How To Keep Pages From Sticking Together

Most of us who have done altered books or art journals have experienced this horror: you open a book, turn the pages, and come to a set that seems to be permanently fused together. That terrible cracking and tearing you hear as you try to pry them apart is the sound of artwork being destroyed, because the artist who created them didn't know she should have taken a few minutes to protect them.

This article will help prevent you from being that artist, whose hard work is destroyed. 

Why Do Pages Fuse Together?

Several things tend to cause your pages to fuse together:

  • Acrylic mediums. The acrylic mediums you use may cause your pages to fuse together. Are you using Mod Podge on paper? Your pages are guaranteed to fuse together, no matter how long you let them dry! But even those of us who use artist quality mediums may experience page fusing.
  • Acrylic paints. I love acrylics, but no matter what quality you use, they have a tendency to stick together when pressed together, face to face, over time. They're really designed to be used on flat surfaces, like canvas, not in books.
  • Glue snot. If you use glues or dry adhesives, you've experienced glue snot: glue that oozes out from around the piece you meant to stick down. No amount of wiping will beat back the stickiness of some glues.
  • Glossy finishes. For some reason, any paint, medium or glue that dries shiny is particularly susceptible to sticking to anything you put on top of it. So, close a book that has glossy paint on one page, and handmade paper on the opposing one, and you'll end up with a page that's stuck together.
  • Heat and humidity. I live in Texas, where it's hot and humid for half the year. Any unsealed altered book, art journal, or set of postcards sent through the mail to me invariably sticks together. Even if you live somewhere that isn't particularly hot or humid, if you do collaborative work, you should learn to seal it properly, just in case your piece ends up going somewhere where it is.

How To Seal & Protect Your Pages

There are several easy ways to seal and protect your pages, to keep them from sticking together. Here are the ones I like best:

Dorland's Wax

I seal almost all my flat work with Dorland's Wax Medium. It's a mix of waxes and resin, with a little solvent, designed to use with powdered pigments. Mostly, it's an encaustic and oil painting medium, but it's quite handy as a sealer for acrylic work.

This video is an excerpt from my A Year of Altered Books class, and shows how I seal book pages. It's pretty simple: wipe on, rub in, and let dry.

A few things to know:

  • Dorland's Wax contains a solvent that may remove some inks. I usually circumvent this by doing an isolation coat of acrylic matte medium, to lock down my artwork, before I apply the final protective coat.
  • The wax coat can be left as is after drying, or buffed with a soft cloth, to create a soft glow in the finish. I generally leave it as is, unless I'm working on bare wood.
  • A little bit goes a long way. If you're going to order it to try, the smallest size (I think it's 4 oz.) will probably last you quite a while. I generally buy a 16 oz. tub, which lasts me a full year---and I do a ton of flat work in a year.

A White Candle

Not ready to invest in a tub of Dorland's Wax? Here's the broke woman's way to seal pages, and keep them from sticking: use a white, unscented candle.

This video will show you how to seal a set of pages, using a plain white candle from any craft or big box store.

Yes, it has to be white, because you're depositing a light layer onto your pages, and you don't want to leave any color behind.

And yes, it should be unscented, particularly if you're working in someone else's book, because they might be sensitive to scents, and you don't want to stink up their space. Also, if multiple people use this method in the same book, and they use white candles with different scents, you can end up with a combination that really reeks. Vanilla gardenia peppermint, anyone? Go with the unscented.

In a pinch, I've also wiped pages with waxed paper, and it's done a fairly decent job.

Talcum Powder or Cornstarch

This is a totally old school method, but it works on all but the darkest of pages:

Sprinkle a little talcum powder, baby powder, or cornstarch onto your pages, and brush it around to cover the page. Shake the excess off into the trash, but don't wipe the pages down, because you want just a light dusting to remain behind. 

This method is particularly useful for glue snot.

What NOT To Use

Here are the half-baked methods some people use to protect their work when doing round robins:

  • Sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper. Some artists cram a sheet of waxed paper or parchment paper from the kitchen between their pages, and that's great for the short term, while you're still working in the book. It's not a good permanent solution. Once the book is handled, and that protective sheet falls out, the pages are once again unprotected, and subject to damage. I loathe this method, because not only does it add another layer of unnecessary bulk to the book, it basically passes the responsibility for protecting your work along to the book's owner. If you do this, you're pretty much deciding you don't care if your work gets damaged once it leaves you. DO NOT DO THIS!
  • Nothing. Some people really don't do anything to protect their pages. In a collaborative project, every artist who receives the book or journal you've worked in will think you're an idiot, or will wonder if you're just too inexperienced to know any better, or will feel hurt that your work in their book has arrived in poor condition. If you choose not to protect your pages, you're letting all those other artists know that even if your work is brilliant, they probably shouldn't work with you on projects that involve books, because you don't know how to properly finish your work. What's the point of doing lovely work if your pages fuse together, and nobody else ever gets to see it? Don't be that artist.

One Method of Unsticking

If you receive a book with pages fused together, and are afraid that pulling them apart will result in damage, there's one thing you can do that sometimes solves the problem: put the book in the freezer overnight, then pull it out, and try separating those pages while they're still cold. Sometimes, they come apart easily, or come apart on their own while they're cold. 

If this works, put a piece of waxed paper between the previously stuck pages, and let the book return to room temperature before you seal them.

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