Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lesson 4 - Selecting the book

Which book to alter? Do you have some old books you no longer want? Even children's books will do. Select a book the size of the images you have collected. In one of my books I used images of fashion models so the book had to be tall enough for their long bodies. If you don't have any old books around, go shopping for one.

Where to shop? Garage sales. Thrift stores. A local thrift store has all hard backed books marked at 69 cents - regardless of age, titles or size. Our town has a fabulous Friends of the Library Used Book Store and it's less than a mile from here. I visit it often. They have no idea what I do to their old books!!! And, by the way, unless you have worked in a library, you can't imagine how many books end up in landfill every year. Libraries get donations of huge numbers of books that do not fit their collection policy and won't fit on their shelves, or are outdated. Libraries have nothing to do but filter them out to other libraries, shelters, prisons, sellers, or the dumpster.

Look at the paper inside the book. If it is very brittle and yellowed or stained brown - it is probably not a good candidate for altering. Brittle pages tend to chip away when you try to cut them. If the book is really old, make sure it is not moldy. Smell the book. Some people are sensitive to some papers and inks. I'm very sensitive to newsprint and many of the old books - particularly the brittle pages. I mention this because it is something people usually don't think about - but you will be working very closely with your book and it needs to be health friendly. Get one that won't make you sneeze!

Check the binding. Is it secure? If it isn't, pass it by. You can find another one that is. Make sure the pages are sewn in rather than glued in. When you are altering the book it puts a lot of stress on the binding, and the glued pages will often come loose or whole sections may fall out.

Refer to Lesson 3 on Themes - if you want to tie the theme of your altered book to the book title.

The Practice Book - How and Why

People who have not altered a book are sometimes hesitant to start because there are so many options and they want their first book to be a masterpiece. Or- they have a natural hesitation to cut into or write on a book. Remember what we were told as children? Those things stick in our minds. But, you are going to work on a book that has been discarded, it is not the last existing book of that title - you can get another on to replace it if you want to. So, it is now - ta da! A bunch of blank canvases bound together. What could be more delicious? You'll be making art in it. What better way to recycle a book?

The Practice Book is where you can try new techniques and old techniques. You can make notes of what you've done to help with your next book. This is the place to experiment. When teaching, I give out sheets of exercises (prompts) I've printed out for practice books. I've been encouraged to publish them or market the label sheets - but I think I'll just share them with you here. Students soon become comfortable with the process of altering (attacking) a book when they have prompts. If you are thinking about starting your first book, you will find this very handy. Even if you've already done some altered books, sometimes it's fun to work on a practice book where you can try new things, or record some of your own favorites. I'll label these posts as Practice Book and give each one a number. Follow along if you like, and if you have some photos to share of your work, please post a link in the comment section so we can see what you did.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Board Books - Kitchen Chairs

Children's "board" books are wonderful bases for making an altered book. As with the fabric covered board books, you can also cover them with papers. This little book was made because I came across a little stash of paintings of wonky kitchen chairs I had done a decade or more ago. It made me think of all the things that happened around our kitchen table as a child. I used fabric for the binding because it is so flexible. It reminded me of the aprons my mother used to wear.

Cutting the papers to size with a scissors, a paper cutter or box knife and metal edge ruler, and applying them to the board books with Aileen's tacky glue, and then gluing down the chair and little snip of words - what could be faster and easier? I used papers from a scrapbooking store. They had just the look I needed to pull it together.

If you want to make something like this, you don't have to paint chairs, you can find images in your old photos, or in catalogs or home decorating magazines. Whatever reminds you of home.
I didn't get any comments on the blog about this, but I sure got a lot of private emails. It seems that this theme evoked a lot of good memories for some of us. I invite you to share yours with us here.

Found Text

In a previous post about adding words I mentioned "found text". It is one of my favorite techniques for altering a book. My friend Jackie and I exchange books in which we each alter a few pages using this technique and any other art techniques we employ - and then passing it back to the other person for a few more pages. We have done this several times. Right now one of the books that is going back and forth is a book of poetry. It has proven to be difficult. It's hard to isolate words that can string together into a thought. But, we love the challenge. Here are sample pages out of books we have done in the past.

