An Art Outlet for this Holiday Season

Welcome to the depths of Sagittarius season smack in the middle of our holiday season up here in the Northern Hemisphere. The air always feels frenetic this time of year amid the rush and activity surrounding Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s and Festivus for the rest of us! Sagittarius is the sign of philosophy, learning, travel and expansion. (At some point I may expound on why I prefer referring to the time of year by its astrological season but that’s for a future blog post!) Depicted as half-man, half-centaur with a bow and arrow, Sagittarius represents the bridge between Heaven and Earth. It feels fitting then to write this blog post today about my latest art kick – altered book making – because what better way to expand your mind during these colder days than to read (or in our case, recreate) a good book! You may learn something new about yourself.

This latest kick was inspired by my recent attendance to an all-day, altered book-making workshop at the Expressive Therapies Summit led by one of my previous supervisors, Mindy Jacobson-Levy. Mindy is one of a few mentors who helped me along the way in my journey to licensure as a professional counselor and board certified art therapist. Her energy and enthusiasm for the arts has always been contagious, and to take the time to sit, learn and create alongside other creative arts therapists during Mindy’s workshop was a true gift. And so without further ado, here is my humble attempt to share this process with you.

Getting Started: Creating a Strong Foundation

To get started on your altered book, first you need to create a stable foundation by finding a hardback book with sewn-in pages that you wouldn’t mind roughing up in order to recreate. It is vitally important for the book to have a strong spine and cover in order to create something durable that can support your alterations and the weight of the art materials you’ll be incorporating. Once you’ve found your book, you’ll want to tear out one page for every 7-10 pages or so to create some space within the book for your art media – collage images, tissue paper, paint, tape, beads, cardboard, you name it.

Claiming Your Book

At some point between finding your book and beginning to tear out some of the pages, you’ll also want to “claim” your book. Add your name to the inner cover, as well as a theme if you care to assign one to this book. For example, I found an old altered book that I began working in years ago that I named “Resilience Book,” into which I collaged inspirational or comforting quotes, song lyrics and images that helped to give me strength during times of extreme stress.

You may also want to consider whether you’ll want to keep the contents of your book for yourself, as with a journal or diary, or whether you’ll want to share your work with others. For the former, you can keep your cover “as is” for concealability on a bookshelf or in travel. Otherwise, I find that multi-colored tape, particularly duct tape, and paint markers work well for this surface.

Working the Interior

Next, you’ll want to use matte Modge Podge to glue together some of the remaining pages in order to make thicker pages that can support heavier art media (glue together about two to three pages to make one thicker page). You can also use white gesso (a primer for paint surfaces, not to be confused with white paint) to “white out” some of the text on the pages to create blank space on which to draw or paint your own words or imagery.

Techniques to Try

As you go through your book, tearing pages out, gluing pages together, take care to preserve any images, words and/or blocks of text that you’d like to keep visible. As for the rest of the space – anything goes! Add paint, create collages, make pockets, try black-out poetry. For the latter, circle any words or phrases that jump out to you on the page. (The selected text can be connected to a theme of your choosing, but doesn’t have to be.) When you’re finished choosing your words, black out the rest of the text with black marker or paint. What’s left is now a poem.

You could also try creating tape transfers as an additional collage technique. Go through any spare magazines (this process works best with magazine paper but not National Geographic or so I’m told). Look for a figure or an image that appeals to you, cover it with packing tape and then cut it out. Next, soak the image in warm to hot water for 3-5 minutes after which you can rub away the back, non-taped side. What’s left is a transparent version of the image you originally chose that can now be added to your book. Experiment with different backgrounds. What kind of environment does this image call for?

Opportunities for Experimentation, Transformation, Rewriting Narratives and Play

If you Google “altered-book techniques,” you will find a wealth of articles, videos and websites with ideas to try in your book. Part of the beauty of this process is the opportunity for experimentation, rewriting a story, embracing transformation and imperfection (this process is inherently messy!) without the pressure of the blank page calling on you to create something out of nothing. As with all of the art tasks I share here, try to have fun with it above all (Sagittarius is also one of the more playful signs). And with that, I’m wishing you love, light, creativity, vitality and joyous art-making this holiday season!