Altered Books: Getting Started


A quizzical look appears over most people’s faces when I tell them my art medium of choice is altered books.  Heck, it’s the very same look I get when I tell most people I am an art therapist!  What in the world is an altered book?  You mean you (gasp) write in books?  And cut them up?  And paint in them?  It’s blasphemy I tell you!  Books are sacred and should never be tampered with, right?  Well, I beg to differ.

What if the book is headed to the landfill?  You probably have a stash of books somewhere that you will never read again.   You donate them to the library or church sale, but what happens to the ones that don’t sell?  I am talking about old textbooks, remaindered books, much-loved kid’s board books.  These books don’t have any inherent worth except their status as books.  I do have the good sense not to alter a valued book, whether it is valued by me or by Ebay.  The books I alter are the leftovers headed for the recycling bin.  So why not recycle them into the canvas for my art?

Once you can get over your hang-ups about marking in a book, you are ready to embark on a creative journey.  I use both hard-bound books and kid’s board books.  Textbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries are rich sources of text and image.  Board books offer a variety of sizes, shapes and even sounds.  Hard-bound books lend themselves to cut-0uts, drawers, paper weaving and pockets.  Board books are great for  more aggressive painting and sanding and can withstand lots of layers and 3D items.

The subject of the book can dictate the content of your artwork or you can cover over all the text and image and just use the book as a holding device for your own text and image.   Yesterday, during my gift to myself of an uninterrupted day in the studio, I started an ambitious project using a set of old encyclopedias.  I am allowing the words on the spine of the book to dictate the theme of my artwork.  The first one has “housefly” on the spine.  A housefly is a pretty common thing.  It made me start thinking about other common things and I decided to fill a book with every common thing I could come up with.  I posted a challenge on Facebook to list the first 3 common things that come to your mind.  I now have a long list that includes salt, cloth, tears, soap and trash.

I am stamping and embossing each word onto a page of the encyclopedia.  Only 382 pages to go!  I will then add images and text related to each word. This is only the first of about 20 books.  I have no idea where it will all end up but I am excited about this challenge I have set for myself.   This book and this series are the largest I have undertaken, but I am ready for a big project.

So come along on this altered book journey with me!  Look around for a  suitable book but one word of caution:  do not use a book you have any attachment to.  I have a volume from my Grandmother’s set of encyclopedias but I would never alter it because it has far too much sentimental value.  You need a book you can cut up and write in with abandon.  No tip-toeing allowed!  Stay tuned for lots of ideas for how to alter your book!

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