Learn How to Give Ephemera a New Life

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Giving ephemera a new life is easy with a few simple preparation steps. We'll prime our antique paper and then start to paint on the image of your choice. In the end, we'll have a new piece of artwork created using something old as the base.

Ephemera Painting - supplies

  • Ephemera paper 
  • Drawing paper
  • Glue 
  • White acrylic paint
  • Other acrylic paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Micron felt-tip pen
  • Drawing pencil (4B or 6B)
  • Tracing paper 
  • Sharpie 
  • Tape
  • Photograph or image in your sketch book
Tape down your drawing paper to a drawing board or your desk. You'll be painting the ephemera, and you don't want to final painting to be warped by the wetness. 
Your drawing paper should be about 1" larger in both directions than your ephemera so that you have place to put your tape. You want to make sure you don't tape right up to where the ephemera will go, to ensure you have an easier time taking the tape off at the end. So if you left 1/2" margins for the ephemera, put your tape at the 1/4" mark on each side.

Ephemera Painting - taping down your paper

Glue your ephemera paper to your drawing paper. I am using rice paste since it's acid-free and archival safe, but you can use Elmer's Glue or even a simple glue stick. If using Elmer's Glue, I would recommend watering it down a tiny bit and painting it on. We're gluing our ephemera paper to another piece of paper to strengthen it and ensure your painting process doesn't ruin it.

Ephemera Painting - gluing down the ephemera

Now we're going to paint over our ephemera with watered down, white acrylic paint to seal it. This way your ink won't bleed into the older paper. Add water to your white acrylic paint and carefully paint it over the ephemera. You don't want it to be too opaque. 

Ephemera Painting - painting on the wash

The paint will dry less opaque than it first appears. Compare the image below (wet paint) with the following images (dry paint). If it's too light after it dries, paint another thin wash on top. I like to set my work in front of a fan to dry faster. 

Ephemera Painting - finishing the wash on the ephemera

There are two ways to get your image onto your ephemera, and both will use the same technique. Because you can't erase pencil easily when it's on top of acrylic paint, we'll be using tracing paper. You can either use a sketch from your sketch book or a printed image; in either case, you can follow the steps below.
Lay your tracing paper over your sketch or printed image. Carefully Sharpie the outline of the subject matter onto the tracing paper.

Ephemera Painting - tracing your image

Flip your tracing paper over, and draw over the lines with a 4B or 6B drawing pencil.

Ephemera Painting - adding graphite to the trace

Flip your tracing paper over again so the Sharpie side is up. Position it over your ephemera paper where you want your image to go. Then, using your pencil, draw over your Sharpie lines. You want to use enough pressure to make the graphite transfer. You can lift up a corner and peek to make sure it's transferring.

Ephemera Painting - transferring your image

Lift off your tracing paper. You should now have your image transferred onto your ephemera.

Ephemera Painting - image transferred to ephemera

Using solid white acrylic paint (or whatever color your subject is), carefully paint within the outlines of your image. As you can see, I left a tiny ring of pencil lines around the outside. This is because the paint can sometimes pick up the graphite and dirty the paint.

Ephemera Painting - fill in your image with paint

You have probably now lost your inner lines. Once your paint completely dries, carefully lay your tracing paper over your image and retrace the inside lines.

Ephemera Painting - re-trace the inner lines

Now the fun finally begins! Carefully paint in your subject with solid acrylic paint. For works like this, I prefer to keep things simple. Not much blending or mixing. Instead, I use simple, solid colors. Don't worry about it looking blocky; we'll be covering it with ink. As before, it speeds things up to set your painting in front of a fan to dry.

Ephemera Painting - add color to your image

Once your paint is completely dry, start to ink your piece with your Micron felt-tip pen. It should flow smoothly over the acrylic paint. I love using felt pens to make fur. Here is where you can go round the outside of the subject with your ink to cover up the remaining graphite. Work slowly and make sure you give your ink time to dry to ensure you don't drag your hand through it and smear ink everywhere.

Ephemera Painting - start inking the image

Carefully work your way round your subject until you have inked in the whole piece. You can see that I went in with a little dab of white paint to bring out the cat's eye. Feel free to go back in with paint and then repeat inking in that area if you need to push value.

Ephemera Painting - finish inking the image

If you have any areas where graphite is still visible, go in with your paint and cover over it. You can see where I did this here on the cat's nose. It would be nice to erase the graphite, but sadly it just smears when it's on top of acrylic.

Ephemera Painting - final image

There are some people who love to keep ephemera safe and sound, but I prefer to give it a new life. You can take this skill and move on to add extra pieces of ephemera via collage. This is a great way to use old maps, letters, photographs, etc.


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