You have found the perfect book to alter. Now what? Time to make some decisions and do some prep work. Is it a hardbound book such as a textbook or encyclopedia? You may want to clamp off some sections so that you can do some cutout windows or add drawers. If the cover of your book is glossy or it is a kid’s board book, you may need to rough up the surface so your media will stick. I generally do this by covering it with gesso, sanding it or peeling off the glossy layer.
I try not to think too much about whether to do the cover first or how I am going to hold the book together thematically. I prefer to let the process happen more organically. The beauty of an altered book is you can skip around in it, you don’t have to work front to back. I usually have several books that I am working in at the same time so that I can move back and forth between them. This is helpful for two reasons: it allows for drying time and it allows me to engage a number of different themes at the same time.
Only once have I made an altered book that was completely consistent with my original theme. Using an old dictionary, I made a book about my grandmother and my relationship with her. It includes a poem I wrote after her death, photographs, text, drawings, religious items, and prayer cards. It is essentially complete, but I continue to add to it from time to time. Usually I start a book with an idea in mind and let it evolve. I started a book during a workshop with Bruce Moon that I intended to be about my work with clients. Instead it ended up being about my relationship to a particular job and its’ challenges. Another book started out as a “sample” that I used to demonstrate techniques during classes and workshops. It grew to reflect my feelings about a bad breakup.
My point is this-let your book be about whatever it needs to be. You may find that your ideas and feelings quickly change while you are working, inspired by the text and images that present themselves to you. And if you find that you are getting a lot of new ideas, well just start another book! One book does not have to contain everything, lean into the ideas and expand upon them in another book.
Perhaps you can start by making marks on several different pages, gluing down some magazine images, or writing out some text. Don’t think about it too much. Glue a large piece of fabric onto the cover and then start responding to that. Do something radical so that you have something to bounce off of. Staring at a blank page will get you nowhere. Get your hands dirty and make the first mark.
In case you are already feeling stuck or overwhelmed, step back and do some prep work and organizing. Cut up some magazines for text and images, gather some fabric and paper scraps, set up your work space. Breathe. And stay tuned for the next installment of Altered Books.