Altered Thinking


I’m away from home and away from this blog for a few weeks… I’m missing my studio but I know in my absence the ideas are bottling up and there will be opportunity for outpouring before too long. Meanwhile I’ve had time to ponder on where I’m at, and how I got here. From here I can figure out where to go next!

In all my experiments and adventures with mixed media art, there’s usually something that takes me by surprise.

Something amid this endless opportunities to combine, dismantle, re-imagine, reconstruct, with new permutations of media, materials, techniques and style – way more than any  one person could exhaust in one lifetime. Sometimes I forget this though. Then I forage around online for ideas, and something amazing happens.

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Take, for instance, the concept of an altered book.

I grew up in a home full of books, maybe the last generation for whom this primary source of information, books hold a sense of reverence. Over the years I sought sanctuary in books, a hiding place, a wonder world of mysteries, of dreams and spirits, of characters too colourful to exist outside. A key that unlocks the worlds within another’s imagination, in the words of Stephen King, ‘books are uniquely portable magic’.

I can honestly say, some of my best friends have been books.

So then, altering books…. Although I’ve seen some truly exquisite sculptural paper-folding from books, and some ingenious creations, something still felt uncomfortable. Something made me wince just a little bit. And I know I’m not alone in this.

It was when I saw Brian Dettmer’s TED Talk that my thoughts became altered too. He describes the art of book altering as reinvention, as comparable to a DJ remixing music. He compares books to bodies – living creatures –  with a capability to evolve, and as a parallel to the expansion of painting and drawing beyond simple reproduction after the invention of the printing press and the camera, now perhaps books have a freedom to be more than what they were before.

What I did here is nothing like the art that Dettmer makes, his talk opened my mind to more possibility. It liberated my thoughts.

In the resonance of his words I felt my thinking shift from ‘…but why?’ through stages of creeping curiosity, a crescendo of allure to the new level of possibility. These thoughts were gathering momentum to the level of irresistible fascination. Fuelled by online tutorials and videos, with a tatty orphaned volume of short stories I set out to see what would happen with paint, pens and collage cuttings…

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After just a short time I found the spirit of the exercise had taken hold: part drawn, part collaged, pieces fell into place alongside doodles and paint splatters. My eye would catch a fleeting glimpse before the sentences were lost under colour. Patterns and ideas formed organically

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All of my habitual ways were finding their place in this new sanctuary for busy thoughts. With no expectations I set about seeing what serendipity would surprise me with, and I watched the layers build up. It was becoming an illustrated stream of consciousness. The book was developing a character all of its own.

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I worked on this book over the course of a few months, skipping back and forth through the pages with paint or pastels, doodles and drawing. This is where I went when my ideas ran dry – there was always a space to fill and patterns to follow. Ideas fed on ideas.

So the lesson I learnt from this project is that the spirit of a book isn’t just caught up in the meaning behind its text, a book is much greater than its story.

You can see this completed book in three parts, here

22 thoughts on “Altered Thinking

  1. I love that idea of altering a book being like remixing music. I was very squeamish about tearing up text pages to use in collage or altering a book but I selected books that were already damaged for collage purposes and I altered a book of 1970s recipes that nobody these days was going to use so I was then able to look on it as giving those books a new lease of life rather than them being recycled in some other way. They were being repurposed. I think your pages are wonderful incidentally. They are a joyful explosion of colour and shape.

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    1. Aw thanks Laura! It was so much fun. I have a load of old books from my mum like this. She couldn’t bear to throw anything away, most especially a book (even to recycle) but if no one will use or read it, I think it’s wrong not to make it into art! Makes more sense than buying new drawing books to me!!

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  2. I feel the same way about altering a book. I cant imagine painting in it or making any type of mark in it. I learned to take care of books from an early age and trying to paint in one now or tear pages in one makes me cringe. I like what Brian said on TED Talk. I do see and understand his point of view. I hope to alter a book one day, but I will have to take baby steps. Great post!!! Your art journal is beautiful!

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  3. I’m so happy you have discovered altered books, the form it gives to your work is handsome indeed. When I taught high school art this was always a requested project. We must have altered hundreds of books over the years, they have a limited life span and then libraries send them away to the big bookshelf in the sky…however, we adopted them pre-demise, and breathed new life into them with art. Beats landfill eh?

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  4. I haven’t tried altering a book. It scares me. Will check that TED talk. But then again, your work is already a source of inspiration…from color to all the images combined with words and doodles bringing in the spice, the dark and everything nice. I could feel the energy in each spread and the passion it required from you. A treasure indeed.

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    1. I hope so, I’d like to know more!

      I started out with the out of date manual to a printer that was long since broken…. But it wasn’t nice paper to use. I worked in IT and so had a lot of obsolete and uninteresting books available for collage and this helped me start out, I still couldn’t harm a ‘reading book’ that still had life in it. I have a lot with pages hanging out and time worn, water damaged etc that I’m gradually working through now.

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  5. Oh man I just love your style! I’m really glad you did the altered book because there is just something special about them. I “save” old book from the 1/2 book store in the $1.00 clearance. I think the next step would be recycling so I give them a new life. Yes, it is a saintly thing I do- save hardcover books.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this post, I really like the idea of reinvention when you alter a book. I use a dictionary from my school days in my art journaling and although I did feel squeamish about using it at first, I know it now has a new lease of life :-). I love your use of colour and images, especially the Kokopelli in the second picture posted, it brings back memories of my trips to America and makes me smile!

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  7. Excellent compositions. 🙂

    One of the Media Literacy terms I use is Necro-Media. It refers to how a Medium can be consumed by another medium. A medium becomes the content of another medium or a new medium emulates/mimics the codes and conventions of an older medium. Photographs are the classic example. Photography is a medium that can be incorporated as content into other media. Digital photography can emulate/mimic the look and style of earlier forms of photography.

    Collages, physical or digital, are an intense Merged Media, Necro-Media process that blends together various media and their codes and conventions into a new form. The new form straddles the line across several forms. The inclusion of printed/written text with visual/graphic text allows the finished composition to be both an image and piece of prose/prose-poetry.

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      1. Glad you found it of interest. Here are a couple of posts from my photography & Media Literacy blogs that explores the concept. 🙂

        https://darkpinesphoto.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/necro-media-illustrated-history-of-the-horror-movie/

        https://darkpinesmedia.wordpress.com/tag/necro-media/

        My Media Literacy resource blog is called Dark Pines Media.

        You will also find the term “Necromedia” of interest. Marcel O’Gorman uses the term “Necromedia” to define and explore “the collusion of death and technology,” – what it means to be a finite creature in a culture dominated by language & imagrey of infinitude and immortality . O’Gorman does this by linking posthumanist philosophy and social psychology to digital art and Mass Media.

        Necro-Media refers to the principle of Mass Media that one Medium will turn another medium into content. 🙂

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