As a responsible crafter, I try very hard to reuse and recycle all my crafting products. Use and reuse everything that I can is how I craft.
What Is an Altered Book ?
An altered book is a piece of artwork created with the base being an old book. The book pages being the canvas, the artist creates pages of art enclosed within the pages of the covers.
Just about any media is used as content. Paint, collage, rubber stamping and a whole lot of other techniques are applied to the pages within the book.
Altered books can be used to create art journals or junk journals. You can also create a travel journal with them.
Some altered books have a specific theme where each page tells a story. Other altered books have art that stands on its own.
Choosing a Book to Alter
There are just a few considerations when it comes to choosing the book that will be the base of your art form.
Shape of the Book
You need to start off with a book that is in relatively good shape. Try to choose a book that has a good weight of paper. Otherwise, you will have to glue pages together. When you glue pages together, it puts stress on your binding, which may cause it to pull away from the cover.
You want to have a book that will open and lay somewhat flat. This will help you work on your art and enable others to view it. Test the book to see if the binding will lay flat with little effort.
Size of Your Book
You will want to consider the size of the book you are choosing. A thinner book actually provides you with a better "canvas" in many ways. You have to remove pages in the book to accommodate the bulk of your art. There will be fewer pages to dispose of. That means a neater book with less wear and tear on the spine of your book.
Also with a thinner book, you will actually get a finished piece in less time than a bigger heavier book.
I like to work on big books because they give me a bigger canvas to work on. But you may like to work on smaller books, which tend to be done quicker.
The quality of the paper is very important, especially if you like to use multiple media on your pages. Older books tend to have better paper. You want paper that is soft to the touch and sturdy. Avoid glossy paper. They will not hold up to the stress of the materials on them.
You want a sewn spine rather than a glued one. Check the headband to be sure it’s soft and loose, with scalloped ridges where groups of pages (signatures) are attached. Look for the beginning of a signature and check it at the spine for stitching.
Sewn spines are preferred because they usually give the book more strength and durability. There’s less risk of breaking the spine of a sewn book, and it’s much easier to remove pages without damaging the structure.
There are a few ways you can check to see if you have a sewn spine:
- Lay the book on a flat on a table, still holding the first signature. If you see dots on that page, these are stitching marks. You may be able to see some loose thread. That would indicate that you have a sewn spine.
- If you open the signature to its center, by counting an equal number of pages from the front and back page of it, you should find stitching lines. That would be the defining answer on if the book is stitched or not.
Supplies for Altered Books
There are a few supplies that you will need as you start your journey into altered books. Many of these you may have in your craft supply stash or around your home. Most are reasonably priced or are things that you can recycle.
Wax paper (used to cover pages below pages that you are working on)
Paint Brushes (apply paint and mixed media)
Stickers and die cuts
Saran Wrap (used for background techniques)
Crayons, markers, gel pens
Tissue Paper and Decorative Napkins
Sponges (used to apply ink and paints)
Beads and Buttons
Used Credit Cards (create lines in mixed media and to spread paint)
Rubber Stamps and Ink Pads
Acrylic Paint (used on backgrounds)
Gesso (covers the print in the book and gives a base for paint and watercolors)
Double-Sided Tape, PVA Glue, Washi Tape
Glitter and Glitter Glue
Book Pages (used to make embellishments and pockets)
Mod Podge or Decoupage Medium
Random Junk (envelopes, old catalogs, scrap ribbon, newspaper, junk mail)
Hot Glue Gun and Sticks
Self-healing scrap mat (used to cut on)
Tearing Out Pages
We tear out pages to have the room for all the mixed media we are going to use.
How many pages you remove is up to you. Remember, you can always take more out, but you cannot put them back.
Try to remove pages in the middle of a signature. A signature is a group of pages sewn together. Each's book is made up of many signatures. The books you want to work with have signatures that are sewn together.
Where you see the sewing, carefully rip the pages as one.
Try not to remove more than two pages per signature. Ripping more than that out will weaken the binding and cause problems.
Use the Ripped Out Pages
The pages that you have ripped out are an endless source of supplies for your altered pages. You save money using these pages and are a more responsible crafter when it comes to the enviornment.
Here are just a few ideas on how to use theme:
Take the page that you have and cut out individual words to make up sentences and themes on your altered pages. This is an amazing way to reuse pages! If you want to add extra dimension and color to your words, glue them onto bits of scrap paper. The extra paper underneath will help to strengthen the words and give color to your pages.