For those of you who are intrigued with the idea, but are not ready to leave your marks in a book, I suggest you visit Erasures online. It is a site with many selected writings where YOU can play with the technique by erasing words you do not want to show, and leaving only your own found words. You can change it as many times as you want. You can also see examples of the words done by others with the same text. It's awesome and mind blowing how many different found texts can be picked out of the same text. We tried this as an exercise at a Mixed Media arts group meeting -and sure enough - each one was vastly different.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lesson 3 - Altered Books - Picking a Theme

One of the questions I always get asked in classes is - "how do you pick a theme?" This is a really good question. Usually themes pick me. Maybe the title of a book will suggest a theme. I actually shop for titles in the thrift shops and used book stores - or yard sales. Some titles are just irresistible. City of Bones, Born to be Wild, Surviving, Headaches. These are all titles I have used. The whole concept for these books sprung to mind as soon as I saw the titles. Now friends are saving books with interesting titles for me. Someone recently gave me the book Kiss of the Virgin. Hmmmm...... (Now, don't think you have to keep or use the title that's on the book. Sometimes I use a book because the size is right. I'm working on a religious theme in Jane Fonda's Workout book. )

Maybe you want to do a book about something in your life, or someone else's. I did a retirement book for a friend when she left the workforce. Romance can be a wonderful romantic theme. On the other hand, aging and death can also be strong themes.

Perhaps it is the lyrics of a song that will inspire you. Maybe it is a quote that means something special and that can be illustrated some way. Sometimes images themselves suggest a theme. Maybe it's a mood. Love? Tenderness? Anger? Political injustice? War? Family reunions? Chocolate? The Beach? Paris? Flight? There are more themes floating around out there than there are artists to do them justice.

My suggestion is to make a practice book first and not be tied to a theme. Just play with it and have fun. It may develop a theme by the time you are through playing with it. Maybe the images you choose to use will suggest a theme, or the colors. Perhaps the construction will develop into a theme. Windows? Doors? Tunnels? Folds?

Your themes can be as frivolous, or as serious as you want them to be. Altered Books give you total freedom and control. You are the artist. It will be what you want it to be. Relax and let the artist in you take over and see what you can do.

Lesson 2 - Altered Books - Basic Tools and Supplies

It's amazing how few tools you really need to make an altered book. You can get by with only a glue stick, a cutting tool such as a box cutter and a pair of scissors. Actually, you can do an entire altered book with only folding. Or, only cutting. Or only a pen or crayon for writing or drawing.

But, most of us use many art techniques in our books. Here is my list of basic AB tools.

Box Cutter and small pliers to snap off tips to bring up a new tip. (you might prefer Xacto knife)
Cutting pad, the self-sealing type.
Glue Stick.
Golden's Acrylic Gel Medium.
Bone folder.
Ruler with metal straight edge.
Credit card (no, not for buying supplies, silly! It's for smearing and spreading gel medium and paints, and also for use with clamps so you don't mar your pages.)
Pencil and pen.
Sponge brush.
Paint brush.
Small spray bottle with water. Use to help keep sponge brush damp, and to do quick clean ups.
Paper Towels.
Deli wrap paper or wax paper.
Dorland's wax to wax over pages, particularly if there is a stickyness problem.
Stencils of letters and numbers.
Rubber stamps (I use them for text).
Ink pad with permanent ink.
Post it notes. Tuck them in to help plan where you will use an image or quote.
Clamps for holding sections together while glueing or cutting.
ICE (Imagination,Creativity, and Enthusiasm)

If you have additional things you can't live without in your tool kits, please post in the comments so you can share what you know. We all have favorites!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I've put a lot of information and photos up here in the last couple days. I'm not always this prolific, but I wanted to give you a good variety of things to think about. It's part of the no rules, no right or wrong ways of doing things that I really want to stress. You can have a powerful message in your work - or you might do something for the fun of it. Or for the beauty you can create.

Almost all my book art friends make fat books, or I should probably say thick books. Books that are so chock full of interesting interactive things that the books cannot close. They stand open - ajar. I absolutely love their work and think the fullness and richness of their books deserves a big cheer!

BUT - I'm a closed book kinda gal. I worked in that library too long! I want my books to sit neatly tucked into a bookshelf. Mostly looking very innocent. It isn't until you open them that you discover the secret life they have taken on. My friends laugh at how stubbornly I stick to this with my altered books. But, then I pack them up all the time and haul them around to shows and book talks. They hold up a lot better without things hanging off or out of them.

You may want to do both! Or you may have a preference. Do whatever feels right for you and remember you can change your mind any time.

Mini Tutorial - Adding text

I love text in my books. I'm never satisfied with my altered books if they don't have some quotes, or words.
But how to apply them? There are many ways. Rubber stamp letters. Stickers, Rub ons, handwritten or printed, printing with your computer and printer (good for playing around with sizes and fonts), collage with cut out words or letters from magazines and other books or newpapers, stencils, purchased sheets of letters, or - the most fascinating - found words.

