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Tips and Troubleshooting When Working with Adhesives in Your Altered Book


Glues and Adhesives can present special problems while you are assembling your altered book.
The following tips might prove helpful.

  1. What do I need to know about paper grain?
  2. How do I glue a few pages together for strength?
  3. How do I glue a large block of pages together?
  4. Is glue the only way to attach blocks of pages?
  5. How do I apply the glues and adhesives?
  6. How do I keep the brushes clean?
  7. How do I prevent my pages and collages from sticking together?
  8. How do I separate pages that have stuck?
  9. How do I attach vellum without the adhesive showing through?

1. What do I need to know about paper grain?

Identifying the direction of the paper grain is important before you glue. Your book will not lie flat unless you glue paper-to-paper and paper-to-board with the grain of both going in the same direction.

To idenity the grain direction, take your paper and bend it end to end. Do not crease it in the middle. Press in the paper near the fold with the flat of your hand and notice the amount of resistance. Notice how easily it bounces back when you release the pressure. Now release the paper and bend it end to end in the other direction. Again, press in and notice the resistance. The grain is going with the fold that offered the least resistance and that bounced back the easiest.

2. How do I glue a few pages together for strength?

  1. Apply liquid glue or gel to the first page to be glued. Try to apply it to both sides of your paper if possible, using a thin, even coating. Be sure you have applied glue close to the spine for strength.

    (Glue sticks are not the best choice for this, as the glue becomes brittle over time. This will cause your block of pages to pop open.)

  2. Tilt your book on its side, so the pages to be glued are pointing downwards. This helps ensure the pages are lying flat. Close the top page over the lower page, smoothing downwards to produce as much flatness as possible.
  3. Burnish the surface pages, using a brayer (available at joann.com), old credit card or hard ruler.
  4. Repeat with the other pages to be glued.
  5. Weigh your book down with a heavier book or other object. Allow to dry overnight or longer if needed. If the adhesive used was water-based or contained much moisture, you might want to insert layers of paper towels on both sides of the glued pages to soak up the excess glue.

3. How do I glue a block of pages together?

There are various ways to do this. This works for me.

  1. Cut niches, if any, before using the adhesives.
  2. Place wax paper over the areas of the book that you want to protect.
  3. Clamp the block of pages together, if desired. Sometimes I use clamps; sometimes I don't.
  4. Apply your adhesive to the outside edges of the pages to be glued. Rub around with your finger or with an applicator, smearing glue inside the edges of many of the pages.
  5. Do the same around the edges of the niches, if you are using niches.
  6. Weigh your book down with a heavy object (such as a heavier book) and allow the glue to dry. This could take overnight or longer.
  7. Reapply glue to any pages that are loose, and allow to dry.
  8. Apply acrylic gesso and acrylic paint, if you are using these products, after you use the adhesives. (Gesso is a primer that is used to give tooth or strength to a page that is going to be painted.) Acrylics have been known to prevent adhesives from binding properly. Therefore, do your gluing before you paint or gesso.

4. Is gluing the only way to attach a block of pages together?

No. You can punch or poke small holes through the pages. Then string wire, twine, fabric, ribbon, etc., through the holes and tie. This approach has its advantages. You do not have to worry about glue-related wrinkling and buckling. The downside is that inner pages will be somewhat visible. When I made an altered book this way, the people I showed it to tried to pull the pages apart, thinking there was art hidden inside.

If you are fastening only a few pages, you might attach them with eyelets, brads or nailheads.

5. How do I apply the glues and adhesives?

Experiment and discover what works best for you. The following are recommendations:

  • Liquid glues can be applied with spatulas, wide brushes, etc.
  • Pastes, gels or mediums can be applied with tools such as bristle brushes (cheap, synthetic ones are good enough), foam brushes (the kind you find in Michaels for less than $1), makeup sponges, your fingers, plastic knives, a palette knife, old credit cards, or home-made glue spreaders devised from a rectangle of cardboard.
  • Wide, soft brushes work well for applying PPA.
  • Some altered book artists prefer spray adhesives and glues. There is a difference between the two: Spray glue sprays on wet and dries clear. Spray adhesive sprays on tacky and the dried finish is a little murky.

6. How do I keep my brushes clean?

Working with acrylic adhesives can be hard on brushes. Foam brushes, in particular, clog up quickly and must be replaced unless care is taken. One or more of the following might work for you:

  • Wash brushes out promptly under running water after using acrylic adhesives. Use soap if desired.
  • Store brushes that are wet from acrylic adhesives, mediums or gels in ziploc or regular bags. Freeze if desired, but you must thaw them out before using.
  • Clean clogged-up bristles with a fingernail brush.
  • Dedicate a brush to gels and mediums and do not use it for anything else.
  • Use denatured alcohol to remove acrylic paints and adhesives. Do not attempt to clean the brushes under water first, if planning to use alcohol.
  • Use commercial brush cleaners. Windsor & Newton brush cleaner, available at MisterArt.com is well liked.
  • Store your bristle brush or your foam brush in a container of diaper wipes. No cleaning is needed, and the brush will remain moist for ages. This is my preferred method. Diaper wipes also come in handy for other things, such as cleaning your rubber stamps after use.

7. How do I prevent my pages and collages from sticking together?

Pages that have been assembled with acrylic adhesives and other products can become sticky over time. It's no fun to open an altered book that you did last year and discover that your pages have stuck together.

Prevent the problem by one or a combination of the approaches below. All products (okay, maybe not cornstarch and wax paper) are available at MisterArt.com.

  1. Dust your pages lightly with talcom powder or cornstarch. Brush off as much as possible.
  2. Spray with an acrylic glaze, such as Krylon spray.
  3. Place wax paper between the pages and store that way.
  4. Use artist fixative sprays. Some people use unscented, aerosol hair spray as a fixative.
  5. Use sealers, available in brush and spray-on applications.
  6. Use Dorland's artist wax.
  7. Use PPA applied thinly.

8. How do I separate pages that are stuck.

    If you forgot to use the preventative measures noted above, then you might be faced with fixing a problem after the fact. There are no guarantees, but try the suggestions below.

  • Apply heat with a hair dryer or heat gun on low heat. Slowly pry the pages apart.
  • Place book in a ziploc bag, and place in freezer for a few weeks. Attempt to separate the pages while frozen.
  • If tearing occurs, you might try incorporating the tearing as a distressed look. As the software manufacturers say, "It's not a bug, it's a feature!"

9. How do I attach vellum without the adhesive showing through?

Try one or more of these approaches.

  • Use the vellum that has adhesive on the back, available in selected scrapbooking stores.
  • Use special vellum tapes, available at Joann.com
  • Use PPA (Gloss). Use lightly, then weight it a little.
  • Attach your vellum with eyelets, brads or nailheads rather than gluing.

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