Altered Books Process: The Invitation

I had a very long document about the stages of making altered books with clients, so I decided to make it into shorter parts and post each part separately on this blog.

This is about the stages of the evolution of the making of the altered books, and the activities and art therapy “directives” I recommend using. The first part is of course the beginning, which is the introduction to the project. I’m changing the document by including some examples from my experience. The beginning part is perhaps the most important part of the process, as many clients stop/abandon their chosen book at some time during this process.

The first part I call “The Invitation”. I’ve found it works best when the invitation comes from one of my altered books out in my studio; the client sees an altered book and asks about it, so I bring one or two out to show them what it involves and then invite them to do one if they seem interesteed. Often I get excited when they are interested and have to be careful to watch my enthusiasm level. at times I’ve brought the project up as an option, when a client is looking for a new project and seems to want something unusual and unfamiliar.

In some cases people will want to bring in one of their own books that they have a personal connection to. Pertinant Issues to Process include the client’s relationships with books, reading books, and with writing, and what it is like to contemplate using a book to make art with. Usually, given that most people are unfamiliar with altered books and are uncomfortable with treating a book this way, they will find it easier to choose a book you have in your office.

If the client chooses to try the project, I bring out a bunch of different kinds of books to choose from and explain how it can be easier to pick one of these than to bring one from home. It is best to have a variety of choices of books that you supply, so the person does not feel like they have to “ruin” a book of their own and feel that the therapist will hold the “bad” part by giving permission to “destroy” a published book. Most of the time, the client chooses one of my books and we dive into the process.

At this point I have to decide whether I am going to do an altered book with the client, in “parallel process”,  or sit with the client and witness their process without doing one myself. It’s not much different from other times when I decide to do artwork in the session. Sometimes I will ask the client directly, “Will it help you if I do one while you’re doing yours?” In some cases I do start one and then can be aware of times in a session when I stop working on mine and just have it in front of me, as the choice is still there to not actively do mine alongside the client. It’s an important moment to be aware of when a client who naturally talks and makes any kibooksnd of art in the session chooses to stop what they’re doing and start verbal processing, and when they turn back to the art work. My clients tend to talk during the art making process, and thus, we have two dialogues going on, the verbal and the non-verbal. With altered books this is the same.

On several occasions I have had a client follow through on bringing in their own book to use, which has been memorable, as most do not. One graduate student of a psychology related program brought in a copy of the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and had the obvious goal of getting out their frustration with all different aspects of the program and being a grad student. I was able to find on hand a copy of a Melanie Klein for Dummies book and decided to alter it while my client altered the DSM 5.

At this point, we have the book or books and are ready for the next stage.

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Altered Book Project Update

I was going to try to keep up on a daily basis with this new Altered Book, but everything got away with me. The Altered Book has a life of its own. These are photos from Sept. 7 until yesterday; I have photos from today for another post. As the book is on a page full of wet stuff, I can’t take photos of other pages I’ve changed, so I will comment on these photos below spanning about 22 days!

These photos represent the phase after beginning described in the last post. You’re getting deeper into the book and discovering more, but still adding first layers you will probably return to; thus, there is no pressure about having a finished page…

I also think of this as the chaotic jumping off creative period I would associate to the Fool Card in the Tarot; anything goes, and weird unplanned stuff happens; I felt like I was starting all over, as if this book was my first altered book project…

This is a page I had fun using more paint and glitter glue after the two below. The theme is introduced for this phase of  covering pages in the book and putting something on them to start the process of making the book mine.

I use binder clips often to hold together pages. The page on the right is the table of contents. I thought I was going to leave some of the text but most of it is already covered up. I used white out and pen and then a lot of clear glue on top with the black glitter glue. On the left you can see some white marks from trying to cover text with oil pastel.

The next pages are the forward that I covered with white oil pastel and crayon.

