some people have asked what i do to the muslin before i paint it with watercolors, or how i glue it to the page, or when i glue it to the page... here's what i do. nothing about the process is precise or particular -- no matter what you do it'll look great!
1. wash muslin in the washing machine to take out the sizing. i like to buy muslin that has a tight weave because it makes for a smoother working surface. most stores have bolts of different qualities and weights of muslin - compare the weaves and pick one that's tightly woven unless you want to work on a rougher surface.
2. rip it up to the size of your page (or whatever size you want).
3. soak the pieces of muslin in walnut ink & water. i use walnut ink crystals - i fill a bowl with water, sprinkle some crystals in and stir. i soak the muslin anywhere from an hour to overnight -- it doesn't seem to make much difference in how dark it gets.
4. wring the walnut ink water out of the muslin -- don't rinse, it just washes away most of the stain. while i have the pieces of muslin in my hand, i sprinkle some crystals here and there to add more walnut ink action. smudge it around - or not.
5. lay the pieces somewhere to dry.
6. now start using your muslin to wipe excess acrylic paint off your brushes, stencil them, stamp them -- whatever you want to get some color and interest going. any and all excess paint that i have while i'm working goes onto a piece of muslin.
this is what my pieces look like at this point.
7. when these pieces are dry, add some watercolor paint. i dip the muslin in my water cup and rub the wet spots in watercolor paint. or you can use a brush... you want a lot of pigment so the color'll bleed up through the acrylic paint at the end.
8. when the watercolors are dry put a layer of gel medium (or mod podge, or pva glue, or whatever - they all seem to work the same) on your journal page. lay the muslin down, and, if you want a smooth surface, use a brayer to adhere it. if you want lumps and bumps just press it down with your fingers. let this dry.
9. squirt some off-white paint (my favorite is 'light buttermilk' by americana) on the page, and with a dripping wet brush, cover the page. if you need more paint just squirt more on there. i like it to be pretty watery so the paint isn't too opaque. if you have an area that looks too covered up, just spray it with water and wipe some of the paint off. let this dry and you're done!
this is what the pieces above looked like after the 'light buttermilk' paint... they aren't glued down to a journal page, but you get the idea...
watercolors, colored pencils, ink, and oil pastels all work great on this surface. it's a 'toothy' surface so it really grabs the pigment from colored pencils and oil pastels. and you don't have to use a pale neutral color in the last step - or you can use more than one color. i don't stick with just one way on every page.
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if you want to make a Barely There Book...
follow the steps above, skipping # 8 and doing step 9 to both sides of the muslin. then stitch the pages together... one thing to remember when putting the acrylic on (step 9) is that a less watery mixture will let you paint with watercolors on both sides of the page -- there will be very little or no bleedthrough. heh, but that bleedthrough can be a really nice thing... another option is to coat the pages with matte gel medium.