Saturday, March 03, 2012

My Altered Book Techniques....

My old friend Ruth - from  my watercolour days at Wet Canvas found me here and I am thrilled to have her following me!!  She asked about my techniques for altering books.

Here are my preferences - most of them having arrived at via trial and error.  I took a class on mixed media canvas last spring at  The Paint Spot- a local art store here in Edmonton - with Cathy McMillan and that is where I first received instruction on how to. 

The book = must be in decent condition - no mould or mildew preferably. must be constructed with sewn signatures.  My first altered journal I had no clue and just started gluing pages together - I had painted and decorated about a dozen pages before it started falling apart. The signatures had been glued together rather than sewn and with all the water and paint I throw at an altered book it really needs to be well made.  Look for the thread in the center of the individual sections - signatures.

I prefer pages and covers that are not shiney - shiney pages in my experience do not take paint well and can flake off - not the look I am usually going for.  I must stress that some people do not care as much about this sort of thing as I do - I use methods that work for me and the esthetic I am looking for.

Starting at the center of the signature I take a sharp knife and make a light cut as close to the center as possible without cutting the thread.  I remove both sides of the center page and repeat with the next page.  Doing this to all the signatures (removing 2 full pages) I find that I give myself enough room to put layers and layers of glue, paint, collage, transfers, photos, AND sparkley shiney bling and hand made tags with ribbons inside my book.  If you don't remove pages you might find that you cannot close your book when you are finished arting it up - if you are okay with that then no need to remove pages.

The next step is to glue pages together if you would like a sturdier page for your art base.  I like to glue - using Golden Self Levelling Gel Medium - I imagine any type of good quality glue would work - I prefer the self levelling gel because I use it for my gel transfers and I find it works great for me - 2 - 3 or 4 pages together depending on the thickness of the pages I am gluing.  I don't pay any attention to what's on the page and just glue pages in order - but some people like to keep certain pages showing -  by all means do what you feel you want. My daughter Karly writes poetry with the existing text on her altered books so she strategically glues her pages to keep her poetry pages showing.  Some people don't glue any pages together - I personally like to have a thicker base for my paint and glue etc. 

After gluing a whole book together - the spine and cover can get a little warped - I like to smoosh it back to an even spine and let it sit overnight with heavy weights on it. 

My next step is to apply a very thin coat of white gesso on each page spread letting it dry thoroughly before moving on to the next page spread.  This can take forever so I usually do a couple page spreads with gesso and then get painting - applying gesso in stages in between painting sessions.  I use a thin layer of gesso because I like seeing the text through it and try to keep some parts of it showing through my painting.  I like the charm of a journal that shows it's former life through thin bits of paint or gel transfers. 

I use liquid acrylic paint to decorate my pages - gel mediums to glue items and photos in and to apply transfers.  Acrylic paint tends to stick to itself so a thin spray of a varnish helps de-stick so there is not a worry when you close your book that the next time you open it there is that awful sound of paint ripping off a page with a big ugly white spot - ugh. 

I hope this helps get you started Ruth!! 

It is very late at night and I will try to take some pics to illustrate my techniques tomorrow.

If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask and I will attempt to answer as best I know.

Now go art!!!


  1. Thanks Emily, that's very helpful!!!!! I feel a shopping trip coming on! :D

  2. Informative post! I'm currently on the lookout for a book to be my new art journal as i'm about half way through my first. (a comp book)