Cookie Cutter Watercolor Valentines

The same art techniques used for Christmas Cookie Cutter Watercolor Tree Ornaments also are ideal for homemade Valentines. It is easiest to have the shapes pre-cut. Use a pencil to lightly outline around the outside of a heart-shaped cookie cutter on watercolor paper—draw a row across the length or width of the paper. Stack three sheets of watercolor paper with the one with the shapes drawn in pencil on the top. Cut the strip of shapes and then “group cut” the shapes through all three layers of paper. Then decorate with a variety of simple watercolor techniques for a kid-friendly project that is festive and fun. If you have more time and are working with older children or adults then they could outline and cut their own stack of shapes from a sheet of watercolor paper.

Watercolor techniques:
                Wax relief: Use glitter crayons to decorate both sides of the heart—press hard so the wax is bold and heavy on the paper. Paint with watercolors on both sides.
Decorate both sides with crayon and then watercolor; force dry with hairdryer the 1st side before flipping it over.
             Watercolors Mixed Techniques: Practice different watercolor techniques such as wet on wet so the colors blur together; dry on dry so the watercolors have a more distinct edge; layers of watercolors—force try between layers so they don’t turn muddy.
Use watercolors and/or thinned down acrylic paint to brush bubble side of bubble wrap-press on cutout. Layer several colors and mix sizes of bubble wrap (below). Force dry with a hair dryer between layers so the colors don't get muddy as you layer.
Sponge painting: use a variety of materials including sponges, bubble wrap with large and/or small bubbles, and wadded up tissue paper or paper towel. You can mix acrylics, acrylic glazes, and watercolors as desired.

Christmas Cookie Cutter Watercolor Tree Ornaments

Top three are wax relief; bottom four use mixed techniques with watercolors; the tree on the far right middle uses layers of "sponge painting" in three shades of green with large and small bubble wrap.
Use a pencil to lightly outline around the outside of Christmas cookie cutters on watercolor paper. Cut the shapes and decorate with a variety of simple watercolor techniques for a kid-friendly project that is festive and fun. I designed this project for Christmas VBS and as a simple art project for children at the annual Wassailfest in downtown New Braunfels. The easiest way is to have the shapes pre-cut. Use a paper punch to put a hole for a ribbon at the top of the shape. If you have more time and are working with older children or adults then they could outline and cut their own stack of shapes from a sheet of watercolor paper.
Basic supplies: a selection of cookie cutters, watercolors, glitter crayons, and watercolor paper.

Watercolor technique options:
Wax relief: Use glitter crayons to decorate both sides of the ornament—press hard so the wax is bold and heavy on the paper. Paint with watercolors on both sides and tie with a ribbon. Wax relief also works well for custom gift tags. Write the name in crayon and then watercolor over. Affix the tag onto a package using double-stick tape or punch a hole and tie with ribbon.

Watercolors Mixed Techniques: Practice different watercolor techniques such as wet on wet so the colors blur together; dry on dry so the watercolors have a more distinct edge; layers of watercolors—force try between layers so they don’t turn muddy. This variation reminds me of the "egg yolk paint" cookies we made as children--cookie dough that was sweetened with honey and then the shapes cut out and painted with food coloring in egg yolk and baked until the colors glistened.
Sponge painting: use a variety of materials including sponges, bubble wrap with large and/or small bubbles, and wadded up tissue paper or paper towel.

"Sponge painting" with bubble wrap--paint the bubble wrap with watercolors and press bubble side down onto the ornament.
Layer with different sized bubble wrap and different shades of green. Force dry with a hairdryer between colors.

Notice the layers of size and shade in the (upside down) tree. If you allow to dry between layers (or force dry) the edges remain more distinct. You also can layer wet on wet for softer edges, but be careful that the colors don't muddy. You also can layer colors on the bubble wrap for one smoosh in several shades. 