Here, above, and in the photo below, you can see how I’m trying to cover several sets of pages with white and black acrylic and use binder clips to keep them from curling up and getting stuck to each other. The most annoying part of the process is having to wait for wet media to dry so I can work on top of it!

Below is some commentary and an attempt to write about my own secret regarding wanting to write and finish my own book, called “The Art Box”. It seemed fitting to write about it in this book, but it may end up getting covered up with something… I considered not posting this page right away, as I felt some kind of weird embarrassment about it.

Using Personal Things from your life, or pieces of them: I recently sold a drawing to a friend in Berlin through her seeing my latest work on Facebook; I got her check from Germany and liked the paper she wrote on, so I put it in the book. This is the point when I started collecting personal items or finding notes and things that I kept around wondering what to do with them, and finally had a proper place for…

I have told clients countless times to bring in personal photos to add to their altered books and to other art work. I have done this before, but not much, and not this way. I found a photo I took recently of street art and printed it out. The colors are vibrant and it might even look like it was painted onto the page. It also ended up being part of a new exploration of faces that came up out of the blue recently… Synchronicity.

The above photo is upside down. I cut up pieces from a restaurant experience. The server gave us paper and crayons. The drawings are my 11 year old’s doodles.

 

This is an example of a page that was ripped off so you can see the next page underneath. More drawings from the restaurant and the drawing under the second page where you can still see the chapter title (How to Use the Secret) are glued and taped on. That drawing is one of mine I found that I never finished… Same with the photo of the page below.

New Altered Book Project

Yesterday, I realized that I need to be doing my own altered book right now to connect to what I want the workshop to be like, even though I know what it’a about and what to expect people are expecting. It’s the surprise parts that end up being most creative and interesting parts of a workshop anyway.

The best way to get in touch with altered books and understand it more is of course to start one. So while doing research and writing about the many related topics, I started an altered book.

The choice is usually the first part of the process and most important. In this case I’m choosing for a self generated project as a person familiar with making altered books. I checked out a scquare shaped book with photos of animals on  every page and it was too much photo for me. Then I looked at a crazy guidebook for people who want to be “Players”. I found that book somewhere and thought somebody would have fun messing with it. It was too disgusting and I was repulsed by the idea of engaging with it. Then I remembered I had a copy of The Secret from the last haul of random books, which I had set aside to maybe alter. I took it out and it chose me!

I once did an altered  book of “Walking in this World” by Julia Cameron who does The Artist’s Way. I had actually used ideas in that book, so choosing it was not some kind of attack on it. With The Secret, I have heard about it quite a bit from patients years ago. It was published in 2006. I have nothing against this type of self help book, or even principles around the “Law of Attraction”, but I’m not a fan of the kind of thing like: ” I discovered the Way to improve your life in every way, and this is what it is, and if you do this, you will get this, this, and this.”  The Secret has chapters on Money and Relationships. I don’t like the concept of a “Secret” that has been “kept” for years and now is being revealed. All of that has too many religious connotations to it, so I’ve always had an aversion to checking out this book.

Which brings up an interesting question: Whats the difference between altering a book you’ve already read versus altering a book you haven’t read? And what is it like to choose a book you know nothing about versus choosing a specific book for a specific purpose. Are you drawn to alter a book that bothers you in some way or a favorite inspiring book? Altered Books are a very subversive art form, so I go for the former. Also, the whole process is meant to be fun and not too serious. Like a playground for adults…

Above is the book with the book jacket still on it. First thing to do is remove the jacket. I’ve nevver seen anywone use the jacket in their final product. Some throw it away at the beginning. I will keep it and see if it is useful or not as an art material.

