Assignment 4

Altered book

This brief asked me to use a found book of my choice to create a new volume, personal to me. I had to consider what I would add to the book and what I wanted to remove. The found book had to inspire ideas for how to alter it – for instance, it could have prompted my own illustrations, typography, or collages – and I had to integrate my work into these existing pages, physically changing the book itself. I was given the freedom to use any processes I wanted to, which excited me straight away! The main thing to think about was the relationship between the content inside the book and the physical form of the book, as this had been a focus throughout part 4.

As always, I tried to refer back to artists I had explored, and the brief prompted me to feel free to go back to other artists from earlier parts, as well as ones explored in part 4.

My chosen book was inspired by a suggestion from my tutor. I managed to get a copy of In and Out of the Garden by Sara Midda online and immediately fell in love with it! I adored the illustrative style and the stunning use of handwritten text. I think the style of this book appealed to me because I enjoy using hand drawn, traditional methods in my own art, so I immediately had some ideas for how I could integrate my own work into the book. I made some notes in my sketchbook about my chosen book and my initial ideas.

As the book was so neat, and there were particular sections that seemed contained, as if they had been trimmed and well-maintained by a gardener, I considered ways I could have ‘the wilderness’ take over the book. The contrast of the overgrown and a beautiful, neat garden sparked a lot of ideas. I thought about ways I could appeal to the senses – visually, making the book look overgrown, but also adding features that would be textural and rustling, so the reader would feel like they were struggling through the leaves and branches to wade through an overgrown garden.

Research and ideas

I conducted some research to support these initial ideas and looked back at artists – particularly from my ‘Exploring Artists’ Books‘ research task and the Concrete Poetry exercise – who I felt could inspire some of the processes to use to alter the book.

  • Tom Phillips – A Humument – I thought about covering pages with wild flowers/plants/leaves but leaving certain words peeking through.
  • Mary Ellen Solt – Forsythia – Using stamps or handwritten letters, I wondered if I could print letters in shape of plants onto the pages, as if the text was physically becoming wild.
  • Hanna Chen – text work – Hanna created bold orange flame shapes with words, so I considered how I could manipulate text to create the shape of a plant/flower. Although I did do some rough sketches to trial this, I struggled with the glossiness of the pages – they weren’t suited to having things drawn straight onto them with certain materials.
  • I checked back on my Fingerprint No. 2 and Paperwork reading and was especially drawn to the various cutting methods. For example, Marian Bantjes used laser cutting to create heart shapes from old Christmas cards. There were also whole pages that had been cut into a different shape and had things “hidden” behind them. I really liked the idea of cutting floral and plant shapes from the pages and having creatures or plants peeking through/slightly hidden. There was some manipulation of pages, where parts had been cut and then folded in a certain way (I wondered if I could create a blooming flower with folded petals).
  • I also was inspired by many ideas I saw when browsing through Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/chaplinjade/assignment-4-altered-book/). I noticed some pages that had been sewn or had embellishments sewn onto them – I definitely wanted to try sewing leaves or grass or flowers onto some pages (the pages of this book were really strong so well-suited to being cut and sewn). I also saw lots of beautiful altered covers, mostly those that had used papier-mache and other materials to build up new structures/textures over the top and then had been painted.
  • I also saw lots of pressed flowers – I was keen to try to incorporate these into my altered book somehow.

After collecting a variety of ideas to try, I wanted to do some more research on British wildflowers to that I had some solid reference material for my art. I used a free image service to collect wildflower images for a colourful moodboard, and also took photographs of my own garden too. Using the Countryfile and Country Life websites, I collected images of wildflowers and used these to practise drawing the shapes, establishing colours and also trialling some text experiments too. This little catalogue of images was really useful for the whole project – I was constantly referring back to these photos for colour inspiration and to accurately depict some of the wildflowers too.

Experimenting

The next stage was to try out all the different techniques I had seen and figure out which would work well within my overgrown altered book. I had a go at building honeysuckle from string then using papier-mache to cover it. It took a while to dry, but the texture was so pleasing! It created real depth to the image too. I was then able to paint it, using my images as reference. I liked the idea of building up a wildflower scene to completely alter the cover using string and papier-mache, for an immediate tactile experience and so I could make it as surreal and colourful as I wanted. I had a go at painting some flowers to ensure I felt confident with this. I did use my leaf stamps again from a previous assignment, but I felt like these were too simplistic for the design I was going for.

