How to do the Paper Weaving Creativity Workout

This is an excerpt from my book, The Artist Within, A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit by Whitney Ferre’

Chapter 11                                                         Paper Weaving

Getting back the WOW!

Design Principle:  Contrast

Do not fear mistakes—there are none.  –Miles Davis

I have created this project hundreds of times, with all ages.  My latest epiphany during a Paper Weaving Workout was that it is all about contrast.  The contrast is the “WOW!”  It is what makes it fun.  When you bring the element of contrast into your life, you are not taking away from an element in your life, you are complimenting it. Your artist within wants you to appreciate your work by making sure you have time to play.    It wants your time relaxing to contrast your intense, stressful moments.  Your artist within would argue that you can’t have one without the other.  Without contrast your life would be wallpaper, the same elements repeating themselves over and over again with no variation or break in routine.  The masterpiece you are painting, the masterpiece that is your life, is not wallpaper.  It has light areas and dark areas, color and shadow, big things and small details.  Without the contrast it would not hold the viewers’ attention.  It would pass in and out of their field of vision without causing even a ripple of interest.  It is easy to make sure that your life’s canvas catches the eye, holds one’s attention and stimulates new thoughts or ideas, feelings and emotions.  Simply add some contrast.


I have led toddlers and corporate groups through this paper weaving exercise.  In both cases, before the papers are cut into strips and woven together, they are standard fare.  The toddlers’ scribbles are familiar and the corporate adults make jokes about their lack of artistic ability.  But when those papers are cut into strips and woven together, they become FABULOUS!  Toddlers’ weavings are framed and given as gifts and the corporate group huddles around and plans where their masterpiece is going to hang back at headquarters.  Something almost magical has happened.  We have taken two ordinary things (scribbled-on paper) and turned into something extraordinary.  Why is that?

CONTRAST.  When you look at the pieces woven together and how unrelated parts of a design have become intimately attached in the over/under process, it holds your attention.  “Look at that red next to that green!”  “Look at that dark line peeking in and out, every other strip, from behind the dusty purple and yellow paint splats!”  There is the  texture of the woven papers, the subtle shadows cast by one strip on top of another.  We can also create contrast in our lives.  If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk during the day, go rock climbing in the evening.  If you manage people all day long, finding a quiet nook in the library might be a welcome reprieve.  We all know a hot bath can contrast a busy household or hectic workday beautifully.  A woman I got to know at The Creative Fitness Center learned that art helped her to manage her grief.

Before I started taking classes at tHE aRT hOUSE, I had always considered myself, if not creative, at least crafty. I was a writer at some point in my life, but making a living got in the way.  So going to art classes was a little scary– I hadn’t done anything creative in at least 5 years.  I felt very self-conscious and pressed to perform, but Whitney really took the worry about me out of the situation, and let the taking care of me start. This time last year I was 5 months pregnant. I lost the baby. I found someplace I didn’t need to talk with words that let me focus on something other than grief for 2 hours a week. That place was tHE aRT hOUSE. Now I’m even considering writing again. Maybe!

-Amy B.


Amy needed a distraction to be able to better manage her despair at the loss of her baby.  She needed an activity that would dramatically contrast the rest of her daily activity and give her a reprieve from the sadness.  Unless you are a full time artist, creating with art materials is probably a dramatic contrast for you.  Most adults I meet have not touched art materials in decades.  Many used to, but that was before school or kids or an art teacher that made a creatively scarring comment.  Amy never used to paint a lot, but last year she painted with me for two hours a week.  She painted several paintings for her new home and for her husband’s office.  I am also happy to report that as I type she is home with a newborn baby boy.  Not that the creative exercises had anything to do with that, but it is creative and it is a happy ending!  It was not always easy for her to carve two hours out of her week, but she knew it was an important element in her life.  She needed that time and the contrast to balance the rest of her time spent at work and with her family.  How did you score on the contrast segment of the diagnostic?  Think about your day to day routine.  Let’s shake it up a bit….

You are going to create different, or contrasting, designs on two different sheets of paper.  To begin, we are going to use color to create contrast, but once you do this exercise once, you will see all of the possibilities.  I will outline those possibilities at the end of this chapter, but for now, let’s talk about color.  We are going to use warm and cool colors to create contrast in our paper weaving.

Warm colors are reds, oranges, golds, rusts, yellows, buttery creams.  Cool colors are blues, purples, greens, grays.  Of course, you can always mix colors to create warm blues or greens, or cool reds, but for our purposes in this exercise we will call warm colors red, orange and yellow and cool colors will be blue, purple and green.  Warm and cool colors CONTRAST each other.


Creativity Workout #12  .  Paper Weaving


  • 2 pieces of drawing paper
  • Crayons or oil pastels
  • Watercolors (even the grocery store kind will suffice) & brushes


  • Choose the warm colors (red, orange, yellow) from the crayon box.
  • Look at the clock and give yourself at least 3 minutes for this first paper.
  • Use your non-dominant hand to cover one paper with marks. Press hard so that your lines are dark.  This helps in the watercolor step.
  • Scribble all the way to the edge of the paper. Let one mark lead to another (just like the Creativity Workout #2 Energy Drawing).  Draw squiggles, lines, dots, zig-zags. Resist the urge to draw an object.  Start by choosing a color and placing it on the paper.  Do not pick the color up off the paper until you decide to switch colors.  Pretend you are two.
  • Cover the next sheet of paper with cool colors (purple, blue green) in the same manner. Look at the clock.  3 minutes.
        • Next, open up your watercolors and dab a little water in each pan with your brush. This gets the paint ready for your brush.  Cover the warm color paper with the same colors of paint.  If you pressed hard enough with the crayon or used oil pastel you will see your marks acting as a resist.  It gives your paper a batik effect.
        • Also, dab dots of red paint into an area you have already painted yellow. Make sure the yellow paint is still wet.  Watch the colors spread on the paper.  Layering colors like this is a good thing.  It makes any piece more interesting.  [INSERT ABOUT LOOKING FOR DIFFERENT COLORS LAYERED IN ARTWORK, ETC.  A RED APPLE ISN’T JUST RED, ETC.]
        • After you have painted both papers, cut each paper short-ways into 1” strips. Pick 6 from the warm color sheet and 6 from the cool color sheet.  Lay the 6 warm strips on the table and weave the cool colors, over under, through the grid.   You may remember this from making construction paper placemats in Kindergarten.
        • To save your weaving put a dot of glue under the end of each strip.

    I lead many corporate groups through this exercise in our studio at tHE aRT hOUSE.  They always have a blast.  One way they have adapted this exercise for their home office has made weekly meetings a lot more fun.  They each bring old memos, pages of research, old notes, newspaper articles, and instruction manuals to cut and weave at the beginning of the meeting.  Within five minutes they are able to communicate their frustrations and new ideas, while creating the desk-top weavings.  The creative energy is flowing, they are all open minded, and their meetings are unceremoniously productive.  How can you adapt this exercise in your daily routine?


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