Tutorial on Altering a Book into an Art Journal
Most of my Art Journals have been altered books! I use altered books for several reasons, the most prominent reason though is that they are very cheap in comparison to artist sketchbook or beautiful handmade books found on Etsy! I love cheap because the art journals is an important tool for me and one of the biggest reasons I’ve developed as an artist. I need to feel that I can use it without worrying. When the book itself is sturdy but cheap it’s easy to use it for “what ever” and experiment in it with collage, charcoals, crayons, acrylic paint splattering and painting layer upon layer.
An art journal that has non-precious papers is kind of made to mess up, and I will not hesitate to fill it with everything I want, even junk mail collages etc. That freedom is very important to me.
I get used books at flea markets or thrift stores. Personally I prefer coffee table sized books with thick matte paper, but you can use any style of book that you like. If the papers are to thin for wet media you can glue several pages together to make them sturdier, but to me that is too tedious and still does not give the best ground to work on. I prefer the thicker papers if I can find a book that has that (books from the 1970’s often has non-glossy & sturdy paper).
Before you buy the book check the spine. You want a book with a sewn binding, not a glue binding where the pages will fall out very quickly. Look for a book that has a rounded back and that is divided into signatures. In the middle of each signature you should be able to locate the thread.
On this illustrated page you can see the thread. A sewn binding is much sturdier than a glue binding, and if it is a quality book it will keep together even when you “abuse” the book by tearing pages out, painting and playing in your altered book!
Find the middle of each signature and tear out about half of the papers in each signature, making it a lot thinner than it originally was. No matter how many pages I’ve taken out mine always ends up bulkier than it was in the beginning anyway.
I add lots of layers of paper collage and paint, and sometimes items like brads, paper clips and cardboard bits etc that adds to the book, so don’t be afraid to tear out a lot of the pages. It will ensure that the book will keep looking like a book a few months from now.
Of course when you use a book in this way some people will call it book abuse, but to me it’s recycling and very environmentally friendly. A whole lot better than if you use new sketchbook paper or if a text book like this stays in the thrift store to collect dust until someone throws it in the bin! I also save the pages torn out and I’ve used them to make envelopes, new journals, background papers or cut out the illustrations for collages!
When you’ve thinned out the book it’s time to start using it and make your marks on the pages. There are a whole slew of fun things to do to text book pages! You can play with the text and highlight words, draw on top of other illustrations or alter the illustrations for example. The only limit is your imagination. Just open the book and start playing!
Sometimes (often) it is good to give a few pages a coat of gesso (that white canvas paint that gives the pages a bit of tooth and texture). You should get gesso in big jars, because if you want to cover a text page you might need to paint it two or three times, but of course it’s equally awesome to let the text peek through, a layer of mystery from the original book.
This is often what my page will look like before I start painting on it with acrylic paint to create a colourful background to write or add images on. Sometimes I will add just bits of collage papers before anything (not using gesso) and sometimes I will add other bits of text and then do a coat of gesso on top of that. I don’t have a 1-2-3 way that I always do, it depends on what I want to do and where I want to go with the page.
I’ve been altering books for years now!
I love altering books. I love how compact and sturdy these books are. I find them easy to work with and yummy to look through. You are welcome to read more about books I’ve altered and used as art journals on my blog; altered ocean book, altered book cover with roses, the crow about journal and Altering the world we live in.
Key word: experiment!
When you start experimenting you will soon find your own favorite method(s) of altering your pages! I’ve been asked several times about what kind of journals I use and how to alter a book, so I hope this post is helpful.
What you fill your journals with is up to you, though I’d love to see! Paint and decoupage the cover, write your name all over the first page and add things that you enjoy to the inside.
To see more fun examples on how I alter books go here.