by Traci Bautista June 04, 2021

There is inspiration all around…you just need to “look with new eyes”

As I currently work on the content of my 4th book, I’ve been rummaging through drawers and bins of my art supplies and art catalog that spans almost two decades. I have thousands of pieces of art tucked in over 50 journals & sketchbooks, on canvases, on my studio walls, in two large flat ALEX paper drawers, a bunch more larger papers hanging in a closet, large canvases in the garage and rolled up 4’x8’ graffiti canvases not to mention all the digital art stored in the cloud and online.

There is A LOT. I started my creative business in 2001, I can’t believe how fast 20 years has flown by. 

Since I’ve been doing a lot of writing about creative process and how I approach my work for the new book. I’ve been going back through some of my previous journals, photos and writings. Recently, I came across a bunch of photos from my Printmaking Unleashed photoshoot and my fave handmade painting and mark-making tools.

Some of the list below was originally posted in June 2015, almost exactly six years to the date on my original blog, Creativity Unleashed. I am slowly updating content as I see fit and if it relates to the work I’m doing today,

If you are a long-time member of my creative community {many of you have been with my from the beginning} thank you! This will be a fun reminder of a few techniques. 

If you are new to my colorful world of mixed media, handcrafted artisan watercolor and digital painting…I welcome you with open arms, a big hug and smile! 

One of the concepts I teach in all of my books including my third, Printmaking Unleashed, is to “look with new eyes”, to think outside of the box. What could you do with that left over packaging from your recent Amazon? How can you turn coffee stir sticks into calligraphy lettering instruments? 

You see where I'm going with this? 

My creative process starts out with a lot of PLAY. If you’ve been to a workshop or taken one of my online courses over the past 20 years, you know how I approach my work with freedom and a playfulness that leads me on unexpected paths. 

Look around…you’ll be surprised what you find. Look for items with interesting textures, grids, and edges. 


Printmaking and painting can be done with various found and handmade tools. You can find many FREE objects around your house that can be used to make one-of-a-kind mark-making tools. 

Look around…you’ll be surprised what you find. Look for items with interesting textures, grids, and edges. Sponges, kitchen utensils, rain gutter screens, pink foam rollers…almost ANYTHING can be turned into a brush or stamp.

The video above was filmed for my Strathmore Printmaking Unleashed workshop in 2015, but I still use many of these handmade tools and they are a staple in my studio. It’s a good reminder that we don’t always need to buy that brand new art supply. 

You can find so many things to use in your house or garage. Found and handmade tools are perfect for mark-making whether you are working with a gel plate or large canvas or creating motifs to turn into surface pattern designs for fabric. 

Using handmade and found painting tools pushes you to think differently…outside of the box.  

I’ve been working on a bunch of new patterns for a couple of projects and thought it would fun to share how I approach mark-making with some of my favorite handmade tools. Surface pattern designs starts with making marks and drawing or painting motifs.

I encourage you to use the list below as a jumpstart for your creative PLAY. Spend time creating painting tools and PLAYING.

As part of my creative PLAY process, I love to work with these tools to create textures like stamping with cardboard or craft foam. I’ll take pictures or scan these images, then they’re imported into Procreate and the motifs are digitized and turned into freestyle and repeat patterns.

Procreate enables you to transform your work in so many ways. As I continue to PLAY, I create digital brushes, stamps and pattern designs and/or collage papers for my art journals..

This is the process that I will be sharing in my new Procreate Pattern 5x workshop.

“spend time wondering and asking “what if…” or saying “let me try..”

Creative Exercise

“spend time wondering and asking “what if…” or saying “let me try..” this will train you to think outside of the box and look at things differently. .

Take a walk around your house or studio, look through drawers, on shelves in the garage or outside in your yard to find objects with interesting shapes or textures to use in your artwork.

What’s inside your handmade texture toolbox?

  • 01


    there are so many ways to use cardboard as a printing tool but my fave is to cut it into strips and roll it into shapes to create a cardboard stamp.

  • 02


    use them as a base for handmade paintbrushes or dip them into india ink, then draw on paper or write words. TIP: dip the stick often to keep it loaded with ink.

  • 03

    Recycled brown paper bags

    recycle your grocery bags, cut them apart to use them as paper for your paintings. make an art journal with paper bags as the pages. paint or stamp them with gesso then 

  • 04

    Yarn or twine 

    crochet single chains of yarn, braid the year, or weave it into woven fabric, or sew it onto cardboard to create a printing tool

  • 05

    strawberry/tomato basket

    cut it apart to use as a stencil with rectangle and arrow shapes

  • 06


    use as inspiration for drawing shapes in your journal or creating hot glue stencils. paint them with watered down acrylic or liquid watercolor then place them between two sheets of paper to create a print

  • 07

    Encaustic printing plates

    make a collograph using encaustic wax. heat it then carve or incise into the surface to create a texture and print with inks or paints.

  • 08

    USPS or FedEx tyvec envelopes

    these are FREE at the post office in the US, perfect for painting, creating stencils and masks or altered paper using a heat gun{make sure you have adequate ventilation. place cut shapes onto a piece of plexiglas or gel plate to use a printing mask. 

  • 09

    Hot Glue Stencils

    My original blog post from 2012 went viral and you can find a bunch of videos by people who were inspired by my technique. You can also find this project in my book Printmaking Unleashed. Draw hot glue into shapes to create stencils. Place a piece of parchment paper or teflon sheet over the top and rub flat with a piece of plexiglass to flatten the surface.

  • 10


    use them as masks to resist paints. place them onto the painting surface. spray inks or paint acrylics, let the paint dry then remove the label. use the painted discarded labels as stickers for your art journal or DIY planner pages.

  • 11

    craft foam stamps

    one of my all time FAVE handmade tools, I've been creating these for almost 20 years {back when I was teaching k-12 art education} You can find craft foam in various shapes, sizes and thickness. I use the sticky back foam and cut out shapes then place it on a thicker foam piece as a base. You can inscribe into the foam with a skewer to make marks or even stitch through thinner pieces of foam.

  • 12

    Needlepoint canvas

    Yes...the kind you use to sew through. cut it into shapes and spray it with inks or use it as a stamp on a gel plate. I've created little houses and flower shapes. 

Creative Exercise

I encourage you to spend some time making painting tools then use them with #tracibautistaCOLOR watercolors and inks to make marks and motifs. Grab a few sheets of paper and PLAY! 

Once I have a stack of painted papers, I take photos of all the mark-making pieces and then import them into Procreate to make digital brushes and motifs for surface pattern designs. Some of my cardboard marks have made their way onto my printed fabrics. 

If you've read this far, I'd love to know what is your favorite handmade mark-making tool? Share in the comments.

This is a perfect creative PLAY exercise to get you out of a creative rut or if you need a break. Have fun!

Traci Bautista
Traci Bautista