’m a sucker for back-to-school season and its emphasis on stocking up on pens and paper. I love apple and pumpkin and cinnamon any day, so it’s pretty delightful when those flavors are suddenly everywhere I look! Fall crafting is pretty great, too, because it’s such a visual season: leaves, pumpkins, apples, fall flowers, Halloween characters, turkeys – so many options! I decided to put together some pumpkin craft ideas, since pumpkins are an icon that spans the full range of the season!
I’ve rounded up a wide variety of mostly paper-based pumpkin craft projects here on my Pinterest board:
Most of these projects use things you have around the house, like newspaper, old books, or those five random sheets of orange tissue paper that you never know what to do with.
The biggest pumpkin sports stick-on googley eyes and a cut-paper nose and mouth. The smallest one has similar features also cut out of black paper and stuck on to the pumpkin with bits of tape.
Pro-tip: if you use masking tape, you can take the face off after Halloween and keep the pumpkin around for the rest of the fall decor season!
This medium-sized pumpkin, the one on the left, got a face before I assembled him. After I folded along all of the pre-scored lines, I drew a face with pencil on the inside of the pumpkin. I then used a craft knife to cut out the shapes! Drawing on the inside of the pumpkin means that the lines aren’t visible once it’s assembled. Which is good, because the lines I cut didn’t perfectly line up with the shapes I drew! This pumpkin glows like a real jack-o-lantern if you put a little battery-powered light inside.
I decided to make this pumpkin more appropriate for Thanksgiving. Before I assembled it, I got out my watercolors and painted polka dots in a few sizes and colors. The pumpkins are made of really sturdy paper, so they can handle markers, crayons, or even paint!
I’d love to see your ideas for decorating or modifying these pumpkins! Tag me on Instagram or email me photos, and I’ll add to this post!
Last but not least, I have a free printable project for you!
This paper pumpkin printable is a scan of a watercolor wash and pumpkin leaves that I painted. In order to turn this square of orange into a pumpkin shape, follow the directions for a traditional origami “water bomb”. There’s a link to the video on the sheet you’ll print out, too.