Painting the Covers of Stonehenge Wire-bound Journals—Another Look

January 26, 2011

The full post is another look at painting the covers of these commercially available journals.

FRANKStonehenge-Cover Left: Painted cover boards on a Stonehenge wire-bound journal, image ©2011 Frank Bettendorf.

Readers of the blog will recall that in September I posted instructions for painting on the naked boards of your Stonehenge wire-bound journals.

That post walks you through wrapping and protecting your pages and applying the paint. I have two methods: without gesso and with gesso.

Well my friend Frank Bettendorf decided to take the plunge and used my instructions to alter the covers of a 7 x 7 inch Stonehenge journal. He agreed to let me use his questions and comments here on the blog so that you could all benefit from his experience—and so that I could add some clarifying comments. Frank's comments will be in italic and appear in the red color I use on my blog. My responses and comments will appear as regular text.

1. I need more experience with liquid acrylic because even though I thought I was painting "rapidly" my acrylics dried so fast that my attempts at adding second color were unsuccessful.

I should probably stress even more the need to work quickly with any type of acrylic paint, unless you add some retarder. When you use an acrylic retarder you increase the open time of your paint. This can be a great thing if you want to paint something that is going to take a bit of thought, and if you want more blending capabilities. Fluid acrylics are made to mix with the various media—gel medium, modeling medium, you name it. Because the pigment strength of an artist quality fluid acrylic (we aren't talking cheap craft paints here folks) is so high, you don't get the dilution you do when you mix other acrylic paints with a medium. A tube acrylic, even artist quality, already has more medium in the paint—it's what gives it the unique working characteristics people like for certain uses, but it already has a dilution of sorts and if you mix it with the various mediums you won't get the same intensity you get if you use a fluid acrylic in those mixes with mediums. It's good to know this going in and choose appropriately for your application and needs.

I don't use acrylic retarder because I hate the SMELL. All acrylic paints and mediums have some odor and I make my selections about which to use based on how well I can tolerate those odors. (I tend to use acrylics duing the spring, summer, and fall, when the windows can be open!) I haven't found an acrylic retarder that I can tolerate.

Instead I compensate the only other possible way—I paint as fast as I can. To make this more successful I also think what I want to achieve and make a little plan in my head (do a., then b., then c.) before I even crack a bottle of fluid acrylic open.

Next I only pour out about a quarter's worth (i.e., the American twenty-five cent piece) because it will dry on my palette. And I only pour out the color I'm actually using. I can always add more to the palette if I need it.

I needed to stress this more, perhaps, in the original post, the idea of making a plan, because there isn't much time, and I'm advocating using as little water as possible so that you don't get distressed or soaked boards.

All that said, once you have a sense of how rapid "rapidly" happens your next attempts will be better, and each time will also improve.

I recommend that if you haven't worked much with fluid acrylics that you practice on some cardboard or grocery bags first. Also you might want to make sure you have the humidifier on. I tend to have a dry house, but my point here is that if your temperature is cool-ish and a little more moist you'll buy yourself additional time over anyone painting in a dry, hot environment, or out in the sun for instance—which I don't recommend at all anyway, because that's just crazy; I only paint in the shade with a hat on).

Over time with practice you'll also get a sense of how much of the first color you need to put on to your piece in order for it to be still moist enough to blend when you add the second. (Again, environmental factors are going to be key here.)

And another factor that's key is how much moisture you have on your brush. I like to do these effects with a dry brush, but sometimes the paint is too viscous. In those situations I will wet the brush and then squeeze the hairs with a towel, pressing most of the water out of the brush. I'll then use the paint. Even that hint of moisture will do a lot to opening up your working time. (Without the negative effect of saturating your boards with moisture.)

FRANKStonehenge-back Left: the Completed outside back cover of Frank's painted journal. Image ©2011 Frank Bettendorf.

