Thursday, March 8, 2007

Altered book - picking a theme

One of the questions today in the SICL class was "how do you pick a theme?" This is a really good question. Usually themes pick me. Maybe the title of a book will suggest a theme. Perhaps it is the lyrics of a song that sticks in my mind. Maybe it is a quote that means something special and that can be illustrated some way. Sometimes images themselves suggest a theme. Maybe it's a mood. Love? Tenderness? Anger? Political injustice? War? Family reunions? There are more themes floating around out there than there are artists to do them justice.

My suggestion is to make a practice book first and not be tied to a theme. Just play with it and have fun. It may develop a theme by the time you are through playing with it. Pay attention to what images you want to use in it. Maybe a color can be the theme. Maybe it is the construction that will become a theme. Windows? Doors? Tunnels? Folds? Any of these can be themes. They can be as frivolous, or as serious as you want them to be.

Once you have a theme established in your mind, be open to where it will take you. Say you pick windows. What do they suggest to you? Look for images, quotes, embellishments that you can use. Start to collect things associated with your theme. Weaving them all together is where the artist in you will get to stretch and play. I like my altered books to have a message. But that is just my style. You will find your own style. Maybe it will be a story you want to tell. Maybe it will be a book filled with your favorite images. Maybe it will be filled with poetry. Maybe you will write in it like a journal. It can be anything you want it to be.

After you are playing with a practice book, you probably will start looking around you for things you can use in it. Sally talked about this in class. Nothing is safe! You'll save scraps, tear apart magazines, pick up leaves and twigs, and know that they can be used in your art.

Since there are no hard and fast rules for making altered books, you can make it up as you go along. If you dont' like a page you finished - tear it out. It's just paper. Try again.
Or, if tearing it out is not an option for some reason - then collage over it, or paint over it.

I often work in several sections of a book at one time. I don't always start at the front and end at the back. Again, that's just my personal work style. It may not work for you. I usually have a general idea of where I want something to fall in a book. I like to lay it out and tuck things into it - long before I start structural changes. That way I can see how the text works to move the reader from the beginning to the end. It helps me find what images I want to use and what I need to do research to find.

I hope this helps you get started. You probably will make more than one. You will soon know if it is "your thing". I haven't stopped painting, or doing my other art and needle work, but while I'm intensely into constructing an altered book, everything else takes a back seat until I need a break.

So grab an old book and start tearing, cutting, pasting, painting, and having some fun with it. Let me know if I can help. You can email me at

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