Saturday, March 28, 2015

Collaging Vintage Book Pages

 Very old book pages have always intrigued me. Something about their tea-colored appearance and quaint typography just draws me in. Sometimes margin notes written in a precise hand, or even a long-dead flower found pressed between the pages, offer tantalizing hints about the book's history.

Recently, I decided to use a page from a book published in the early 1800s as a support for a small collage. Don't worry, I did not destroy a precious relic : the sad old volume I used was already totally derelict when I acquired it. Its front cover was missing and its pages had long since separated from the spine. It was literally rescued from a conveyor belt that, in a few more seconds, would have dumped it into a commercial shredder. But tattered as it is, the old book still presents creative opportunities if not literary ones.

Just inside the missing cover is a page bearing the inscription "David Dunlop. 1856." Who was David Dunlop? How did he come to own this book? What was his interest in A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen? We'll never know the answers, but it's fun to look at his small yet elegant signature and speculate.

I wonder what he'd think about a page from his book becoming the basis for a modern piece of art:

"Holyrood" is a mixed media collage created on a page from 150 year old book. ©2015 Lynn Edwards

As you can see from the first photo the 1800s typography was teensy tiny. (How the heck did they ever manage to read it??) I wanted some of it to show through the artwork, so in places I used Gelli printed semi-transparent deli paper. It allows the type to peek through here and there, which gives the piece a sense of depth and mystery.

©2015 Lynn Edwards

The large typography you see in the piece came from books not quite as old as David Dunop's. I like to use typography in my art whenever possible; I think it makes the piece more interesting and gives viewers reasons to look more closely.

Although many old books have pages that are too frail to use as substrates, this page was surprisingly sturdy for its age. It bore up well under multiple layers of paper, paint, ink and adhesive when it was mounted on 140# watercolor paper. The only problem I encountered was a slight tendency toward wrinkling. To counteract it I made sure to let each layer dry completely before applying another layer.

When the collage was done, I sandwiched it between two pieces of freezer paper (waxy sides facing the art), piled a huge stack of heavy books on top, and let it sit for 24 hours. When I removed the books the collage remained perfectly flat. I then float mounted it onto a piece of foam board. After sealing Holyrood in a clear bag, it's now offered for sale through my Etsy shop, PlayingWithColors.

Had the page been more fragile, I could have gently brushed on a layer of clear matte acrylic medium or gel to reinforce it before collaging over it. If you're working with a book, try this on a page you don't intend to use.This lets you determine how it will behave and whether it will work for your project.

What was the oldest book you've ever used for making art? What has been your most exciting vintage book find to date? Answer one of these questions in the Comments section and you'll be entered in a drawing for a FREE art book from my personal collection. I'll announce the winner here on the blog next Friday, April 3. Good luck!

Text and images ©2015 Lynn Edwards

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