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Creating Backgrounds in Altered Books

Gesso, then magazine circles applied with a glaze mixed from pale blue paint and liquid matte medium. A darker blue glaze layer, applied unevenly, and then a bright green glaze layer. Green paint applied with a sea sponge through sequin waste.

Gesso, then magazine circles applied with a glaze mixed from pale blue paint and liquid matte medium. A darker blue glaze layer, applied unevenly, and then a bright green glaze layer. Green paint applied with a sea sponge through sequin waste.

Altered Page: Background and Basics

Altered books are a wonderful way to recycle old books into beautiful pieces of artwork. They can be used in a number of ways to create art journals as well as junk journals.

The pages need to be prepped to accommodate the multimedia art forms that are used throughout these journals.

Choosing a Book

The book you use or choose should be a stitched binding rather than a glued spine. Stitched binding will hold up better when adding the weight of additional media. It should always be a hardcovered book rather than a paperback.

Books come in different sizes. So choose a size that you feel comfortable working with.

You will also want to think about the quality of the paper in the books. Really old books may have paper that will crumble when you start using them. Paper weight matters. So, choose a book with good paper and enjoy better results.

You can often find books at really economical process at your local thrift store. Check out local garage and estate sales. Ask your friends and relatives for any books that they plan to throw away. Check out your local library. They often have sales where they sell books for very little.

Composition books are an economical way to create an altered book. There is a little extra prep involved, but they are fun to work with.

Prepping Your Altered Book

There are a few things to do before you get started with your altered book backgrounds. Some of the pages need to be removed so that there is room for the multimedia that you will be adding. There are different ideas among multimedia artists, but you can choose how many pages that you want to remove. The general average to start with is to remove every four pages. Leave about a half of an inch of paper and remove the rest of the paper with a sharp craft knife. Keep the pages for use later with backgrounds and pockets to make for your book.

Now where you ripped out pages and have left the border, you are ready to glue those pages together. Glued pages give them extra strength to accommodate your heavier techniques. You can use a gel medium or other glue of your choice. Start with the center of the page. Spread the glue evenly and adhere the pages together. Then work your way through the top and bottom. Use a brayer to go over the pages to minimize any air bubbles and make the pages flat.

Gesso

For most background techniques, you will need gesso. Think of gesso as a primer for your pages. It gives you a solid foundation to create your art and strengthens your pages.

A variety of materials are used to create backgrounds in altered books

A variety of materials are used to create backgrounds in altered books

Altered Book Background: Page Supplies

You have a lot of choices when it comes to creating altered book background pages. All or some of them will work together to create custom pages. Here are some of the supplies that you need to get started. Purchase them as your budget and time permits.

Brushes and Paint Tools

  • Paint brushes—different sizes and shapes of standard brushes
  • Foam brushes—used to apply gesso and flat backgrounds
  • Watercolor brushes—special brushes for watercolor painting
  • Palette knives—used to spread mixed media
  • Plastic palettes—holds paint (can also use paper plates)

Adding Color

  • Gesso—used on pages as a primer coat and to strengthen pages
  • Acrylic Paint—use common craft paints
  • Watercolors—use simple pan watercolors or tubes
  • Gauche
  • Watercolor pens
  • Paint Sticks
  • Pan Pastels
  • Soft Pastels
  • Art Crayons
  • Gelatos
  • Gel Sticks
  • Fine Line Pens
  • Colored Pencils
  • Metallic Markers

Multimedia

  • Gel Medium—Seals a page and the materials used
  • Modeling Paste—Used to create texture
  • Texture Paste—Used with stencils to create texture

Inks

  • Dye Inks
  • Pigment Inks
  • Acrylic Inks
  • Distress Inks
  • Embossing Inks
  • Oxide Inks
  • Oxide Ink Sprays—Sprays inks over a larger area
  • Media Gloss Sprays
  • Alcohol ink pens

Glues and Tapes

  • Mod Podge
  • Glitter glue
  • White PVA glue
  • Tacky glue
  • Matte medium sealant
  • Masking tape
  • Stencils

Other Tools

  • Metal ruler—used to help tear pages from a book
  • X-acto knife—used to help rip pages out and cut around images
  • Scissors—in different sizes
  • Brayers—used to spread inks and paints
  • Gel Plates—used to create prints on altered book pages

Tissue Paper Background Ideas

Tissue paper has long been used to create backgrounds for altered books. It is one of the most basic techniques around. Especially around the winter holidays, there is an abundance of tissue paper available from the gifts you receive. I love the colors and designs of the holiday season.