 

 

 

 

As this is a used book, there is an inscription, which is also interesting and gives a new layer to the project. This book was a gift between what seem to be a two members of a romantic couple (“Hey babe”).  The person read the book for one of their classes. Wow. Who would assign this book? What kind of class? Is it a primary source for studying the history of cults? Or is it some creativity class or the like? Give that the owner found it inspiring, I’m guessing it was assigned in a very serious way, and not a human behavior/why do people reach for these books to “fix” their lives kind of way. What is it that humans think they need to fix everything through one method? When you think hard about it, at least to me, it sounds ridiculous. I have participated in this practice myself, I admit. I’m also an atheist or non theist, so I have strong opinions on people living by words in a book. I even question the Constitution being such an Original Text upon which all law has to be based. It becomes oppressive to elevate any text to a point where it is too much “gospel”/

Anyway, then you turn the page to the title page. As I have never before written about doing an altered book while doing one, I’m noticing that it helps to slow the process down for me and to have time to get to know the book before going at it with a sledgehammer.

Here is the title page. It’s funny how there’s an image of sealing wax, as I have so many associations with that. I used to have multiple “Stamps” and colors of sealing wax I got in Italy when I was around 10-13 and I loved sending letters because I would do the sealing on the envelope. 

This above was at the end of the book so I ripped off the white square. Then I just went at it and ripped a whole bunch of pages out.

You can rip pages out by just tearing them or you can remove them in a more “surgical” way. I did both.

Then I got out sandpaper and started sanding the cover page to see how much sanding it would need to start to have the lines on the red color you can see. I tried a fine sander and then went for a more coarse one.

Using sandpaper is a great technique when you have pages that are more glossy than matte, like with this book. Not only does it make it look cool with all the striations, if you want to paint on top or use inks, the paper now has grooves that can receive liquid much more porously than a page that is too shiny. Sanding also is quite physical and gets you to engage with the book in an aggressive way. It’s fun!

I’m working on this book daily, so I will keep taking photos and posting. Today I painted some pages, which will be in Monday’s post.

I also got some ideas about the workshop and making it more fun while doing the book. I thought of some basic “Rules” to the process, which start with, “Trust the Process.”

As Miles Davis put it, maybe about music and not life, “There are no mistakes.”

 

The first “Altered Book” art project I remember seeing was at the Outsider Art Fair around 20 years ago, when it was in the magnificent Puck Building on Houston Street. Back then, the artist was present and you could actually talk to them about their art and being an outsider artist. I remember asking the artist about her books, which had a lot of glue in them and all over them. I don’t remember much else about them.  I guess I first saw an altered book not at a museum but as an art work that got made organically, that had a life of its own the way altered book projects can have.

The Altered Book is not just a piece of art. It’s a living, breathing creature. You start out with a basic body, the book as it was published, that looks just like all the other ones of the same title and author, and the artist puts it through a “Kali” like birthing process that involves a lot of destruction in the service of creating this new living being. Kali is a Hindu Goddess, from the Sanskrit word “Kali”, translated as “time”. She is described as a destroyer of “unreality”, a liberator. I’m no expert on Hindu gods, but I do associate Kali with the process of altering books and how one has to destroy and use up in order to create anything. A pencil that never gets sharpened is not involved in any kind of creation. The book even has a skin, whether it’s the book jacket that covers a hard cover book, or just the outside of the covers and the actual covers, with the pages within as the innards. The process of altering books brings up all kinds of weird processes like alchemy, dissection, and autopsy, but that may just be the beginning stage, cutting open the body. With an altered book, you kidnd of do the opposite of an autopsy; you cut open and expose internal organs for the purpose of repurposing them and making something new, more like the way an organ gets donated and incorporated into the new person’s body. Now that kidney no longer belongs to the donor and the donor is erased, though an integral part of the process, just as the creator of the original book must be killed off for a new peice of art to emerge.

I love paper, making works on paper, drawing, and then even becoming very physically involved in the process with the materials. even just using pens and pencils on paper, I like to see the grooves a pen or pencil can make, how it changes the paper.

