Clay jewelry

Baltimore Clayworks artist Mary Cloonan makes Valentine jewelry from polymer clay, then bakes it in a toaster oven. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / January 26, 2012)

You're smitten with your valentine, but not with the idea of a mass-produced card or a pricey trinket. Then why not give the objection of your affection a handmade gift?

While crafting was once the domain of your grandmother, these days do-it-yourself projects are hip and retro-chic.

And thanks to such popular websites as Etsy — a marketplace for handmade and vintage items — and fun reads like Suzie Williams' "The Complete Book of Retro Crafts," it's now a cinch to go "crafty."

And there's sentimental value.

"The 21st century affords us much more in terms of avenues for expression," says Whitney Sherman, an illustrator who heads the master's program in illustration practice at Maryland Institute College of Art. "Art that conveys a message or tells a story," she says, "tells the story of our lives."

Just in time for Valentine's Day, we have assembled a group of local experts to help you create cards, floral displays, clay beads and other objects that can be tailor-made for your sweetheart.

So why not embrace your inner Martha Stewart or Nate Berkus? Use your imagination to craft a personalized Valentine that comes straight from the heart.

Greetings and readings

Experts: Students at Maryland Institute College of Art

Project: Valentine cards

Lisa Perrin and Aehee Shin are in MICA's master's program in illustration practice, which prepares artists to meld their artistic and business abilities and blend media in new cultural contexts.

In a sunlit studio on the campus, they're making an array of Valentine's gifts and eating pink and red M&Ms, amid lots of laughter.

Perrin has fashioned a pop-up card. The object placed on the pop-up can be any number of things — such as a paper cutout of a heart.

"It's simple but pretty," says Perrin, 23, a Long Island, N.Y., native whose work focuses on history, fashion, nature and fairy tales.

Shin, on the other hand, has gone high-tech, using her computer and smartphone to make a simple video or text that can be translated into a QR code — those black squiggly squares you've probably seen in product ads. The "quick response" codes are similar to a barcode and can be scanned.

"The QR codes can be used to plan a treasure hunt," says the 25-year-old illustrator and author, who was born in Oklahoma but moved to Seoul, South Korea, at age 5.

Shin integrates the codes into cute doll-like characters on greeting cards. Each one will lead to a Valentine's Day text message or video that can be posted online via YouTube. "Give it a try — it's fun."

Flowers from the heart

Expert: Carla Feigley, floral designer, Fleur de Lis Florist, Baltimore