Workshop Recap: Altered Books with Penny Torres

I've never altered a book before.

Sure, I've highlighted and underlined and jammed a thousand sticky notes into the pages to mine the goodness from a book for posterity. But I have never transformed a book into a work of art.

Tonight, Penny Torres is going to teach me how to alter a book. 

Five other creative community members, Penny's son and I are all gathered for the first in a series of art workshops at the Bleeding Heart Art Space.  The best part is most of us have no idea what we're doing.

Altered books are new to all of us. They may be new to you, too. The concept is simple. You take any book that appeals to you and you alter it to create a work of art. It's a broad definition that makes room for many skill sets and styles. 

Penny starts us off with an intro to altered books. She's put together a lovely slideshow with plenty of examples, and she walks us through it on her iPad. There are books with all the pages but one glued together. There are books where the pages have been cut to form intricate shapes. There are books where chunks have been cut out to create a shadowbox. Some books become a canvas for collage. Others are illustrated like mediaeval illuminated texts. 


We are all excited to begin. Penny lays a wealth of materials on the brown-papered tables. There are paints and glues. Inks in spray bottles. Fancy pattered paper, delicate tissue paper and paper that shines like gold leaf. Scissors and photographs and blocks of text are strewn next to a pile of books we can choose from, if we haven't brought our own.

I have brought a book with me. An old hardcover book with a retro green cloth cover. This small book is an object I've never wanted to throw away but had no reason to keep. What do you do with these beautiful old books? Penny has the answer. You make art, of course.

Our time flies. This workshop is hands-on as Penny makes her rounds, offering help and advice as requested or required. Mostly, we play. 

I open my book to find a painting inside the front cover. A missionary stands on the shore, dressed in a white suit, preaching to black 'natives' in a rough wooden boat. These tribal people have bones in their noses and wild hair. The image makes me angry as I reflect on the colonial past of my Christian faith. I turn some pages and find the first chapter heading; The Young Terror. That heading, juxtaposed with the painting, is the springboard for my project.

I tear out the pages between to emphasize this juxtaposition of text and image. I cut a toothy mouth from the pages of the book. I emphasize words I read on the page. I collage bits from other books and add some paint and ink. I glue gold paper to cap my 'teeth'. I'm not entirely sure what this is about, but I'm having a lot of fun.

We chat back and forth about one another's progress while gentle music drives the evening forward. Across the table, a tribute to David Bowie forms in collage. Another participant works entirely in intricate pen and ink. Beside me, Jaimie experiments with colour and texture. She's never done this, or really anything like this, before. 

Too soon for any of us to believe, our time is up.

9:30 has pounced and we need to strike the tables, pick up the scraps and take our gluey masterpieces home to dry. 

Penny tells us this art form is wonderful because we can pick it up as we have time. A half hour here or there–even 15 short minutes while we wait for the laundry. Altered books redeem discarded materials, so they are also affordable. 

I'm all for any tactic that helps me discover creativity buried between the couch cushions of my life.

I head home with my book drying on the passenger's seat, having found one more may to scratch my creative itch.

Join us for our next art workshop, Linocuts with Stephanie Medford, on March 18 at 7 PM



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