Altered Book Round Robin Part II

November 15, 2008


This is part two in a series showing the prepping of my altered book for the MCBA Visual Journal Collective Altered Book Round Robin.

In my first post on the altering of this book you may recall I mentioned that I didn't start with a full plan. I started playing with that Claybord rectangle and then made a recessed area for it in my cover. Then I started thinking about what I really wanted to do with my cover and how I could incorporate what I had already done. So I started doing some sketches in my journal. (Normally this would be my first step.)

In the image which opens this post you'll see how I worked through the idea of having a cover wrapper. I knew I was going to paint on the cover, but I thought it would be fun to do the title for the book on the computer, print it out and then wrap it around the cover. My obstacle was that slightly raised rectangle. Any wrapper I put on the cover would have to avoid this area or have a window out of which it could pop.

I drew some horizontal wrapper ideas out (first column) but because of the rectangle's placement they would have to be rather low on the book. I didn't like that. Then I thought about how the book was going to be used. In a round robin a book is sent from participant to participant so that they can create art in each other's books. This meant that something wrapped around the cover horizontally would be continually falling off, and perhaps getting folded or bent as people opened the book to work in it. I would be essentially giving participants an extra hoop to jump through. (It would probably annoy them!)

I also thought, at this time about using wire mesh as a wrapper (with the ends folded to protect injury) to carry out the Chicken theme with a nod to chicken wire fencing. I decided this would be a better feature used on a book I made alone, that didn't travel. (I've used wire mesh in several artists books I've made, but even if you're careful with the edges of the mesh they can be tricky to handle.)

I also considered leaving the wrapper off the cover and adding it after the book is returned to me, but I ruled that out. I thought it would be more fun for the complete cover treatment to be in place. Then I decided that if I made a vertical wrapper it could wrap around the front cover and remain in place when people opened and closed the book. (See right column sketches on my journal page). And next I thought it would be fun to print on fabric (something I'd done with the old printer but not the one I have now). If I printed on sheer fabric then the band going over the cover wouldn't totally obscure the cover paintings.


This seemed like a good solution for all the ideas bopping around in my head.
I was standing at my work table when I took measurements off the book (I would need to make a window for that piece of Claybord), so I grabbed a scrap of paper and noted down what I needed to know to set the type on the computer. I had fabric mounted on paper carrier sheets from Jacquard so I was limited to 8.5 x 11 inches. (You could mount your fabric on freezer paper and then print on it if you want to customize your sheet size.) My notes tell me the width of my band, the height that I need to cover the front cover board of the book, and the position of the window.

With these measurements I went to the computer and created a layout in QuarkXpress. (I'm actually trying to switch over to InDesign, but I had very little time to work on this project and needed to work with a familiar software program.) I set the type, positioned the cut out window, and put in a textured band of color down the center of the band.

On the inside portion of the fabric band I elected to use cotton (also pre-mounted from Jacquard) and print out the "instructions" for the book. (Participants were asked to provide guidelines as to theme and any other considerations; this band also held my address for the book's return.)

I printed the pieces of fabric out and found that the color I'd used for some of the type was too dark to show much difference from the black. I decided to leave it as is. Printing on the sheer organza can be pretty tricky. The open fabric gives the impression of lightness because of the space between the threads. If I lightened some text to a lighter, reddish brown, the overall effect of the type would be lighter still.

With the fabric printed I went to the sewing machine and stitched the organza panel to a same sized piece of mull. Mull is like starched cheesecloth; it has a very open weave; it's very stiff. It is used to reinforce the spine and hinge areas of a book when binding. I used it to back the organza because the book was going to travel and also I just wanted the extra stiffness. Additionally the rough, uneven texture of mull appealed to me. It was sort of like keeping the chicken wire idea, only with fabric.


I did a zig zag stitch around the window, then around the panel. Next I attached the inside panel to the top edge where the front panel folds over.

Left: The sewn panels.

I then fit the wrapper on the book for a test run, inserting the Claybord piece into its cover hole. It all fit. I wasn't sure if I liked the wrapper, but it was ready if I decided to use it. My internal quibbling related to how it wrapped. I thought it might bulge a bit and realized I would probably have to tack it down with bits of glue, here and there. That isn't any big deal, but it will make the panel permanent and I'm not sure that I want that. But there is plenty of time to think about that. I still had not painted the cover. I did the flap first so that I could decide final positioning of the painted elements on my cover in relation to the wrapper.  (I'm one of those people who makes sketches and then lists steps, working out the process I want to follow. I find this saves time and helps me avoid fatal errors, such as putting something in place which prevents revisions unless I want to do major reconstruction and a lot of fuss; I like to avoid that.)

Using an 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of ivory paper (which was just what I had at hand) I sketched out the front and back panels of the cover very loosely. My idea was to do very loose, partially outlined paintings on the cover. Only certain areas of the paintings would have full details. I thought this would work well with the obscuring wrapper. The front image would peak through the sheer panel.

