Actually, for the past three days I've been experimenting in the studio (playing, for me) with creating labels and storage jars for the odds and ends I've collected to use in my work. I have plenty of plastic bins, but prefer to keep them out of sight if possible in favor of more organic containers. And something I've been wanting to do for a while has been to make really interesting labels for my antique bottles, and see if I could make new, shiny jars look old and filthy. Some of the results of that experiment can be seen above, and I thought I'd share the little tricks I learned along the way in case anyone else wants to try it.
You'll also need a work area with dropcloth, paper towels, some of the walnut ink or other brown ink, diluted to a thin wash and put in a spray bottle, a large (about 1-2") paintbrush, and a nice pot of strong, black tea. I like to do this outside on cement in hot sun...the paper dries FAST in our climate, but you can do it indoors as well. You'll also need some of the walnut ink crystals in a little dish. Pour some crystals into the dish, and then pour most of them back: you'll be left with the tiniest, finest particles of ink, which are the best (see the picture below). This is because they expand and darken dramatically when immersed in water.
Ok, this part's also fun and cathartic, sort of like finger painting. Begin by covering a few pages front and back with the tea, using the brush. Blot some of it off if it puddles too much. Next, you can sprinkle a tiny bit of ink crystals at random locations over the sheets, or spritz them with a little of the ink wash. You'll see the ink particles start to bloom and spread like little flowers. Grab a paper towel and start blotting: they shouldn't get too big or dark or runny. Just as with the glass-antiquing, this is a fast and loose process, with no hard-and-fast rules. I generally make several passes with the tea, crystals and ink spray followed by blotting before the pages look good to me. One suggestion I do have is less is more--don't make your surface too dark or busy, or it will interfere with your print and handwriting. Have fun and don't get cranked up over it!
While the little brown spots made with the ink crystals aren't strictly necessary, they do add a nice dimension to the overall wash, and replicate mildew or "rust", as it's called in the antique trade.
If you have hot sun on your sheets, let them dry in it. Use rocks to weight the pages if there's wind. Or, you can dry them in a warm oven, but you need to keep an eye on them. Remember that magic number, Farenheit 451, which is the combustion point of paper. After the paper is completely dry it will be fairly warped and won't go through your printer (this is the voice of experience here). So you'll need to iron it. Use a dry iron on the wool setting to get it nice and flat, and pay special attention to the edges and corners, where your printer will need to grab hold of it to feed it through. Some of my finished sheets are pictured above, along with an untreated sheet, just to give you an idea of what you're aiming for.
So, I ended up going for a kind of alchemical look and actually figured out how to put a half-tone alchemical symbol into the background of my larger labels, visible on my big apothecary jar of feathers a couple of pictures below. I also chose a latin phrase as my studio motto, "Ex Tenebris Lux", which translates as "out of the darkness, light". This refers to the light of spirit emerging from the apparent darkness of matter, as well as the journey of the soul, and is at the bottom of all but the tiniest of my labels. I added some other goodies and lines for contents and provenance, and (after a few bouts of swearing) I had my design.
And that's it...you're good to go! Here's a few of my bottles: the little ones on the basket are antiques, and the long, tall one is a brand-new craft store special.
...and another closeup of a newly-antiqued bottle. Notice the edge treatment.
So, I hope somebody out there finds some of this helpful and gives it a try! You know, this would be a really fun thing to try with kids (of all ages), especially if they're bored and/or into Harry Potter or other magical fun. If young ones are involved, there are plenty of nontoxic inks and paints out there to choose from. This would also be a great idea for gifts!
Feel free to contact me with questions, and let me know how it works out if you give it a try!!