It’s time for a tutorial on how to alter a vintage book and make it into your very own, personalized art journal! Altering books is easy and super fun, so let’s give it a try together.

Altered Book Tutorial by iHanna @ihanna #alteredbook #tutorial

Most of my Art Journals have been altered books throughout the years. 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.

The book cover before arting it up

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).

Tutorial on Altering a Book into an Art Journal

edge from the start

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.

inside with illustration
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!

tear pages
The first step is actually to start tearing pages out of your new 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.

edge after

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.

Book to alter

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!

smear the paint

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!

keep the illustration
If your book has cool illustrations you should keep them and work around them with your paints, integrate them in your world view or give them new meaning.

paint gesso
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.

page that is gessoed
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.

Paper patchwork
Gesso, gluing pages together, sewing new papers into the spine or altering the cover is optional! Let me know in the comments if you have further questions!

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.

Altered book cover with roses

All of these posts are within the category art journaling. In recent years I’ve also bound my own books, those awesome books are found in the category book binding. :-)

Crowabout Journal

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.

If you’re on pinterest just like me, pin the picture below (thanks!):

Altered Book Tutorial by @ihanna #alteredbook #artjournaling

To see more fun examples on how I alter books click here. Also, since writing this tutorial, I have made a video tutorial: How to Alter a Book and make it into an Art Journal – watch it in case you want to listen to me explain all this and demonstrate it even better.

Let me know how your experiment goes!