FAQs About Altered Books


Q:What are Altered Books?
A: They are books that have been modified in some way, so an "old" book becomes a "new" book.

Q: Is this something new?
A: Not really. In medieval times, monks practiced a form of book altering to economize on the use of costly parchment. The new books that they created from old books were known as palimpsests. Altering books evolved as an art form in the sixties, when artist Tom Phillips created a classic altered book called A Humument.

Until recently, this art form was the domain of a small, but enthusiastic group of artists. The craft is currently enjoying a surge of popularity among scrapbookers and other crafters.

Q. Why do people make altered books?
A: Because we can. For the same reason that composers write music or sculptors make carvings out of marble.

Q: Isn't it wrong to damage books like this?
A: We think of it as recycling an old book that would otherwise end up in the garbage bin.

Q. Some people just don't get it when I show them my altered books. What do I say to them?
A: Hasta la vista, baby. (Insert something gentler here, if desired!)

Q: What kind of books do I use?
A: It goes without saying that many of us prefer to use old books that we can acquire on the cheap, or even better, for free. Many of us prefer hard-backed books because they are sturdier and less prone to damage. It's best to find a book that is in good condition. Otherwise, you will want to reinforce the spine.

Q: Where do I find books to alter?
A. Check second-hand book stores, flea markets and garage sales. Let your friends know you want old books. Ask your local library what they do with their old books. Keep your eyes peeled. You'll find plenty.

Q: How do I pick a book?
Q: There are two ways to go here: (1) You decide upon a theme, then find a book that compliments your theme; or (2) You find a book you think you would like to work on then decide what you want to do with it. There are no rules in this art form.

Q: What kind of themes do you use for altered books?
Q: Anything you want -- travel, hobbies, your family, nature, spirituality, heroes, angels, etc. Or, have no theme at all if that's the direction your muse leads you.

The altered books that I have worked on personally include an altered book for my friend depicting the highlights of her twenty-year career; an altered book for another friend containing memories and anecdotes contributed by her friends and family; a book with Motherhood as its theme; a book with a women's social group as the theme; and an altered book that combines a tribute to the late Johnny Cash with images of the forest fires that plagued my province during the summer of 2003. It's cut into a circle shape and named Ring of Fire.

Q: Do I need a lot of supplies and equipment to make altered books?
A: You can spend a small fortune if you want, or you can spend very little. Many of us start small and add supplies as we go along.

Q: What is the minimun I need to get started?
A: A book to alter. Glue or adhesive. Scissors or a cutting tool. Pictures or images from magazines, junk mail or other sources. A decorative pen or two. Perhaps a small container of craft paint or rubber stamping ink. Ephemera or found art such as buttons, stamps, postcards, embroidery thread, ticket stubs, fabric, ribbon, lace, tissue paper, etc.

Q: I can't seem to get started. What do I do?
A: Open your book. Glue two or three pages together for strength. When the glue is dry, paste a picture from a magazine on the top page of the block that you have glued together. Now let your muse take over and start adding things. That's it.

Is book altering an art or a craft? And what's the difference anyway?
A: Now you've opened a can of worms, haven't you? You just want to see me get in trouble with the altered book community, right? Oh, okay. I'll try to answer. Making altered books can be both an art and a craft, depending on how you approach it.

Now as to the diffrence between the two, the best explanation I've ever heard is that making art involves creating from scratch, and making a craft involves using a pattern that someone else has created for you. So if you create your own layouts for your altered books, you're making art. If you're using layouts that somebody else designed, you're crafting.

If you're designing your own layouts but you're adding, let's say a wire embellishment that you made from somebody's pattern, you're..... oh, you figure it out. See how complicated it gets?

Q: I don't have a muse.
A: No problem. You can use mine. Her name is Cleo. Happy altering.

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