2. My second color tended to cover the first color rather than blend so I couldn't approximate what your cover looked like. That's  not necessarily bad but my vision of the front cover and back cover didn't come out the way my mind's eye had seen them.

Frank, and anyone out there who tries my approach from September 2010, hang in there, try it again. Think ahead as I mentioned in the response to comment one above. Take the other factors into consideration. You will learn to time it so that blending will occur.

If you are, however, one of those contemplative painters who works slowly at stuff then use a retarder. Use as little as possible at first and work your way up from there until you hit a happy mix. Try some environment control too! And always, do what Frank did—have your desired result in your mind's eye. Frank couldn't work fast enough in this first trial to get to his mind's eye view, but if he didn't have that vision in mind he'd never get there and he'd never realize where the sticking points are in his approach.

3. The insides of the front and back (not sent because they're too bad), were where I tried to use Prussian Blue and Flame Red. They made a color too black instead of a rich purple that I was trying to attain. Glad they are inside!

Frank made a common error in color mixing. Blue and Red don't make purple (Michael Wilcox deals with this in his book, "Green and Yellow Don't Make Green.") There is so much green in Prussian Blue and so much orange in Flame Red that everything pretty much cancels itself out, i.e., the green in the Prussian Blue is a complement to the red, and as such will blend to a neutral, which in full strength (undiluted with water or medium) will read as a dark black, and the orange in Flame Red will complement the blue in the Prussian blue, again two complements. You get the idea. To make a good purple you want a clean cool blue and a cool red. Then there will be no mixing of complements to neutralize the result. I like to use PB60 (of course) as my blue, but many folks like Ultramarine Blue or Cobalt Blue. Stay away from the Cadmium reds which are all too orange. You'll want to go with something like an Alizarin Crimson. I don't see one on the color chart for Golden Fluid Acrylics, but a Quin Red or Quin Crimson would be a good place to start, depending on the pigments used in those paints, discovered in your investigation.

Which leads me to another issue. I don't find Flame Red listed on the Golden Fluid Acrylics list which makes me wonder if Frank was using a different brand of paint. That might also lead to some issues with blending, drying times, and of course pigment load and quality. So if you're going to start using fluid acrylics I'll say it again—pick a quality brand like Golden. (And I don't get any kickbacks for saying this.)

4. Each piece of board absorbs liquid at a different rate and therefore my results of front and back worked differently. This can be managed by more experience with the board and the liquids, but requires some reactive planning.

I thought this comment was very interesting. I didn't find that my front and backs of the boards were substantially different in how they took the paint or worked up. I think when someone else tries to do for the first time what you do normally you always end up getting feedback like this which can lead to greater understanding for everyone. (I remember the first time I taught people to tear down paper, something I took as second nature I suddenly saw as a complex dance of finger, hand, and arm motions.)

It makes sense to me that the front and back surface of anything will have a slightly different working property. My only defense can be that I was working so quickly it was not sufficient to get my attention.

But since Frank brings it up I say, BEWARE. And, plan, as he and I both suggest.

The other thing that you can do if the different surfaces make difficulties for you is to cover both surfaces with gesso first (as explained in one part of my original post). The gesso, when dry will create a uniform working surface and give you options.

Additionally, the gesso will keep the paint suspended longer and increase the open time of the paint. (The bare board will suck the little moisture in the paint, down into its layers, drying the paint more quickly.)

So gessoing the boards might be a better way for you to attempt this form of board decoration.

5. Even though I covered the pages like you recommended I still used a newspaper sheet under the board I was painting. I did get some paint  on the newsprint when I did the edges. So you might think about suggesting this to your students/friends.

In my September post I show pictures of the books I'm painting on newspaper. The sheets are on the floor so it might not seem clear that I actually painted the boards while the books were on those sheets. (You can see some paint marks on those newspapers if you look closely.) Frank found it essential to work on newspaper to protect his work surface and I can't urge you strongly enough to do so also.

