Altered Books – Art for the Inartistic

Ever wanted to try something arty but don’t know how? Altered books are the perfect way to express your creative side, with no constrictions or rules. There are only two simple steps to making an altered book.

1. Find a book, preferably old and worn. Charity shops are the perfect place to scout these out, choose whatever size takes your fancy.
2. Illustrate your book with any creative process you like or want to try!

Altered books vary incredibly, from sketches to collage. Go wild! They generally retain their original covers and form, but inside is a whole other story. You can stick pages together to create thicker canvas type pieces, rip them to shreds, cut sections out, make flaps or pockets to conceal and reveal; use sewing, patchwork and pop ups to create texture and detail. You could even use your altered book as a scrapbook to hold photos and memories or make a book of quotations.
The beauty of altered books is if you’re not happy with a page you can easily splash a fresh coat of paint on top. There’s no need for perfection. The most altered books are generally very rough and ready.

Each book has its individual heritage, from the author who wrote the original words to the many hands it may have been passed through over the years. As an artist you can add a new lifespan to the history of the book by imposing your own identity upon it. In addition to this you are recycling…so you don’t have to feel too bad about ripping an old book to bits, which may be positively offensive to many people! If you need some relaxation after a hard day working, art can be the perfect therapy.

Altered books have become such a popular phenomenon that there are countless websites with numerous people swapping ideas. They are now shown and sold in art galleries all over the world, as artists gain a reputation for this relatively new movement. My particular favourite is Tom Phillips’ work ‘A Humument,’ which was originally an 1892 Victorian novel by W.H. Mallock, called A Human Document. He cleverly outlines various original words in the text to create new sentences, and his work has a great graphic effect, using vivid colour. The idea of the altered book has also evolved into more sculptural work, as shown from Guy Laramée’s impressive piece ‘Pétra.’

If this has got you itching to try your own altered book I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. It truly is an addictive hobby.

Kimberley Smith



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