Friday, January 28, 2022

Japanese Style Wabi Sabi Gift Box

Servus! It's Claudia here today to share with you a project that was totally inspired by the designs of Japanese Kimono designs and the beautiful StencilGirl® stencils designed by Mary Beth Shaw, Gwen Lafleur, Jill McDowell and Daniella Woolf - a wabi sabi style gift box.

Having two studios in two different locations often means you're in search of specific stuff from your stash and just as often it also means that you're searching for it in the wrong home - but in many cases this leads to inspiring discoveries - or rather re-discoveries - of long forgotten items! In my case that was the unearthing of a poster book with Japanese Kimono designs from one of my quite neglected shelves (while actually searching for posters of H.R. Giger to give to my son for possible reference for his pencil shading exercises). I already had the beautiful Crests stencil designed by Jill McDowell on my desk...

...and I knew I needed a special gift box for my sister's big birthday, so I grabbed a glossy white box that once held plain white greeting cards and envelopes, some DecoArt premium Acrylic Paints, a large round Gel Press Plate and a smaller octagonal Gelli plate, a brayer and some torn to size white deli paper and light grey wrapping paper (used for wrapping dishes for safer transport) sheets, a dabbing sponge and a palette knife and started to play. 

Other StencilGirl® stencils used: 

But before I started my gel plate printing session I remembered to first prime my white glossy box lid with two layers of DecoArt Chalky Finish paint "lace" to not only tone down the cold white and gloss but also provide a bit of texture and tooth for adding paint and gluing the prints on. 

I knew I wanted a symmetrical design and a combination of circle and octagonal shapes - but not as parts of a clean and simple style project! Going for a symmetrical composition with grunge or wabi sabi style designs kind of emphasises the grungy feel and also contrasts the imperfections of the focal elements. And contrast always means that there is "visual adventure" for the beholder to experience.  Symmetry also is a means to "control" a grungy mixed media design and not let it slip towards that feel of "someone-just-threw-lots-of-cool-stuff-onto-a-canvas-in-a-random-and-messy-way". Well, I think you know what I mean. ;)

Wabi-sabi is a term that comes from a set of believes with traditional Japanese aesthetics and is mostly about the acceptance of imperfection and impermanence. Mixed media and wabi-sabi go together really well - wabi-sabi per definition is never sleek or mass-produced but instead celebrates hand made one of a kind makes. It also focuses on the beauty of nature's imperfections and perishable natural materials - so texture, grunge and weathered are the perfect styles to integrate the concept of wabi-sabi in and enjoy being allowed to work without measuring, precise cutting or having to look for neatness in general. 

I used some of the Kimono designs from my poster book as a reference for picking Japanese style colours.

Then it was finally time to enjoy a good gel printing session! 

I didn't aim for specific results but rather experimented and went back and forth and I also used up any spread paint on my brayer for additional random background prints. 

The paint on the used stencils also got used up by misting the paint left on the stencil and pulling prints directly from the face up stencil. 

That led to an even more wabi-sabi style result I found!

For my focal element I picked one of the randomly layered larger circle prints and added stencilled layers only in sections...

Especially the small circle stencil with the pagoda from the "Crests" stencil was a perfect addition. As the print I had pulled using it wasn't too good, I placed the pagoda stencil in the exact same spot again directly on the print and added a darker layer of Raw Umber on top using a dabbing sponge.

For a more festive look (as it was a big birthday celebration this gift box was meant for) I decided to add DecoArt premium Acrylic "Pale Gold" to the print, using the Moroccan Spa Window stencil again. To make it pop from a darker background I first had to add Raw Umber to the print - but only in the section that I wanted the stencil design to go. 
Needing two tries for this and therefore not getting a straight edge for that part on the print as you can see still got dearly embraced - remember: wabi-sabi is also about embracing this kind of imperfections as these are what distinguish makes as one of a kind hand made pieces from mass produced ones. And that definitely is a quality, don't you agree?
It's not always easy to give yourself the permission to stick with the obviously imperfect - I can tell! - but it is a wonderful exercise in awareness (and you get better at it with each time)! 

Of course the picked octagonal and circle prints couldn't go on a plain white background - too much neatness and too little visual fusing! - so I scraped more Pale Gold onto the box lid with a palette knife, trying to only do loose vertical scraping motions. 

Once that had dried (in the meantime I had roughly (!) cut out the prints I was going to use), I glued the deli and tissue paper prints in place using a wide soft brush and matte DecoArt Americana Decou-Page glue and sealant. I made sure the prints used around the edges also covered the narrow sides of the box lid - this added a lot of depth and interest to the whole design. 

I really love that I managed to capture a true Japanese wabi-sabi feel with my gift box and how all the beautiful stencil designs were all equally starring on the box lid! 

I hope you like this wabi-sabi approach to gift-wrapping! 
Hugs and happy crafting!


  1. Claudia, your post is full of delight and joy, and I actually was looking for similar stencils or stamps! The finished product is inspiring, thank you.


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