Or you can leave them plain and use Mod Podge over them to create a permanent bond that will not rip.
To Create an Envelope
Another way to use the leftover pages is to create an envelope. You can use an envelope maker board. You can also find free envelope templates on the internet. You can also create an envelope template by taking apart an envelope and tracing it onto a piece of cardboard. You can make envelopes in sizes from mini and coin envelopes all the way up to standard size billing envelopes, depending on the size of the paper.
Add some color to your envelopes. You can use distress and oxide inks to edge and or color the envelopes. Spray alcohol inks work if you use a light touch. Pastels and chalks will work also.
Use some washi tape or ribbon to add to extra flair to your envelopes. You can add ribbon with double sided tape.
Try embossing the paper. This would work depending on the weight of the paper. Experiment with your embossing folders to give a new look to your paper.
Decorate these with die cuts, stickers, or whatever you have in your stash.
To Create Pockets
You can create a simple pocket with your page by cutting the paper to the size that you want. Then add double sided tape to three sides on the paper. Remove the covering from the tape and place it on your page. Decorate with the colors or theme of your page. You can create a double pocket by making a smaller pocket over the larger one.
You can also create a corner pocket by cutting a triangular piece. Again, you place the double-sided tape on three sides of the back of the pocket and remove the backing on the tape and place it on the corner of your choice.
Create Flowers and Embellishments
Using either a hand punch or a die-cut, you can create embellishments like flowers, butterflies and other die cuts with our leftover pages. Cut the shapes out. Then either leave them as is or color them with markers, alcohol sprays, foil or other media.
Create a Blackout Page
Why not use the page itself to create a thought, wish or idea? This is a perfect way to begin your altered book journey. This is as simple as it gets. Yet it is a very effective idea.
- Altered book
- Select the page to work on and read through the words.
- With a ruler and a pencil and underline the words you want to use.
- Read through the words you have selected. Are you using random words or making sentences?
- When you are happy with the words you selected, use a highlighter in the color or colors that you would like.
- Now, use a marker to black out all the other words.
- Add any embellishments or images that you would like to complete your page.
There are quite a few ways to add pockets. There is no right or wrong way since there are not real rules to altered books. These are pockets using the pages themselves to create. There are two ways to consider doing these pockets. The first removes 4-7 pages leaving a gap between pages. This will create space for your pocket. The other way glues several pages together for strength, Then creates the pockets. Gluing the pages together creates space for the pocket. You decide which works best for you.
Take time before you start working on your book to create folds for your pockets. As you move through your book and create the folds, mark them by securing your folds with paper clips.
Open at the Top Pocket
- 1 1/2 inch punch
- Liquid adhesive
- Walnut or other dark distress ink
- Ink blending tool
- Remove 5-7 pages from the area you are planning to work on.
- At the top of the page, press half the punch on the page to create a round opening at the top. This would be the front of your pocket.
- Using the blender pad, apply the walnut distress ink all the way around the page.
- Apply the distress ink around the page after the 5-7 page removal.
- Apply the adhesive to the back page all the way around the open side and bottom only.
- Press the pages together.
- You have created a top open pocket.
Side Open Pocket
- Liquid adhesive
- Bone folder
- The easiest way to add a pocket is to partially glue two pages on the edges leaving an opening on the side.
- Take a page that has two to three pages glued together and rip an inch of paper off the edge. Give a generous coat of glue to the top and bottom of the page. Press this page on top of a page that has five pages glued together. Use a bone folder to press the pages together. You now have a pocket.
- Glue two to three pages together. Make a diagonal tare from the upper left of the page to the spine (you could cut the page with a scissor). Glue the unripped sides with a generous amount of glue. Weigh the book down with some bricks or a heavy skillet till the glue dries.
- Measure or determine how high you want your pocket to be. Tear the paper along from the outer side inwards. Use a ruler to tare across the page. Add glue around the bottom and side to leave an opening creating a pocket. You could add a second pocket over that if you want.
Triangle Top Pockets
So simple, at the top of your page, fold the outer corner down into a triangle shape, secure the triangle with tape or glue. Then adhere the sides of the pocket with tape or glue.
You can leave the flaps on or rip them off and leave the edges ragged. Use some distress ink on the edges to highlight the pages.
