Claybord Book Tutorial

(This tutorial was previously published in the book Flavor for Mixed Media by Mary Beth Shaw, copyright 2011; republished here courtesy of

In ancient times, a diptych was a hinged writing tablet or an altarpiece. A diptych today refers to two paintings that are displayed as one. Although I often make paintings that consist of multiple panels, I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t even think of using my paintings for book covers until a friend suggested it to me (thanks, Karyl!). Of course, she is a bookbinder, and I am a painter, so go figure.

Anyway, there is something absolutely incredible about assembling claybord paintings into a book. Claybord makes the covers feel beefy and important and, well, so hardbound. I use simple binder rings for assembly because I like my books to be functional and flexible enough to add and subtract pages at will. Alternatively, you could bind this “for real” using a coptic stitch or stab binding. Do what works for you. Now let’s grab some power tools and check out the texture opportunities.


claybord, 2 smooth, same-size flat panels
rotary tool (such as a Dremel) with 1⁄8″ (3mm) drill bit and grinding stone attachment
engraving tool (Dremel)
Fiber Paste, Clear Tar Gel and Glass Bead Gel (Golden)
palette knife
wooden skewer
bristle brushes
acrylic paint
Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
small Claybord scraps (optional) (Ampersand)
craft glue
black glaze pen or gel pen
binder rings
assorted paper, cut to size of clayboards


Start with two claybords that are the same size. Sketch out a rough composition with pencil. Along the two sides that will be the spine, drill three holes, using an 1⁄8″ (3mm) drill bit. My holes are about 1⁄4″ (6mm) from the edge, with one hole centered and the other two 1″ (3cm) from the top and bottom.



Lightly sketch out a word, then, using an engraving tool, carve out the letters. Use the engraving tool to also carve other sections as desired.



I love to create circles using the end of a rotary tool grinding stone—you need to hold the tool firmly and bring it straight down onto the surface. Practice first on a scrap piece of claybord or on the back of the piece.




When you are finished carving, begin applying mediums as a base for more texture. I like to apply Fiber Paste using a palette knife. I just spread it around and leave nice big strokes showing.



Got You Covered

It is a matter of personal preference whether you line up the front and back cover when you draw your composition. Sometimes I love the look of a continued line, but other times I create each cover somewhat separate from the other. I do try to keep the palette consistent so it looks like the covers actually go together.


Glass Bead Gel works well through stencils. Here I am using punchanella.




Tar gel is fun to apply using a wooden skewer. Drizzle it on, creating loose shapes with the drizzle. You can also draw with it (to some extent) using the end of the skewer.




Allow the mediums to dry before you begin painting the boards. I like to start my painting by section. I first put down a coat of Titanium Buff. Then I start layering color. I like to switch back and forth between the heavier-bodied acrylics and the fluid acrylics. Although I tend to use my pencil lines as a guide, I sometimes change my mind and paint over them.



A Magic Eraser is a cool tool for bringing back white areas. Dampen it with water and rub it over raised or flat areas. It will remove paint back down to the original color of the claybord.



Consider Your Values

One thing I always keep in mind when creating my pieces is to try to imagine how they would look if copied in black and white. If it seems like they would turn out looking all mid-range gray, I lighten my lights and darken my darks in order to add some interest and contrast. Imagining your piece as black and white is an easy way to see if you have value changes represented in your work.


Continue layering dark and light colors, laying color down, wiping it away, laying more down. Sometimes I like to drybrush more concentrated color over part of the raised textured areas.




Another way to add dimension is with a shape that is glued on. Here I have added a 1″ (3cm) Claybord square. Add final details using a black pen such as a glaze pen.




Assemble the book by punching holes through your chosen paper. Be sure to line everything up so your paper holes match up with your cover holes, then thread a binder ring through the two covers and paper at each hole.



What’s in Your Pantry?

Instead of making book covers, simply alter existing ones. Old discarded books make excellent painting substrates. Many older books have a cloth covering that is similar to canvas. If the book is in poor condition, I think you are honoring it by transforming it into a painting.
Or, to make an altarpiece, scrounge flea markets for an item that is hinged or will stand up on its own. Think shutters, gameboards, notebooks, picture frames, fireplace screens—you get the idea. Lightly sand the item first and then create your new painting on top, either completely covering the image below or allowing some of it to peek through.

From Flavor for Mixed Media by Mary Beth Shaw, 2011; Courtesy of

To learn more about or purchase Flavor for Mixed Media by Mary Beth Shaw, click here.

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