Oil Painting in an Altered Book


Oil painting has been around since the 15th century.

Although oils are not the most typical choice of altered book artists, there is nothing to say you can't or shouldn't include them in your book if this is the direction your muse leads you.

What it is

Oil paints use pigments for color, and linseed or safflower oil for the vehicle and binder. This medium is slow to dry, and has a hard finish which protects its bright colors. These paints are usually opaque, and can be matte, semi-gloss or glossy.

Solvent-based cleanup is required, unless you are using the new water soluble oils.

Using Oil Paints

Adding a thinner (or solvent) will make your paints, well, thinner. Turpentine is often used as a thinner and you can use it to clean the brushes afterwards.

Adding a medium will affect the drying time, as well as giving other special effects. Check the product's label carefully to see what it is likely to do. Oil mediums are available from any of the manufacturers that produce this type of paint. Some altered book artists swear by USArtQuest's Dorland's Wax Medium. It can be mixed directly with paints, and also used as a protective coating afterwards.

Mixing equal parts thinner, medium and oil paint will result in a glaze when applied thinly.

Oil pastels are also available. Prime your surface with acrylic gesso before applying the pastels. This prevents the oil from bleeding through to other pages.

Adding an Oil Painting to an Altered Book

Painting directly onto the pages of an altered book is fraught with danger. There is no way to "stretch" the paper first, so serious warping would likely occur. Secondly, this medium, when applied in layers, takes months to dry thoroughly -- not a practical approach to altered book making.

The alternative is to work on a separate canvas, which you later attach to your book as a tip-in.

  1. Locate a bit of firm fabric or canvas and attach it firmly to stiff cardboard. Stretch it tightly.
  2. Prime the surface with gesso. Dry.
  3. Draw a rectangle on the gesso. Ensure the rectangle is smaller in size than the book it will eventually go in.
  4. Make a glaze (or glazes) by mixing equal parts thinner, medium and color.
  5. Apply light coats of oil paint to your canvas. Allow to dry thoroughly between coats. Note that this can take a very long time.
  6. When dry, spray with varnish. Dry.
  7. Attach your project inside your altered book as a tip-in.

Where Do I Get Them?

Brand names include Da Vinci, Gamblin, Grumbacher, Holbein, John Howard Samblen, Lafranc & Bourgeois, Old Holland, Rembrandt, Schmincke Mussini, Sennelier, Shiva, Weba Permalba, and Winsor & Newton. MisterArt.com! carries most brands.

Color Mixing Bible: All You'll Ever Need to Know About Mixing Pigments in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gouache, Soft Pastel, Pencil, and Ink


Return to Altered Book Home Page when finished with oil painting.