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DIY Book Stack Decor

I’ve been seeing a lot of book stack decor around, mostly the three books per stack and horizontal. But I had an entire set of World Books and they just had to stay together, so my book stack decor goals got a little loftier.

A bookshelf is a great opportunity to showcase your personality! DIY some book stack decor to incorporate among your favorite titles and trinkets.


How PRETTY are these books?!! My very first experiment with transfers–and book painting–and WOW I could not be more pleased with how these turned out! And it was actually pretty EASY!

I love books. I have a great respect for them too. Which made the idea of painting them extremely awkward for me. I had seen some great tutorials, been to restaurants where a single color palette (blues) had been used to transform books into decorative objects. . .but the idea somehow seemed like sacrilege. Until my girl Cecelia handed over her 1993 World Books. She’s moving back to NYC and has zero space for the red leather-bound set she designed her Indianapolis living room around. It was either I take them or they languish on a shelf at Goodwill. Faced with this scenario I decided it was my DUTY to take them. But then I got to thinking. . .does their next home really need to be decorated around this red leather/gold lettering?

That’s when I decided. I will give the World Books a makeover.
I’m doing some sort of DIY book stack decor.

I will update them in a way that will still allow them to be readable–but I will make the outside something beautiful, something decorative–something that looks like art on the shelf.

This is what I used for my book stack decor DIY:

  • Paint brushes: I used artist’s acrylic brushes from Michael’s. Thinner and rounded for pages, wider and squared for the book covers.
  • Plastic/Cling wrap. Not essential, but this will help protect your gold painted pages while you’re painting the book covers.
  • Gold paint for pages. I used Folk Art 5541 Mayan Gold and think it looks VERY similar to my antique books with gilded pages.
  • Chalk Paint for books. I had Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White on hand. I love this color!
  • Wax or other sealant for the paint and transfer. I already had Annie Sloan clear wax and I like how the finish turned out.
  • Spray bottle with water + paper towels or a rag. I wanted the lettering/binding texture to still be somewhat visible, so I thinned out the paint a bit on the second coat.
  • Canvas or other means to protect work surface.
  • Hard Cover books. How many depends on size of your transfer/how much of transfer you want to use! Since I had the entire World Books series and wanted them to stay together, I used a transfer that would work for all of the books.
  • Transfer image. I had on hand and used re-design with prima’s Royal Burgundy, and I’ve got plenty left for another project day too.

Get Crafty!

This was a LOT of books and I only worked during the evenings. . .with the March Madness games going in the background. Start to finish was about a week, 2-4 hours a night.

  • Clean your books! Fan the pages, use a soft cloth and wipe off any dust.
  • Paint the pages with your gold of choice. Less is more here. If you still want to be able to read the book, you don’t want the pages sticking together! Start with books upright, covers away from pages. Gently hold pages together and paint the top, then the sides. Long strokes, lengthwise. When you’ve done all the tops and sides carefully flip the books and paint the bottom of pages.
Make sure the books look good from every side! This will give you the most flexibility when styling!
  • When the pages feel dry, take them from top then bottom corners and fan them out so they aren’t stuck together. You might lose some of the gold paint here–it’s OK! This lends to the antiqued feel. Touch up if you feel compelled then give them another rapid flip (like its a flip book illustration!) with your thumb when dry.
  • When the paint is completely dry wrap the pages in cling wrap. I sort of did them like present wrapping: the piece cut long enough to go from the back pages to wrap the front, with top and bottom folded over the front keeping it all together.
Cling wrap pages then get painting

This can of paint was nearing the end, so I was just dipping into the can. The proper way would be to pour the paint into another vessel, so you’re not contaminating your paint!

You’re going to be *carefully* flipping these books in all directions: paint the book spine, front and back covers, the edges, and the insides of the covers–just past where the pages sit. Follow the existing hard cover binding. If you’re a perfectionist, you could use painter’s tape. I decided I didn’t care enough to take the time–you can’t see the lines when the books are displayed. If someone cracks your art open and says something about your uneven lines–clearly they’ve got major life issues so don’t take it personal.

