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