Friday, March 28, 2008

Altered Print

I have great respect for art, and an abiding love for handwritten journals. I often sketch on my journal pages, or insert small watercolors or photos in between entries to illustrate a point. In magazines like Cloth Paper Scissors I've seen mixed media artists altering print books into art journals. I had some reservations -- destroying someone's book to make art seemed a bit like cannibalism to this writer -- but I could also think of a couple of novels that I'd like to rip to pieces, too.

I picked up two how-to books to get some ideas: Bev Brazelton's Altered Books Workshop (the nuts and bolts of how to alter a book), and Art Journals & Creative Healing by Sharon Soneff (how to create meaningful personal content and exorcise some of your demons.)

Ms. Brazelton's book was terrific; the instructions were easy to understand and I really liked her approach to turning print books into art. But I had to grab the Kleenex as I was reading Sharon Soneff's book, as most of the author/artists who contributed to it told some heart-wrenching stories.

Once I felt ready, I bought a small, short hardcover book from a library sale. Once I read it (and I had to at least read it first) I didn't think I'd have a problem destroying it. Come to find out, I did. I hesitated, long enough for some paint to drip from my brush onto the first page. That splatter sort of forced me to start painting over the text. Once I'd tinted all the pages, the book morphed into a canvas and it was a little easier. I painted, ripped, folded, altered and glued for the next three days, and the end result was a little messy and amateurish but intensely satisfying.

Here's one page from the finished product:

A page from my altered book art journal ~ Desire vs. Talent:  you can love music with all your heart, and it won't change the fact that you're tone deaf.

I don't think I can seriously get into altering books as a regular hobby, maybe because I have too much reverence for them. Still, I'm glad I gave it a whirl because it was fun, I got a lot of angst out of my system, and in the process I even came up with a couple of story ideas.

Today I'm going to give away the two books that I used to prepare for the project (they have been read once but are in pristine condition, no paint or glue splatters) along with some stuff to get someone else started. In comments to this post, write a line that might appear in your altered book/art journal (or if you'd rather keep that private, just throw your name into the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, March 29, 2008. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send the winner unsigned, read-once copies of Altered Books Workshop by Bev Brazelton and Art Journals & Creative Healing by Sharon Soneff, along with some creative materials to use for altering books into art journals. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.


  1. Hmm... bit daunting to be the first commenter.

    Umm.. I'm just going to throw my name in the hat!

    Thank you muchly!

  2. No books for me, I just want to comment...

    I have the same hard time with destroying books. Even though I know that publishers and bookstores destroy truckloads, I can't get myself to do it to one measly book.

    And throwing a book away? Unthinkable. Thank goodness for or I'd have a house full of books.

  3. What an interesting concept! I've never heard of altering books.

    I think my line would be, "Speak your mind even if your voice shakes."


  4. Anonymous9:29 AM

    I'm curious to know which book you used to create your altered book. I love scrapbooking and art dearly, but I have no idea which book I could give up for art.

  5. Anonymous9:36 AM

    I'll just throw my name in the hat.

    New reader, love the blog!

  6. I've never heard of it but it looks neat. I could see the desire to turn a book you love into something more - I'd have to buy a second copy, unless it was a book I truly hated.

    I love your page.

    I would include:
    I'm the only one who has to live with myself. Stand firm.

    And something I wrote a couple weeks ago:
    We all hobble through life going "it could be worse" but we never stop to say "it could be better".


  7. Greenfinch wrote: I'm curious to know which book you used to create your altered book.

    It was Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen (very small hardcover, about 65 pages long.) It's not a bad book -- sort of a "My Struggle" memoir/inspirational gifty thing some women give their best friend when she's couched the spouse. I didn't care for it, but it would probably helpful to people who consider a bad marriage the worst thing that can happen to you in your lifetime.

  8. Libraries throw out books all the time and I think it's better to turn them into art than let them go to waste.

    I have yet to alter a printed book, but I've seen it done and I think it's amazing.

    I'd love to win!

  9. "And falling... a.......

    ...marbled floor."

  10. "Nobody knows who I am, and it's too late to change that. Be content."

  11. I've tried a lot of crafts in my day, but the altered book idea (and canvas art which is also big) is really, REALLY drawing me in. So many crafts, so little time in the day for all the things I want to accomplish in this lifetime ...

    And I too would have some reservations about mutilating a book, a BOOK, of all things, but still wouldn't mind giving it a try at least once!

