These are photos from my newest series I am currently working on. I started them back in mid December 2014. I can’t remember when I started doing these or how or why. Usually it comes from somewhere, sometimes doing stuff in my journal/sketchbook. I think I may have been making art in a session with a patient and that was somehow when I discovered this idea of long lines. I was showing a patient how to make long pieces by taking 6 x 18 inch paper and glueing it together to create a long 6 inch by about 54 inches either horizontal or vertical. I had done a lot of pieces this way, always long horizontal ones that reminded me of Egyptian scrolls. I was inspired to do this by seeing a show at the Folk Art Museum of Martin Ramirez’ work many years ago.
Here’s part of the description of that show that was from January to May 2007:
“Martín Ramírez (1895–1963) created nearly 300 drawings of remarkable visual clarity and expressive power within the confines of DeWitt State Hospital in northern California, where he resided the last 15 years of his life. Ramírez has been codified primarily as a “schizophrenic artist”; this project goes beyond the boundaries of Ramirez’s diagnosis of mental illness and considers the artistic quality and merit of his artwork. In this way, Ramirez’s works are understood—and appreciated—for the complex, multilayered drawings that they are.”
When you look closely at his work, you can see that he used “butcher type brown paper” and “pieced” it together to create a bigger longer surface. I still remember seeing how he did this and looking at the line where you could see he had glued the two pieces of paper together. I was so excited by this that I immediately tried it next time I was in my studio.
Anyway, I’ve been using paper that way for years in different series, so in this new series I did it again on paper, but I am making long vertical pieces, which I did before in my Inner Landscape series, but not as long as I am doing now. This new series is mixed media on paper or canvas, and I am using all kinds of media, from ribbon, tape, paper and colored glue to buttons and other objects. I must have been sick of all the black and white line drawings I have been obsessively obsessed with for about a year, so I am suddenly using an explosion of color, as well as adding words to the pieces, which I was doing in my journal.
It is always fun and surprising to come up with a new “series”; the pattern for me is to find constraints and rules that I make up and then have to follow, like in this case, long pieces that are small in width and long in length, and then lines of some kind going only vertical from top to bottom, with different materials all making long lines, then interspersed with pieces of 3D small objects like buttons, coffee beans, etc. When it’s only black and white, it can be very constricting, so it’s fun to break out into the mixed media again while still exploring the concept of the line, in this case long vertical lines… As with most of my work, I don’t have any concept of it meaning anything as the impetus comes from the materials and what I am now doing I think is making the paper and the lines on the paper mirror each other by making one very long line with the paper and putting long lines on the paper. The next thing I may try is to be more calculated about color instead of using every color I can find and focusing on varying the texture… I’m assuming this could occupy me for a long time as with any of the “series” I get really deep into…
I am grateful to be continually creating art.
In honor of my whole approach to art making (Make Art Now!), I am now starting a monthly feature for this blog, which is that I will at least once per month, at some point at the beginning or end of the month (or both!), post about my current journal and post photos of art from my journal, to inspire everyone to make art a daily habit, or make creativity a daily habit, whether you like cooking, poetry, singing, scrap booking or just dancing around your house. Challenge accepted! PS I made a “Blavatar” from my I Am drawing!
A long time ago, I was looking through a book of some artist’s work that I admired, it might have been Adolf Gottlieb, but I’m not sure, I’ve tried to figure out for sure which artist this was, but I never succeeded. Anyway, I read that he whoever he was, had an annual habit of making a birthday self-portrait every year for his birthday. I thought this was a really great and fun idea. I started doing it, but now I can’t remember how many years ago it was. I’m pretty sure I did a “Shoe Portrait” self-portrait the year I was making my series of Shoe Portraits. I can’t remember what shoes I picked to paint but I remember making a weird doll and sticking it in the painting. I think I cut the canvas and somehow put the doll in. Must have been about ten years ago in 2004 maybe. Anyway, every year after that I’ve done a birthday self-portrait, usually inspired by whatever kind of art I happened to be making at the time. I know last year I did a doll with a small tiny “clock” in her, from a watch ring I had. I made the doll from scratch. I will find a photo to post of it. The year before, 2012, I’m not sure what I did. I have two of them in my house from recent years, but I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I didn’t pay attention to what I did and document it better, since it was a fun kind of annual ritual and a fun creative gift for myself on my birthday. Usually I start them about a week before. This year for the first time, I made something I didn’t like and then changed the project completely. I started with a collage with a lot of cut out and ripped images, beads, an old drawing and other stuff and put it up on my studio wall. The next day or two after, I decided I didn’t want to finish it and that I didn’t think it was a real self-portrait, so I decided it would make sense to make an altered book, as I have been making them all year and very obsessed with them, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. I ended up cutting up that first collage and putting some of it in the book.
