Watercolor Painting On Old Pages - Tutorial

1:07 PM

St. Francis of Assisi in the
Beauregard-Keyes House Garden
Watercolor on Old Book Page*
As promised as a consolation prize for those that did not win the palette, this is a tutorial on painting on old paper with watercolor! If you tried to paint on old paper without any prep work, chances are very good the paper would just fall apart on you. At the very least, it would crinkle and wrinkle to the point of not being recognizable as a book page!

With a little bit of prep work, you can turn the paper into a great painting surface!

Supplies
Waste Paper to protect your work surface
Pencil
Old pages* from a book, letter, etc.
Mat board cut to size for your page
Gel Medium
Clear Gesso
Large soft brush
Brayer
Soft eraser

Gather all your supplies first. Reading the tutorial all the way through will also make it MUCH easier to understand the steps and come out with a success new surface to paint on in the end! (Trust me, this is the voice of experience [ahem!] speaking!)

1. I used acid-free mat board as a backing board from my pages. The pages I'm using are from a book published in 1945 so I know the paper is not acid-free. With this process, with the barriers between the board and the paint, it will help to make the surface acid-free for longer period of time.

Because my pages were 5.5 x 8 inches, I chose to put them on 8 x 10 inch boards so they would be easier to frame. Adjust your boards to whatever works best for you and your page size.

2. Lightly mark the corners of the page on the board in pencil as guides so that you'll know where to position the page once it's ready. You may need to erase those marks later if you don't line up completely on the line.
Lightly mark the corners on the board as guides
Click to enlarge
3. Protect your work surface with a piece of waste paper. I have a piece of parchment down on my desk. You can use clean newsprint or any type of paper so long as it is larger than the page you are working on. 
Waste paper
Click to enlarge
4. Using gel medium and a soft brush, start in the center of the page and work out to the edges. Be sure to cover the entire page and all the pages. You don't want any globs of medium, just a thin coverage from edge to edge. 
Paint the gel medium from the center of the page
to the outer edges. Be sure to cover the whole page.
Click to enlarge
5. Once the gel medium is on the page, pick it up, flip it over and lay it down on the board using the pencil marks as guides. Use a brayer to roll out any air bubbles and to make sure it is pressed down to the board. You can use an old credit card instead of a brayer, but be careful! That old paper will tear very easily!
Use a brayer to make sure to get out air bubbles and to
get a good seal between the two pieces.
Click to enlarge
6. If any gel oozes out from under the page, carefully wipe it up with a paper towel or tissue.

7. After I had my pages down, my mat boards started to curl and bow. To stop this, I placed all the boards down on my work surface, put down a piece of waste paper and weighted the boards down with books and magazines. They were weighted down for about 4 hours. If it's raining or humid, you may need to let them stay under the weights overnight.
Weight the pages and boards down if they start to curl.
Click to enlarge
8. Once the pages have dried, erase any guide marks on your board that may be showing. Erase carefully, the paper will bruise or tear easily.

9. Pour some clear gesso into a small container and using a soft brush, brush on the gesso. Start in the middle and work out towards the edge. While you are doing this, you may notice some air bubbles coming up between the board and the page. Mine did the same thing, but it dried flat and did not interfere with the painting process.
Paint the clear gesso out to the edges of the page.
Be sure to get an even coverage.
Click to enlarge
10. Once the page is dry it will feel a bit like sandpaper! Draw out your image and begin to paint with regular watercolors. The pencil lines will be much darker than on normal watercolor paper due to the gesso. You can lighten it some using a kneaded eraser if you choose. Be very careful erasing on the paper as it will damage quite easily and the paint will adhere differently (darker) in areas that have been erased too roughly.
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I have not tried this technique using a lot of water but rather light washes to build up color. You may have to wait longer for the paper to dry than on regular watercolor paper. Once dry, there is no reason to seal it, but you can if you want to using an acrylic gloss spray sealer. Be sure to use it in a well ventilated area! It works best to use 2 or 3 coats allowing them to dry completely between applications.

I do find it easier to do several pages at one time rather than one-by-one.

Good luck with your pages and please let me know how they turn out!
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*A Note About Old Pages - the pages I used came from a book published in 1945. The author died in 1970 and her estate still holds copyright to the book. The copyright on any creative work is good for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

When I checked into whether this was a copyright infringement, I was told it was not because I am not altering her story or words, you can still see them through the artwork. I was told that it may be considered by some to be a collateral work or a derivative work, but not an infringement.

However, because this work is destined (hopefully) to be donated to a museum in the author's name and the author's grandson is on the board of directors, we're trying to determine if any infringement has occurred as the museum director felt there was some question on the possibility of infringement.

I urge you to be careful in using old pages from books in your artwork. Creating the work just for yourself and not for profit does not protect you from copyright infringement but can save you from lawsuits. The laws of copyright are there to protect us, but the law is not always crystal clear because there are many instances, like this one, where the laws become an interpretation.

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