Find words on the page, then block out the other text and just let those words show through. This is such a fun way to alter a book. I use it at least once in each book. Some artists do entire books in this way and don't add images or other art work. You really should have the experience of trying it. I hope you have already visited the absolute king of found words, Tom Philips. Do take some time and look at what he has done.

I'm sure you can think of other techniques I've missed. I have cut out poems from books, or jokes from magazines to use.

Words can also be used in fabric books. Either sewn in, embroidered, or on transfers or beads. There are many methods to explore. Ribbons come with words, or you can stamp onto the ribbons or fabric itself.

Mini tutorial - Gel mediums

Gel medium 7 stickiness solutions

Most of the collage I do is done with Acrylic Gel Mediums, either glossy or matte finish. I started with Golden's because everyone else was saying it was the best, but I have also used Dick Blick products which are less expensive and seem to be well able to do anything I ask of it.

Many of us who do altered books and collages, find that the acrylic gel mediums have a tendency to stick to the next page. You can never quite tell when it's going to do this. I thought it was the humidity - but I just read somewhere that it is actually heat that is "melting" it. Whatever the cause, it is a sticky situation to have to peel apart two pages of precious art, only to have part of it pull off on the other page.

At first when I experienced this, I used (1.) wax paper as a divider between pages. Then I had the idea to rub the pages with the wax. Over and over again, to give it a wonderfully light wax coating. This works. For me. One of the groups started posting messages about using (2.) Dorland's Wax. I bought it. It works. For me. (3.) I bought shoe polish. Have not tried it yet. (4.) I bought deli wrap, thanks to the prompting of lots of people. I love it to put between pages while they dry, and even later when things are stored. It gives me a feeling of security, knowing the pages will be perfect when they are separated. (5.) I have used spray sealer on the pages. It works. Usually. (6.) I sometimes add something thicker to separate areas that are stubbornly sticky. Something like a button, jewelry, sand, fabric, ribbon, ets. (7.) Another way I've heard to help the pages stay separate is to dust them with a light coating of corn startch or talcum powder. I have not tried this, as the other methods are working for me, but I mention it in case you want to try a different method.

Exhibit - Altered Book - Food Poisoning

You never know when an idea will pop into your head. I say, go with it. The quirkier, more unlikely the subject - the bigger the challenge. That's my way.

There is a little community just outside of Arnold, in the Sierras that hold a wonderful annual flea market on the first Saturday and Sunday in August. It's called the White Pines Flea Market. Not only do they have amazing "finds" but they also have someone playing the piano in the food room with home baked goodies. And the friendliest nicest volunteers who put the whole thing together. I do my best to support them by buying lots of fun things. One year I browsing the tables of books, and sort of had my eye out for older bindings and interesting titles. Well, this little narrow book caught my eye. A book titled FOOD POISONING. When I opened it I realized it would not sell. They were going to be stuck with it. But, then I had an Ah Ha!!! moment. Why not alter it?

Okay, so here I am holding this nondescript innocent little book and not an idea in the world what I would do with it. But then I look around and find a little book with Shakespeare quotes. What could be more challenging than altering a book and using Shakespeare text and keeping with the theme of Food Poisoning? That's all it took. It clicked! For me. Everyone I told about it thought it was a stupid or nutty idea, but the idea tickled my fancy - I could hardly wait to start it.

This is an example of my process. Not necessarily in this order though. Find a book. Pick a theme. Find the words and the images. Then lay it out. In this case, I followed the chapters in the book, covering things like meats and eggs and oatmeal, etc. Selecting the images was fun - and matching them to the words. One one page I cheated and used a quote of Woody Allen's -about Oysters. I could not resist. The rest of the text was either "found" on the pages themselves, or from the Shakespeare book. Then put it together and add my art touches.
Finding the suitable images and words is one of the great joys of altering a book with a theme. It's research. It's something I love.

I usually do not do any preparation of pages, except to isolate "found" text until after I have it laid out with images and text. Once it is laid out, then I start gluing and adding my art. We'll go into this more in another post.

This tiny little book has 33 spreads. You can see more on my Picture Trail album.

Exhibit - Altered Book - Picasso

From nothing to something. What do you do with the scraps and bits and bobs of things lying around your work space when you really want a clean table?

This is what I did. This is an odd piece and I approached it with no plan at all. The structure is made of the covers of a book from which the pages were all discarded. The frame on the right side, is a piece of packing styrofoam which was painted with acrylic paints. I liked the texture and the thickness was just about right. The images were in an envelope - one's I had decided not to use in another project.