I did all the books sitting the same way, then went back to the first book, flipped it, painted. Then the second book, etc.

One reason I love chalk paint is it dries quickly! I also liked the texture it created with the first coat–I didn’t dilute it at all.

Top row of books has second coat. Bottom row just first coat. Book Spines need to be solid coated for transfer to look the best.
  • For the second coat of paint, I gave the paint brush a spray with the water bottle, dabbed it on the paper towel, then dipped the brush into the paint. *Only dip top edge–of brush into the paint* That’s a general rule for painting anything. Don’t drown it up to the metal. Top 1/4 of the brush is where you want your paint. It will flow up the bristles on its own.
  • I liked spraying the brush vs adding water to the paint. I felt I had better control over the look of the books.

When you get all your books looking painted to your satisfaction, let them dry completely. 24 hrs.

Book Stack Decor DIY: Transfer Time

I feel like transfers were invented for people like me who desperately wish they could sketch/draw/paint things like murals. . .but can’t. Just. Cannot. Enter these magic sheets with beautiful images that can be transferred to almost any surface. I bought this transfer in a brazen moment when I knew I wanted to experiment, but I wasn’t sure when or on what. When I made the decision to paint the World Books, I decided they would also make a good experimental medium for the transfer! I used two of the six sheets. I feel this beautiful design–an Old World-feeling street scene with bold blooms and flowing cursive– will help the books stay together as a set in their next life.

  • Use a Sharpie and, lining up the transfer sheet where you want it on the book spines, mark the top and bottom between each book. This will serve as a guide for cutting. I thought about trying to just cut with an x-acto knife, but my transfer kept slipping around on the backing, and I didn’t want to risk it. I decided to line up the transfer sheet from the bottom, and I didn’t have to cut off any at the top because it perfectly aligned with these books.
  • Cut the transfer, keeping the strips lined up so you know which piece is going where and the pattern is intact. I am not a straight cutter–and that’s ok! Do your best. It will turn out fine!
  • I wrapped the beginning and end of my piece around the first and last books in the line, and I really like how it turned out.
  • If you too are a transfer newbie, I suggest reading the instructions that come with the transfer. The more you know–you know?
  • When all your pieces are cut, starting with the first book, move it away from the rest. Remove transfer backing, hover with it over the book until you are sure where you want it, then press it down. Use the nifty tool that came with the transfer and rub to get the design off the paper and onto the book. Gently and slowly remove the top paper and if the design starts to come up, lay the paper back down and go back over with the transfer tool (or your fingernail, which I used in the smaller areas).
  • Move the first book back into place. Use it to line up where you want the transfer on the second book. Remove the transfer backing and lay/press it onto the book spine. Then gently pick up the book. Hold it between your knees or set it onto your workspace where you can better rub the transfer onto the book spine. When it’s on the spine, put the book back into the lineup.
  • Align the third transfer onto the third book spine while it’s next to the completed books. See prior step. I think you get it. Just be sure to keep putting the books back into the lineup so you know your transfer pattern is looking cohesive across all the spines.
Make sure your books are lined up as you apply the transfer!

When you’re done applying the transfer, you can seal the spines (and if you did it, the first and last book covers) with a polycrylic spray, or with a clear wax like I did. I applied and buffed the front and back covers and the edges. I liked the subtle sheen and felt it made the books feel more like their original leather covers, less like stiff paint. Rub gently over the transfer so you don’t flake it off! (I might have flaked some off–let’s say it was on purpose and adds to the antique/old painted image feel.)

If you haven’t yet, pour yourself some bubbly and bask in the glory of a project completed!

In order to get my own DIY book stack decor looking good, I looked at a lot of book painting tutorials, but these were the videos I found most useful:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKC93S0Azxt/ I liked watching how she was painting the pages gold.

Carmen’s tutorial below gave me serious confidence. Notice her transfers have grid guidelines?
That would be super helpful for the cutting!

That’s it! If you try to follow my book painting and transfer tutorial, let me know in comments if the steps make sense or if you need more details? I’m new to breaking down the “how-to” of things.

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