So I chose a book I had already worked on, a little children’s book with each page split in to two halves, originally the book was for matching the top image with the bottom, so it was fun to play with the format. I had already done a lot in the book and decided it had enough in it to build on and that it already had the feeling of a self-portrait, so I started altering it more, ripping out stuff and adding in stuff over the last week. I put s a few photos of myself in it and ended up using one on the cover as today I decided the cover didn’t seem right, so I ripped off an image of a person with a mask and put a photo of myself on it with the other images. I continued working on it today, which sometimes happens, that I end up finishing the self-portrait on my birthday, but I usually get it done by the day before. Of course as this is an altered book, I still don’t feel satisfied that it is finished, but it definitely feels right as my self-portrait for 2014 and reflects some of the past year’s experiences, both losses and rebirths.
I will post a few photos of the project…
As a blog post on my art therapy blog, this is a more personal post than usual, but I will end the verbal part by saying I recommend it as an art therapy project for doing with an adolescent or adult patient for their birthday. You can invite them to bring in a recent or old photo or several and then ask them what kind of medium they want to use. Anything can constitute a birthday self-portrait. A box with the photos incorporated into it, an altered book of course, a drawing or painting or collage on paper or canvas. Other interpretations of the self-portrait for those who only think of a painting of their own face and might feel discouraged and not interested in that, there are so many ways to make a self-portrait and it doesn’t have to have a picture or drawing of your face in it at all. Make a doll or a birthday pillow. A clay bowl to put flower petals in. A box that you can add small notes about what you want for yourself for the coming year into. Knit a birthday scarf. Buy a journal/sketchbook and decorate the cover and start your journal on your birthday. Have your patient make him or herself a birthday card. I have done this often and made a card for my patient while s/he made a card for him/herself. Making a card for yourself whether for your own birthday or for any other day is always a good art therapy activity. I usually give my patient a list of affirmations to choose to copy on the inside of the card or that could inspire you to make your own affirmations and write them inside your card to yourself. Collages with tiny mirrors are a fun twist on the self-portrait. I have one in my altered book. I encourage my patients to get themselves a special birthday present, whether an object or something like a massage, so doing a self-portrait can be an added way to feel special about marking for yourself your own arrival on this planet. It is helpful especially for depressed patients and people who claim to not like their birthday. I don’t always feel super excited for my birthday lately, so I understand when people want to forget about it or make it a day they don’t do anything special, but in art therapy this can be an opportunity to take better care of yourself and reclaim your birthday as a special day, which it is after all. Doing something special for yourself to mark the day you arrived here and that you are still here, no matter how you are feeling, can be very healing and self affirming. It’s kind of like the concept of “The Artist’s Date” from the book, “The Artist’s Way”. As a young 4 year old child once told me, “You have to love yourself of course.” and “You are your own best friend.”
Photos: from top
First Photo: page from book showing the split page format
Second Photo: page from book top matching bottom
Third Photo:Inside front cover. QUote says: “How many are silenced because in order to get to their art they would have to scream.” -Ann Clarke
Fourth Photo: Current cover of book with photo and plastic doll in model magic
Fifth Photo: older version of front cover
Sixth Photo: Inside page of back cover
Seventh Photo: Image of doll, last year’s self-portrait
First I’m going to post photos of my own books, then later this week, I will post images of others’ work!
All of these photos are from the first book I altered to be an “Altered Book.” (Years ago I made something from a book but it was not an “Altered Book” as it was not still in the form of a book…
So I picked the book, The Artist’s Handbook, as it was inspiring to take apart a book full of rules about how to use art materials and completely transform it. The title turned into “Artist”. The photos below include the cover and the back of the cover, the book as it looks when it is standing on a table, sort of an accordion as I used a lot of 3D and thick materials in it. There are various pages shown with different ideas about altering a book, including a kind of window with two “shutters” and another window that is just a hole. You can see a large variety of materials used in the project… I started altering the book while facilitating my Supervision Group for Art Therapists, but a lot of it was made while working with different patients on their altered books. It is the only “adult” altered book that I have finished. I’m working on 3 others at the moment…
This will introduce how varied altered books can be depending on choices of media, both conventional and unconventional. The form lends itself to mixed media, but some choose to use one media only…
Supplies and Materials for Altered Books:
Choices of Books:
First Important Part of Choice:
Kind of book, first choice between “Adult” books and “Children’s books
Adult Books: Hardcover is Best:
Choice of books with only words, books with words and pictures, books with only or mostly photos or pictures; Books with only writing in them…
Examples: Non-Fiction: recipe and how to DIY type books, Classification books such as dictionaries and books about birds or some other species, word origin books, non fiction, books about art supplies and art making, photography, crafts, art, artists, graphic novels
Anatomy and related type books,
Fiction of all kinds
(Notice the texture and thickness of the pages; each kind presents different challenges)
IF the book has a “jacket”, it can be kept and used in some way or discarded.
