Scrap Like a Sugarbabe: Maria Lacuesta


About Maria

I am so excited to be one of the newest members of the Sweet Shoppe Designs creative team! I love all things design-related and when I discovered digital scrapbooking, I quickly became a devotee. I’m also completely obsessed with paper and look foward to all the exciting things going on in our hybrid community.  Mini albums and photo books  are wonderful for big events, but my scrapbook layouts are usually about the little everyday moments.  I live in the Boston area with my boyfriend and the little kids you see in my layouts are my awesome nieces and nephews, whom I never see enough!

My Claim to Fame

I’m always really interested in learning new techniques, so I think my gallery is pretty eclectic. Despite the varied styles, however, I always pay a lot of attention to my lighting and, since I do get asked about my shadowing, I thought I’d go over my general process with you guys.  Lastly, I’m super excited to share a new technique I’ve been using to shadow washi tapes!


Oftentimes, I’ll have to rasterize my shadow layer before I can make my final adjustments. When this is the case, I’ll distort my shadows using the transform tool, shape them with the smudge tool, and/ or add a Gaussian blur.

Neighborhood Cafe

Looking at paper scrapbook layouts is a fantastic way to research how shadows behave in various settings because scrapbookers shoot their photos in all sorts of different lighting conditions.  My favorite shadows are those created by natural light.  They’re soft and pretty and they sometimes do the wackiest things. Without a good point of reference, though,  it’s hard to imagine.  For some inspiration, I collect a lot of paper layouts on my Pinterest board.  I also love checking out Rubia’s board too!

So Fairy Pretty

One of my newest shadow tricks involves the wave filter to distort both my drop shadow and outer glow layers.  Jacinda’s awesome tutorial has step by step instructions.  I used this technique to create the paper stack in So Fairy Pretty.  Best of all, I put it together in half the time because I didn’t have to make every adjustment by hand.

When I realized how much I loved this look, I saved a couple shadow settings that worked well for me. Then I recorded an action.  For more about creating an efficient workflow, check out Lydia’s article–I love it!  By saving an action, I cut my editing time in half, yet again, and now I’m way more likely to create layered paper clusters because the shadowing doesn’t seem so tedious.

Finishing Touches

When I’m finished with my composition, I like to bring everything together by applying photo treatments that reinforce the overall mood of my page.  Neighborhood Cafe and So Fairy Pretty, both have a playful, airy feel to them. To achieve this look, I brightened them quite a bit, played with my mid-tones to restore some of the detail I had lost, and saturated certain colors.

To give my dimensional elements more realism, I added some blur and vignetting to the corners.  Usually, I keep both photo treatments pretty subtle, but for more dramatic lighting, I increase my blur quite a bit.  If you look at This Beautiful Life closely, you’ll notice I started the blur just above and below the clustered band in the center, but, I also used a clipping mask to keep certain areas sharp (like the little bird cluster (top left).

This Beautiful Life

Staying Inspired

Challenges are a great way to stay inspired.  When left to my own devices, I have a couple of layout compositions I go back to again and again.  I love large photos and I’ll add embellishments and text on top of the image.  More often, I’ll add some clusters around a single photo.  Or, if I’m getting really crazy, I’ll use some sort of grid with multiple photos.

That’s why I love challenges–they’re a great way to step outside of my comfort zone.  I put together This Beautiful Life for the February SSD Pinterest challenges and I had to use the color Emerald prominently (not a color I ever use). I loved the green floral pattern from Juliana’s La Boheme kit, so I decided to make it my background.  I usually go for something more neutral, so again, I was totally out of my comfort zone and I was fairly certain I was creating a ridiculous layout.  In the end, though, it became one of my favorites.

It was Written in the Stars

Another way I get inspired is by using templates because they help me think of placement in more interesting ways. I would never have created Roadtrip if I hadn’t used Cindy’s template from Set #143.  Even for something very simple like, Time Flies, templates encourage me to go in different directions.


Time Flies

Quick Tip

Optimizing my work flow, as I mentioned above, is a big part of my creative process, so I wanted to share a washi tape tutorial with you all.  For the longest time, I avoided using washi tapes because I would spend a really long time burning and dodging.  It was just one of those things I really had a problem with and I couldn’t figure out know why!

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with different blending modes and I realized I could substitute burning and dodging with the process outlined below. The best part is, this method is non-destructive–perfect for someone like me who’s always rearranging!


Thanks so much for taking a little time to get to know me–I’m really looking forward to getting to know you all as well!  And please feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.  I’m going to share a more detailed shadowing tutorial with you all, so if there’s anything in particular you want to see included, definitely let me know!

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  • Your pages are just stunning Maria! I loved getting a better glimpse into your process :) And I am definitely going to try your washi tape tut!

    • Thanks Erin–that’s so sweet! Let me know if you have any questions with the washi tape thing

  • OMG!!!! You totally RAWK my world girl!!! This is seriously awesome and I’m in LOVE with your washi tape tutorial!!! and I’m totally making an action to do my shadows now too!!! Thanks Maria!!!

  • Oh yay–that’s awesome Heather! I love our tutorial section and learn so much from everybody . . . I’m excited to be able to contribute and share some tips too :)

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