These are all things that were lying about on my work table and I was about ready to toss them all in the garbage bucket - but I thought, why not challenge myself to either use them or toss them away. Use it or lose it. It is strictly coincindence that they had any relation to each other, enough to make a cohesive piece. Whatever was left over - was thrown away. This took about an hour - given time for drying.

Touchy Feely books using vintage fabrics and notions.

Do you collect vintage fabrics, or scraps? Do you have buttons that have been passed down from generation to generation of mother to daughter sewing baskets? How about an old quilt so worn out it can't be used?

These are the basics I used to construct this quilted book. It has the smell of old cotton and is very soft to the touch. The little prints were left over scraps from a quilt my sister in law made. On one page there is a picture of my brother and myself as children. The edges are not hemmed or finished. I'm leaving it just like this. I like the unfinishedness of it. A few things were added to give it even more interest for little fingers, like the little bear, the crocheted dress, and the tiny soft doll. In some cases I used transfer methods for the images, and in others, they were printed and just stitched down. I liked the use of beads to form words, and think it adds another element to touch. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Remember, there are no rules. When you go to make a soft book like this, just gather the things you love, things you could not part with but have nothing in particular to do with them. Maybe they can go into a soft book. Something that can be a family treasure to pass along, or a gift for a dear friend.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mini Tutorial - adding textures

Don't you like to run your hands over various textures? Doesn't that help you experience the book? This is a quick spread in a Beach Journal and the cover.

The cover is done with fabrics and papers. I added all the yarns, silk scraps and other materials to the binding so the reader is sort of forewarned that it's going to be a touchy-feely book.

The spread is a photograph of the trees at the end of the main street at La Selva Beach, in California. The cliff drops off behind it, down to the beach. Many of the town people gather there to watch the sunsets and it's one of my favorite places. The leaf was picked up under the trees. There is netting over the photo and the leaf. Under the leaf is a scrap of batik fabric. The large branches of the trees are roughly stitched which helps hold the netting in place and also adds another element of interest.

I like to use fabrics and paper together. And adding something from nature makes it even richer. I'll show more of this piece later.

Exhibit - Altered Book - Crimes of Passion

This book is one I started awhile back when a woman with a famous boyfriend had been severely physically abused and she went back to him. It was on the news and all the talk shows for days. Many people were worried for her safety and wondered how she could forgive him and go back for more. Hearing it over and over again bothered me so much that I awoke at 2 in the morning with the poison bottle concept clearly in my mind. I originally planned to take clear capsules and put poisonous words ( jealousy, hate, envy, lust, anger, rage, abuse, etc.) inside them, then put a cap on the bottle and put the message - do not remove on the lid. I ended up typing the words and glueing them to Bayer Aspirin with Calcium for Women tablets. If any of you have tried to swallow them - good luck. They are huge!

Once I had the pills in the bottle, I thought it looked so small and insignificant - it would not show well. How could it be exhibited? I thought of putting it into a box, or into an assemblage - but then it struck me that it could fit into a niche in a book. Not a little book because it's a big message I wanted to put out there. So, I picked the largest book I could find that I had read and didn't care to read again.

One of the artists at the Bay Area Book Jam last year exhibited a powerful small book with strong images and the Miranda Rights warning for the text. That inspired me to want to include these words in this piece.

Usually my books have many spreads. I have a hard time editing myself. But this time, the bottle is the focus so it has only the one spread and the niche. The message is strong and clear. It doesn't need anything else. BTW the red piece on the right page at the top, is from a McDonald's bag. You never know where you will find the right piece to set off your pages. I hope to exhibit this in the Fall at a local art show. Please let me know what you think of it.

Lesson 1. Altered Books? Who started all this?

As early as the 11th century, old manuscripts were scraped to remove the ink and reused by monks. In effect, they altered the originals. Some of the older ink stains still show through.

In 19th century here in America, you didn't go to the dime store and buy a pad of paper, or to the office supply store. You used what you had. So, our great grandmothers reused books, and glued in newspaper clippings with recipes, poetry and images.

I had the privilege of being one of the archivists working with the John Muir Papers. Among his papers are several scrapbooks. One of them had originally been a used ledger book. Muir collected things like obituaries of famous people, poetry by Robert Burns in particular, and any article he could find on Alaska and nature. He also clipped and pasted images of animals and plants. It was a joy to hold them and see what was precious to him. One of his scrapbooks has sweet little drawings and scribbles done by one of his daughters when she was very young.

