A few years ago, a study published in the Journal of Marketing revealed that consumers value handmade gifts over machine-made ones, and in many cases, are willing to pay up to 17% more for them. The authors offered a simple explanation for the phenomenon: handmade objects convey a message of love and warmth in ways that other products cannot. 

The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to practice  your DIY skills and create something truly unique for the people in your life. We reached out to artists from around the world to get some of their behind-the-scenes tips for creating gifts that stand out — and stand the test of time. Read on for their best ideas. 

Card by Kyoko Imazu
Card by Kyoko Imazu

Make a pop-up card

“I often make greeting cards with paper cutouts or some kind of paper engineering like pop-ups depicting someone’s portrait,” printmaker and papercut artist Kyoko Imazu says. “Drawing human portraits is not something I do often for my art practice, unless commissioned to do so, but it is a secret personal project I love doing whenever I get a chance. It also gives me a good excuse to learn new paper engineering skills. These small side projects often end up feeding into my larger art practice too.”

Earrings by Rachel Mae Smith, The Crafted Life
Earrings by Rachel Mae Smith, The Crafted Life

Create a pair of earrings

This one comes to us from Rachel Mae Smith, the artist behind the blog, The Crafted Life, and the DIY home decor book, Hello Color. You can read her full instructions here, but all you’ll need to create these colorful earrings is some Fimo soft clay, earring backs, glue, ceramic tiles, and a few other tools. “Statement Clay earrings are always a hit,” Smith explains. “You can whip up a big batch all at once, but still play around with different customizations for each person you’re giving a pair to.”

Photo by    Kelly Sikkema.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema.

Create a framed botanical

“I am always collecting botanicals for my jewelry business, Sudify Jewelry, so I guess it makes sense that my favorite DIY projects to give to loved ones also involve botanicals,” Minneapolis-based artist Susan Storck tells us. “Plants can be representative of significant parts of people’s lives, whether it is a leaf from a favorite tree of a state they once lived in, or flowers from their wedding. I am always collecting and pressing botanicals.

“One of my favorite ways to give these pressed botanicals (besides resin jewelry) is to mount and frame them. To start, you can collect leaves, flowers, moss, etc. of importance to special people in your life. Press them in a heavy book for a couple weeks.

“In terms of supplies, you have two options: a ready-made frame (with archival glass), along with card stock (the color of your choice), PVA adhesive, and a small paintbrush, or a floating glass frame, PVA adhesive, and a small paintbrush.

“From there, arrange the botanicals on either the card stock (cut to size of frame) or the backside of the floating glass frame. Using the paintbrush, add a small amount of PVA adhesive to the back of the botanicals. Leave it to dry for 24 hours, and then finish mounting in the ready-made frame or floating glass frame.”

Lump Nubbins by CHIAOZZA
Lump Nubbins by CHIAOZZA

Create a paper pulp sculpture.

“Years ago, we started turning our junk mail into paper pulp and squeezing it into small, hand-sized forms that we then painted when dried,” Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza, the artists behind the duo CHIAOZZA, explain. “The series of playful sculptures, loosely inspired by small succulent houseplants, is titled ‘Lump Nubbins.’ These sweet little objects feel like a nice little gesture to surprise friends with. 

“Over the years, we have refined our pulping process and continue to make ‘batches’ of Lump Nubbins every so often. The process is quite simple: cut or shred paper into small bits, cover with water, blend with an immersion blender (or let time do the work: three-five days), strain, add a little glue (optional), and squeeze into a shape (or build over an armature). We love it when we see classrooms around the world doing art projects based on these simple methods and creating imaginative and wild sculptures.”

Create a personalized box

“Recently, I got some plain geometric wood blocks and wood boxes, and I’m planning to paint them with some simple illustrations and patterns,” illustrator Yukai Du tells us. “The boxes will also be personalized for the loved ones I plan to give them to, and once I’m done, I’ll use wood sealer paint to finish the block/box.”

Balsa wood pterodactyl by Davide Bonazzi
Balsa wood pterodactyl by Davide Bonazzi

Make a sculpture out of balsa wood

“If I want to make a gift for someone, I generally make a print of one of my digital works–except for the one time when I gifted my girlfriend with a pterodactyl dinosaur cut out of a balsa wood slat,” illustrator Davide Bonazzi tells us. “Balsa wood is easy to work; you just need a cutter and a small hacksaw, and then you can let loose.”

