Interview: Altered Books with Penny Torres

BH: Penny, you are leading a workshop on Altered Books at Bleeding Heart on February 3. For someone who doesn’t know what an Altered Book is (like me, for instance), can you describe an Altered Book?

PT: An Altered book is kind of a cross between sculpture and and multi-media art. It's environmentally friendly because you use old discarded books and transform them into interest artistic statements. There are countless methods involved and they can be as easy or complicated as you like.

BH: Sounds like a medium with a lot of possibilities. How did you learn about Altered Books?

... I was looking for an art form that was versatile and easy to work with in a small area. I had limited time for art and so I wanted something I could throw half an hour into ...

PT: The best way to learn about Altered Books is your good old friend "Google Images". As soon as you start browsing you will be astounded by the endless variety of books out there. If you don't have access to the internet, local libraries almost always have a few books on the subject.

BH: Good tips - but I’m wondering more how YOU first learned about them? What sparked your interest? How did you discover them?

PT: A number of years ago I was looking for an art form that was versatile and easy to work with in a small area. I had limited time for art and so I wanted something I could throw half an hour into when I wanted to and just leave it for the next time I felt like working on it. I had the habit of going to library and taking out random creative books and that's when I came across the subject of Altered Books. I fell in love the idea almost immediately and dove right in.

BH: What is it you love most about Altered Books?

PT: Well there are two sides to what I love about them. Artistically - they are visually intriguing. They have to be interacted with to get the whole experience of the piece. Like a book they tell a kind of story that is only revealed by opening it up to discover the secrets inside. The other thing I love about Altered books is that they are environmentally friendly. Old books have a tendency to pile up in used books stores and landfills when their information becomes out-dated. Instead of throwing away that old economy text-book from 1985, why not transform it into something that people actually want to look at?

BH: I love that sense of redeeming something discarded. You also talked a bit about this being a small and accessible medium that you could do when you found time. Can you elaborate a bit on what that is important for you?

If you have time to sit down and watch a tv show you have time to express yourself artistically.

PT: Time is valuable. Life moves at such a rapid pace and we are so focused on fitting our busy schedules of work, sleep, education, family time etc that a lot of people feel they have no time for "art". I wish to open peoples eyes to the many benefits that art can and how it can impact them in a positive way. If you have time to sit down and watch a tv show you have time to express yourself artistically. You can even work on an altered book while your show is playing in the background. It's as easy as that.

BH: Great answer. I love that. 

What do you do with your Altered Books once you’ve made them?

PT: No framing required! I keep them in my living-room bookshelf where my house-guests are encouraged to browse. They can also be strategically placed in the centre of the room as a coffee-table book.

BH: So fun! So who would you recommend should take your workshop next week Penny?

PT: Anyone who is interested in having fun and learning about an art form that works for any skill level. They can also be of interest to those people who enjoy scrap-booking. Although altered books are considered a form of art, it is the makers themselves who decide what the content will be. It can be a lovely way to tell a story with old photographs, if that is their choice.

BH: What do you most look forward to in leading a workshop like this?

PT: I always look forward to teaching people new stuff that they probably will enjoy. As an artist, I like to share my unique way of seeing the world. Life has enough hardships so why not share something that lets us escape for a little while and express ourselves in a in intriguing way?

BH: Sounds like it’s going to be a great evening. What do people need to bring along with them?

As an artist, I like to share my unique way of seeing the world.

PT: I already have a selection of used books that participants can use if they wish. I will also provide some gesso and paints and adhesive and a few other drawing materials so it's not necessary to bring anything if you just want to learn the technique. If you wish to bring your own book to alter, look for a book that is not too big, has fairly sturdy pages, and a few photographs in them can be nice for diversity. If you are interested in incorporating personal images into the books it would be a good idea to bring along some prints of your favourite photos. You are also welcome to bring any other art materials you like to use. The most important thing to bring is an open mind.

BH: Thanks Penny. We’re so glad you are leading this workshop, and look forward to sharing some of the results here on the blog!

(Penny later reminded me that 'painting clothes' are important if you plan to attend - the process can get a little messy.)

Register for Penny Torres' Altered Books Workshop online here, or in person this Saturday at Bleeding Heart Art Space from 11 AM to 3 PM. 

Penny Torres (Edmonton, Canada) makes paintings, media art, mixed media and conceptual artworks. With a symbolic approach, Torres makes work that generates diverse meanings. Subject matter ranges from impressionistic object study to an examination of body language and facial expressions. Her paintings question the diverse interpretations of the way people view different scenarios. Light, shadow and colour play an important role in creating emotional atmospheres Her works focus on connecting the subconscious with the conscious. As a result the artist can express her own interpretation without being hindered by historical reality. By studying sign processes, signification and communication, she tries to approach a wide scale of subjects in a multi-layered way. Her works directly respond to the surrounding environment and uses everyday experiences from the artist as a starting point. Often these are framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context.

(bio provided by the artist)

View Penny Torres' website at

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