I also had a go at sewing leaves and flowers to my sketchbook pages, which worked really well too. Again, it was great to run my fingers over the thread, like veins in a leaf, and to see how it broke up the page. My hand-sewing skills aren’t brilliant, but I was confident I could have a go at some grass and leaves in my book. I also stumbled on some lovely lacy material that I decided to use to make a flower to add to the ribbon bookmark that already existed in the book (it was a brilliant way of subtly altering every aspect of the book!)

My tissue paper experiment looked okay, but importantly it added texture, sound and colour to the page. I decided to create a few tissue paper flowers for the book, but not too many – there was a danger of it looking like a primary school class project!

My cutting experiments were really successful. I wanted the effect of parts of pages obscuring other things on other pages, like a tangled mess of overgrown plants, and I felt like using cut-outs would help achieve this. It was time-consuming, but effective and striking. It’s also a very tactile experience to feel the holes in the pages.

Collaging was a technique I definitely wanted to make use of – I bought a few gardening magazines but I also wanted to create my own imagery to digitally alter and print copies of to cut and stick. It seemed like a good way to build up big areas of colour and visually make the pages look like they had been taken over by the wilderness.

Finally, I spent a couple of hours following some different origami tutorials (simple ones as I am far from an expert!) to make some paper flowers. I was aiming to have some paper flowers sprouting from my altered book but hadn’t quite decided from where and how I would achieve this. I really enjoyed learning how to make a few different flowers, but I was particularly pleased with the lily.

While I had been experimenting, I was visualising how I wanted all these techniques to come together in the final book. I really liked the concept of moving through the pages, with them gradually becoming more and more overgrown and the wilderness taking over. Although it was a simple concept, I felt like I could really run with it, using all these methods to build up an overgrown book, bursting with plants and flowers and life. The theme was, technically, the same as the original book, but just messier and wilder. It was also important to me that some creatures would come into the later pages too, like bees and butterflies. I sketched a few out and also drafted a structure for my book cover too.

During all this, I had also a small bunch of wildflowers and leaves from the supermarket to try pressing! This was quite a lengthy process. Once they had been pressed, I laminated them in groups, so I could have transparent pages containing the wildflowers in the book.

Creating the book

The process of creating the book was structured in a way – I could only do certain things in a certain order – but was also very natural and organic and free. I added and took things away as and when I felt it was appropriate; in contrast to other assignments, I didn’t have a definite plan of every single page before I started, because I wanted to build this wild garden page by page in a more natural way. I had a toolkit of processes and materials ready and knew what I was aiming for, but the creation process was very organic. It suited the subject matter in a way! This was also such a different process to any other assignment in this course because it was mostly physical and tactile – I was working with the final piece from the start, manipulating pages, cutting, sticking, folding, drawing etc. It was like being a sculptor, starting with a piece of clay (the found book) and gradually building up the finished altered book.

As a general overview of my process, I started by cutting details out of the pages/cutting whole pages, then I focused on collage. The final touches were tissue paper flowers, sewing, origami flowers, stamped text and reattaching the new cover. After this, I added in my laminated pressed flowers in choice locations. I carefully removed the cover before getting stuck in and had to reattach with some floral paper I had found for a previous exercise.

I drew my own images to copy, print, cut and stick in the book. This was a big part of the task (the cutting and sticking was very time-consuming but totally worth it!) Below are the images I drew and a pile of them all cut out, to show the volume of cutting and sticking.

The text pieces I created are shown below. I used some of my early sketch ideas to inspire these. There are also some images of my sewing attempts! The bookmark flower I was really proud of – a little touch that really adds to the theme.

There were a fair few snags in the process. One issue was the glossiness of the pages; I quickly found out that I would mostly have to cut and stick any of my own art into the book, rather than draw straight into the book. The strength of the pages though was a huge bonus. I ended up focusing on cutting, sticking and lots of manipulation of the pages. Cutting the pages was brilliant, but it’s certainly a high stakes activity – cutting through the paper is permanent, so it was a long process and I had to be extremely careful, or adapt a mistake to make it look deliberate! I also ran into a few issues laminating some of the flowers (some were thicker and not quite pressed) but luckily most worked really well.

When I was creating my altered cover, I used a piece of material over the spine, just to try to achieve (or maintain) some flexibility when opening and closing the book. Luckily, it did still open when dry, but it doesn’t fully close anymore. I don’t mind this – I actually feel like this is quite suited to the transformation it has undergone. The book is now bursting with life, full of plants, flowers and creatures, which are determined to get out.

The final book is shown below, in a flip-through video and in photos too. I thoroughly enjoyed the creation process and feel like the book feels like a journey into the wilderness. One of the pages also contains some real seeds stuck over a photo of seeds used in the original, to add texture and depth.