Gesso and Tissue Paper Background

Supplies:

  • Tissue paper
  • Gesso
  • Brayer
  • Acrylic paint
  • Acrylic glazing liquid
  • Craft Mat, parchment paper or waxed paper
  1. Cover your work surface with a mat or other protective paper.
  2. Cover one side of the paper with gesso, using the brayer. Wash the brayer right away. Let the paper dry.
  3. Flip the paper over and apply the gesso to the other side. Allow time for the page to dry. Wash the brayer off right away.
  4. Dilute acrylic paint with acrylic glazing liquid and spread over the gesso on one side with the brayer. Leave some areas uncovered. Let dry.
  5. Repeat with one or more additional colors, letting dry in between layers.
  6. Once dry, adhere to your altered book with PVA glue rolled on the page with a brayer. Let the glue dry before you close the book.
  7. Trim any excess paper to fit the page.

Paper Tissue Squares

Every small piece of tissue paper can be used in the technique. Just cut squares in any size that you would like. That is the base of this background.

Supplies:

  • Tissue paper cut into squares
  • Scissors
  • Matte medium
  • Foam brush
  • Parchment paper or waxed paper
  1. Cover your workspace with a craft mat, some parchment or waxed paper.
  2. Cut your tissue paper into squares, The size of your squares does not matter
  3. Place some mat medium on the paper where you will place your square.
  4. Place the square down, then cover with mat medium.
  5. Keep working the squares until you have covered your pages.
  6. Cover the entire page with the mat medium.

Tips:

  • The most important tip for this technique is to use enough matte medium to avoid bubbles and wrinkles. Make sure to be generous with the matte medium so that you get the best results.
  • You can use just one, two or multiple colors to create your background. Consider using seasonal colors depending on your theme.

More Tissue Paper Background Ideas

Sponging Techniques

You can use any acrylics that you may have—even the inexpensive craft acrylic paint can be used. You will, however, get better results with a better paint. Of course, you will have applied one or two coats of gesso to the page and allowed it to dry before starting.

Supplies:

  • Sponge, natural or man-made
  • Acrylic paint thinned down with water or acrylic extender
  • Disposable plate
  • Paper towels
  1. Pour some thinned paint on a disposable plate
  2. Damp the sponge with water and squeeze out excess.
  3. Lightly, press sponge on the paint and dab the excess on a paper towel.
  4. Pounce the sponge on the paper several times and changing the position of your hand in order to create random designs.

Tips:

  • Experiment with thinning the paint till you get the right mixture ratio.
  • You can use more than one color. But be careful not to muddy the colors.
  • Save time by adding two colors on the same sponge at the same time. Just make sure not to mix them.

Gesso-Mixed Media Neccessity

More Sponging Techniques

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  • https://youtu.be/Caxmf56kShU
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Create alcohol ink splatters in any color combination that is appealing

Create alcohol ink splatters in any color combination that is appealing

Create an Alcohol Ink Background

Creating an alcohol ink background is easy and fun to create. However, you will not want to create it directly on the book itself. The technique will need to be done on yupo paper and then transferred into the book.

Any technique that you see for greeting cards is adaptable for backgrounds in altered books

Always remember to cover the pages behind the ones you are working on with parchment or waxed paper!

Using Vellum to Create Backgrounds

In addition to yupo paper, you can also use vellum as the base paper. You can allow the paper print to show through or not.

Supplies:

  • Vellum
  • Alcohol inks
  • Blending solution
  1. Pre-measure and cut the vellum. I cut a piece of Vellum Translucent Paper to measure 4″x 5 1/4″.
  2. Drop 2-3 drops of alcohol ink onto the vellum. I also used alcohol ink blending solution to add and dilute the colors. Let dry.
  3. Adhere the backside of the alcohol-inked vellum onto the cardstock. The front shows colors and un-inked.
  4. Add only 1-2 drops of different colors of alcohol inks to avoid mixing.
  5. Keep the color combo simple. All you need is 1-3 colors of alcohol ink.

More Alcohol Ink Background Ideas

Scrubbing Off and On

These two techniques are another option when it comes to creating backgrounds on your altered pages.

