Altered books are one of the great aspects of Mixed Media Arts – taking old and unwanted books and turning them into works of art is very satisfying.
Choosing a Book
Firstly, as artists, we would NEVER alter a book of value or one that can still be used for its original purpose. We alter books that are discarded and destined for recycling. We can up cycle these books, adding value to them by using them in our work.
The next thing to consider when choosing a book to alter is its structure. We need books in good condition and not under attach by mould. We want to be able to decorate this book and not have it fall apart. The book needs to have stitched in, or sewn, sections. Many modern books have glued in pages. This glue tends to come unstuck once the altering process has begun. So we need books with sewn sections.
To tell if your book has sewn sections, open the book gently with one hand on each cover and tilt the book up to you can see the top of the book where the pages touch the spine. If you cans little sections within the book, like loops of pages, smaller books within the bigger book, this is most likely a sewn section book. Sometimes it is hard to tell. As further check is to carefully open the book to the middle of one of the sections (the middle of the loop). Gently open the book until you can get right into the middle of the pages. If you can see thread or cotton, then this book has been sewn together and is exactly what we are looking for.
If your book is newer and has glued pages, this book can still be used in your mixed media art work but we won’t use it as the basis for an altered book. These other books can have their pages removed and used to antique or add to collages or create backgrounds. Their covers can also be used as a substrate for another mixed media project.
Consider your altered book theme
Once you have chosen the book you will use, we need to consider what outcome we are aiming for with this mixed media project. An altered book can be used as a technique book or art journal, that starts with a few altered pages and grows until the book is full. It doesn’t have an overall theme or style but keeps your pages together and develops as you do. These are the easiest books to start as you can jump right into preparing your book.
Creating a single piece of art, based around a theme requires more consideration. You need to think about the number of pages you will need overall and how the pages will flow. Do you want windows that take the viewer from one page into the next? Do you want to add niches and flaps? These require some planning before you begin.
If that seems too overwhelming, then put aside your thoughts of creating a single piece of art and get stated with your technique book or art journal. Often beginning a new project is the hardest part and we don’t want to make getting started any harder than it needs to be.
Preparing your altered book
Start by warming up your cover by opening and closing it slowly and at a few different places in the book. This gets the cover and binding moving, especially if you are using a new book that hasn’t been opened.
When decorating our altered book we will be adding paints and pages and embellishments. This will add extra thickness to the book and the spine and bindings will only take so much. So to alleviate this problem we will remove a few pages from the book to give us room.
Firstly, look through the book and see if there are any pages that catch you eye; a fantastic heading or font, a lovely picture that could be incorporated into the design. These are the pages you will want to keep. Mark them with a post-it note, so they are easy to find during the next step.
With a pencil in hand and a craft knife, select four pages (two spreads) to begin the removal / gluing process. The middle two pages need to be cut out, parallel to the spine, leaving about half an inch (1.5cm). On the outer two pages, will then be glued together. Mark these pages with your pencil, to remind you these are the pages to glue.
Continue going through the book, between the pages you want to keep and remove the pages and mark the pages to glue. As a guide, about a quarter of the pages will be removed.
Keep the removed pages as they can be used later to create background papers or to cut up words to use for embellishments
This step depends on the type of paper in the book you are using. If you find the pages are sturdy enough on their own, gluing the pages together may be skipped. Gluing pages give us a thicker substrate for our altering. This process can be frustrating if you want it to be “prefect”, so remember that this isn’t a precise art and any imperfections will add character to our final mixed media art piece.
PVA glue or gel medium are good types of glue for this project. Start by brushing the glue along the middle of the two removed pages and ease these together. Then coat the outside of the stumps and one whole page that is to be stuck together. Carefully ease the second page up, starting from the spine out. Work from the middle out, removing bubbles as you go.
Close the book up and leave to dry, for at least overnight or a few days if you have glued a lot of pages together.
Ready to start
Once dry, your book is ready to start decorating. You can use any or all of the wonderful mixed media art techniques that are out there. Here are a few ideas to get you going:
– Cover the pages with gesso
– add paint and use the gesso resistant technique to add greate patterns and depth to the background
– try the credit card painting technique
– collage other pieces of text
– add vintage images
– have fun!
As I said before, this isn’t a precise art and everything we do will add character to our final mixed media art piece and help us to develop our skills. There is no point wishing you were a “better artist” however you define it – all of those people we admire have spent lots of time, over many years practicing and creating.
I hope this has inspired you to give altered books a go – it is such a great way to incorporate many of your favourite mixed media art techniques into one project!