Using Watercolor Paint in an Altered Book


Watercolor paint is transparent, allowing you to see the white of the paper below.

It dries quickly, and cleans up with soap and water.

What It Is

Pigments provide the color. The vehicle is a combination of Gum Arabic and the water that you add when you paint. The binder is the gum in combination with the top layer of the paper.

This paint is available in professional or student quality. It comes in tubes, pans, and pencils.

Gouache is watercolor paint that has been made opaque through the addition of white.


  • Watercolor paper (sometimes called rag) is widely available in arts and craft stores. It is thicker and heavier than ordinary paper, resilient, and absorbs water evenly and slowly. You can also apply watercolors to other non-porous surfaces, including vellum, parchment, clay mineral panels, Tyvek, or silk.

  • To use watercolor paint on a porous surface, treat first with gesso then coat the dried gesso with acrylic ground medium, such as Golden Absorbent Ground.

  • Stretch your paper before applying watercolors. To do this, wet the page evenly, then fasten the wet page to cardboard or special board, stretching tightly. Allow to dry. This minimizes warping due to water.

  • Thin watercolor paint with water prior to using. Thick watercolor will crack.

  • Work from light to dark. Light applied over dark will not show up.

  • Apply layers of washes, drying in between. A wash is a thin layer of paint spread over much of the painting's surface. Allowing to dry between washes is called the wet on dry technique. Applying the second wash while the first is still wet is the wet on wet technique. Dry on dry technique (dry brush, dry paper) refers to adding paint directly to the surface without building layers. Dry on wet means adding paint with a dry brush to a wet surface.

  • Create interesting and unusual watercolor paint by mixing Gum Arabic, Jacquard Pearl-Ex (or other mica powders) and water. Apply as with any watercolor.

  • For an unusual effect, sprinkle salt over wet watercolor paint. This creates crackly, bumpy effect. Experiment to determine how long to leave the salt on the surface.

  • Mask surface areas that you don't want to paint. Commercial masking products, called friskets, are available at arts and crafts stores. For a more economical solution, try masking with rubber cement. You might also try using painters tape, which works well with acrylic paints.

    To use a liquid frisket, paint the frisket over the area you want to protect. When frisket is dry, apply your watercolor wash. Allow to dry thoroughly, then remove the frisket. The protected area is white and ready for you to work with or paint a different color.

    If using frisket directly on an altered book page, test first to be sure your page can handle it. Frisket has been known to remove the underlying text.

  • Speed up the drying time by applying heat. Hair dryers work well; embossing guns work, but proceed with caution to avoid scorching.

  • Create resistance effects by writing on your surface with white or colored crayon. Cover surface with a wash. The crayoned markings will resist the paint. You can also try this using Versamark or dye inks.

Watercolor Paint in Altered Books

Altered book artists sometimes use watercolor paint to create special effects. Since any water-based paint, including this one, will increase buckling and warping, many prefer to create background papers or embellishments. They then attach the dried papers to the altered book using glue or the Xyron.

Brand Names

Brand names include Daler-Rowney, Da Vinci, Dr. Ph. Martin, D'Uva, Grumbacher, Holbein, Lascaux Aquacryl, Old Holland, Winsor & Newton, Schmincke Horadam, Sennelier and others.

Where to Get It sells many types of this paint, as does Dick Blick.

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

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Return to Altered Book Home Page when finished with watercolor paint.