What are Altered Books?

A book recycled, new, cut-up, glued together, changed to something different by an artist.
A book recycled, new, cut-up, glued together, changed to something different by an artist.

What is an altered book you ask? It is a form of mixed media artwork that changes or alters a book from its original form in to a different form so that its appearance and/or meaning has been altered. An altered book artist takes a book (any type including old, new, recycled, multiple books, any genre, etc.,) and changes it with cuts, tears, paints, collages, gold-leaf, pop-ups, rubber stamps, ribbons and other materials. They can fold, glue, burn, add to, remove from, drill and bolt it, and what other creative means they can think of. An artist can place or hide objects and materials in the book or even change the shape of the book completely. They can add and remove words to change its meaning, or use several books to create their finished artwork. It can be as simple or as complicated as the artist chooses. It is basically a recycled book turned into a work of art.

Is there money to be made?


Now, if I made an altered book, what does it mean for a bookseller, or to put it bluntly, what is it worth? Well, often a bookseller is not interested in these books - you really have to go with art galleries and exhibitions to get your books sold. Naturally, you can join groups that are focused on altered books as an art form and hold exhibitions for their artwork.

Related to the profitability of your artwork, a lot of antique and vintage books are used because they cost a lot less - especially vintage fiction, maybe just pennies or nothing at all. The condition of the book is not so important as you will likely change the binding and other aspects of the book. A book that is in poor condition will likely cost you a lot less than the same book in excellent condition. You can also purchase several books as buying in bulk may give you discounts.

You can also create your own website with an online store and gallery to showcase your work. Naturally, you can include other artwork you create. Promote your online art gallery in local newspapers and art events.


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Elements To Look For in a Book to Alter:

  • Popular titles or classics attract more attention than those with obscure titles.
  • Pictorial books also attract more interest.
  • You may want a group of similar books to create a series rather than just one book.
  • Books with vintage, art deco, art nouveau, and arts and crafts elements.
  • Paperback books may be preferred to hardcover books as it may be cheaper and if you plan on creating your own binding and cover would be less work.


Copyright Issues?


There are of course concerns about copyright, and so, antique or Victorian books are frequently used. But according to the International Society of Altered Book Artists, it is completely legal. The ISABA is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting altered books as an art form. They also provide a forum for skills, experience and ideas exchange via education, exhibit and events. The Center For Book Arts in New York also holds exhibitions and other events for Book Artists.

Some notable altered book artists include James Allen, Noriko Ambe and Nuken Teruya based in New York, Georgia Russell and Su Blackwell from the UK, Guy Laramee from Canada. Other artists include Lisa Vollrath and Lisa Kokin.

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