In my personal collection of books, I have an old spelling book that was transformed into an altered book full of newspaper clippings of poetry, humor, and short writings. I also have a beautiful Victoriana scrapbook full of ephemera. I'm posting pics of these two things for your enjoyment.

Most of our mothers altered their recipe books! Writing in tips in the margins, and changing the ingredients to suit their tastes. Or writing in other favorite recipes. Goodness knows the most used cookbooks got spattered and stained with cooking liquids and even cake batter when the mixer was raised from the bowl too soon.

Most students have altered their school books. The notes made in the margins is called marginalia. This is a common practice of scholars almost universally. John Muir, as a very young boy in Scotland, wrote and drew in his school books. Some of them are in the John Muir Collection at University of the Pacific. People come from all around the world to view them. In his later life, Muir made small tic marks on a page, and then in the back of the book he would record the page number and make his corresponding notes there. And of course the Muir family bible has the handwritten notations where his mother recorded the births and deaths of family members.

Most people credit the artist Tom Phillips of England with taking book altering to a new artistic level when he altered the book "The Human Document" into "The Humument". This was in the 1960s. Since then, thousands of artists around the world are finding new ways to express themselves by altering books - in just as many ways.

I'd love to hear what "altered books" you have in your family. You might be surprised to find you have been altering books for a long time! I invite you to share here by leaving comments.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fabric Covered Board Books - My Way

In response to questions about how board books are done, I'll share my short cut methods.
What you need:
Board book, any size.
Fabrics of your choice. (this works using paper too.)
Glue (I prefer Aileen's Tacky Glue)
Sponge Brush
Deli wrap sheets, or wax paper

Here's what you do:
(Unlike most ways of covering the pages, you do not need to sand or prime them with gesso.)

1. Select your fabrics and determine your layout.
2. Tear or cut your fabrics to be about 1/4 - 1/2 inch larger than the pages to be covered.
3. Run a bead of glue around the page and all over it.
4. With sponge brush spread out the Tacky glue so the board page is covered thinly and completely. Make extra sure to get plenty along the edges. (Don't waste time here, as it sets up quickly. If you don't want to work fast, then go to a slower drying glue, like Elmer's or similar that will dry clear.)
5. Lay on your fabric starting at one side and rolling it on the rest of the page. Smooth it out with your free hand as you do this. Then go back and rub all over the page to set the fabric into the glue. As a precaution, place a sheet of wax paper or deli wrap between pages after they are glued. That way you can keep working and be assured they will not stick together.
6. As you add fabrics you will note the binding may need loosening. If so, just take your scissors or a craft knife and cut right up the back of the spine. Cut away the flaps that remain.
7. To cover the covers, you can either (a) use a piece of fabric large enough to cover both the front and the back, plus the spine, or (b) you can cover each piece with a separate piece of fabric.
7.a. For method (a) - use the same technique for covering the covers with glue as you did with the other pages. Start with the front. When fabric is attached, next put glue on the spine and roll the fabric over it carefully working it into the glue. Then turn it over and continue on the back cover.
7.b. Use the basic method of adhering fabric to the page, one at a time. A strip of fabric can be attached to the spine either overlapping the front and back fabrics, or under them. It's a design choice. Sometimes I cut the back fabric long enough to wrap the spine and overlap the front cover. There is no right or wrong way.
8. Now you can go in and add artwork. Images, rubber stamps, words, and embellishments can be added, just as with other forms of altered books. This will personalize it and make it your own piece of art. Gel mediums, double sided tape, glue sticks, Zots (adhesive dots), or more of the tacky glue can be used to adhere things.

Any questions, you can post a comment here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Altered Book - The Economy 2009

I just uploaded the pictures of this new work to my picturetrail albums. Click on the title of this post and it will take you there. Altering this book took just one day from beginning to end. I only employed the use of three tools - a glue stick, a rubber stamp, and a pair of scissors. This is a minimalist method, of putting one's thoughts into the work and forgoing artistic techniques and tricks. It's a very straightforward piece - a political comment in collage. It's me waving my little flag!

If you visit the picturetrail site, you will see I credited the sources of images on the first page. I think it is very important to do this whenever possible. We need to show our respect for the work of artists, editors, etc. oops! another little flag to wave!

Hello friends, old and new.

Welcome to my new blog where altered books, fabric books, and other handmade books - along with the techniques and tools used to create them will be shared. You are welcome to follow along the progress of new books, and to use any of these methods and techniques.

I won't be boring you with the happenings of my family and friends here - they are well covered on my blog journal. It will take awhile before I get the altered book files copied from there, so please stay tuned - they are on their way.