How To Apply an Isolation Coat

What the Heck is an Isolation Coat?

An isolation coat is a clear, permanent coating that separates the surface of a piece from the work done over it.

Often, an isolation coat is applied when a piece is finished. It seals any absorbent areas of the piece, to create an even surface for the final sealer or varnish. It also protects the piece if/when the varnish or final sealer is removed in the future, by separating the surface from any solvents used in removal.

So, an isolation coat can be a protective coating, to keep your sealer from mucking up your finished piece, and also to keep it safe from whatever solvents are used to remove old, cracked varnish from it 100 years from now. In my case, it protects the surfaces of my finished pages and pieces from my solvent-based sealer, Dorland’s Wax Medium, which has an obnoxious habit of wiping pastels and pen work away if it’s applied to a piece that hasn’t received an isolation coat.

Isolation coats can also be used while you’re working on a piece, to protect the work you’ve done from the work applied over it. Here’s a quick video, showing two ways I use isolation coats when I work:

Small Punched Niches in Altered Books

One of my favorite things to do in altered books is creating niches: small open sections, to hold goodies that take up too much space to be applied flat. For these pages, I created small, round niches to hold herbs:


Cutting niches with a craft knife can be hard on the hands, so I did these with a round paper punch. This first video shows how I set up the page block, and punched niches for both pages at once:

This second video shows how I put the net into the front sides of the niches, filled them with herbs, and sealed the page block closed, giving it a clean finish:

I opted to do very shallow niches, but this punched technique can be used to create deep ones, as well. Using a round punch is easiest in terms of getting everything lined up easily, but other shapes can be used. Just be sure to keep your punch at the same angle, and take time to line it up each time you punch a new set of pages.

11 Quick & Easy Altered Book Backgrounds


I recently did an altered book layout that described the properties of 11 different colors. I needed a variety of backgrounds that were monochrome, simple, and fun. Here are the pages when they were finished:

Here’s a speed-through video, showing how those backgrounds went together. They’re all pretty simple:

Tabbed Altered Book Pages


I love to do altered book layouts that contain a lot of pages, and a lot of related information. One of the devices I use to cram a lot of stuff into a little space is to create tabbed pages that are slightly narrower than the pages that surround them, to create a multi-page layout that looks like it belongs. Here’s how that works:

Traced Lettering


I have horrible handwriting, so when a piece I’m working on requires a handwritten look, I start hunting for a way to cheat. For an altered book layout that used 14 sets of pages, I needed hand lettering that would look good, but not take forever, or look like it was generated on a computer.

My compromise was to use unwaxed deli paper, a pen, and a computer print of the text I wanted to use. Here’s how it went together:

Be sure to use a permanent black pen, and to give it a blast of heat before applying it.

In a pinch, this would also work with tracing paper instead of deli paper.

Hand Carved Stamp Lessons


While I was making 30 of these postcards for a swap here at Mixed Media Club, I shot a lot of video. Below are some short lessons on the various things I did to put them together.


I carve stamps on an assortment of materials, with minimal tools. Here’s a quick look:

Transferring the Design

There are a variety of ways to transfer a design to the rubber. Here are a few suggestions:

Carving the Stamp

Once you have the right tools, carving a stamp is pretty straightforward. Here’s how I carved this stamp:

Printing the Design

Once the stamp is carved, it’s time to pull a test print, and then print the finished design. Here’s how I did that:

Adding Color

I wanted to add a little color to the design after it was printed. Here’s a look at the media I tried, and what worked:

Applying Metal Leaf

MonaLisaLeafWhen it comes to applying metallic accents, we’ve all struggled with the options available. Metallic paints and pens may mimic some characteristics of real metal, but they often look washed out and fake compared to the real thing.

So, let’s use the real thing: metal leaf.

Metal or composition leaf is usually made of aluminum and zinc, and is the less expensive cousin of real gold or silver leaf. It has slightly different properties than the real thing, but when it comes right down to it, if you’re just doing a tiny bit on a piece, base metal will do. (Although, as I mention in the video below, if you have the means or the opportunity to work with real gold or real silver leaf, do so, because it’s lovely to work with.)

Here’s a bit of me, leafing the inside of some watch tins for a piece I was working on:

You’ll need the following to do a good leafing job:

  • A book of metal leaf. Mona Lisa is probably the most popular brand, and it’s available in an array of colors on Amazon, and at Dick Blick.
  • Gold leaf size, or metal leaf adhesive. Both go on as a liquid that isn’t very sticky, but sets up in about 30 minutes to be very, very sticky. In a pinch, I’ve used spray adhesive.
  • A soft brush, and a stiffer bristle brush, for pressing the leaf down, and scraping away the loose bits.
  • Sealer. The folks who make Mona Lisa leaf also make a sealer, which is shiny. I like to use water soluble sealers, so gloss medium, or Diamond Glaze are my choices.
  • The lid of a shoe box, or a flat box without any foldy bits in the bottom or sides, to contain the leaf, and keep it from blowing around.