Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Preparing Bristol Board for Artist Trading Cards

I am a huge fan of Strathmore vellum Bristol board.

I have tried other brands, imported stock and also the plate (or smooth) finish and I always quickly go back to my old friend Strathmore.

Bristol board while not as heavy as illustration board is very similar to the paper used for the covers of paperback books and if properly prepared may be the perfect surface for ATCs (Artist Trading Cards).

Artist Trading Cards (or ATCs) are miniature works of art the same size as a traditional baseball card and small enough to fit inside standard card-collector pockets, sleeves or sheets The ATC movement has its origins in Switzerland . Cards are produced in various media, including dry media (pencils, pens, markers, etc), wet media (watercolor, acrylic paints, etc), paper media (in the form of collage, paper cuts, found objects, etc). The cards are usually traded or exchanged rather than sold.

Bristol has the major plus of having both a front and a back surface suitable for use (as opposed to illustration board which only has one.

Bristol is also very easy to cut and comes either in sheets or padded in a wide variety of sizes.

If brand is not an issue your local instant printer and sometimes big box office supply stores have COVER STOCK in reams which is actually Bristol board. This is by far the least expensive way to obtain this paper.

Since ATCs are 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches you can get 9 cards out of one sheet of 8 ½ x 11 cover stock.

Here is how I prepare the paper for use:

Gesso one side of several sheets of paper using a 1 inch white nylon wash glaze brush. Make sure your strokes are even and the paper is covered thoroughly and smoothly.

Allow the sheets to rest and dry on a dry flat surface in a dust free area for about 30 minutes.

Remember paper may feel dry on the surface but can still be damp in its inner fibers.

Flip the sheets and gesso the backs in the same manner.

Repeat this process until each sheet has 3 thin, even coats of gesso on each side. Allow them to rest overnight laying flat.

On day 2 use a good matte liquid acrylic like Deco Art Americana Paint and base coat the sheets with a light colour like ivory, linen white or even a soft pastel-it depends on what you have planned for the designs on the paper.

Be sure to basecoat both sides again using a one inch wash glaze brush and working for a smooth even surface.
I like to put on two coats of the base colour on each side.

If you have space to do 12 sheets you have prepped enough surfaces for 108 ATCs.

Store the paper which has dried completely flat in an acid free cardboard box with acid free tissue between the sheets-you can also use tracing paper or vellum to separate your sheets.

Since I have a repertoire of backgrounds that I like-I would go ahead and prep some basic backgrounds and colours to save time later.

One coat of a soft color like baby blue or pink, celadon green or soft tan on each side drying between coats should give you a good base upon which to add texture techniques like Parchmentier.

Parchmentier is a French decorative painting technique that gives your papers surface the look of a good parchment paper.

I use water to thin the paint but I have done this for years and I can feel when the glaze is the correct viscosity for my needs.

You want the paint/water mixture to be a smooth inky consistency not runny but also not so thick that it won’t flow and lift easily when applied.

What you are going to do is quickly put on a coat of glaze then using a crumpled paper towel you are going to tamp and lift off the glaze quickly.

Practice will give you a wide variety of surface textures from soft and cloudy to crisp and stippled.

If you are not getting satisfactory results with water try tinning you paint with a glaze base such as those used for faux finishing.

I generally only texture one side of the paper the other side I leave base coated so it suitable for decoupage or a darker solid colour.

Strie’ is another easy surface texture and is applied similarly to Parchmentier except in this case you are going to wipe the paint off in one direction (usually the long way since this is going to leave lines or striations and it seems most artists like these strong lines to be on the vertical or diagonal.

Once this step is finished and well dried you can actually apply a misting of a good spray sealer/finisher OR you can splatter, cup ring, rubber stamp or stencil.

I have used this technique to prepare paper for demonstration sheets and quite frankly I would cut my cards out before I base coated with the acrylic.

If you basecoat the cut cards the edges get sealed making the finished card stronger and more moisture resistant.

IMPORTANT: I like to varnish my cards using a matte varnish you can do this after decoupaging but should do it before adding any ribbon, trims or other additions.

The one exception is cotton trims-and these must be as close to 100% cotton as possible-cotton lace and trims can be saturated with gesso (squeeze out the excess so holes in lace doesn’t close up-then you can smooth the lace onto the gessoed card and allow to dry (trim excess after it is dry) this can later be antiqued or highlighted after base coating etc with acrylic.

Remember to finish BOTH sides of your card before varnishing again using a one inch white nylon wash glaze brush and a good quality acrylic varnish apply two or more thin coats to each side of the card, drying between coats on each side.

When dry this finished card will feel almost like thin leather, it is very tear resistant and can actually be carefully wiped off with a damp cloth if dusty or soiled.

I’m sure this sounds like a great deal of work but once you are proficient in the steps and finishes it goes quickly and again you are preparing over a hundred card blanks in advance of needing them.

I hope this helps, feel free to email any questions or ask them in the comments section following this post-questions are the way we learn and also the way I monitor how well I have explained these techniques-it’s so much easier to show you than to write all this out so one of these days maybe I will finally do some videos.

I hope this information is useful!

If you look at my online portfolio on Carbonmade
( all the book covers and the alien makeup renderings are done on Strathmore vellum Bristol prepared in this manner exactly using Delta products-I started with Deco Art but Delta was a local company and I was able to have a much closer relationship with them since I could visit the factory regularly and work with their technical team-I was so sorry to see them go out of business.

I pray Deco Art hangs on – they make wonderful metallics and their products are every bit as good as Deltas were.

BTW in closing this technique is very useful for other applications like hat brims for doll hats or adding dimensional pieces to cards or altered art pieces-the paper while wet can be somewhat molded and formed to make scrolls or leaf shapes even mermaid know my motto: Explore, Create, Design and SMILE but above all PLAY!!!

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