Evaluation

Looking back at the brief, I was asked to “significantly alter the appearance” of the pages of a found book to “create a new volume that is personal to [me]”. I chose to use a book I had recently enjoyed and admired to create a wild, overgrown book – something messier and in contrast to the neatness in the book. I feel like this is quite symbolic of my journey through this illustration degree so far – I began by being scared of making a mess and naturally quite neat and contained, whereas now I am not afraid of experimenting, making mistakes and using the mess to my advantage.

I was prompted to “approach the found book in a very physical way, manipulating the pages and paper inventively”. I feel that I certainly achieved this. I made changes to each page (gluing together some of the pages to reduce the ground I needed to cover) using several methods, and, physically, the book feels very different to the original. Texturally, the book is pleasing to dive into – there are seeds, rustling flowers and leaves, bumpy cut-outs and images that are partially stuck to the pages, but with flapping wings or loose petals. The cover is rough, bumpy and full of intrigue. The origami flowers also add some more dimension to the piece. My sewing – although minimal and not very skilful! – adds another texture, like veins in a leaf or scratchy grass. Visually, the book is filled with colour and life. The shadows cast by the cut-outs and the hidden elements all build on this idea of an overgrown garden that the reader is exploring by turning each page. I’m pleased with how my own illustrations have worked alongside the existing illustrations by Sara Midda and the magazine collages too.  

The work I created was inspired by the content, including drawings of flowers, plants and creatures, as well as magazine collage, cut-outs, tissue paper flower, text images, origami, and other work too. I feel like I took inspiration from the book itself, but also drew on my previous research and inspiration from other artists and books, like the text images inspired by Mary Ellen Solt’s work and the cut-outs inspired by the examples of this technique in Paperwork and Fingerprint No. 2. Looking back at the finished book, I can see how surreal the images I created look, especially the bright cover. I wonder if my personal reading choices recently – One, Two, Three, Four, The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown and Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell – were subconsciously influencing my style a little. It has a whimsical and weird vibe!

The brief told me to “embed, overlay and integrate [my] work into the existing pages”. I think by cutting and sticking elements, I was always aware of where to place images to achieve what I wanted, balancing what was on the page already with what I was aiming for. I also added laminated pressed flower pages, which let the reader see through, layering the wilderness. The cut-outs were always carefully considered – I thought about how they would fit with the collaged work and how it would feel to move them and see hidden elements. Everything kept to the ‘natural’ theme.

There are a few things I would have done differently. The cover is perhaps too bright and garish to fit with the original book. I think it works with the content I have added, but, even then, it’s extremely bright. I would tone this down if I had more time. I like that it feels very surreal though – I think this works with my book – the oversized flowers and creatures as you reach the end of the book remind me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I think having some pressed flowers stuck directly onto the pages to give real texture might have been a nice addition. I also would create more three-dimensional flowers and leaves to be sprouting from the book if I had more time – just to really capture that feeling of the book being overgrown. However, this might have made it more difficult to ‘read’ or flick through the pages, which is still very possible in its current state. My aim was for the pages to be gradually more overgrown, which I feel I have achieved.

In terms of other altered books I have seen, I wanted to compare my book against one of these. Mine is very different, but I wanted to look at Tom Phillips’ ‘A Humument’, because he physically changed every page using hand-made methods. I think something that I didn’t focus on much was the content of the text in the book, apart from to prompt me with flowers or plants. As my book is an illustrative non-fiction, I suppose this gave a different result when being altered – my approach was extremely visual and tactile. Tom Phillips identified words – almost poetically – to change the narrative (finding a narrative within the narrative). I used the general words and ‘subject’ to inspire my work. Perhaps if I had been more specific, picking out words on each page, I could have built my content around this. I think my approach was deliberately ‘organic’, and also focused on a change over the pages, which was very different to the original (mine almost has a sequence, as loose as it is, whereas the original was not chronological).

Comparing my book to Tom Phillips’, we both used a variety of methods to alter the book, which make the pages visually interesting and captivating for the reader. Tom’s methods draw the reader in to focus on the words he selected, whereas I have created something over the top of the content, sometimes highlighting an existing illustration or section of the text, but mostly growing over the top of the content (as I had intended).

When I look at the finished book, I certainly feel that it has been changed – it feels alive! I’m delighted with the visual effect. As soon as you see the book, you are transported to a surreal, secret garden, which you can explore by turning the pages. I think, considering the time and materials I had to work with, my creation reflects my aims in this assignment. If I’d had more time, I would slightly alter the colour palette on the cover to make it fit more with the rest of the book, and I would add some other elements to increase the textural effect, immersing the reader in the wilderness.

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