Altered Books

ALTERED BOOKS--Some Questions and Answers

1.) What kind of art is this exactly?

There’s many answers to that. It’s a form of upcycling (recycling something to make it better). It’s mixed media art, because altered books utilize so many other art forms. It’s paper art, because paper is the main ingredient. It’s scrapbooking. It’s collage. It’s poetry. It can be as much and as little as you want.

2.) I am not creative. I have no artistic skills. I have never taken an art class or even sewn on a button. Can I make altered books?

Yes! This is a perfect art form for folks who haven’t yet discovered their inner artist. If you can use scissors, glue, and tape, and/or if you can reach back to elementary school art classes, you will have no problems making an altered book. And if you do have problems, you will be in a workshop where everyone is learning and I can and will help you. (That’s why I am teaching these workshops.) The classes will be small so that everyone gets individual attention and can work at their own pace.

This is truly an art form anyone can do. Really. The one problem is that you may very well become addicted to altering books!

3.) I am only creative with fabric/clay/fiction/etc.; can I really make an altered book?

Yes you can. Because altered books use so many art forms, your book can focus on one (or more) skills that you feel comfortable doing. I will, of course, encourage you to expand and use other techniques--altered books really shine when they are an amalgam of many different art forms. And because it’s almost impossible to make a “mistake” that will ruin your book, you should feel free to challenge yourself in your preferred art form and try new things within that form.

4.) Isn’t altering a book like burning a book? It makes me feel a little creepy.

We aren’t altering these books due to political, religious, or social reasons, and we aren’t actually destroying them. Books are destroyed every day, by bookstores, libraries, and publishers, as well as thrift stores, schools, and individuals, usually due to a lack of space. Book burning is an attempt at censorship, which is about as far from the idea of art as you can get.

I understand the creepy feeling. As a writer and a book lover, it took me a while to feel comfortable with the idea of altering books. Because of this, I gave myself some rules. I only alter books I get at thrift stores, so the money I spend goes to help others. I do not use rare or historical books or signed copies. I try to use books that I know are outdated, damaged, one of many copies, or bad in some way. I also leave some trace of the original title and author, so that the book does not completely disappear.

There is also some historical precedence for altering books; Irish monks wrote over old manuscripts (see the book How the Irish Saved Civilization for more on this).

So please stop feeling guilty, relax, and continue to sleep well at night.

5.) I like to do things that have their own lingo, tools, clothing, and subculture. Does the art of altering books offer this?

Yes and no. Because altered books use so many art forms in their making, we use words, tools, and techniques from a variety of other arts. For example, you’ll learn about tags, brads, and cropping. You’ll use different types of scissors, fibers, and papers.

Unfortunately, there are no uniforms or special clothes for altered book artists.

6.) What else can I alter?

There’s a lot of altering possibilities when it comes to books. Future classes will explore more in-depth and complex altered book techniques in ways that the finished art pieces are still recognizable as books.

Then there’s altered books that turn books into furniture, clothing, and accessories. Although you can still see the book in these alterations, you have to look closely. There will be classes in these, too.

Beyond that, there’s a lot of altering opportunities out there. Future workshops will include clothing (altering tee shirts and sweatshirts, for example), shoes (yep--altered shoes!), and more.

If you have ever gone to a yard sale, bought a baby changing table, brought it home and altered that piece into a dining room hutch, you have already entered the altering world.


from the brochure for my Altered Book workshop I taught a few years ago:



Are you a poet, a quilter, a collage artist, a photographer, a mixed media artist, a painter, a prose writer, a fiber artist, a beader, a scrapbooker, a sculptor, a knitter, a stamper, a found object artist, a recycle-upcycler, or a closet crafter? Some? All? None?

Take your arts and crafts talents to a new level with altered books!

I will be teaching two workshops on the art of altered books. Please call or email me to register, and look below for information about altered books and my upcoming workshops.





Susan Pickering Rothamel defines a piece of altered art as when, " . . . recycled objects originally intended for practical purposes, such as books, advertising, and photographs, are turned into works of art by any creative means." (The Encyclopedia of Greeting Card Tools and Techniques) I agree with much of her definition, although it limits books, advertising, and photographs as practical in opposition to art. I like to think of altered books as pieces of art--books--upcycled/recycled into different pieces of art with a purpose other than its original purpose.


Some of the altered books I have recently made. These are all poet inspiration books for poet friends of mine.








I love altering books. As I told a group of recipients of my altered books, this art/craft allows me to use every craft and art skill and technique I have ever done, from origami to coloring with crayons to fiber arts to manipulating photos and much more. I have invested in new materials, gadgets, and tools to make altered books, but I also get to use things I already have in my craft/sewing room and things around the house, as well as found objects and natural items. In fact, I have yet to find something that cannot be used in an altered book!

Altered books can be themed like scrapbooks. They can be inspiration books for folks who create any other type of art. They can be used like a journal, as a record of events, places, people, thoughts, etc. They can be used as a travel diary, a date book, a dream journal, writing prompts, and whatever else you can imagine.

Enthusiasm is the source of creativity.--Rene Bubos

The quotation above is especially true in the case of altered books! No matter your art skills, your past craft experience, or any other criteria, if you have the enthusiasm, you can make a beautiful altered book!

Altered books make great gifts!



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