Jumping into the digital ephemera arena

digital ephemera

I enjoy making vintage junk journals. Every time I make one, I try to think of creative ways to embellish the pages. I don’t like to write or “journal” in my books, I prefer to add collages or do artwork to fill the pages. In turn they become tomes of paper treasures that I have fallen in love with.

Over the years I’ve been collecting paper ephemera that I use in my collages. When I go to antique malls or search online, I’m looking for papers that are typically from 1945 to the 1800s. I look for receipts, postcards, letters, legal documents, photos, trade cards and advertisements, calling cards, and currency.

ephemera organizer

Now that I’ve got a nice collection, I have a better selection to choose from when collaging pages in my vintage journals. Sometimes I scan pieces before I use them, other times I don’t. There have been a few times when I have found that there are a few pieces that I like to use again and again because they are so interesting to look at, and so versatile. It is these pieces that I have decided to make public and sell as collections through Etsy.

Thus far I have created two collections: the Theo Jessup Collection and the Lucile Holt Collection. Each one consists of 4 pages and each cost $4 to download.


Here’s my Etsy site, if you are interested in seeing them:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/mellowmiller

Additionally, I made a video on how I use them to give people ideas on how they might use them in their own projects:

The pieces in the Theo Jessup Collection were inspired from making journals using the digital download kit Gentlemen and Scholars from Ephemera’s Vintage Garden. I’ve made two journals with this kit and have been really happy with the results of adding my pieces to this amazing journal kit. Debbie-Anne Parent, the artist who creates many wonderful digital kits at Ephemera’s Vintage Garden, recently posted a video showing how she integrated my ephemera pieces in a journal she made with her Gentlemen and Scholars kit. It’s such a lovely book and am so pleased to have contributed a little bit to its charm.

How do you know when it’s done?

How do you know when you’ve done enough to your art project, and it’s time to call it quits? How do you know when you’ve added enough color, embellishments, texture, when enough is enough?

I started putting together a collage in an altered book. I put down some vintage paper scraps, washi tape and slickers, and covered it over with gel paste. After that I used some distress inks to put some color on it and used brown paint around the outside for some contrast. I was ready to stop there.

phase 1

The rubber stamping was on the scraps that I tore up and glued on to the page. The letters were just random alphabet stickers I wanted to use up.

phase 1 close

The more I looked at it, the more I thought that it was missing something. I was thinking that it all looked a little too monochrome and needed something to stand out. I decided on using a stencil in bold black ink.

phase 2 - black stencil

I liked it but then thought I went a little too bold on the left. The black was too dark. And the one on the right, though lighter, just seemed to be floating on the page; it wasn’t grounded. Not good.

black stencil closer

So then I thought, what else could I add? How about lace? It definitely adds something.

phase 3 - lace

The stencil on the right doesn’t look like it’s floating anymore. And the lace balances the starkness of the stencil on the left.

lace corner

lace above

Okay, now I think it’s done.


Painting over a map

I’ve always wanted to use a map as a canvas and paint on top of it. Finally I gave it a try.

painted on a map

I took a map of California,stamped it with a rubber stamp and permanent black ink, applied a light coat of white gesso over the top, and then used ordinary Crayola watercolors over the top. After everything dried I rubbed off a little of the watercolor and gesso where I wanted the text and markings to show from the map.

Now what do I do with it? I’m not sure. I have to think about it. Maybe I’m not done and will go back and add something to it.

A Collage challenge

I thought to myself, what if I made a collage only from vintage papers, say, at minimum 60 years old. Would I have enough papers to be able to actually assemble something interesting? How would I do this?

Altered book cover

I decided on taking an old book and prepared it by tearing out some pages, and then gluing others together to make thicker pages.

altered book page spread

Then I covered both facing pages almost entirely, making a collage of images. Sometimes there was a theme like with this flying ace.

flying ace collage

Other times it’s just what I think looks good together.