Resorting to my visual journals I looked up pigeons, penguins, and gulls. I had already decided that I wanted "birds" to be the theme or subject matter in my book, as evidenced by the title on the printed fabric panel: "Feathered friends, acquaintances, and passersby." Referring to my journal sketches I did loose drawings on the yellow paper and moved them around to check positioning. If you click on the image to the right it will pop up into a larger window where you can see the sketches at the top of the image.

Using a sheet of graphite transfer paper I transferred a few key points of my sketches onto the gessoed surface of the cover.

If you haven't used transfer paper before note the following: 1. Transfer paper is placed graphite side down on your painting surface and your sketch is placed on top. 2. Using a pen or other type of stylus you then go over the lines you want transferred and graphite lines appear on your painting surface. I tend to transfer only a few points of reference as I don't like graphite to be everywhere. Also I intended to paint loosely so having all my sketch lines wasn't necessary. 3. When you do a transfer be careful to press gently on your drawing lines, you don't want to depress your canvas or paper surface because when you paint the paint will act differently there and you'll see the transfer. 4. I recommend that you take a photocopy of your sketch and use it to transfer. You can then use a red roller ball type pen and know all the lines you have gone over for transfer because of the red ink. Additionally your original sketch isn't damaged in anyway and sometimes it's nice to save those. Since I only had very quick sketches for this project I wasn't concerned about saving the layout sketch. 5. Saral makes transfer paper in colors as well as graphite. I find the white transfer paper is great when doing scratchboard on a black (or dark) ink surface. It's also great if you're working on colored gesso.

With some key reference points in place on my cover I used a fine brush and a light wash of color to draw outlines. I used tube acrylics which dry very quickly so as soon as the sketch was finished for the pigeon I was able to begin painting. I worked with the book open, flat down on my work surface. When I was finished with the pigeon I went to the back cover and painted the penguin and then the flying gull. Since I had developed the pigeon more than I had originally intended (I wanted it to show through that wrapper), I did the same degree of finish on the other two birds. They don't have the outlines visible as I'd originally intended, but hey, that's an approach I can use on another project.

To finish the cover I wrote a portion of the title on the spine with red acrylic paint and signed the back cover.


In the photo above you can see the final cover, opened so that the spine is visible. The Claybord rectangle with the chicken image is also in place.

Now that the cover is painted I'm wondering if I want to add that fabric wrapper. I rather like the pigeon image. If I use the wrapper the eye, which is my favorite part of the pigeon image, will be obscured. I don't have to make that decision right now because I have to let it dry a bit. While acrylic paint dries to the touch quickly it takes some time to actually cure.

Whether or not I use the fabric title wrapper I will be spraying this book with acrylic sealer. Typically I would wait for a couple weeks to do this (some artists who work in acrylics all the time have told me to wait several months!) but I don't have time to wait. The purpose of sealing the art at this point is to protect it from normal grime as it travels around the round robin. Even finger prints of the other artists would show up on the white gesso if I don't do something to protect the surface. So it's a trade off. Even so the book will return more worn and messy. It's an altered book, it should look a little scruffy as far as I'm concerned. That's part of the charm.

Tomorrow I'll decide about the cover and finish off some inside pages.

    • Gina
    • December 28, 2008

    Beautiful cover, Roz; it’s so wonderfully original because it’s based on your sketches. Nice 3-part series about altered books. I’ve not had a great deal of luck working in altered books because I mainly use acrylics and because the paper doesn’t take paint well. But, I love the freedom to experiment and just have a blast.

    I’ve been thinking about altering a travel book using scissors and collage; the paper will be slick and a real challenge. Have you ever tried something like that?

    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    Gina, have you tried putting even a light layer of gesso on your pages when using the acrylic paint? I find the the gesso really helps the paper take more treatment. It helps of course to start with a book with heavier paper if at all possible. Gesso watered down to more than 50/50 with water (needs more than 50 percent gesso in the mix to keep good film adherence) will still allow the page text to come through in areas and so on.

    Also gluing several thin sheets together might help you deal with acrylic paint on the pages as you essentially just made thicker paper.

    For slick pages I sand them a bit with fine grade sandpaper. This breaks up the coating a bit and allows the adhesion of the collage items. Of course it also takes down and alters the image, but I’m talking, light strokes of sanding which actually add interesting texture to the pages.

    You might want to try something like PMA or Xyron adhesives which are supposed to stick to coated card stocks and such.

    Good luck!

    • Gina
    • December 28, 2008

    Thanks for some great tips, Roz. No, I admit I haven’t used gesso much on the pages beforehand but that sounds good. But have weeded down page count and glued several pages together, though. The sandpaper is an idea I hadn’t thought about but it could be very exciting as it would subtly alter the image as well as add lovely texture and an aged look, as well. The whole project will be a real experiment!

    • Roz
    • December 28, 2008

    Gina, I just thought of mentioning something else for clarification or amplification. Since you don’t normally use gesso you should know it is available in a transparent variety and that would allow you to coat but not cover your text and images on the original book page.

    I like the transparent gesso because it also has a very toothy surface and is great for colored pencil.

    Hope it all goes well for you.

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