Altered Book Round Robin Part III

November 16, 2008


Above: a page spread from my altered book on "Mysteries."

In my two previous posts about the preparation of my book for the MCBA Visual Journal Collective's Altered Book Round Robin I talked about selection of a book and the altering of the cover. Once the cover is completed (or put on hold until the end of the project, which is another way to go) it's time to get inside and start altering those pages.

There really aren't any rules for the altering process. I think that's the main appeal for book artists who work with altered books. They come up with a plan and follow through in a book, or work randomly, a new approach on each page spread; either ends up being a lot of fun.

There is however, one useful consideration to keep in mind: If you take out a page (and here I'm assuming you're using a book with sewn signatures as suggested earlier) it's always best cut that page out leaving a tab of paper running the length of the spine. This holds its sister sheet across the fold, in the book. It also, perhaps as important, holds space in the spine so that when you add back into the book with things like collage, the bulk of the spine is still intact and can accommodate those additions.

If you want your book to close normally when you are done a good rule of thumb is to take out as many pages as the thickness of whatever you put in. So if you put in a heavy weight cardstock on one spread (which doubles that thickness) you might want to take out 4 to 6 pages in a book with light weight text paper.

I recommend that you take out a few pages here and there, instead of great clumps before or after a thick inclusion. The exception would be clearing space for a very large item to be collaged or inserted. Then you would need a lot of pages taken out right at that place to make room. You still need to leave some sort of tab, however! Take that into account when you are planning and designing your spread.

Some people don't care if their books yawn open when finished. If you don't either, then don't worry about taking out pages. It might still be a good idea to remove one here and there throughout a really thick book, but ultimately it won't matter as much, the book will always stand up on its own, gaping open, not compressed shut on a shelf.

With Round Robins you might want to agree with your group on certain methods before you begin. For instance, if someone gets a book and glues all the pages together so he can make a recessed, cut out area and create a shrine, no one else is going to be able to work in the book.

Once you do get into your book you can alter your pages any way you enjoy working. If you find that acrylic paints work best for you and you don't have a sticking problem (I usually do, so I don't use them much on my interiors) then paint with acrylics. You'll have the advantage of great opacity to cover the type on the pages.

In the image at the top of this post you'll see that I pre-painted the page just as I typically do in my regular journals. I taped off various areas with masking tape (tested first on a back page to make sure it wouldn't tear up the page when removed). I painted the green area with Irridescent medium (I used one made for watercolors to avoid the stickiness issue possible with the acrylic version, but you can use either) mixed with a little acrylic ink for color. The irridescent medium gives a wonderful sheen to the color bands.

When I got to this page I had been thinking about the "mysteries, it's a mystery, what is a mystery" theme I had going for several days. I was running errands and stopped to get gas. There was a problem with the pump and when I ran in to pay my eye was caught by the gold foil wrapper of the Certs. I instantly recalled the advertisements "two mints in one." I bought a package and later that evening was able to capture the moment in the journal.

Sometimes the simplest way to alter a book is to obscure the page text and images altogether. At the RIGHT is another page spread in the same "Mysteries" journal. I had been working on transfering images to polymer clay. The waste paper on the copier was filled with sheets of my own sketches and Dover Clip art (which is what this bird is). While copying a work-related item my eye went down to the top sheet in the stack and it struck me that the bird's look was very intense, devoted, and indeed attracted obsessively to whatever it was gazing at (self or other). I glued out the page (which was already off center, but I accentuated that by placement on the spread) then I took some lovely Japanese silkscreen paper that had been scrunched up in the flat file and glued it to the remaining live area of the page spread. It has birds as a pattern so that's a great fit. I stamped the word that named the mystery also on some Japanese paper—a light weight and transluscent sheet which allows some of the bird pattern to come through. The edges were torn and I glued it down. All that remained was to insert some wax paper, close the book and weight it while the glue dried. (I like to use UHU glue; their purple gluestick, the color of which disappears when it dries. I find that it holds everything well in my journals, including photographic paper. It also dries flat and I like that. And most important: it doesn't have a glue or flowery smell which so many other products do. Also important, it is easy to find. I tend to get it at Office Max, or through NASCO on line. I was even able to buy some when I went to France in 2006!)

Note on Gluing: I always weight my books after I glue something in. If there are dimensional items on that spread or surrounding spreads I insert thin sheets of craft foam behind and between the appropriate sheets (protected with wax paper as needed) so that pressure on rivets and string and such doesn't depress those items into other page spreads, tearing the paper, cracking the painting, or otherwise ruining work already completed, as well as damaging pages to come.

For other examples from this book and other possible techniques please look at the Altered Book Journals section I posted on my website. I think the important thing, when working to alter a book is to play, to try things you wouldn't normally try, to experiment with materials to "get around" the challenges the page presents you.

Finding a word or phrase on the page and obliterating all text except that phrase (either with pasted paper or ink or paint) and then responding to that phrase can be a great way to marry the existing book to the text.