Family Tree Christmas VBS

Family Tree Christmas VBS Christmas Tree Collage

Family Tree Christmas Collage is a theological reflection on the genealogy of Jesus and our adoption into the family of faith through the sacrament of baptism. The art project builds on the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17 and/or Luke 3: 23-38 together with the significance of baptism in Ephesians 4:4-6 and Galatians 3:27-28. The collage art project includes layers that connect the story each child’s family with the genealogy of Jesus through the sacrament of baptism.
Materials List
·         Corrugated cardboard cut into squares (sample shown is 8-1/2”x 8-1/”) for the backing/base
·         Scrapbook, card stock, or wrapping paper cut into strips in varying widths
·         Christmas tree shape sized to nearly fill the cardboard backing
·         Rubber stamps—handmade or store bought
·         Ink pads various colors
·         Acrylic paint various colors
·         Decorative ribbon, glitter, and embellishments
·         Christmas music
·         Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1 or Luke 3
·         Wood shapes—squares and stars
·         Bailing wire to make a hanger for the completed piece
·         Optional—miniature photos of family members to glue onto the collage
·         Mod Podge, scissors, paintbrushes, and cotton swabs
·         Hairdryer to force dry between layers
Begin by creating the background layer which includes portions of the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew or Luke, strips of music from a favorite Christmas carol, miniature photos of the child’s family. The cardboard can be left exposed in places or the entire piece may be covered with a piece of decorative paper. Letters also can be used to stamp the name of the child’s family and/or the names of the Trinity and the family of faith. Use acrylic to add a light coat of paint over the basic background collage. To make the tree, find a Christmas tree shape on the internet that can be sized and used a template to glue strips of paper. Once the tree is covered and the glue has dried, hold the paper up to a window so it is backlit and cut out the exterior shape of the tree.

Glue the tree onto the background and add embellishments as desired. Stamp words on the background and/or tree that express the feelings of Christmas and the relationship to the Trinity. For a three-dimensional feeling, paint wooden shapes and use them as packages under the tree or as a star atop the tree or in the sky.

Making a custom stamp out of Styrofoam also adds depth. Use a dull pencil to draw a simple shape like a star, cross, or snowflake; add drops of acrylic paint into the recessed areas and spread with a fine paint brush; then “stamp” the image on the collage. Clean up excess paint using a cotton swab. Use a piece of bailing wire to create a simple hanger for the completed piece. When the art is done say, “Tell me about your family tree,” have the children share their stories.

Rubber stamp reflection

As a simple way to express what you are thinking and feeling, use theological words that you have cut out of eraser and/or wine corks and "rubber stamp" these words onto a journal page that you have previously painted a background wash with watercolor. In-between the stamped words you can write about the people, places, and experiences that the rubber stamped words relate to.
As part of a Celebrate Recovery activity, I asked everyone to choose words that reflect where they are in their journey on the 12-step program in dealing with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. The words could be an area they were working on in the future or something that reflected a triumph from a step they had completed. The words also could reflect a prayer. Worship music videos were playing in surround sound during the 10-12-minute period of listening, prayer, and theological reflection interacting with the journal page. In the sample here, I used pages I had previously painted with three layers of watercolor and then splattered with bits of the same colors using a toothbrush to "spray" the paint. I was reflecting on my desire to be a holy and grace-filled presence through my actions (and inactions) and response (and non-response) in my Celebrate Recovery journey for step #6 (We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. "Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up." James 4:10). Then I filled in the areas around the stamped words "GRACE" and "HOLY" with specific ways I am willing to humble myself before the Lord and allow God to remove particular defects of character. I realized after journaling around the original stamped words that the benefit would bring peace, so I added PEACE in the shape of a cross in the center of the page.

Tweaked watercolor backgrounds

Create an interesting background for journaling by layering 2-3 different colors of watercolor on a slightly damped page. Use plenty of water so that there are puddles of color on the page. Then sprinkle table salt onto the page and allow to dry naturally (do not force dry with a hairdryer). The salt will produce an interesting pattern in the watercolor and add texture. Repeat the process using a different combination of colors. Part of the fun is discovering the color combinations that you like.

Do a watercolor wash with 2-3 colors and then splatter bits of watercolor on top by scrubbing a wet toothbrush in the paint and then zinging the paint across the page.

Background Prep for Journaling

Bronze watercolor applied to a dry page and then spritzed with a water bottle and the page up-ended to allow the spritzed paint to run free.
It is fun to experiment with different types of art techniques which can become the “background” for journaling and layered art in the coming days, weeks, and months. Spending time experimenting with several different techniques at one time also is a great way to prepare “blank” pages in advance for a travel journal. You can play with technique, combination of colors, and/or different mediums—either “just watercolor” or “just acrylics” or mixing and matching different mediums that become the background for future journaling.  It is very freeing to not have an agenda for the look of a particular page other than to try new ways of mixing color, texture, and materials.
Spritz with water and then add wet layers of light grey, dark blue, then silver. Use a wadded up piece of white tissue paper to soak up the excess moisture--adding texture to the page.