    Only quote that's sticking with me today ... "I'm tired of the typical, I'm waiting on the wonderful." (Country song by Aaron Lyons, if I 'member correctly!)

    — Bonz

  12. Throwing my name in the hat!!

  13. I don't think it's necessary to destroy a book to make a journal. You can go to places like Lulu or Cafe Press and order a blank book -- either paperback or hardback -- and do the same thing you'd do to someone else's published work. It's cheap enough.

  14. "Don't let the bastards get ya down" oldie but a goodie. Sounds like I mean umm not the book trashing part but the creative aspect of..throwing my name in the hat.

  15. Time changes everything.


  16. Fantastic idea. Very creative and unique.

  17. Being an artist and an art teacher this is extremely interesting and I would love to try this new endeavor.

  18. Donna wrote: I don't think it's necessary to destroy a book to make a journal. You can go to places like Lulu or Cafe Press and order a blank book -- either paperback or hardback -- and do the same thing you'd do to someone else's published work.

    Good advice, Donna.

  19. I haven't heard of it before, but it looks awesome. I'd probably use "Tomorrow will be better. It always is."

    Throwing my name in the hat!

  20. Anonymous3:10 PM

    That's a interesting topic - the reluctance to physically alter or damage a book. I'm a librarian, which might be why my attitude toward books is a little more utilitarian. The book is a vehicle for the author's story, thoughts, struggles, whatever. Some books certainly qualify as art in themselves, but your normal every day book that you buy on Amazon or at B&N - not so much.

    I guess I'd be reluctant to alter a book with nice illustrations, good paper, something like that.
    But the reluctance to alter or destroy a book, because it's a book, strikes me as sort of idolatrous.

    The only reason I bring it up is because I've been having these conversations with my mom. She was upset over some flag burning story, and I know she would favor flag burning bans, and I was telling her that I think putting that much importance on the physical representation of an idea is simply idolatry.

    I feel the same way about the Bible - and I'm a believer. Years ago when I sold books I had a crazy customer who stood in front of my cash register and methodically ripped all the pages out of a Bible that I would not let her return - as if I was going to have the vapors or something.

    Yes, I'm avoiding work.

  21. Anonymous3:17 PM

    Ooooh. One more thing - does anyone remember, or has anyone see, the Griffin and Sabine books? Beautiful, artistic things with handmade postcards tucked into pretty envelopes - it's like a 3D story. And now that I've read this post and thought about it, I think I'm going to buy them. I meant to, years ago, and forgot about them. They have them on Amazon very cheap.

  22. Throwing my name in.

  23. I help run a library book sale and we do everything in our power to give books away after a sale, but we still have to throw away cartloads of books. Using books for artwork is far better than dumping them in the landfill. It pains us so much, not that we hold books as sacred objects (you get over that real quick), but the sheer waste!

    Our library store is sponsoring an altered book exhibit, so we'll be encouraging the artists to come take as many books as they want.

    I don't have a line in mind, but I'd love the chance to learn how to do something with those leftover books.

  24. This type of talent and creativity is wonderful. What a brilliant and exceptional idea. An entirely new look which is so attractive.

  25. Throwing my name in the hat. This is a great idea and I might check out these books even I don't win!

  26. Sounds like fun. I'm in the hat!
    Thank you!!!

  27. Thinking up stories is good; being able to share them with others is even better.

  28. What a delightful and sweet idea. I wish I had that ability. The photo is impressive.

  29. I'd rather throw my name in the hat since mine are things my grandmother used to say...and wouldn't make much sense here.

    Thanks Lynn.

  30. Anonymous10:06 PM

    @ Holly

    I loved the Griffin and Sabine books! I had a set of only the postcards which I made into a collage which hung on my wall. I lost the books and the collage when I moved cross country.

    When I was younger I used to write action/adventure short stories for my friends. I'd make book covers out of what ever materials I could find. Looking back, I wish I would have kept some of them, but I gave them all away.

    I've not thought about those for years.

    *tosses name in hat*

  31. Tossing my name in the hat!

    I've heard about this craft before and have always wanted to give it a go. I have lots of really old books in the house (school textbooks) that won't be much use to anyone now. I've be sending them for recycling but I think it would be better to make art - rather than toilet paper - from them!

  32. Throwing my name in the hat, too. I have just discovered something new called "digital altered books" using an image editing program like Photoshop.

  33. Please add my name to the hat.

    I think recycling an old book, rather than buying a new book that you are just going to alter is a good way to go. Anything to keep more waste out of the landfill is a good idea.