Before we begin working on this project, let’s talk about what book altering is. Wikipedia.com defines book alteration as:
“An altered book is a form of artwork that changes a book from its original form into something else.
An altered book artist takes a book (old, new, recycled or multiple) and cuts, tears, glues, burns, folds, paints, adds to, collages, rebinds, gold-leafs, creates pop-ups, rubber-stamps, drills, bolts, and be-ribbons it. They add pockets and niches to hold tags, rocks, ephemera or other three-dimensional objects. Some change the shape of the book, or use multiple books in the creation of their finished piece of art.
Antique or Victorian art is frequently used, probably because it is easier to avoid copyright issues. Altered Books are shown and sold in art galleries and on the Internet. Altered books are a form of mixed media.”
What does this really mean, though? Does it seem too complicated? Is that what is overwhelming you?
It doesn’t have to be complicated, overwhelming or scary. I choose to look at book alteration as the use of a “different” kind of art journal or the use of bound canvases. When I break things down like that, it’s easier for me to create without becoming blocked.
The following project is simple and small and it’s meant to be a jumping off point for your future in book alteration. Frequently, I’ve seen artists new to this project choosing books that are way too big (like a vintage dictionary, for example) and abandoning the project when it became too overwhelming. They were excited and ambitious at first, but their choice in what seems simple – the size of the book – is what lead to the eventual creative block.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- a damaged children’s book (these can be found at garage sales, salvage stores or even your own basement)
- paper clips
- six pieces of waxed paper
- six pieces of multi-colored papers
- brown paper grocery bag
- old book pages (when on your hunt for a children’s book, pick up an old paperback at the same time)
- receipts (collect these from your errands over a one or two week period)
- mini-envelopes (to keep this cost effective, you can get the template from here and create your own)
- gel medium (many people use Mod Podge or another decoupage medium)
- glue sticks
- paint (choose the kind you’re most comfortable working with – acrylic, watercolors, etc.)
- color pencils
Putting it all together:
- Trace, cut, assemble and glue six mini-envelopes. Set them aside. (NOTE: you can use any kind of paper for these envelopes. Be creative and use old calendar pages, old book pages, menus, programs, newspaper, paper bags, etc.)
- Count how many pages are in your children’s book. Divide the book into six sections and attach each section with a paper clip.
- Using the gel medium, glue the pages together in each section. It’s important to keep the book as flat as possible and put the adhesive on both sides of the page.
- Place a piece of waxed paper between each section and close the book. Set the book to dry under something heavy, like a stack of books, for at least twenty-four hours.
- Remove the pieces of waxed paper carefully. It’s normal for some of the gel medium to leak through the edges, so be careful during this process.
- Take your multi-colored papers and fold one piece around each section. Cut your pieces to size and glue them down using the glue stick. Use the blunt edge of your scissors to create strong creases on each piece of paper.
- Close the book again and set it under something heavy to dry.
- Take your grocery bag and create a cover similar to how you could cover a school book. Instructions for this step can be found here. Use the gel medium to adhere the cover securely and place a piece of waxed paper between the cover and the first and last pages. Set it aside to dry under something heavy.
- After everything has dried completely, open each section until you hear a “cracking” sound. Gather up the rest of the supplies from the list above.
- Tear up twelve old book pages so the edges are deckled and ragged. Adhere them to each page using the glue stick.
- Using the glue stick, adhere the receipts randomly on each page.
- Set the project under something heavy, again, to dry.
- Once everything had dried completely, paint different sections of each page. This could be blotches, words, objects or the edges of each element you’ve already adhered. The choice is yours. Remember to let each page spread dry completely before moving on to the next.
- Once all of your pages are painted and dried completely, adhere the mini-envelopes to one side of each spread. Layer them over the receipts, painting and book pages.
- Set the project aside under something heavy, once again, to dry completely.
- The last step for the interior of this book is using the colored pencils and the sharpies. Use these tools to write quotes, sayings, journal entries or whatever else you’d like to have in your book. This link is a good source for quotes.
- Now it’s time to decorate your cover. You should have left over book pages and receipts. Adhere them to the cover of the book in a random pattern, be sure to wrap around the spine for added interest, using the gel medium.
- Let the whole project sit for twenty-four hours under something heavy.
You may be wondering why I instructed you to place this project under something heavy several times during the creative process. In my experience with book alteration, you receive better results if you let the project dry flat before moving on to the next step. Some book artists prefer to do everything at once, skipping this “flat drying” step, because the like how it looks if the book doesn’t close completely. While this “flat drying” step doesn’t always keep the book completely flat, it does keep it flatter than leaving it out in the open to dry. How you dry it is up to you and the look you’re going through.
Now you have the start of a successful book alteration project. At this point, you can decide that you’re done or you can decide that you want to add more. Adding ephemera, found objects, letters and other elements will round the project out more if that’s what you’re going for. Again, you’re the artist and it’s all up to you.