Image Transfer Labyrinth to a Journal Page

Including a Prayer Labyrinth in a Journal

A labyrinth needs to be printed or copied on a machine that uses toner and then the image can be transferred onto the page of a journal. Ideally you will size the labyrinth in a computer document so that it suits the size of your journal page. It is most likely that the print from the computer will be to an inkjet or laser printer which must then be copied on a copy machine that uses toner. [Important point: when you are using this technique for an image with words or which has distinctions on the left or right you need to print on a machine that allows you to “flip” the image because when you transfer the image it will reverse and make everything look backwards.] I generally drop my images into PowerPoint to do the advance set-up because there are simple photo adjustments to crop, shape, tweak, and flip the image. Then I just need a “straight print” at the copy machine. It seems complicated, but once the set-up is done and the hard copy printed you can keep a printed file copy of “inkjet/laser” master images so you can easily grab one and make more toner image copies as needed.
To make the toner transfer to the journal page, place the toner size down onto the journal page and secure with paper clips. Wear disposable gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Using a disposable rag which has been dampened with Xylene (a solvent available in the paint section of a hardware store), slightly rub it across the back of the toner paper, being careful not to shift the page. Then use a hard plastic edge of brazing tool (an old credit card works) and rub back-and-forth across the damped paper until the image transfers. You might have to re-dampen the cloth and apply more Xylene, but be careful not to over-do or the image will run. To check, carefully peel the paper back to check. Line art images like the labyrinth are easy to transfer; photos are a little trickier because there is more inked image that needs to show up on the journal page. You can use layers of watercolors, pencils, and/or chalks after the copied image is dry.

Theological Reflection for Kids

Children of all ages can use simple art techniques to express theological themes from a Bible lesson. Begin the process by helping the children to break down the story to simple words that reflect what the message means to them. For example, during summer VBS talked about the story of the humble servant girl and the proud general in 1 Kings 5:1-14. The servant girl had to forgive her captor in order to share news about the great prophet who could heal him. Meanwhile, the captor had to humble himself to follow the simple words of the prophet in order to be healed. After the children identified the essence of the story, the next step was to illustrate the theological themes through art.
The older children used words, but the little ones illustrated their journal pages with a drawing the represented the proud general (sword) or the little servant girl(heart). The art technique is "wax relief" which is simply putting "wax" on the page first (crayon or oil pastels) and then covering the paper with one or more layers of watercolor.

Prayer Journaling the Labyrinth

Praying the labyrinth in a journal is a visual way to reflect on any given event or topic. The image to the left is the opening page of my reflection on the first four years of God's faithfulness in the process of planting a new church start. I met with the prayer team of one of my sponsoring churches every Monday and had made short "bullet point" entries of prayers for each week. When I reviewed the prayer journal-even though these entries were somewhat staccato in nature due to their brevity-I was reminded of the faithfulness of God in many ways that I had forgotten. I decided to pray these prayers again by writing them down and praying the labyrinth. That set the pattern for the two-volume reflection journal on this new church. I included a prayer labyrinth at the beginning of each section of the two journals. It is a simple way to artistically express prayer, the experience of the new church, and the faithfulness of God. It also is a celebration of the people and churches who responded to God's call through their faithful participation in helping to plant this new church.
The image to the right is a reflection on Taize. When our 24'x24' chapel was completed after being converted from a 12'x24' shed on the former llama ranch, we dedicated the chapel with a service of Taize. The original journal (left side of the photo on the right) includes the reflection from the experience and the labyrinth expresses the ongoing experience of Taize at Community Fellowship.
A labyrinth indicates each new section of my two-volume art journals on the early life of the church. Sometimes I include the actual prayers which are recorded as simple notations in a prayer journal. Other times I write the various ministry, mission, and worship activities included in that section by way of a new prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done. The mission section (left) includes the diverse missional participation of this church. 

Rubber stamps that represent the seasons of Lent and Advent decorate the labyrinth that marks this section of the journal. I layered words and symbols that speak to my heart about the theology of the season: hope, peace, love, light.

Blending Journals

Mixing past journals with present reflection is another way to incorporate the art of theological reflection. I faithfully kept a written journal of key events and experiences during the first year of being the organizing pastor of a new church development. Then, four years later when I finally paused to take a breath and reflect on all that had been happening in the life of the church, I blended to written text within the two volume mixed media art journal which included photos, mementos, newspaper clippings, and a review of all that had been happening with the church. The written text enhanced the eclectic pieces in the new journals and also provided important pieces to the big picture of theological reflection.
Blending bits of an old journal with a collection of other items rounds out the story. The pages to the left include image transfers; one hand colored with pastels (left) and one a line art image (top right) with various memorabilia from two outreach events plus the important reminder from the original journal of the dedication of a high school student who gave up a family weekend at the coast to help with a mission event.
Pieces of a written journal also fill in the details regarding the specific details like the gnats and hot temps that added unique challenges to the  ministry, mission, and worship under a 20'x40' tent winter-spring-summer-fall in south Texas. The journal pages have more of a scrapbook feeling, but the colletive pieces help with theologically reflecting on the early life of this new church development.
A piece from a written journal also can be incorporated into the new journal in such a way that the words can be read but the words are not the primary focus of the reflection. Here, the words summarize challenges the church had experienced and then they shift to the importance of looking forward and preparing the property for Advent and Lent.