Make a notebook or journal

“I like to make hand-bound scrappy notebooks for friends with different papers inside, room for notes, photos and doodles, and hand-painted covers,” Las Vegas-based artist Sofia Moore tells us. “Making a hand-bound book is a meditative and thoughtful process. Even a simple notebook is something more than just paper. It’s possibilities, ideas, and life memories that are waiting to be recorded!”

Quick Tip: For bookbinding techniques, check out Wendy Rose Gould’s recent guide

Illustration by Nicole Rifkin
Illustration by Nicole Rifkin

Create a tiny painting

“I really love giving out paintings and prints (either riso or screen print),” Brooklyn-based illustrator Nicole Rifkin says. “I buy a small wood panel, prime it, and make a tiny painting on it. Something tangible! I use gouache and ink and really just go to town with weird portraits or ducks or something. The riso and screen prints are usually done in collaboration with a print studio because I don’t have the best craft skills. It’s also really nice to work with people!”

Eye pillow by Thora Ford
Eye pillow by Thora Ford

Make a flaxseed eye pillow or heating pad

“I love sewing and baking to switch things up, and both of those make for very giftable projects,” jewelry designer Thora Ford tells us. “I tend to get on a kick of making a certain thing for a while, and recently it’s been these flaxseed-filled eye pillows and heating pads that you microwave (or keep in the freezer during the summer). 

“I like to make them with linen, and you can fill them with all sorts of things, but flaxseed has a nice feel to it. It’s a really easy project even if you’re a beginner at sewing, and using nice materials makes them feel special. Essentially, you just sew up a long rectangle and fill it to your liking, then sew it shut.” 

"Weepy Starry Eye" hand embroidered patches by Carly Owens
“Weepy Starry Eye” hand embroidered patches by Carly Owens

Create a custom embroidery

“Every year, I like to gift custom embroideries to friends and family,” hand embroidery artist and designer Carly Owens says. “The embroideries usually take shape as patches, brooches, earrings, and ornaments. I’m a huge proponent of handmade gifts–they’re a great way to give your loved ones something unique.

“If you want to make your own embroidered patch for the holidays, first place a sheet of felt in an embroidery hoop (3” wooden hoops are my favorite to work with), then draw or trace your design onto the felt using a pen, pencil, or white gel pen for darker fabrics. 

“Using embroidery thread (DMC is my go-to) and an embroidery needle, stitch your design using your desired stitches (if you’re new to embroidery, I recommend using a back stitch). Once you’re finished stitching, take your embroidery out of the hoop and cut your design out, leaving a 1/4 inch felt border. 

“Lastly, back your embroidery with an iron on interfacing or heat-and-bond. Use an iron to apply the backing on low-medium heat with a presser cloth covering your embroidery.”

Pictured: Dinosaur Linocut Wrapping Paper & Gift Tags by Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand from their Skillshare course,    Printmaking at Home: Creating Linocut Wrapping Paper & Gift Tags   .
Pictured: Dinosaur Linocut Wrapping Paper & Gift Tags by Evgeniya & Dominic Righini-Brand from their Skillshare course, Printmaking at Home: Creating Linocut Wrapping Paper & Gift Tags.

Make your own wrapping paper

Over the years, Amsterdam-based illustrator Asia Orlando has gifted everything from DIY comics to tote bags, but one thing that’s remained the same: her creative approach to wrapping. 

“I put a lot of thought into packing gifts, and often I make my own wrapping paper,” she tells us. “I either draw or paint on it, or make homemade stamps to decorate it with. I think it’s a unique way to wrap your presents, both bought and handmade ones, because it gives it a special touch. 

“I often grab a traditional kraft paper and decorate it with carved linocut block stamps. You can also order a customized linocut handmade stamp from an independent artist and use it for creating your own present labels, cards, and wrapping paper. I recommend trying out a mix of black stamps with golden details!”


Want find more ways to get creative this season? Check out Skillshare’s Best of 2019: Top Picks & Hidden Gems for inspiration from our favorite classes of the year.

Cover/thumbnail image credit: Skillshare Top Teacher Irina Trzaskos for her class Watercolor Holidays: Create Beautiful Gift Toppers

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