Blog Avoid the predictable.

How to Make a Valentine From an Onion

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to hate Valentine’s Day; I still do in some respects. I love the “idea” of Valentine’s Day — the romance of celebrating romance — but somewhere along the way the holiday has become a day that highlights the trappings of love instead of a celebration of the emotion itself. For one day every year, everything (everything!) is ONLY about couples: being in a couple, dining out as a couple, exchanging candy and flowers as a token of one’s devotion to the coupling one happens to be in at the moment. It you happen to be single the overall effect can be more than a little shrill and disheartening to witness.

That is how it seemed to me in the early ’90s when I was single-and lonely-and living in New York City. With meager romantic prospects on the horizon and with February 14th fast approaching, I decided, on a whim, to send myself a Valentine. Not an original idea, perhaps, but an empowering one. I sat down and wrote myself a love note (more difficult to do than one might expect). I folded it up, sealed it into a bright red envelope, dropped it into my neighborhood mailbox, and awaited its return to me.

As evidence that the universe does, in fact, have a sense of humor, that Valentine never made it back to me. I had been too embarrassed to write in a return address that matched that of the addressee and so it didn’t even make it home via “Return to Sender.” The irony of that first year aside, I have made it a habit every year since to send myself a note (regardless of whatever romantic entanglement I might be enjoying).

Depending on your own relation to romance, this will strike you as either sad and slightly pathetic, or weirdly charming (if a bit awkward). Either way, it was work of a man who clearly had too much time on his hands. In my defense, I feel strongly that it is completely acceptable (even laudable) to set aside client work and design briefs (and other people’s expectations) for one day a year and just make something pretty for my own enjoyment. Nearly two decades later, I can report that I have learned as much about romance and love from treating myself well as I’ve learned from treating others well (or from Hollywood movies, romance novels, and Lifetime television dramas combined).

This year I thought I share with my readers my latest project. In an effort to be “green” I tried to limit myself to using scraps from previous projects and an interesting “found” material. In this case I opted for onion skins; both for their paper-like quality and their vibrant color.

For this year’s theme (and I usually have a theme if only to provide a point of departure) I chose, “Go Ahead and Cry”, which speaks both to the stereotype of the someone all alone and weeping on Valentine’s Day and, of course, the tears that onions can induce. A quick trip to the Internet provided a slew of quotations about crying (see below). Despite my sad-sounding theme, my message was one of affirmation and love.

I hope you like the results.


1.) These onions were sitting in a bowl on my kitchen counter when their gorgeous colors caught my eye. I grabbed my camera, and a few sheets of colored paper to use as backdrops, and snapped these shots. As often happens I was drawn to a material and spent some time just “playing” with it-long before the idea of how to use it came to mind.


2.) I used scraps of Twin Tak adhesive as a foundation and simply covered the sheets with onion skins.


3.) I used the side of a bone creaser to burnish the pieces into place and to “knock off” any protruding edges or overlapping skins that were not firmly glued down.


4.) I did one sheet of yellow onion skins and another sheet of red onion skins.


5.) I then used card-stock to make a pattern for a small box that would accommodate 3-inch by 5-inch index cards. The finished dimensions of my box were 3.5-inches by 5.5-inches but any size box would work. I scored and folded the box completely to check that the measurements were correct before proceeding to cover it with the Twin Tak-backed onion skins.


6.) The outside of the finished box. I was surprised how much the red onion skins looked like rose petals on the finished piece.


7.) I used the yellow onion skins on the inside of the box; an unexpected surprise to anyone opening the box for the first time.


8.) The box closure consists of two 45-degree slots cut into the corners of the box into which the cover flaps can be inserted.


9.) The finished components. All that remained was to decide on the content.


10.) It seemed appropriate to include one of my initial photographs (printed on a color laser copier and trimmed to size).


11.) For the remaining cards I selected a few inspiring quotations that seemed suitably matched to both the box and the holiday.

The quotations I used on the cards pictured above were as follow:

“If someone you love hurts you, cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it.” -Unknown

“Life is an onion and one peels it crying.” -French Proverb

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” -William Shakespeare

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” -Mother Teresa

“Go ahead and cry” -Jeffery Rudell

“Statistically speaking, happiness accounts for 21% of all tears.” -Dr. William Frey, Director, The Dry Eye and Tear Research Center, MN

“Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.” -Oscar Wilde

“Jesus wept.” -John, 11:35 (So, you’re in good company.)

“The cure for anything is salt water-sweat, tears, or the sea.” -Isak Dinesen


Twin Tak available at:
New York Central Art Supply
62 Third Avenue (@ 11th Street)
New York, NY 10003
Ask for the basement department.

Comments (8)

  1. Suson (Susan with an "O") - Reply

    April 16, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I love it! Every bit of it, I love it…….not being snarky. But, I too, hate the trappings of Valentine’s Day.

  2. Frana - Reply

    April 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Real Beautiful – I too love every bit of it –

  3. Aimee Brodeur Johnson - Reply

    September 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Would love to see ALL of your valentines! Beautiful concept & lovely box…

    • Jeff Rudell - Reply

      September 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Aimee: Thank you for you kind compliment. I will try to post a few other Valentine’s sometime soon. J.

  4. Mirabai Chrin - Reply

    September 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    My friend Aimee Brodeur Johnson just told me about you and I “googled” your name and found such a marvelous plethora of beauty made from paper…I am just beginning to work with paper, cards, prayer flags and little accordion books and am wanting to be more three-demensional so your work is really inspirational. I love to use recycled paper board and old wall paper sample books for covers and such. Thank you I will come and look again…and again. Blessings and sweet peace, Mirabai

  5. Jane martin - Reply

    January 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I found your book “Paper Blooms” today and had to bring it home with me… and then, on a total whim I looked up your website here on the internet. I am SO glad I did. This is an absolutely gorgeous project. I have often looked at onion skins with the eye of an avid crafter and never known quite what to do. I’m definitely going to be trying this out. I want to thank you SO much for your lovely book. I adore paper flowers and I’m going to jump right in and learn how to make every one you detailed. I highly recommend the book. Great pictures and really well-written instructions.

  6. Jesseca Ferguson - Reply

    June 20, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Thank you fro this wonderful story of Valentines to the self! You are a visual poet! I am trying to print texts made from rose petals (photographically, using 19th century means), & now am intrigued with the notion of red onion skins. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Andie - Reply

    December 25, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Stunning! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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