Why are we doing this?

Why are we doing this?” is an important reflection question following a special event or activity. Over the summer months my church revs up the fellowship events for kids, teens & tweens to foster “kids in community.” During the process of using art with theological reflection, some questions to ask include:

·         Why are we doing this?

·         What's the point of this event?

·         What’s going on behind the fun?

·         What are the children getting out of this?

·         Is it only fun and games or is there something deeper happening here?

You can include the specific answers to your reflection questions in the art journal vis-à-vis writing a short paragraph or you can include simple words that summarize what you learn or you can simply experience the insight you gain and let the art speak for itself.  For example, in reflecting on the summer fun that the children had with a bike rodeo, pool parties, and croquet tournament with root beer floats, I was struck by several theological themes running through these on-the-surface-fun-and-games activities. Obviously there is laughter and joy, but the children also experienced the simplicity of backyard activities in the neighborhood plus hospitality, sharing, and patience as the older kids helped the little ones. They also learned about missional participation as the bike rodeo was a mission event with the “entry fee” back-to-school items for Communities In Schools. They were encouraged to invite friends, family, and neighbors to the various activities. The children learned about unconditional welcome, grace, prayer, and love. Pausing to ask, “Why are we doing this?” gives insight from the past for guidance in the future so that one is able to tweak an event or activity the next time around.

What's Happening Here?

Reflecting theologically involves a back-and-forth movement between listening and questioning. The aim of listening is to truly hear and receive the message, and the goal of questioning is honesty. Adding art to the process of theological reflection provides a visual outlet for listening and questioning. Such a conversation is important on an ongoing basis through life. In addition, whenever one completes a significant project or phase of life, it is particularly helpful to pause and spend extra time thinking theologically to discern the significance of the completion and next steps for what might be ahead. Slowing down and reflecting theologically is particularly helpful following the death of a close family member or friend, after a divorce, when the first or last child moves out of the house, when a spouse is serving overseas in the military, or following any major life transition. After I completed my PhD in theology, I began such a period of thoughtful reflection about the early years of being organizing pastor of a new church. Church planting had occurred simultaneously with working on my PhD so there had been little spare time to pause and reflect on what exactly had been happening during the first four years of the church plant. My PhD graduation was the catalyst to pause and reflect. I created a two-volume journal on the ministry, mission, worship, and community connections of Community Fellowship. The goal was to highlight key moments in the early life of the church plant and to reflect theologically asking, "What is happening here?" We had a series of baptisms during the spring and summer of 2012 which were inspirational to the congregation and the pastor for the affirmation of the movement of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God. The images below right are transfers of B&W photos onto watercolor paper in a spiral journal. I dropped out the grey tones of the B&W photo using a simple photo application in PowerPoint and then partially colored the images using watercolors.  I used homemade and purchased rubber stamps to embellish and tell the story. The image bottom left is black gesso painted on watercolor with the words and image drawn using a bar of soap. The paper was completely covered with colored pencils in varying shades of blue and then the page was lightly washed under running water so the soap disappeared and the black lines emerged. The net feeling experienced during the art of theological reflection was JOY!

Mixing Art with Theology

The art of theological reflection is a double-entendre that blends the skill or method of thinking theologically about happenings in one’s daily life together with mixed media art techniques. Combining art and theology helps one to visually express the connection between experiences with the thoughts, feelings, spirituality, and presence of God. The objective is not necessarily to create a brilliant piece of art that might hang in a gallery, illustrate a book, or become a collector’s item. The end result of the art of theological reflection is the process and the journey of reflecting. For example, in a mixed media expression, the reflective thought process that one does while laying down each stratum of pencil, watercolor, rubber stamping, or collage material on the journal page contributes as much to the process of reflection as the colors, textures, and art mediums which are laid down on the journal page. Journaling theologically with art is an invitation to personal reflection and expression. It is a conversation with a friend expressed through thought, word, and mixed media art.

The mixed media image Open Heart combines layers of watercolor with colored pencils and a tecnique called "stacked journaling" which is writing on on top of writing on top of writing. The goal isn't to be able to read the words in the completed piece but to express thoughts, feelings, or ideas during the writing process. Open Heart is a love letter to my husband of 33 years. I worked with red (the popular color of the heart for Valentine's Day) and purple (closer to the actual color of a human heart) and wrote words the contrasted my assumptions about love and marriage (red) over against the reality marriage (purple) as I have experienced during 33 years of marriage. It is a love letter to my husband for in the balance sheet of expectations (red) versus reality (purple) reality is much, much better. The journal size is small--3-1/2x5-1/2" and a tray table on an airplane was my workspace.