Full Page Pocket
Create a full-page pocket for you altered book. Notch the top of the page. Then go behind the notched page and remove 4-5 pages. Then adhere the three notched pages to create a pocket.
More Decorative Scissors Ideas
I know that some people feel decorative scissors are old school, but I still love to pull them out and use them on my altered books. Here are some of my favorite ways to use them in my pages:
- On the edge of pages to give them a decorative edge
- Use on tags to give a different feel to the tag
- Create border strips for my pages
- Decorative edge to a pocket
- Decorative edge to a picture
Peel and Reveal
Another easy and fun option is the Peel and Reveal page. So simple and fun.
- Images sized to fit your page
- Wet glue
- Matte medium
- Use the matte medium to seal the picture onto a page.
- Glue the page in front of the image to the page with the image
- Allow the glue to dry 2-3 hours
- On the top page, wet your fingers and gently rub the page.
- As you rub the page, the paper from the top page will disappear, revealing the image.
- Once the image is revealed, ;eave the book open and allow the page to dry
One of the nice things about working with paper is that you can use it any way that makes sense to you. The point of creating altered books is to take the book and reimagine it as something else.
- Glue two to three pages together
- Measure 1/2 of the page and fold vertically
- Decorate the inside of the whole page as one unit
- Decorate the outside fold as a different page
- Glue two pages together
- Then fold the top and bottom inward to create a triangle shape
- Decorate both sides of the page
Double Triangle Fold
- Open the book to the page you want to work on
- Glue two pages together on both sides
- On both sides, fold the top and bottom pages inward to form a triangle
- Decorate the inward parts of the pages as one design
Using Ink on Your Journal Pages
The kind of ink we are talking about here is the ink that you would use in a fountain pen, sometimes called India ink.
If you have access to some, you can add some interesting designs to your pages. It is not expensive and you may want to add some to your craft stash.
How easy is this! Just drop some ink on a page and either blot it with the opposite page or another piece of paper. Every blot will be different depending on how much ink you use and where you place it.
You can put some ink into a spray bottle and spray some on your page. You can blot it or just allow it to dry.
You can use a sponge to stencil the ink anywhere on your page.
Create Shapes And Words
Use a fountain pen or a water brush with ink it to create shapes or words.
Create a Window
Creating a window on your altered book page adds a surprise effect that is sure to make your book more interesting.
Prep the Page
Because the paper on your page is light. you want to make sure that the page is covered with one or two coats of gesso to give it additional strength. Wait at least 20 minutes between coats of gesso. Apply the gesso with a foam brush to get fewer appearing brush strokes,
- A piece of cardboard
- A sharp craft knife
- Colored cardstock
- Thin double sided tape
- A pencil
- A ruler
- Pictures for inside your window
- Decide where you want your window and how big you want it.
- Make a square outline with your pencil to create the door outline.
- Make a line down the middle of the door with your pencil.
- Place the cardboard behind the page you are working on so that you do not rip any pages.
- Now with your craft knife, cut the center opening of the door, being careful not to rip the page.
- Then cut the top and bottom of the door. Make sure not to cut where the door will hinge open on the outer sides.
- Using then double -sided tape or glue. Tape the cardstock to the inside of the door you have created.
- Add a picture or word to the inside of the door.
- Add either tiny buttons or flat gems on the outside of the doors as door openers with glue.
Create Some Washi Tape Art
Would you like to add some custom art on your book page without needing any special talents? You can create a whole page design with some washi tape and a template or drawn design. Just a few steps to create your own custom art design.
- A template, coloring book image or drawn image
- A pencil
- A black thin marker
- Washi tape
- Scissors or craft knife
- Double-sided tape or PVA glue
- Draw a design, use a template from the internet, or a design from a coloring book.
- Outline the design with the black pen.
- Lay the washi tape over the design staying within the design when possible.
- Cut out the design.
- Adhere the design to your altered book page.
More Washi Tape Ideas for Altered Books
You can use washi tape to add design and dimension to your altered book pages. Here are a few suggestions to use washi tape on your pages:
- Create a frame for a picture or design
- Use strips of washi tape over the whole page to create a background
- Use washi tape on the outer edges of your pages
- Create tags for your pockets using washi tape.
- Make washi tape paper clips to use on your pages. Take the tape to fold over the paper clip. Round the edge or make a flag edge.
