The Prince of Buttons: November Ribbon and Trim Mixed Media Artist Tribe Challenge
Christmas Infinity Flip Base - StencilGirl Talk Companion Post

7 Swans A Swimming : Altered Book Mixed Media Panel


Hi everyone,  I’m really excited about my Artist Tribe project.  This month Gwen challenged the us to use German Dresden Trim or English Scrap  in one of our projects. Since I’ve been known to actually drool over Dresden Trim in the past, you can probably guess which direction I went… If you’re not familiar with Dresden Trims, they are deeply embossed, gold, foil-lined cardboard and papers originally made in Germany during the victorian era for paper dolls, christmas ornaments and other intricately detailed decorations. Gwen has a great selection of high quality trims in her webshop.

My inspiration for this mixed media panel titled 7 Swans a Swimming came from these gorgeous Dresden Swans and extra large Wings in Gwen's shop.

The Twelve Days of Christmas began to play continuously in my head when I saw the swans.  What else was there to do but figure out a way to work its way back out?  So I decided to use six of them, a photocopied 1865 image of an angelic child in need of some wings, and a vintage book in a collage.  Six swans and a seventh want to be...

I split this post up into three parts; The Altered Book, The Swan Angel, and The Collage, to make it easier for you to follow.  But in reality, I worked on all three simultaneously.  So please forgive me if you notice any pics with elements in them that haven’t been written about yet.  

Section One: The Altered Book

Supplies and materials

Vintage Book
Scrap cardboard to make a template
Pen, pencil, or marker in a color contrasting your book cover
Book binding awl
X-Acto knife
Distress Oxides
Water Bottle/spritzer
Gold paint marker (I used Pen-Touch 2 MM)
Dresden Trim Swans
Adhesive that dries clear (I used LineCo Neutral PH)
Mica water-soluble colors (I used Fine Tec Pearlescent Pearl Silver)
Paint brush
Stencils (I used Gwen’s 6X6 Decorative Filigree Ornament Stencil)
Acrylic Paints and glazing liquid
Makeup sponge
Yes! Paste

 How to make it       

1) Cut a template to the desired size for your scene from a piece of cardboard. Find both the center of the template and the book cover and mark both with an X.  Push the point of your awl through X in the center of the template and then through the X in the center of the book cover, piercing some of the pages beneath it.  Open the book cover and lay it flat.  Line up the template and pierce the pages in the book, one section at a time until you reach the desired depth.

2) Using the template as a guide, mark the edges of your scene on the book cover using a pen, pencil or marker. Place a piece of cardboard between the cover and the first page in the book.  with a sharp X-Acto knife, carefully and slowly, cut through the front of the cover to the back to create an opening.  (Note: This is the hardest part of the entire project.  Take your time. I may be helpful to use your awl to poke holes periodically around the edges of the section to be cut out.) Remove the book board center from the cover. Use sandpaper to smooth the edges of all cut areas.

 3) Cut a narrow strip off cardboard from the bottom of your template. Place the template back into the top of the cutout opening, making sure that center of the template remains in alignment with the center of the holes in the book pages. Use a sharp X-Acto knife to make a cut at the bottom of the template. The cut should be deep enough to cut through approximately 5-10 pages. Remove the template and cut out the remaining three sides above the cut line to the same depth. Remove the cut out section.


4) Trim another strip of cardboard off of the bottom of your template. Place the template back into the opening and cut another section as described in Step 3. Continue this process until you have reached the desired depth of your scene. Optional: I went back and tore some of the sections unevenly to form waves for my swans.

5) Use Distress Oxide spritzed with water and then edge each section with a Gold Paint Pen to add depth to the scene and colorize some of the pages.  (Hint: Use a piece of cardboard or the template to protect the areas beneath where you are working from the ink.)

This is a preliminary pic of my book at this stage as I contemplated how to pull it all together.


6) Adhere the swans between the openings in the book pages with glue. Stagger them throughout the pages to add dimensionality. (In the pic below you can see some other Dresden Trim options from Gwen'sshop as well.)


7) Embellish the book cover with acrylic paint and stencils. (I only used one stencil throughout this project, Gwen’s Decorative Filigree Ornament Stencil.  For the book cover I stenciled just one or two small elements from the stencil to embellish it.)


8) Apply water-soluble Mica colors to the Dresden swans. Apply three coats of glazing liquid with a brush, sanding in between.

9) Adhere altered book onto collaged substrate with Yes! Paste.

Section Two: The Swan Angel

I found this image in a bound 1865 book of Petersons Magazines and fell completely in love with the sweetness of the little girl.


I knew that she was wanted more than anything to have wings and to be a swan. Gwen’s stunningly beautiful Dresden Wings were perfect for her.

