How to Make Altered Books If You Think You Can’t – Book Review
Written by: Sara Naumann Published by: Hot Off the Press
How to Make Altered Books If You Think You Can’t is one of the most freeing art books to come along in a while. It bears an important message: the process of transforming books that would be recycled or merely thrown away can be an art form, and you have the right to paint over text, tear pages out, even cut right into the book block itself. If you have any lack of confidence about your ability to create something special, then this book was geared for you.
The book begins with a brief history of altered books, stretching all the way back to the medieval period, and then takes a look at some of the things to consider as you choose your first book to alter, such as spine strength and choosing a theme.
Without dictating to readers the forms of “proper” collage or telling artists how to express their aesthetic, this book informs readers about some techniques they might want to incorporate into their own altered books. The book starts with information on preparing pages in multiple ways and then progresses to some basics of layout that would inform arts other than this one, like how to establish a focal point. Readers then learn about such things as attaching new pages, adding eyelets, and cutting niches, a procedure that can be tricky or messy without a little guidance. Each technique is demonstrated in detail, and then several layouts that show that technique in action are presented. All along, the authors provide occasional “tips” when helpful – things they’ve learned the hard way and ways to get the most out of your materials and save money.
There is a slight commercial element to some of the projects in this book, as most of the collage elements used in the pictured spreads come from other Hot Off the Press books, but that’s to be expected. Besides, the book here is clear about how any paper effluvia and even some three-dimensional elements can be used; the depicted themes and aesthetic choices are just a starting point and reflect current trends in the crafting world.
There have been a few voices within the altered books art community who have protested what they see as the commercialization of their art form, but it is important to remember that every art form becomes commercialized sooner or later, and there is usually some good that comes from this. In this case, these books open up the process of altering books to “those who think they can’t” and who need the psychological support to get started. The goal isn’t to continue creating only potted spreads and collages, but the idea that “anything goes” within altered books isn’t comfortable to all new artists. Some beginners want or need to be told what to do to begin with, so that they can gain their confidence and then strike out on their own artistically. Besides, the collage elements included within these mass marketed books can be used hundreds of different ways; it’s not always what you have, but how you use what you have. If a creative person gets a hold of one of these books, they aren’t suddenly going to be uncreative, but on the other hand, a book like this one can help a timid soul embrace and nurture his or her own creativity. This book could have expressed a bit more about the freedom inherent in altered books, but most beginners don’t want to be told “do whatever you want”; they want to be told where to start, and then set free.
This book is perfect for anyone who doesn’t have access to the Internet where some of this information is available for free. (Or don’t want to be tethered to a screen when trying to work through things.) It’s also great for people who feel that they need some encouragement to get started or who want a quick, ready reference to keep with their art supplies. If you have any interest in altering books or even in paper collage in general, then you should give this book a once-over. Experience altered book artists might not find much new here, but this book is geared toward new alterers, who will find a wealth of encouragement and even some new ideas to convert into their own style and try in their books.