May Arts Ribbon Blog

Altered books – part one: getting started

altered book

“It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”   Vincent van Gogh

altered book

Altered Books are a perfect combination of two of my favorite things.  I love books, and I love to create with paper.  If this is new to you, then you need to know that people alter books using all their crafting skills in order to transform them into new pieces of visual art.  Altered Books are part book, part word, part journal, part art, part creativity.  The old book becomes a new volume, full of pages to express yourself, to make art.

O.K. bibliophiles, catch your breath.  You know that in order for libraries and bookstores to make room for all the new releases, a lot of books have to be retired every year.  Hopefully, most are recycled instead of going into landfills.  Think of altering as a way to make an art of recycling.  My five-year-old saw me working on this project (and even got involved) and he had to be assured that I would not get in trouble with the library for defacing a book.  I showed him that this was a way to honor a book by letting it serve as a canvas for a new piece of art.

According to Wikipedia:
An altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original form into a different form, altering its appearance and/or meaning.  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/or be-ribbons it. The artist may 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 the finished piece of art. Altered books may be as simple as adding a drawing or text to a page, or as complex as creating an intricate book sculpture.

altered book

Where can I find books to alter?
Library sales, book sales, yard sales, Goodwill, Estate Sales, under your bed, or a water damaged book from the basement.  You can also use: blank journals, magazines, phone books, catalogs, or your ex’s yearbook.

How long does it take?
Well this has a lot to do with you.  You could blank out some pages and let your child use it as a sketch pad, or you can keep implementing new ideas for weeks and weeks.
This is probably NOT a quick easy project.  This will take time and love.  You need time after almost every step for things to dry.  It takes time to add layer upon layer, time to dream and time to create, and that’s for each page.

altered book

What you can do with an altered book?

  • Use it as a photo album
  • Create a scrapbook to hold memorabilia
  • Write in it as you would a journal.
  • Let it become your art sketchbook or art journal.
  • Design a whole now book.

altered book

How do I begin?
1. Procure your book.
2. Prep your book by reinforcing pages. A single page quite thin as a base for your art,  support is often needed.

altered book

  • glue multiple pages together using a basic glue stick or any white glue.  Simply, smooth out the page and repeat the gluing process-once you are satisfied with the width of the new page, place wax paper on both sides and add pressure.  Repeat to create as many new pages as you like.
  • strength by sewing multiple pages together.  Punch holes in the pages with  an awl, paper piercer, needle, or hole punches of different sizes. Use your May Arts ribbon to sew together.  When threading ribbon, fold a piece of scotch tape over an end and cut into a point.  This will make it easier to insert the ribbon into the eye of the needle.  May Arts lists ribbon by widths, any of the smaller width ribbons can be used for sewing. 

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3. Remove pages to make room for your art. Cut out pages using an exacto knife or a box cutter. Pinking sheers will give a nice edge to your page. When removing pages, make sure you leave some room along the side of the binding to keep the book from coming apart.

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4. DECORATE! Adorn pages any way you would like. 

  • Gesso on top of a page works as a primer if using paint. 
  • Colored pencils, water color crayons, acrylic paint, ink, papers, stamps, ribbons, photographs can all be used to cover or layer over the text of the book.

altered book

I have loved working on this project.  My children have enjoyed helping me, and the altered book will become a memory-working on it together.  Capturing drawing, writing and the creativity on the page-I will remember this time for years to come.  I hope they will too.  Quite often creating is about the process as well as the completed project.

Another article with the finished pages will be featured next month.

altered book

Blog Posted By: Leah Farrar-White

  1. jen shears

    This is a work of ART!!!! How gorgeous!

  2. Andrea

    Wow!! This is truly amazing, and I love that children can get into it as well. I know my mind is going to mow this one over for a while. Thanks!!!


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