Additionally you'll want to consider protecting your clothing. I have painting clothing, but frankly, some days I just start painting without thinking if I have painting clothing on and the end result is that most clothing I have has some acrylic paint or ink on it. If that isn't your style then I suggest you have a painting jumpsuit or smock. Otherwise you're going to be stylistically challenged.

6. I followed your directions and used the liquid acrylic undiluted and it preserved the rich color. However, there was a very slight  bend to the painted board so when the board dried I left the pages wrapped and weighted the journal with a package of copying paper overnight. This flattened the board.

This could be caused by a number of things. Most likely environmental (air temp and humidity) and paint application (thickness of paint). Frank didn't use any water, so that isn't an issue here. His response to handling the issue was correct.

I would recommend, however that when weighting a book in this fashion you wait at least 90 minutes for the covers to dry (again it will depend on the air temperature and humidity and the amount of water you used) and then insert either glassine or wax paper on both the insides and outsides of the boards so that they don't stick to each other during the pressing, or the objects you weight them with, or your table.

Once the acrylic paint has really cured the pages and boards aren't going to stick together—which is one of the reasons I use the fluid acrylics instead of the tube acrylics. With the latter you have to use more water or medium to make them move and they already contain more medium and the end result is something more plastic and sticky—in perpetuity.

7. I painted the Prussian Blue over the dried green on the cover and kinda like the effect. What do you think?

I like both of Frank's covers! One of the interesting things about fluid acrylics is that you can paint in glazes creating rich, textured covers that you can get lost in when gazing into them. This of course requires more patience because of the drying time needed in between layers. If you want to try this I suggest a dry complete layer (with as little moisture as possible, as suggested in my first post). Additional layers can be more diluted because you have sealed the board with the first layer. You can still do dry brush strokes and such, but your approach to blending focuses on the colors you layer, rather than blending paint side by side, so to speak.

8. I have another 7 x 7 inch Stonehenge wire-bound journal so I'll try the process again because I like trying to solve the problems. I promise to send the results with a narrative of my adventure!

Thank you Frank, for diving in there and giving it a try. I look forward to seeing what you do with the next book. And I appreciate your willingness to share your results with others. I hope you enjoy this new journal and have great fun filling it up with a visual record of your life!

9. It was fun doing the trying and of course I learned something, which I guess is good.

If it was fun, I think that's important. The learning is also important. Often we don't try a new technique or art material because we are concerned about the results, unsure about how to proceed. You can have the most detailed instructions in front of you to follow, but because there are variables that can't be constant as mentioned above, some differences will arise. What happens is that in focusing on those variables and responding to them to get the result we have in our mind's eye, we learn how to manipulate the materials.

This is something you cannot do simply by reading. You must get your hands dirty like Frank did.

I will try in the near future to make a video of me painting a cover—not just so you can see how I do it (which will augment the reading of my instructions and the images I've posted) but because real-time often helps things click in the mind. Also, it will be pretty darn funny to see me rolling around on the floor which is where I work when doing stuff like this.

I still hope to make it in the comedy arts!

    • Frank Bettendorf
    • January 26, 2011

    Thank you for responding to my questions with thorough suggestions and guidance. You’re detailed recommendations provide the kind of thoughtful directions that I can use. I appreciate you taking the time to be so helpful. And now to start applying the gesso!

    • Miriam
    • January 28, 2011

    I’ve just started using fluid acrylics. I’m taking an online workshop and the instructors use Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid (I have the Gloss). It extends the working time of the acrylic paint and I don’t think the smell is too strong, but I’m sure that depends on the person 🙂
    Thanks Roz!

  1. Reply

    Miriam, you’re right, odors do depend on the person. Sadly I am very sensitive and Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid is, like the others I’ve tried (all the major brands), something that smells too much for me to work with it.

    For people that aren’t bothered by the smell of any of these products (glazing liquids or retardants) they offer a great way to slow down and have more open time in the painting.

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