I found the picture of the flying ace at an antique mall. I googled this pilot’s name and it tuned out that this is a picture of Brigadier General Wallace Gordon Smith.

Wallace Gordon Smith

I’ve sent 2 emails so far to different departments in the Air Force trying to locate an email address of a living relative to return the picture but thus far have had no luck with a response.

Meanwhile, I’ve done about 5 spreads. When I’m up to 20 I’ll do a video and a flip through. Here’s one more.

WWI soldiers collage

Most of the material I have is 80 to more than 100 years old. Everything I use is original. No paper copies of anything. The only exception I made was of the pilot’s photo. I reprinted that one so I have the original to return to a relative.

Lots of collage art

floral birdcage collage

In the last several months I’ve gotten much more comfortable with making collage art. At first I felt like I was doing it all wrong and that there was some secret technique I was missing, but after a while I started to get it.

Get what? Here is my method:

  • Start with a color in mind. Often it’s choosing a single image and making that the focal, using that theme or color as the center of attention.
  • If you are working with a background like a page with text, go with about five elements before deciding when to stop.
  • If you want to fill an entire blank surface, go for it. Just stick with a few colors otherwise it gets too busy.

I find that I love using post stamps. I almost put them on everything I make. It’s about that tiny piece of art, something to do with being a kind of currency, and the shape, of course.

post stamp collage

I’m also drawn to square shapes, and parallel and perpendicular lines. I’m not so good with jumbled chaos and just throwing stuff on paper. It has got to look thought out.

paper collage a

In the picture above I chose the color blue as the focal and found a few pieces of papers to reflect that. I used an old post card and tore out some pages from old books that showed their age. I used some rubber stamps and a bit of washi tape to put it all together.

collage a 1

collage a 2

For this one I chose green. Same process:

paper collage 2

collage 2 1

And in this one I chose lavender:

paper collage 3

I even added glitter glue to the little bottle:


I made a bunch for my niece and nephews in their journal books. V helped me with them. She has started making really intricate collages as well. I need to post some of those.


The Phoenix – Art collage

metal collage art

I love antiques. I love seeing them and having them around me. IM, however, is not fond of them at all. He doesn’t like the idea of me picking up random “old, used things”, and he totally hates clutter. I’ve managed to have a few dedicated shelves around the house that might have an antique or two, but I definitely have to hold myself back from collecting more. Maybe that’s a good thing.

But I’ve found that if I can work an antique into a piece of art, it’s pretty likely that I’ll get to display it. So I’ve kind of fixated on this concept.

Thus far I’ve created a few pieces that contain pieces of history in one form or another. I’ve got my frame of coins, and my dog and cat illustrations made of paper collaging pieces of our family letters and recipes.

Over the past few years I’ve been accumulating small collections of things like stamps, coins, buttons, and other kids of trinkets. I can’t say precisely what I’m going to do with my little collections but I like to know that I have them and think about how I can display or decorate with them.

I also have a nice little collection of watch parts.

watch parts

I had the idea to use some for making a picture frame but haven’t gotten to that yet. Still, they’re so pretty. Some of them look like heads or hats, or an eye-piece.

interesting watch part

I like the idea of using pieces of metal on figures; something like an animal cyborg, having both organic and mechanical parts.

With that in mind I made something that became a phoenix. I used watch parts, metal wings and crown, vintage lace, a spoon handle, a watch face, many little colored “jewels” to give it some sparkle, and a couple of vintage papers. One was from a 1950 DIY home guide, and the other a piece of sheet music. I mounted the watch pieces on to a decorative piece or wood.

metal collage 1

metal collage 3

The frame is a book cover and it hangs by a piece of wrapped copper wire.

metal collage 2

I’m happy with it. I hung it in the kitchen and I like when I walk by it and it catches the light. It’s like it’s winking at me. What I didn’t expect is that IM loves it. Nice! I’m already working on something else. Something along the same idea.