Gesso (white or colored, and my own preference is for Daniel Smith's Venetian Red gesso) is great for opaquely covering the text paper and creating a surface that both protects the text paper (good if you have lightweight paper that won't take wet media) and a surface suitable to the work you wish to do.

Collage with papers opens up infinite possibilites. Collage a lot, and cover the page spread. Collage a little and cover only areas you wish to paint or write on. Cut windows in a page and back it with transluscent paper and then paint your image on the next page. Glue the pages together as a unit and you can now see through your window to your drawing. (Or play with the idea of window and don't glue those pages together, make something happen on the page where the transluscent paper is glued. Maybe you are looking back through the window and so you create a page that reflects that. It can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be.)

If you want to paint opaquely but not use acrylic paint try gouache. I write about gouache a lot and I love using it. Interesting pages can be made with gouache passages that obscure text and image in one area but reveal it in another. Colored pencils make a great companion with gouache if you want to go in and work on your image some more.

When attaching things to the page, such as a small plastic bag (as shown in one of my website examples) consider how the back of that page will be handled. Will you be able to glue the next page to that page and hide the stapled attachment? Is the paper thick enough that you can actually attach the object to a tab of thicker paper and then glue that paper to the page? This allows you to only use one page spread without needing to glue pages together. Also it still hides the sewing or prongs of the brad etc. 

Don't overlook fabric when making your altered books. Even if you aren't good with the sewing machine there are things you can do with felt. And since your sewing machine probably won't reach some areas you can experiment with handstitching and embroidery. Besides felt, consider also working with Tyvek. This can be painted and since it is non-woven, when you cut it to shapes it won't unravel. It is strong and can be used to "hang" things from when you want to attach something to a page. And it can be used to reinforce areas of stress in your design. Also, if you heat it it will buckle and bubble up creating new shapes and those "elements" can then be used in your collages. NOTE: Heat Tyvek in a WELL VENTILATED AREA. You can do it with an iron and some parchment paper (place the Tyvek between the folded parchment paper and iron, you don't want this stuff on the iron). Work slowly because once the Tyvek starts to melt and deform it DISAPPEARS at a rapid rate if you aren't careful. Using a heat gun is another possibility. Be aware that Tyvek will be hot after these treatments. Don't burn your fingers!)

Perhaps one of the most fun things to do is to add things back into the book on the page tabs you left when cutting pages out (OK, yes this means you will have to take out pages somewhere else, but that's the easy part.) You can glue or sew items onto these tabs. You can position a piece of decorative paper that is the full page size (I recommend you position a sheet that is oversized and after the glue is dry go back and cut it down to match the page size. It's easier than trying to position something that's pre-cut to fit exactly). Alternately you can sew a pocket or envelope to the tab. Or several flags of paper. Again, a transluscent or transparent sheet (like a vellum paper used in scrapbooking) can be a nice addition to these tabs. Pre-print it on your ink jet printer to add interest or mystery. It will provide a full-page window to the next page.

Think about ways to add type to your page as well. This can be type cut from deleted pages or from other books and periodicals. You can set type on the computer and using self-adhesive transparent sheets add that text and art to the page simply and easily by removing the paper backing and rubbing it in place. Rubber stamps of course are a great way to add type, in any size and ink color. (If you plan to paint the page after the addition of stamped-type make sure your stamp ink is waterproof.)

And stencils, either purchased as an alphabet set, or hand cut, can make a great way to add type (or pattern) to your page. You can use acrylic paint or stamp ink to stencil easily. Stenciling with a variety of acrylic mediums will give you raised patterns and textures—I tend to save these for my covers, but they work on interiors too if you don't mind your book expanding, or don't mind taking out pages. Drying times for the dimensional media can be quite lengthy (at least 24 hours) and that's a long time to be without your book to journal in, or a long time to wait before you mail it to the next round robin participant (if you're in one) and meet a deadline. Plan ahead.

Again, let me say, the possibilities are endless. Let your mind find an idea, play with it mentally, and then capture that idea with whatever materials you enjoy working with. Don't forget that sometimes the best way to alter a book is to simply start drawing and painting directly on the pages, as if they were blank, using only your ink, pencil, and paint. It doesn't have to be complicated. Have fun!

  1. Reply

    ok so I work on the UHU glue blog and have been now for 3 years and I must say I had never realized the UHU glue doesn’t have a smell. So of course I had to see and yes you have made me smell glue. LOL. Maybe I’ll put up a post about this on the blog.


    • Lynn
    • November 17, 2008

    Thanks Roz, this really helps. I ran out of time…but I may uses a couple of these techniques when I get mine back…and on others. Thanks again.

    • Roz
    • November 17, 2008

    Alyssa, UHU PURPLE doesn’t have a smell. The white UHU does have a smell. I use the purple. The UHU white smell is not as offensive as other glues so it would be my second preference. I don’t know why the UHU Purple doesn’t smell (it has a slight smell but it is so minimal and dissipates immediately). The UHU White smell lasts for a couple days.

    All other glues have very pronounced smells in ranges that I don’t like from chemical to floral.

    Since UHU Purple doesn’t smell and works great for all I like to do with it I can’t think of any reason to use anything else!

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