Choosing a Pre-Altered Book

The bottom of this post includes tips for choosing your own pre-altered book.

One of my journals began as a coffee-table book, something I decided to purchase with the specific intention of covering in paint. I knew that most pages would eventually include only my original content, but I liked the idea of being able to use photos already on the pages if any of them happened to strike me as particularly interesting. When I first went hunting for this book, I had only a few prerequisites: that it have a sewn binding, which would be sturdy; the book include only/mostly black and white photos so that I would not feel restricted to the color palate of the photography; and finally, that the book be large in size but not incredibly thick.

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My Altered-Book, Opened to an Unaltered Page

I went to what is known as a bargain store, but I did not strike out going to a secondhand store if that didn’t work out. As it happened, the first place I went to was perfect for what I needed. Without much searching, I purchased one of the first books that I found, which met all of my requirements. It cost me less that five dollars. Because I was not picky about the content of the book, I bought a book that I would never have purchased to read, featuring U.S. Marines in WWII. The photography in the book was in fact black and white, but working in it has made me realize that pictures of war stricken lands are not the most inspirational when trying to create my art.  Since this purchase, time has passed, pages have been covered, and I am finally reaching the point where my book is about to be (drum roll, please) completely full of art and finished.

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My Altered Book, Showering Unaltered Cover Page

I drug the husband to that same bargain store on Sunday, and decided to be a bit choosier this time in my hunt for a new book to alter. Along with the previous requirements for my book, I decide to tack “not about war” to the list. I thought that I might have an easy time finding a book with black and white photography that would feature classic musicians or architecture. What I did not expect, however, was to fall in love with a board book about black holes that had full page photography from telescope images…in vibrant colors!

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My New Board Book, Icarus at the Edge of Time, for Altering

I purchased not just one, but two, for $3 each. The book only has 16 spreads, not including the cover, so I’m not too invested if I decide I hate working with it. The pages have a slight sheen to them, which may make it difficult to keep paint on them; I plan to sand them down in a few places before I begin to work in it. I don’t want to sand away too much of the top layer though, as I find the photography on the pages to be beautiful and vague enough as to not (completely) influence my art.

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Spread Within Pre-Altered Icarus

What really drew me to this book was it’s incredibly thick pages. Because this is a board book, each page is about an 1/8th of an inch thick, so it should never buckle beneath all of paints and glues that I like to slather on my pages.  I usually remove a few pages from a book that I plan to fill with art, so that the thickness of my art doesn’t break the binding, but that won’t be possible to do with this one. Luckily, there are so few pages that I won’t be able to thicken the book to breaking point…or so I hope!

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Detail Photo of Pre-Altered Board Book Pages

So here are the lessons I’ve learned about picking out a new book for altering, which I’d like to share with you:
1. DON’T get something that clashes with your aesthetic! LOOK at the photography within a book before you buy it. LOOK at the text before you buy it.
2. DO make 100% sure the binding is sturdy. Cloth binding with multiple sewn signatures (where the pages are folded, sewn, and attached at the center) is my recommendation.
3. DO get a book that speaks to you. If you decide that you want specific this or that (such as black & white photography) it’s okay to change your mind if you see something else (such as full color pages) that grabs you. Art is not about confining yourself. If you’re okay working outside of a canvas or sketchbook, you shouldn’t be afraid to break barriers.
4. DON’T spend too much money on a book to alter! Go to yard sales, bargain stores, secondhand stores, and the like.
5. DON’T make decisions about pages before you’re working on them. If you decide you like a specific element already printed in your book, great, but deciding you won’t paint over it before you get to it may make that page feel intimidating later.
6. DO get a book that is about the same thickness, or less, as your usual art journal. A book that has a huge amount of pages can seem overwhelming. You want your book to feel comfortable, especially if it’s your first altered book.

I look forward to updating you on how my board book works out. Feel free to comment with questions and/or show off your own altered books; I’m always on the lookout for more inspiration.

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