- Make a washi tape bunting. Cut some pieces of washi tape into bunting flags. Place the pieces on your page. Draw some lines between the bunting flags to create the bunting.
Creating a Tip-In for an Altered Book
A tip-in is a page or set of pages created outside a book, to be attached into it later.
A tip-in is just little flaps of anything you have or want to use. They can be paper or an envelope, They can have words or quotes on them. They can also be images, doodles, or just about anything you want to add.
They are most often added to the top of the side of a page. They can be held on with washi tape or scotch tape.
They are best used with pages that have been glued together. But you could add them to any page as long as you tape them in at least 2-3 inches inward for strength.
Single Page Tip-In
- You need a base to create your tip in- you want to have it on some good weight cardstock 80-100 lb. should work just fine. The base needs to hold the other elements.
- Now you design your elements on top of that. Remember, to think about adding too much bulk with heavy embellishments. Because it is going into a book, you need to consider how thick your tip in will be.
Double Page Tip-Ins
These are designed to cover two book pages, with a fold at the spine. They very much mimic the type of work done directly into a book.
- Again, start with a good card base.
- Fold the base in half using your altered book as a guide.
- Layer some background paper to the base, allowing the background paper to hang over the edges.
- Then tear or cut the pages to size.
- Age the edges of the pages with distress inks.
- Embellish the background pages.
How to Attach Tip-Ins to Your Book
There are several ways to attach your tips-ins to your altered book. Look at the pages you are attaching and decide which one best suits your layout.
- Use brads to attach your pages. This is the easiest way of all. The nice thing about using brads is that you can remove the tip in any time you would like.
- Use glue to attach your pages. This is a more permanent way to add pages to your book. Apply a line of glue to the portion of the page that comes in contact with the spine of the book. It could be the fold line of your double tip in. Place a line of glue to the spine. Prop the pages upright until the glue line has dried. Single tip-ins can be applied in all the ways described above. Just apply glue and press into the spine of the book.
- Single pages can also be applied to a stub, or piece of a page that has been cut close to the spine of the book. Simply trim the page down to roughly 1/2″, then glue the tip-in to the remaining stub. Often, stubs will be made of several pages glued together for extra strength.
- Use washi tape to add your tip ins on the edge of any page.
Creating cut outs is so simple and effective. This is another idea that will add some interest to your books.
- Altered book
- Craft knife
- Glue, matte medium, Mod Podge
- Picture or image of your choice
- Measure the image that you have chosen
- Glue two or three pages together.
- Place The image on the top page and draw an outline where you would like the page with the pencil
- Place the cardboard behind the glued pages.
- Using the craft knife, carefully cut the frame out
- Place the image on the back page and glue in place.
- Glue the image on the back page making sure that the image is seen through the frame.
- Glue the frame to the back page.
- Add any embellishments to the frame
Trace a Photo
Want another easy idea to create an altered book page? How about tracing an image from a photo and copying it on a page? Besides people, animal pictures would be perfect for this process.
All you need is some tracing paper and a pencil. You can glue the tracing directly onto the paper or transfer the tracing to the paper.
Then you can color the image with colored pencils or markers.
More Altered Book Ideas
- Altered Book Theme Ideas
A list of altered book themes for your use
- How To Make a Hidden Niche in an Altered Book - Go Make Something
Creating a niche in your altered book is not as difficult as you may think. Here is what you needto know
Saw This Fun Rolodex Ideas
Reusing a Rolodex that you either find at home or at a thrift store is a great way to repurpose an old item. Recycled crafts are a great way to reuse something old into a piece of art. This would make a lovely coffee table decor.
You apply any technique to create the cards for this project. If you have a rolodex laying around, this would be a project to consider.
Final Thoughts on More Altered Book Ideas
We hope that some of these ideas are useful to you. We hope that you will choose a book and get started creating your own book of custom art.
Remember, there are no rules on how to create your altered book.You decide how and when to do your pages. This is your art, your way!
Altered books leave you to use your imagination and creative juices to create whatever you want. There are so many mediums that you can use and so many opportunities to be creative! That is what makes this process so interesting.
Grab a book and give the process a try. There is no stress with altered book art. You work on your book as your time and thoughts come together to create your pages.
We wish you success as you work on your own altered book journey. Happy Crafting!