Altered Books: Creating New Meaning
paper, parchment, or other material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side". (Wikipedia, 2008). Books are beautiful pieces of art that often convey powerful messages and, through the language of literature, communicate values, emotions, and other sentiments. People often say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but the cover of a book is an artwork all on its own. When purchasing or choosing a book many readers overlook the forethought that is involved in designing the cover of a book. Book covers are intended to not only appeal to certain audiences, but also to express something of the authors individuality, and to set the stage for what lies in the pages ahead.
"Animal Farm", George Orwell, 1945
If a book is without interior illustrations, the aesthetic beauty of the book is often limited to the cover, and the reader becomes absorbed in the vernacular within. As artists, we are always looking for ways to further communication through the visual arts. There are many ways to alter books so that they become much more than merely language art. Some artists modify whole books, page by page. Others remove the pages of the books so that they may create their own meaning within the cover. Fundamentally an altered book is any book, old or new that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned. (ISABA, 2006). Altered books can be utilized as powerful tools for conveying meaning regarding the ideals of the artist, as well as to reflect the values of the society and community that he or she is a part of.
All images: Shauna Palmer, February 2005
When altering a book to create new art, one must be careful to acknowledge that he or she is manipulating someone else's art. Because we often think of books as objects rather than as literary art, when creating altered books it becomes easy to forget that we aren't working from raw materials. In order to avoid copyright issues, Victorian or antique books are often used in altered book projects. (Wikipedia, 2008).
One example of an artist altering a book from the Victorian era is "A Humument", created by Tom Phillips. "A Humument" is a a series of altered book pages that Phillips created from the Victorian novel "A Human Document", by W.H. Mallock. "A Humument" is essentially a work in progress, as Tom Phillips continues to work and rework his original page alterations as they were published in 1970. (http://humument.com/intro.html). Phillips pieces have been displayed in exhibition between two pieces of glass, so that viewers may reflect upon both sides of the book pages, further blurring the line between literary and visual art. (Sackner, 2008). "A Humument", "in which each page has been painted, typed upon, drawn, or collaged to leave clusters of the original printed text as new poetry" (Sackner, 2008) has been described as "the most important artist's book of the twentieth century" (Sackner, 2008).
Tom Phillips, A Humument: Page 5, Tetrad Press Edition, 1970[-75].
Tom Phillips, A Humument: Page 6, Tetrad Press Edition, 1970[-75].
Altered Books Links:
International Society of Altered Book Artists
A Cyber Home for the Altered Book Artist
Tom Phillips, "A Humument"
Altered Books Lesson Plan
Grade Level: 6 - 12
This lesson has an interdisciplinary focus, which emphasizes manipulating text and combining techniques of wax resist and watercolors in order to make a meaningful and beautiful piece of art.
9.1 Production, Performance, and Exhibition of Dance, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts
9.2 Historical and Cultural Contexts
9.3 Critical Response
9.4 Aesthetic Response
1.4 Types of Writing
1.7 Characteristics and Functions of the English Language
To Create an altered book page utilizing the technique of wax resist under watercolors.
1. Students will be introduced to the technique of wax resist under watercolor.
2. Students will recognize that book pages can be manipulated so as to create a piece of art that is both visually as well as textually significant.
3. Students will each express, through the process of wax resist under watercolor combined with methods of book altering, an idea, concept, or emotion that is significant to him or her.
Resource Materials/ Visual Aids:
• Teaching Board explicating project.
• Completed exemplar of an altered book page that epitomizes the wax resist/ watercolor technique.
• Various book pages, removed from books.
• White or clear wax crayons. *Frisket film may be used as a substitute, if available.
• Colored crayons.
• Watercolors and brushes.
• Cups for water.
• Paper towels.
• Construction paper for mounting.
• Preparation of teaching board.
• Collection of books, removal of pages.
• Creating of project exemplars.
Introduction: “Has anyone ever used words as a visual part of a piece of art?” Presentation of teaching board, display of a variety of altered book projects, presentation of exemplars, demonstration of wax resist technique.
1. After selecting a book page to use, select specific words to use to convey a thought or idea, perhaps creating a sentence or short poem. Students should be briefed on composition so that they may utilize their page in a space-efficient manner, thereby creating a visually pleasing, as well as textually significant, piece of art.
2. Color over these words with white (or clear, if available), wax crayon, making sure not to color over surrounding words. Students may outline these specific words or phrases with another color crayon or pen or marker if desired. If Frisket film is available, students may cut the film into rectangles that will just cover the word or sentence they wish to protect from the watercolors, and then peel the back from the film and apply it to said words on the page.
3. If desired students may add other designs in wax crayon, pen, or marker, but they should make sure to do this minimally so that the text in the background is still apparent.
4. When the foundation design of the page is completed, paint watercolors over the whole page. The wax over the selected text will create a resist so that the words are still visible through the watercolor. (If you are using Frisket film, once the watercolor is dry, slowly peel off the filmed sections. The watercolors should not have affected these areas).
5. Once the page is dry, mount the piece to black paper, approximately an inch larger than the page on each side.
Discussion of the pages geared towards garnering student opinions regarding whether or not altered book pages should be considered an art form or a craft. Critique of completed pages, with discussion of page composition and color choices, with attention paid to the ideas that are conveyed through the finished pieces.
Student may select another book page and begin work on altering it using the wax resist technique.
5 minutes – Introduction to altered books, presentation of teaching board and exemplars, demonstration of wax resist technique.
25 minutes – Production.
5 minutes – Critique/ Discussion.
Altered Books - Any book, old or new that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled or otherwise adorned.
Wax Resist – Utilization of a wax substance to resist another substance, such as watercolor paint, that is applied over the wax.
*Sackner, Marvin. "Humumentism: The Works and Ideas of Tom Phillips". 2008. http://humument.com/essays/sackner.html
*Wikipedia, 2008. "Altered Books". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altered_books
*Wikipedia, 2008. "Book". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books