Is your New Year’s Resolution to read more? Or not to lose your place in all the books you read while you’re taking a break to read magazines? Maybe, like me, you just got a beautiful new journal that doesn’t come with a ribbon bookmark, so you have to make your own. Because who wants to be flipping through pages of old, abandoned chicken-scratch at 2 am when they get out of bed to jot down their latest epiphany?
For one of my childhood birthdays, a friend gave me a crafting book called Sparkly Things to Make and Do. You know, one of those books full of supposedly “DIY crafts you can do at home,” which usually require so many exotic supplies or so much time you never end up doing any of them?
One of the few crafts in there that I did end up trying was the mermaid bookmark. Basically, you cut out a mermaid on some thick paper, gave her tissue paper hair with glitter glue lice, slapped some foil on the tail and let her dive into your book. I still have the mermaid I made years ago, though she isn’t so sparkly anymore.
Inspired by that and my pressing need for a bookmark, I made some new nautical literary companions the other day. But this time with a twist: virtually everything on here would have been recycled or thrown away if I hadn’t rescued it. I did waste a lot of glue, but that’s beside the point. Go upcycled crafts!
Basically, all you have to do is find a face, either on the Internet or in a magazine, etc., draw a body around it, cut it out, and glue on accessories such as paper scales, tissue paper fins, aluminum foil, etcetera. I’ll give a more detailed description of my specific process below.
Some limitations of these neat crafts: They are delicate and not very durable – at least the ones I made are. If you need a heavy-duty, long-lasting bookmark, I might suggest drawing the decorations onto the thick paper so they can’t be ripped off, or maybe using fashion duct tape to strengthen the tail.
Another limitation is that I haven’t figured out yet how to decorate the back, so on the back of my bookmark you can read bits and pieces of why oatmeal is good for you.
Anyway, for anyone who has odds and ends lying around and would like to make a mermaid/merman bookmark out of them, here are some detailed instructions:
How to Make a Trashy Mermaid Bookmark
- cardboard such as from the outer packaging of a cereal box, etc.
- a picture of the face of someone you’d like to see staring out of your books for a while (I printed out black and white images of one of the mermaids from Pirates of the Caribbean and of Beatrice Martin, French singer with the stage name Cœur de Pirate.)
- Some scrap paper, preferably interesting (raid those old Origami gift sets you never opened, print out the lyrics to a meaningful song in a cool font and decorate with watercolor, doodle on paper of various colors, find cool photos in magazines…)
- Aluminum foil (I rescued some from a burrito – probably not the most hygienic but it looks and smells clean.)
- liquid school glue
- Any bits and pieces of crafting materials you want to use up, preferably relatively flat ones (I added some lace and flat sequins)
- Glitter glue if desired (I actually used glitter nail polish and metallic Sharpie)
Step 1) Gather all materials. Print/cut out the desired head. If you are decorating your paper with watercolor, do so right away to let it dry.
Step 2) Trace the shape of the head on the blank side of the cardboard. Draw a neck and the rest of the mermaid’s body, making sure it is a reasonable size to match the head size. I did this really fast and casual for a cartoon-esque body shape, but if you’re into super-anatomically-realistic drawings then be my guest.
Either way, don’t draw on the tail fins. You will be making these out of foil later. The tail just ends in a tapering tip, like an eel.
An important note with drawing the body is that it’s good to avoid having delicate, flimsy appendages hanging off (i.e., arms and hands.) I avoided this in my Beatrice Martin bookmark by adding a hunk of cardboard for her to be holding something up above her head. A more effective method, seen in my Pirates of the Caribbean bookmark, is for the arms to be bent and holding something in front of the body.
Step 3) Cut out the mermaid. If the arms are bent to hold an object in front of the body, be sure to separate them from the body so that when you add your object it looks like the mermaid is holding it.
Step 4) Decorate the tail. I did this by coating a layer of school glue on both sides with my finger, then wrapping strips of the Westways Magazine Photo Contest Winners around the tail and pressing them down. There will be some overlap. When you get down to the tip, the strips of magazine need to be thinner. It doesn’t really matter what the very tip looks like because this will be covered by the tail fin later on.
Note: There are other styles of decorating. For instance, on my prototype with the face of Beatrice Martin, I printed out a piece of scratch paper with the lyrics to her song Corbeau. I then embellished it with watercolor (less is more). When it was dry, I ripped it to bits and glued them to the torso. Feel free to try something altogether different and share how it works out!)
Step 5) Create the object for the arms to be holding. I did this by cutting out a selection of a Disneyland castle from a magazine ad. It’s good to trace the object and back it with cardboard if part of it is hanging off the mermaid’s body so it is more durable.
Again, you could do a lot of things with this: print out or draw your own object; use a cute little sticker or other finding from your local craft store, etc.
When you have your object, position it in the hands. For Beatrice, whose hands are over the head, I simply glued the piece of a building she has evidently ripped off its foundation to the fronts of her hands. For the nameless Pirates mermaid, I positioned one arm in front of the Disneyland castle and one behind. I then cut out a cardboard hand for the arm in front and glued it on (though a hook hand wouldn’t have been a bad idea either, considering the context.)
Step 6) Make the foil tail fin. I tried multiple strategies, but what worked the best for me was to take a large rectangle of foil and rip a slit down the middle of the long side that doesn’t go all the way to the end. Wrap the un-slitted side of the foil around the tip of the tail. Shape the two pieces of foil hanging off into two fins – sort of a leaf-shape with pointy ends and a round middle.
Step 7) Additional decorating: this is all up to you!
For Nameless, I drew on her with metallic sharpie, added glitter and sequins to the tail, and gave her a magazine clipping for a hair accessory. Because I printed out the face in black and white, I used pink colored pencil to try to bring a little life back into her cheeks, lips, and forehead. I colored her eyes blue, avoiding covering the pupils too much (this isn’t a creepy ghost-themed bookmark). I also added some lace to the fins, taping it onto the back of the tail.
As always, experiment and see what works! I tried to use up the little scraps of art materials bought for long-forgotten projects, in keeping with the reuse/recycle theme. It was kind of fun to go through loads of semi-garbage and find a few treasures – kind of like weeding through the first draft of a piece of writing.
Have a happy New Year with lots of reading and creating!