I found this small
blue book at one of my library's book sales last year and started
working on it in January, 2003. I had been doing a lot of work
the Earth Turns
and had also completed The
both of which had lots of collage work and embellishing. I needed a
change, a new challenge, and so I decided to do some altered book pages
totally devoid of layers. I didn't want to rely on anyone else's
images but my own, and I wanted the book to be similar in concept to
Tom Phillip's A
So I studied
Phillip's work as displayed on the Internet, trying to get a feel for
how he used pen and ink to obscure text. I tried to learn about his
techniques, but I couldn't find much information, so I had to figure
things out on my own as I went along.
About the Book
The title and the
chapter headings for these altered book pages are what originally attracted me. The
book is a collection of essays about the beauty of the natural world.
It starts with an essay on the life of St. Francis of Asissi, and
follows with individual chapters dedicated to some aspect of nature.
Mr. Peattie was educated in botany as well as a prolific writer. You
can read more about his life and work at Peattie
addition, if you'd like to read the original text, copies of it can
be purchased through bookfinder.com.
I don't think of
myself as an illustrator. I like to doodle, but actually drawing a
picture from start to finish is not something I'm used to doing.
Having to come up with an image that I felt capable of drawing on my
own for each if the altered book pages was difficult. There were times when I was
working on the book that I desperately wanted to glue down a picture
or use a rubber stamp, but I restrained myself. I'm proud that I stuck to my original
intention for these altered book pages.
Using the watercolor
crayons for the first time on the Sunlight
page was incredibly liberating. I love the intensity of the colors
and the control I have when blending shades together. Using
watercolors on altered book pages can be problematic because of the
wrinkling and warping that can occur when too much moisture hits the
paper. But I found I only needed a slight amount of water in order to
blend the colors together and make them come alive.
For each chapter, I
wanted to preserve the title page and also the original artist's
illustration for each essay. I wanted the poem and artwork I created
to go right behind each essay's title page and illustration. That
left me with a limited number of pages on which to actually create
the poem and artwork. I only cut out about five pages from the entire
book; I needed these pages to test out paints, glues, and masking
methods. The rest of the altered book pages were glued together using matte
medium. It's a little nerve-wracking trying to transform the book in
such a deliberate way. If I was working on art outside of the book, I
could get rid of things that I didn't like and move on. For example,
there was a time when I wanted to rip out Bread. I like the poem that evolved, but I wasn't happy
with the art work. But the page had to remain where it was, the way it was.
Mistakes had to be sworn over,
learned from, and accepted as part of the art process. Ironically, "Bread" turned out
to be one of my sister's favorite pages.
I couln't have
written the poetry for these altered book pages the way I did if Donald Peattie hadn't written such
jewel-like essays about the world around him. His writing might be
considered a little overwrought and sentimental by today's standards,
but his use of language and description are beautiful and allowed me
to create some satisfying found poetry. (For more ideas on how to write found poetry in your own
altered book pages, be sure to read my article Found Poetry in Altered Books: Finding Your Voice.)
Because I wasn't
doing any cutting and pasting on these altered book pages, transforming the imagery
and meaning in the text was extremely challenging. It was also
incredibly exhilarating. There is something quite magical about this
process. It's hard for me to put into words. I feel almost a spirtual
bond with the original writer. I know that sounds very corny; I'm not
a spirtual person in any sense, but I don't know how else to describe
it. You know the scenes in the movie A Beautiful Mind, when
John Nash is looking at the magazine and newspaper articles lying
scattered on the floor around him? As he stares and stares, we see
that words and phrases suddenly become illuminated on the page.
That's how I feel sometimes. I read and reread and the text again and
again. I look for words and combinations of words that seem to
"illuminate" the page, and then I start to write them down. If I'm
very lucky, I can create something beautiful and new. Somedays that
process is so frustrating that I have to walk away for a while or
work on another section. But always when I come back, I eventually
find the words I need to create my poem.
Protecting the Text
I started by writing
out each poem on a separate piece of paper. I then masked the text on
the page by using either Post-It single line labeling and cover-up
tape or Masquepen. The Masquepen is like a very liquid pale blue
rubber cement. It's in a little bottle with a long skinny tip. I
carefully poured it on the page over anything I wanted to protect. As
it dries, it becomes clear and slightly tacky, and forms a seal over
the page that resists paints and inks. If you'd like to read more about using Masquepen on
your altered book pages,
please read my article Masquepen :: Tips for Using Masquepen.
This stuff is
wonderful to use in altered books, but I found that when I rubbed it
off the page, it lifted some of the text ink. (Before using the Masquepen, make
sure to test it on a piece of scrap text from the book you're altering.)
I solved the problem
by covering every double page spread with a very thin layer of
Fluid Acrylic Matte Medium before starting any work. It made the
Post-It paper adhere better, and it protected the text from the
slightly adhesive quality of the Masquepen.
I did have some
problems with the Post-It tape wanting to curl up when it got wet. So
I started using my finger to smear matte medium over the tape after I
had it applied it on top of the text. This made it a little harder to
remove after all the artwork was done, but it kept paint from
slipping under the tape and obscuring the text.
My art supplies are for these altered book pages were from
All my illustrations were done using the following media:
I hope you enjoy all the altered book pages from
A Cup of Sky.