Scrubbing On

Supplies:

  • Acrylic paint(s)
  • Stencil Brush
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Place sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper behind the pages that you are working on to protect the edges and surfaces of the other pages.
  2. Apply thinned acrylic paint to paper using a stencil brush.
  3. This method allows you to create more soft layers of paint by scrubbing the paint on the paper using circular motion.
  4. Allow paper time to dry.

Scrubbing Off

Supplies:

  • Acrylic paint(s)
  • Bristle Brush
  • Palette or Disposable Plate
  • Baby wipes
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Place sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper behind the pages you are working on to protect the edges and surfaces of other pages.
  2. Apply the acrylic paint as is to the paper using a dry brush.
  3. Immediately, rub the surface with a baby wipe to remove some of the paint on the paper.
  4. Use more baby wipes and use a dabbing motion to remove more paint in certain areas of the paper.
  5. Add more paint of the same color or other colors to achieve more depth or texture.
Using watercolors and plastic wrap to create texture on your altered book pages

Using watercolors and plastic wrap to create texture on your altered book pages

Plastic Wrap Textured Background

Supplies:

  • Acrylic paint or watercolors
  • Water
  • Soft paint brush
  • Disposable plate or palette
  • Plastic wrap
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Place some waxed paper or parchment paper under the pages that you are working on to protect the other pages and edges.
  2. Dilute the paint a little with the water.
  3. Brush the paint onto the paper.
  4. Place the plastic wrap on the paper and using your hands, crumple the plastic wrap to the desired pattern.
  5. Let it dry and remove the wrap from the paper.

Create an Old World Look

For this technique, you will need thick strong paper or paper that has had multiple coats of thick gesso applies to it.

Supplies:

  • Acrylic colors
  • Old credit card, palette knife or plastic knife
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Place waxed paper or parchment paper underneath the pages you are working on to protect other pages and edges.
  2. Scrape the paint onto the paper using an old credit card or knife. Keep a light hand so that you do not rip the paper.
  3. If you want to add more than one color, wait until the paint is dry and apply the other color to the paper.
  4. Let the page dry.

Toilet Paper Dabbing

So simple to do! A great beginner page can be made in minutes.

Supplies:

  • Acrylic paint
  • Toilet paper
  1. Decide the paint colors that you want to use.
  2. Dab the paint on with the toilet paper.
  3. The toilet paper will start to fall apart leaving stands of fiber on the paint.

Tips:

  • If the colors, you choose are complimentary colors you can put them on the page wet.
  • If the colors are contrasting, do one color and let it dry before adding the second.

Spattering

Supplies:

  • Thinned acrylic or watercolor paint
  • Toothbrush or an old stiff art brush
  • Craft mat, parchment paper or newspaper
  • Waxed paper
  • Palette or disposable plate
  1. Cover your work surface with the craft mat or newspaper.
  2. Cover the page behind the one you are working on with waxed paper or parchment paper.
  3. Thin paint with water accordingly to the effect that you want to give to the paper.
  4. Dip the very tip of the brush into the paint and using your finger or an old credit card, pull the bristles towards you and targeting the paper. Once the paint is dried you can apply another color over the first one.
  5. Or, before spattering lay a stencil or any object over the paper to create a mask. The area covered with the stencil will remain in the original color contrasting the spattered area.

More Spatter Ideas

Faux Leather

You can use this technique on pages as well as journal covers.

Supplies:

  • Paper
  • Tissue paper (brown or gold)
  • Decoupage medium
  • Acrylic matte varnish
  1. Take the tissue paper and crumple it
  2. Open and using your hands try to flatten it a little
  3. Apply decoupage medium to the paper surface.
  4. Place the tissue paper over the base paper and smooth it down with your hand
  5. Let dry.
  6. Brush acrylic matte varnish over the surface of the paper to finish. Add a few drops of brown acrylic paint to the varnish to antique the paper.

Gilding

Supplies:

  • Spray Adhesive
  • Gold leaf or gilding flakes
  • Soft Brush
  • Craft mat or silicone mat
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  1. Cover your work surface with a craft or silicone mat.
  2. Place some waxed paper or parchment paper behind the pages you are working on.
  3. Spray the surface of the paper with a thin even coat of spray adhesive.
  4. Let the adhesive dry enough to be tacky.
  5. Lay the gold leaf or gilding flakes on the paper.
  6. Brush it with a soft brush.
  7. Burnish the surface with a soft cloth.
Yellow acrylic paint followed by brown paint with large foam stamps

Yellow acrylic paint followed by brown paint with large foam stamps

Doodling on top of gelli prints. A fun background page

Doodling on top of gelli prints. A fun background page

Gelli Texture Plates

You can create your own texture plates with some molding paste.