I’ve been busy

It seems like I haven’t been posting frequently. Maybe this is so, but it isn’t because I haven’t been busy working on projects. Actually, I’ve got a lot on my plate, craft-wise.

I’ve subscribed to an internet group that works on collage journaling using illustrations that mainly come from magazines. I’m not interested so much in using it as a kind of diary, as many of the participants do, but want the practice of assembling a collage that has a kind of meaning behind the illustrations, that they are not random, and practicing with using a source that I have in abundance — catalogs, brochures, and magazines that I get in the mail. Basically lots junk mail. (You would not believe the amount of stuff that comes to new home owners. For example, I’m receiving subscriptions to three magazines that I never contacted.) Anyway, I’ve made a few collages so far. Nothing I’m awed by, but I really like the practice.

collage page

Then I’m creating from scratch a journal geared towards young children. I’ve taken a blank sketch book and am slowly filling various pages with writing prompts, doodles, collages, and other things to get a child to think creatively and expressively. This is a longer project that is going to take me at least a year to complete. I’ve got so many ideas for pages on this but just don’t have the time to do them. At least I’ve made a list of my ideas so I wont forget them.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet.

child's journal

child's journal page

The third thing I’ve got going on is my creation of an altered book. Basically, you take an old book, tear out some pages, prime the rest of the pages, and then paint, draw, glue, collage, decoupage, stamp, stencil, or do whatever to it. This will be a longer-term project as well but I’ve finally begun. I’ve wanted to do this for years and just haven’t gotten to starting. This one I want to use entirely for experimentation of techniques in applying color and layers to the pages.

Altered book cover

stenciled chalk art

Am I wasting the little free time I have on hobbies and crafts when I could be doing something more productive? Maybe. I love my kids but they wear me out physically and mentally. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact. These projects distract me from everyday stress and give me a sense of completion, even if they come in little tiny steps. And it makes me happy.

A few trinkets

vintage finds

Today the family and I went to Goat Hill Farm outside of Los Gatos, off of Highway 17. They were having a small antique festival. I picked up a few antique charms I want to use for a little craft project. I wasn’t going to get anything but then I saw a groschen coin as a charm and knew I had to have it for a piece of wall art I’m making with a Vienna theme.

spoon charms

Best of all, they had a guest speaker who is an amazing lady and a huge inspiration to me. Cathe Holden has been combining antiques and vintage ephemera with crafting for many years and she came to show us a few of her items as well as talk about how she uses vintage finds to make things. Check out her website and you will be amazed at the work she does and the amazing amount of materials she shares with everyone.

Next Saturday I’m off to Petaluma for the Art Is You workshop. Incidentally, Cathe will be teaching a class there too. I’m not attending that one because it’s on Friday and IM is working, but I will be taking a class that demonstrates collaging and how to use bees wax as a glaze.

I can’t wait!

FabMo fabrics

Last month I went to a distribution event of small pieces of designer fabric that are made free to the public. There is an organization called FabMo that takes material samples from furniture stores and upholsterers and recycles the fabric for creative use. It’s better to give it away to interested crafters than to have it go to landfills.

I picked up several pieces and have started thing of ideas of what I’d like to do with them. First, here’s a sample of what I got.

Lovely blues and beiges. These are great neutral colors.

These have some interesting patterns and color combinations.

I really like the ruby-colored fabrics. Combined with a neutral-colored material, that would make something very nice.

These were some kind of Scandinavian colored pattern. Very pretty.

This with the scroll pattern is lovely. The flowers are delicate and in a nice lavender hue.

It’s funny when you realize a yard of this stuff goes for $152, normally. Fancy stuff.

These materials are all Swiss made. They are so soft and also very thin for heavier upholstery fabric.

The pieces are mostly 1 foot by 1.5 feet. They aren’t large pieces, but if you use several ad combine the patterns, colors, and material correctly, I’m sure a project can me made. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these pieces. I have an idea for a hand bag that I want to make for V (and maybe one for me).