Baby and Toddler Board Books:
Square, or Odd shaped books, books with cutouts, books with mirrors and textures already in them, pop up books
Books about Numbers, Colors, Opposites, etc.
Opposite books great for theme of duality, conflict, dark and light, opposing forces…
This type provides a good thick cardboard page to work with and offers choices around how to manipulate and “alter”/destroy the page or leave parts of it intact.
Children’s Picture Book, all subjects
Children’s Chapter books, with and without pictures
Materials for Altering pages and surfaces:
Sandpaper, coars and fine
Adhesives and Attachers/Connectors
Elmer’s Clear Glue
Gel and Acrylic Medium, Matte or Glossy
Mod Podge, matte or Glossy
Masking Tape, colored
Duct Tape, colored and patterned
Safety pins, gold, silver, black, white, different sizes
Paper clips, small and big, different colors
Wire, different colors and thicknesses
Screws and other hardware,
Sewing and Embroidery Tread
Hole punch for Threading yarn or fabric
Model Magic. Sticks things together, adds texture, things can be embedded in it
General Art Supplies for Mark Making:
Pencils, colored and graphite
Magic markers, sharpies, design markers, highlighters
Ink, Black and colored, pearlized: (apply with dropper, fingers, blow on with straw)
Oil paint sticks
Watercolor pencils and pastels
Dry Collage Materials for Mixed Media (Embellishments):
Foam sheets,Foam stickers, Foam shapes
Rhinestones and jewels
Sequins, (come in circles, leaves, stars etc.)
Craft sticks, wood and colored wood
Doll shaped sticks, flat
Beach sand and colored sand
Coark board in different thicknesses
Found objects or personal objects
Glitter, coarse and very fine
Pressed flowers, leaves
Papers for Collage:
Paper ripped out of or peeled off of the book or from other books
Drawing and watercolor paper
Scratch board paper
Decorative Paper (animal print, textile, art deco, tie dye etc.)
Tissue paper, colored and decorated (animal print tissue paper)
Tracing paper, vellum
Paper towel, napkin
Old postcards and photos
Old drawings and artwork
Canvas paper, white, black
Corrugated paper, comes in colors, neon, metallic
Plastic sheets, clear and colored
Envelopes, used and new, different colors, sizes
Paper doll paper pad, multicultural
Woven and specialty paper
Candy and food wrappers
My 17 day vacation officially ended yesterday afternoon when I returned to NYC and went back to work to see evening patients… It was a great vacation, again like last year, at the same place, the froggy pond cabin in upstate NY near Cuba, NY, spending time in the woods, far from the city, watching […]
The good news is that my altered book workshop proposal for the 2013 Creative Arts Therapy Summit this fall was accepted! The whole event will be taking place in NYC in various locations, from November 7-13, 2013. Link to the site is:
The other part of my news is that instead of a 3 hour experiential workshop, I will be doing the workshop in 80 minutes, basically and hour and 20 minutes, which basically cuts out a little over half the time, so I tried to re focus the workshop.
Here is my description of it: (Let me know what you think; it’s a lot to pack into 80 minutes!!!)
Title: Altered Books with Adults in Art Therapy; Conquering Creative Blocks and Depression
In this workshop, we will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy uniquely treats adults with any kind of creative block and/or depression, connected with past or present trauma and feelings of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” Through the experiential, participants will choose a book and begin to alter it, thereby experiencing the uniqueness of this format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. The transformative experience of “destroying” a book to create something new can jump start the creative process through the variety of options, length of the project and the holding environment of therapy. I will also provide actual examples of Altered Books in process by some of the adults I am working with to demonstrate the scope of options in this particular medium and the essential role of the art therapist and therapeutic relationship in this long- term process.
3 Measurable Objectives:
- Participants will learn about ways that creative blocks and/or loss of creative spirit in adults is best treated through the creative process itself combined with the relationship with the art therapist.
- Through art making and viewing real examples of patient and therapist artwork, participants will learn about the different options provided by altering a children’s board book versus an “adult” hardcover book, and the messages the choice of book can convey to the patient and therapist.
- Through the experiential, participants will start the process of altering books and use at least 3 different media and techniques involved in the process of making an altered book.
When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.
I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.
I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)
More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.
There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.
This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.
Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.
The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.
At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.
Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.
The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.
The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…
To be continued…
Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…
The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcatcher). The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.
While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website: http://thecraftykids.com), gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.
I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…