Saturday, March 23, 2013

Altering A Book

Western movie book altered to My Favorite Westerns
On Monday, Sherrinda asked:

I have always wanted to do an altered book, but it just looks like way too much work for me. Do you gesso every single page? Do you leave all the pages in the book? How long do you think it will take for you to finish filling up the book?

Like any project, such as refinishing an old chair, there is a lot of prep work to be done. An old chair may need to be scrubbed down, sanded, stained, or painted with whimsical designs. The question to ask is what will the chair be used for? Will it be put in a formal dining room? A child's room?

Altering a book takes the same approach. What will it be used for? Will it be a journal? A photo album? A shadow box frame for an object or a secret compartment for trinkets?

Depending on uses, pages may have to be removed, or not. If the book is to be used for a shadow box frame, you don't need to remove any pages. Just glue all the pages together and cut out the size hole you want. If you aren't planning to add text, you wouldn't need to gesso the top page.

If  you want to add embellishments (pictures, stickers, charms, buttons, ribbon..) then pages need to be removed so the book will close flat or not! I usually start by removing every third page or every fifth page of the book. Save the pages in case you need to add a page or use the book paper in some other way.

If you are adding embellishments, and/or the book pages are thin, you will need to glue pages together to give the paper strength. Glue two or three pages together.

If you want to paint or add your own text to the book, you will need to gesso your glued together pages. Gesso is a primer used to prepare canvas or other substrates. How many coats you need will depend on whether you want the original book text visible or not. I use one coat if I want the original text to show through or two or three coats if I want to make sure the text doesn't bleed through my work.

You can also cover the pages with decorative papers or fabric in which case you wouldn't need to gesso the pages. Just be sure you can close the book with the extra thickness of the paper or fabric.

How long an altered book project will take will depend on you and/or what the book is to be used for. Will you use the altered book as a scrapbook? A journal? A never-ending project? Do you have a definitive theme and know exactly what you will write, draw, paint, collage on your pages? The time it takes is up to you, and the drying time needed for gesso, glue, and paint.

The best way to test the waters is to give altering a book a try. You don't need to start with a tome. Start with a children's book like a seen better days Golden Book. You'd end up with a couple two or three pages.

What may seem like a fussy project in the beginning, may turn out no fussier than repainting a chair. You'll have saved something from the trash and given it new life as a piece of treasure.


  1. Oh my goodness, CJ! THANK YOU for this post! It really spoke to my heart and the made clear the "hows" and "whys" of book altering. And it sure crushed my thought that it was too much work! lol

    Seriously, I cannot wait to see your progress on it...I do hope you show your steps in doing the book!!! HINT!

    And I now am going to be on the lookout for a book that I can begin. What a great summer project for me!

  2. Sherrinda, I've found when I want to try an unfamiliar technique, it helps me to try to compare it to something I know how to do or to break the technique down in steps. Then it doesn't seem so scary and helps to understand the process.

  3. Great explanation of how to alter a book, CJ!