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What is an Altered Book?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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An altered book is a unique piece of artwork created from another book. Typically, the artist will take the original book and alter it through the use of various techniques, from collage to stamping. The book is then transformed into something totally different. The original book may be old or new, though most people prefer to use older publications to avoid copyright infringement. This is especially true of those that are planning to show or sell their altered books in art galleries or online.

It’s interesting to note that during medieval times, it was common for monks to wash, scrape, or rub out earlier manuscript works in order to create new text in its place. This practice may have set the tone for future artists to express their creative side. Today, there are numerous ways to alter a book.

Pages can be decorated, painted, folded, etc. Pockets or other three-dimensional objects might be added. A variety of materials can be used to create an altered book, from different paint media and rubber stamps to decorative paper and pictures cut from magazines or other books. Altered books can be simple, adding drawings or new text to the pages; or more complex, gutting the pages and reusing the empty cover.

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When making altered books, one is only limited by his or her imagination. There are different techniques that can be applied to an altered book. Generally, hardcover books are easier to use than softcover ones. Many people also prefer to cut away the binding; however, this is not a requirement. Also, since most book pages are not very thick, they are usually glued together to make them more sturdy.

This altered book technique varies as well. For instance, every few pages may be glued together throughout the book. On the other hand, there may be gaps of unglued pages left in between. The artist might also tear away pages, adding creative expressions and artworks in their place. Pages can also be removed to make room for additional objects that may be added.

Still others prefer to leave the pages as is, providing interesting backgrounds for the altered book. By process of obliteration, an artist may also highlight certain words or phrases from the original book and use these to create a poem or narration. In fact, one idea is to use an old mystery novel, highlighting clues throughout the text. Using paint or collage to cover some or all of the pages is another option.

To keep the altered book interesting, many artists like to add little surprises along the way. Again, there are different ways to accomplish this. Some pages might be left alone, enticing others to flip through the book for the altered features. Illustrations within the book can be worked around for additional interest. Adding envelopes filled with notes or creating pop-ups is often done as well.

In addition, windows can be cut out to provide a sneak peek of the pages that follow. Once the inside is complete, the cover can be altered to complement the new piece. One of the easiest methods for making an altered book is using a selected theme or topic. Oftentimes, it’s simply more fun to allow the book itself to inspire creativity by using the book’s title, text, and illustrations as a guide.

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