Get Going with Altered Book Art Journaling

I’ve been on a quest to find an old book with stitched binding to serve as my art journal. Yesterday I settled for one that was available and met the stitched binding criteria. It even had a good name with character, but I hated the contents–on virtually every page. Now you might wonder why that matters when I am just going to gesso the tar out of it anyway.

It matters because I couldn’t find words in it that inspired me at all. It was sad. I threw it away.  : / I was sad. Turns out I really need an that outlet. That little experience taught me one more thing about an altered book art journal. For me, the base book HAS to be fiction or narrative non-fiction. That’s where all the poetic, imaginative words are.

So after work today I went to our local thrift shop and there scored two volumes that will work . I was happy :D


The first one I am working with is Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. It is the 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner and has fabulous end papers, which I won’t cover up. The other one is a winner solely for its fun name–The Crazy Ladies of Pearl Street. 

You can see the stitched binding of the Steinbeck book. There’s even a visible thread hanging on one side. You can also clearly see the signatures (sections) of the book. The center page of each section is where you will find the binding thread.


I went through the whole book and marked the center page where I found thread. This can take time as they are not always easy to see.



Next I carefully tore three page spreads from each signature to reduce bulk and enable my journal to close somewhat flatly later.  There are different methods of removing pages. This is the one I learned from the Altered Book Lover.


Steinbeck has lost some weight.

SAM_7864 Just the way it is with people–Steinbeck lost weight but he’s about the only one that can see it.


Next I did a collage spread. Here’s the best thing about art journaling. It is as much about process (and processing) as it is about pretty. Pretty is not really the goal, although it is nice if it happens. People may journal to release creativity, to try new techniques or to discover and process their own emotions.

This spread began with the boxed sentence from the book, “‘How do you mean lost?’ she said.” This is the text that stood out to me as I skimmed the page spread. Another day it might have been something else that caught my eye.


I grabbed my son’s backpacker magazine that was on its way to the trash and spent just a few minutes tearing out pages. It was important not to think why I was choosing what I chose other than it resonated with me. These are the images I came up with. It turned out to be  a story that helps me process my need to have “all my ducks [sons] in a row” and our son’s (freshly out of the Army) desire for grand adventure. (You can’t see the “VS.” very well as it is in faint gesso.) I already invested all that angst in deployment and now I am trying not to worry about the big adventures in store.

Understanding your feelings helps you deal with them. Art journaling is a great way to begin. And in this case a great reminder that I was once adventurous too… and it all turned out well. Very well.

Used in this spread:

Distress ink, acrylic paint, wax pastels, old magazines, gesso, Mod Podge, archival ink, stamps.

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