Unlike the experience of looking at a published book or even writing/making one, making an altered book happens in a chaotic disordered way. You don’t have to start with the cover and go in time order page by page. You can start anywhere and the pages in the middle of the book might get cut up and put in the front of the book or anywhere else. Each time you come back to work on the book, you are in a different state of mind, and, unlike with writing a book, you don’t have to get back into whatever you’re doing. It doesn’t have to make sense. It changes each time you interact with it. At the same time, it evokes soemthing different from making a painting with many layers. Books are loaded with meaning and the concept of time passing. You may go anywhere in the book to work, but you still end up with a product that looks like a book, unless you are altering the book to the point of making sculpture out of it, but to me, that gets out of the realm of the Altered Book. The Altered Book I think of and make and witness the makign of, is still a book at the end, finished or not. There are traces of what it was, like the original book is the parent and the art piece is the child. There may be resemblances and reminders of the parent, but the altered book has become a totally new being, one that has never existed before.

The idea of the altered book as being a reallly physical process is what I am interested in.  And the process. The process can feel like a fight; very violent and visceral; you get in there at the beginning and attack the book, to subjugate it and get it to really become yours to do what you want with. There has to be that initial struggle, very physical, involving cutting, ripping, tearing, sanding, poking, doing very active things to the very body of the book. Most of the time the spine is very affected by the making of an altered book. You have a choice of letting the book spill open, or cutting open the spine and adding more cardboard to extend it so it can be closed. To do that, you have to cut the book into at least two pieces and add to it. A lot of altered book making in terms of the body of the book and undoing it feels like surgery.

I am reminded of reading about Leonardo Da Vinci and his dream of doing a book of all of human anatomy. He made friends with doctors/medical professors and “borrowed” corpses from them . He would go at night and dissect this human body and scribble in his notebook as fast as he could, drawing what he saw and sometimes more what he felt because there was no formaldehyde to preserve the body, so it was a race against time and probably really smelly too. It was really messy, and not like messing around with paints. I was fascinated with his process, and his hyperfocus and obsession. He didn’t finish his book of anatomy, but you can see his drawings and writings about the internal organs.

I can’t imagine what it would be like sneaking into a place to cut open a dead body and draw the organs late at ngiht or at any time of day, but making an altered book has that kind of feel to it. Once you get into it, this “thing” you are interacting with can take over and there can be a really exciting obsessive quality to it.

 

 

 

 

New Post: Feature, Altered Books

Today is my first day back from vacation. I kept up a lot of daily habits while on break, but did not keep up my writing daily at least 15 minutes habit, so I’m starting up again.

The last assignment in the WordPress Blogging Fundamentals class was about having a Feature topic.

 

  • First, think of the type of regular feature you can commit to — something you’ll publish weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
  • Next, start your new post by clicking the button below. This can be the first installment, or an announcement of what’s coming.
  • Finally, give your post a few tags, including bloggingfundamentals, and publish it.

 

My Feature for this assigment is going to be Altered Books, no surprise, which I hope to post at least weekly about in order to have it be helfpful for preparing for my looming upcoming workshop on Altered Books and Gender Identity.

Last time my Feature was Gender Identity, which should continue to be a Feature and at some point  the two, Altered Books and Gender Identity, will of course come together in some way.

Anyway, I haven’t really approached altered books in terms of writing about what makes me interested in them and topics connected to that. Things have to have a starting point.

Some ideas for separate topics for this Altered Books Feature include:

How did I get interested in Altered Books as an art form.

What was my first altered book that I made.

What led to my using altered books in sessions with clients and supervisees and even for peer supervision.

Some nuts and bolts about altered books, how to make them, the important stages of making them, the materials used.

How altered books involve a great way to use almost anything as an material from paper clips to coffee filters to coins as some odd examples.

What it means to finish an altered book vs. abandon one in some stage of the process, especially with clients in art therapy.

More specifics about the workshop and using altered books to explore gender identity.

I had started writing about the first topic, but I think introducing the Feature is best for this post and I will focus on beginnings in my next Feature post.