Supplies:

  • Small canvas panel
  • Molding paste
  • Palette knife, old credit card, or a scraper
  • Stencil
  • Any textured item to impress in the design
  1. Place the stencil on the canvas panel.
  2. Spread molding paste over the stencil with a palette knife, spatula or scraper— then, scrape off excess.
  3. Press textures on top of the stencil into the molding paste. You have a little time before it sets up. If you want to make changes, just smooth out the surface and press your textures into the molding paste again.
  4. Carefully lift and remove the stencil.

Allow your texture plate to dry completely before using.

  • Instead of using a stencil, apply a layer of molding paste directly to the substrate and make assorted marks and textures over the entire surface, or part of it.
  • Food wraps (plastic, foil and waxed paper) and bubble wrap create great textures and patterns when pressed into wet molding paste.
  • Draw into the wet molding paste with a soft-tipped tool or stylus.

Printing With Your Textured Plate

  1. Apply acrylic paint to your Gelli® plate and roll into a thin layer with a brayer.
  2. Press the texture plate into your painted plate and remove.
  3. Place your printing paper onto the gel plate, rub to transfer the paint, and pull your print.

After you’ve pulled a print, quickly apply a new layer of paint to your Gelli® plate and press the texture plate into it. There should be some paint left on the texture plate from the previous print. Some of that paint will transfer when pressed into the Gelli® plate, creating a print with more complex coloring.

More Gelli Print Background Page Ideas

Stencils can be used to create amazing backgrounds on altered book pages

Stencils can be used to create amazing backgrounds on altered book pages

Using Stencils for Altered Book Pages

A lot depends on how you can use stencils to create the background pages in your altered book. Remember, it is your art, your way! So how you use stencils on your altered book pages is totally up to you. You may think of stencils as something you can use as a standalone tool to create backgrounds.

Acrylic Paint

Your option with acrylic paint is to paint a background and then use the stencils. Or you can use the stencils by themselves to create a custom background.

  • Make sure to paint parts of the paper with light and contrasting acrylic paints so the pattern will still be visible.
  • Use metallic acrylic paint to add visible highlights to your pages.
  • Add tissue papers and not regular pattern papers so the stenciled patterns will show through.
  • Try not to leave white space and cover the entire page.
  • You can also add more images and patterns with stamping.
  • Use a black pen to draw and highlight selected images.
  • Use stencils that have a repeating patterns like circles, stars, dots etc.
  • Make sure you are using different size of shapes on the stencils so some of the patterns will be small and some larger.
  • Stencil the patterns with contrasting and strong colors so the patterns will still show through the colored layer.
  • Use a sponge and acrylic paints to stencil to achieve crisp images without bleeding.

More Stenciled Background Ideas

  • using stencils with Gelatos - YouTube
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Dip a glass or jar in paint to add circular designs to your background

Dip a glass or jar in paint to add circular designs to your background

Free Resources for Altered Book Backgrounds

These is a host of materials that you could use as backgrounds for your altered book pages. Many of these are available on the internet at little or no cost to you.

Coloring Pages

There are dozens of coloring pages that you can print and use on your altered books. Look for repeated patterns like circles and shapes. You can color the images or leave them as is. These are often themed, so you can find what you need.

Music Sheets

There are dozens of free music sheet pages that you can print and use as background pages in your altered book. Just print them and cut to size. Adhere them to your pages. If you are looking for something specific like Christmas or Easter music, type what you are looking for in your browser. These sheets can be sprayed, colored or stenciled.

More Free Resources for Altered Book Backgrounds

Leave some white space on your backgrounds to highlight a special embellishment or design

Leave some white space on your backgrounds to highlight a special embellishment or design

More Background Ideas

Final Thoughts on Background Pages in Altered Books

We have covered a lot of ideas and techniques to help you create altered book page backgrounds. While we have hopefully given you a bit of inspiration to help you get started on your altered book journey, there are a lot more techniques out there.

Have fun with your supplies and tools. Use what you have and enjoy the process. Look around your home and think about what you could use to create more backgrounds.

Have fun with color. Learn what color combinations are your favorites. Mess with colors and learn how to use them.

Every time you create a new background, you are moving forward with your art. We wish you new inspiration and experiences.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Linda F Correa