Distressed Book Covers

Need a stress-reliever camouflaged as an art project? You can relax and make some nice looking book covers with 4-ply museum board and acrylic inks. But first, take up your mallet! Hit metal objects into the soft board until you feel satisfied. A version of the distressed covers showing simulated wood is on page 216 of Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms. I show this technique to my college students right after midterms. 

You can purchase a mallet at your local hardware store. If you don't see one, ask. I discovered that although they only cost a couple of dollars, they were locked inside a glass case: the most stolen item in the store. 

Materials: mallet, metal objects, knife, brush, 
acrylic paints (regular or liquid, but not inks: I used
black, red, and silver), 4-ply museum board, torn paper
(and a piece of paper towel, not shown)

With the mallet, pound different objects into the board 
and make a variety of marks.

Use the knife to cut a large random shape.
Dig into the corner and begin to 
peel away one of the layers of the board.

Peel up the shape.

Your raw distressed board.

Brush on the red and black paints randomly.
Paint the front, back and all four edges of the board.

Using the wet paint as an adhesive, brush the printed paper
into the shape/depression you made with the knife.

You can leave it like this.
Or you can add more color.

When the previous paints are dry, brush silver paint over them.

Wipe it away with a paper towel in some spots.

Looks a bit ghostly, a bit urban now.

Get metallic and add rivets, if you like.
(This is a different board.)
You can also make nicks in the edges.
The three holes on the left could be used
as sewing stations for any Coptic Binding (pages 174-183).


dinahmow said…
I bet some students wished (bang!) you'd told them about this BEFORE the mid-terms (whomp!)
A few years ago, in a print-making class, we did similar things which we then inked and printed. One of my pieces ended up ,ink marks and all, as the back cover of a journal.
Anonymous said…
Hi Alisa, This looks like such fun. I'd like to ask a few technical questions:

(1) With acrylics applied to only one side of the board, do you ever have problems with the board warping? I do see that the boards shown in your demo look wonderfully flat; did you have to leave them for many days under a weight to get that result? (I've never used acrylic paints on museum board before but I have used PVA glue, and what happens if I apply glue to only one side of the board is that it warps. I'd have expected that an application of acrylic paint to just one side of the board would have the same effect.)

(2) Why not acrylic inks? (Is it because they sink into the board rather than coating it?)

(3) Do you apply a top coat of some sort to keep the acrylic paint from sticking to things it comes in contact with? (In my experience, even fully cured acrylic surfaces can stick to things.) I'm wondering whether you've found this to be a problem (and do you have a solution!) if, for example, a book with an acrylic painted cover is stacked under other items, or squeezed in next to other items on a bookshelf?

Thanks in advance. I always learn so much from your blog,at many levels (not only technical!).
Alisa said…
1) You will notice that in the painting step I say "paint the front, back and all four edges of the board" for just the reason you mentioned. You must paint both sides to prevent warping. This is also true with glue; always glue something to both sides OR you can glue to one side and paint the other. Use acrylic paint sparingly!

2) Ink is too wet.

3) No need to coat the acrylic paint, once dry, with anything. If you have any sticking problems (which you should not have if you have applied the paint sparingly) you can use sandpaper and sand it down, adding to the distressed effect.