DIY: Layered Paper Cutout Valentine Tutorial (with Puzzle Option)

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 DIY Layered Valentine Card

Every year in New York (sorry Amy and Helen!), we have a Valentine's Day party full of homemade sweet treats, handmade valentines, and a lovely time hanging out together - usually filled with board games.

Unfortunately, I didn't document last year's pun-tastic find-and-match-the-key valentines (this blog didn't exist yet). But this year is here with a bit of storybook flair!

I'm not sure if there's a name for this, please let me know if there is. It's similar to a Tunnel Book or a Shadow Box and originally the idea was inspired by layered lightboxes, which I've been wanting to make for a long time. I don't have boxes or LED lights so we'll have to make do with paper, paint (or whatever you want to color with), and an X-acto knife!

Thick paper (Watercolor, Drawing, or Cardstock)
X-acto Knife
Something to color with (Watercolor, color pencil, or you could just leave it uncolored).
Pen (Optional)

Approximate time it took: 5-7 Hours.
(This includes brainstorming and waiting for paint to dry. Might be faster or slower for you.)

1. (Optional) Write a Poem or Story.
I needed a story so that I would know what to draw and figured poems were in the Valentine spirit. Since there are all different kinds of love, I incorporated romantic love and friendship love into one poem. There are 8 lines since I would be giving this project to 8 people in 8 parts as part of an activity, but customize as you wish.

Here's mine:
(first line is from a song in Skyrim, the video game that I still miss sometimes, horse is named after the main character in Mushishi)

There once was a hero named Ragnar the Red.
His horse was named Ginko. He was a purebred.
Together they lived in a ramshackle shed.
They didn't have much money so they shared a bunk bed.
One day poor Ginko's heart filled up with dread.
Ragnar found a fair maiden who made delicious rye bread.
But Ragnar knew that poor Ginko had a thick head.
And made sure Ginko knew that his love was widespread.

2. Make a template. You can do this by drawing on regular paper, you just need to make sure you know which parts are in which layer. I did mine in Photoshop with different levels of grey for each layer. I sized it to be 4.5x6" so that I could make 4 pages per one 9x12" watercolor paper (the only thick paper I had on hand). I also wanted it to be small enough to fit into most Valentine Mailboxes (in case people decided to make them this year - they're usually construction paper folded in half and decorated).

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Layer Examples
These are just the layers I made. Feel free to draw whatever you want!
3. Print Template. Since I'm turning this into an activity that hopefully they'll figure out as they're going through their valentines, I assigned each layer a line from the story poem and made it into a sort of puzzle, with the first line of the poem corresponding to the bottom layer and so on.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Printed templates
Print quality isn't great on my black and white laser printer, but that's okay. It's just a template!

4. Pick Paper. I had on hand 140lb watercolor paper from Artist's Loft that was gifted to me and cut the paper down to size. Cardstock would also work great. Any thickish paper really.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Paper on paper cutter
This paper cutter is one of the best things I've ever received as a gift. Thanks, Maria and William!

5. Trace Template. I taped the template onto a light box and lightly traced the outlines onto my watercolor paper. You could also tape the template to a window or a glass table and shine a light from under it.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Template and paper taped on lightbox
I printed the template to the exact size I wanted, so the watercolor paper fits over perfectly.

6. Cut the Paper. Cut out the parts you don't want. This works best with an X-acto knife. Don't use a plastic ruler, because the X-acto knife is so sharp it'll cut through the plastic and ruin your favorite ruler forever. My knife, pictured below, is an off-brand X-acto knife.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Cutting out layers with Xacto Knife
It's sharp! Be careful! And make sure to have cardboard or something underneath to protect the table surface.

7. Draw/Color/Paint in design. Because I had watercolor paper, I decided to use watercolor. If I was using cardstock, it'd probably be colored pencil. Use whatever medium you want! Be sure to lightly erase the pencil lines (I used a kneaded eraser) so they become barely visible guidelines.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 watercolor painting the layers
If you use watercolor it'll warp the paper a bit. When it's dry squash it between heavy books to help flatten it.

8. For the Story Scroll:
Draw a scroll, cut it, color it, let it dry, then write the story/poem's lines on.  I used a brush pen and a fineliner, but choose what works best for your paper and the look you're going for.

If you're doing the puzzle activity:
Use an X-acto knife to cut out the lines and attach to each layer using masking tape (my lines were assigned to specific layers earlier). Give all layers to a group of people and make sure they're opening them at nearly the same time, so that it's pretty apparent all of it goes together. One person can get the Story scroll with the cutout boxes. See if people can piece together the story and what order the layered valentine is supposed to be in! Depending on the group, you can choose not to give instructions and watch them figure everything out by themselves. :D

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 story scroll with cutout lines
Taped the cutout Lines on the back of Layers using rolled masking tape.

3 Years Apart Valentine 2018 Final Piece
Photos don't do it justice!

Happy Valentine's Day and Have Fun!

With Warm Regards,


Do you want more?