Supplies and materials used

Black and white image enlarged to an appropriate size (mine was 5” X 10 1/2” and was photocopied onto regular copy paper)
Thin, stiff cardboard (I took a part the mailer that my StencilGirl Club set was delivered in)
Yes! Paste
Glue brush and Brayer
Scissors or X-Acto knife
Acrylic paint
Paint Brush
Scraps of materials and trims
Dresden Trim (I used Gwen's Borders- Assorted Pattern and Extra Large Wings)

Scraps of materials and trims

Patina Paste (I used Prima Patina effect Mint-green, Blue, and Brass)
Alcohol Markers (I used Copic Markers in green and blue tones)
Archival ink pad (I used Ranger Sepia)

How to make it

1) Adhere the photocopied image, (I glued her with a border) onto a piece of stiff, thin cardboard with Yes! Paste. Use a brayer to ensure that the image is glued down securely. Press in a heavy book overnight to compress and flatten.

2) Cut out the image with scissors or with a sharp X-Acto knife. Add color using pale watered down acrylic paints. Apply Yes! Paste to one of the Dresden Trim Assorted Pattern Borders and adhere to the bottom of the skirt. Contuse to embellish the skirt by adhering scrap material on top. Adorn hair with a band of vintage silk. 

3) Use a makeup sponge to apply patina pastes to the Dresden Angel Wings as directed on the package. Use alcohol markers to add additional layers of translucent color to the wings. Apply gold acrylic paint to high points using a dry brush technique. Lightly skim an inked pad over the top of the wings to add contrast. Adhere wings behind the Angel’s back with Yes! Paste. Press in a heavy book overnight to compress and flatten.

4) Adhere onto final substrate with Yes! Paste.

Section Three: The Collage

I was recently given a treasure trove of vintage wallpaper scraps and wanted to use them in my piece. I had a lot of fun auditioning all kinds of papers.

I finally choose this layout, but ended up rotating the orientation.


Materials and supplies used

Bristol board cut to the same size as your canvas
Yes! Paste
Glue Brush and brayer
Vintage wallpaper scraps, book pages, and painted papers
Acrylic paint and glazes
Stencil (I used Gwen’s 6X6 Decorative Filigree Ornament Stencil)
Baby wipes
Cradled canvas panel (I used a 2” deep 12” x 12” panel)
Parchment paper
Archival Ink Pads (I used Ranger Sepia and Claret)

How to make it

1) Apply two coats of gesso to the bristol board. Use Yes! Paste to adhere book pages, wallpaper scraps and other ephemera to fill the board.  Adhere the angel with Yes! Paste. Roll with a brayer after gluing each piece to make sure that it is securely in place. (Note: next time I’ll wait to adhere my angel until after the next step.) Press board in a heavy book overnight to compress and flatten.


2) Add a layer of acrylic paint mixed with glazing liquid over the entire collage to begin unifying it. Use a detail brush to repaint some of the wallpaper designs that you just painted over and bring them closer to the foreground. Add another element to your design with a stencil and acrylic paint. Continue to layer acrylic paints mixed with glazing liquid, allowing time to dry in between. While it is still wet, wipe the top layer of the paint/glaze mixture off with a “not too juicy” baby wipe through your stencil. I used the center of the mandala in my stencil to make a pattern of flowers all over the canvas.


3) Paint the edges and the sides of the cradled canvas panel. Let dry. Apply Yes! Paste to the front of the canvas and the back of the collaged board and sandwich them together. Straighten and hand press the pieces together. Turn the canvas over onto a piece of parchment paper on a hard surface and roll a brayer over the underside of the panel to secure all of the surfaces. Use a baby wipe to clean off any excess glue. Place a large bag of rice, sugar, or other pliable staple in the cavity in the back of the panel and then place heavy books on top to weight it down. Let the panel dry overnight. Use an X-Acto knife to carefully trim any paper hanging over the edge of the panel.

 4) Adhere the altered book to the canvas panel with Yes! Paste. Let dry. Distress the book with sandpaper .Continue to embellish your collage and side panels as desired. I gently swiped an ink pad on all of the edges and then again lightly on all four sides.


Post Script: At the last minute I decided to add a piece of parchment paper that I’d treated with Cyanotype to the collage. But since I’d already glued down all of the major elements I needed to fit and cut it just like a dentist would fit a crown. I let the edge of the cyanotype flow over the side where it could be worked into the composition of the side panel. Initially, I planned to add the Cyanotype on both sides of my angel but decided not to because I wanted to reinforce the shape of a swan's tail that i discovered in the parchment on the right side. 

And here is my completed piece - 7 Swans a Swimming:



Thanks so much for stopping by to visit.  I'd love it if you'd let me know if you have any Dresden in your stash and how you use it. If so, leave me a comment.  I'd also be happy to answer any questions your may have.  Hugs, Jill


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