New Strange Beasts

I often receive requests from readers for tutorials on creating altered books and various collage projects, and I would love to deliver a detailed how-to on the process ... but therein lies the challenge, as I really have no tried-and-true process.

Each book, each page is an experiment in making a mess. I don't have a vision in mind when I sit down with my inks and pens and torn scrap papers. I suppose it's a bit like a childhood sandbox: I just move things around, make piles, maybe add some found objects to the mix and see what happens. Sometimes I end up with a very happy accident, something I find intriguing or beautiful, and sometimes my big mess is just a big mess. Those are the pages I tear out, shred and glue back into new collages. Each session is different as I experiment with new materials, new techniques, new moods.

That being said, I recently happened upon another book in the "Strange Beasts" series, and rather than simply posting the end results, I've decided to chronicle my adventures in collage starting from the beginning. Not quite a tutorial, but perhaps it will offer some inspiration. And, forcing myself to focus on the journey might just offer new insights along the way.

I'm starting with a vintage children's book titled "Strange Beasts of the Present," and like my previous art journal, created in a copy of "Strange Beasts of the Past," I have no theme in mind, not idea of what the book might become over time. It's simply a journal, each page standing alone as an isolated event, and (hopefully) at the end those individual pages will have some strange cohesion.

This weekend while tinkering with my Rastatt book, I spent several hours preparing Strange Beasts for future collages, which basically entails making it "not new." Even old, worn-out books seem a bit intimidating and overwhelming with their "blank" pages. It's the same reason I have a rather substantial stash of blank writing journals: Once you start, you're committed, but where to start?

With all of my altered books, I start by ripping out pages. As these tend to get a bit chunky with all the added layers of papers, fibers, embellishments and found objects, I proactively make room for all the junk to come. I tear out about a third of the pages, then turn around and glue some new ones into the spine.

These tip-ins come from my stash of strange and unusual book pages, large images torn from books and magazines and drawings from my sketch book. During this session, I added several full-page color illustrations from other children's books, a few personal sketches and several pages from an antique book from Germany. The book itself wasn't salvageable as it had considerable water damage and a thoroughly decimated spine, but it had the most beautiful end papers and a lovely aged full-page inscription in German cursive.

The process isn't linear ... I tear out a few pages, glue in a few new ones, shred the discarded pages and glue the bits and pieces to the remaining pages. Along the way I grab the ink and paint to add color and texture. I primarily use Tim Holtz Distress Ink Reinkers, but frequently turn to acrylic paint and texturizer, watercolor paint, bingo dabbers, gel ink and chalk to create the depth and layers.

One of my favorite techniques is creating ink blots on facing pages. I wet down the right hand page using a big paint brush, add drops of distress ink in random patterns, then smash the book shut. I let the pages sit for five minutes or so before opening the book to let the pages dry. I'm always mesmerized by the results ... and if it doesn't turn out quite right, I add more water, more ink and smash the book shut again.

I'll keep posting my progress as the book unfolds ...

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