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Altered Books - How to Make an Art Journal from Recycled Books

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If you love to get creative whether drawing, painting, scrapbooking or more, then it can be nice to try some new ideas out in an art journal.

You can purchase these art journals in craft stores or online but it can be really fun to recycle books into these really fun and unique journals, where you have created the base page yourself.

I am not a fan of ripping up old text books, but many times they are sitting on the shelf collecting dust or thrown in reuse it bins when done.  Instead of having it thrown away, reuse it and give it a second life.  It is also a cheaper way to get creative especially if you are an artist or crafter that carries your supplies around with you just in case the urge strikes. 

altered books
This means you do a lot of creative pages, and that can get expensive.  So consider using old books that are on their last days (just make sure it’s not an original antique book worth a lot of money first!)

Hardcover is best to use as it will take the weight of your work.  But there is some preparation involved.  Below is a video to help you get started.  But basically you have a few steps to prepare it but then lots of pages to get creative with when done.  Also save any pages you rip out especially if you love to do collage work.  Creating the art journal can be just as fun as filling the prepared pages.  Thanks to paper glue and gesso you can create very sturdy pages.

Where to Find Them - Library Sales of Old Books

This can be a great source for old text books.  Once a year or so libraries will sell off old books, many times you can get them for a dollar or less especially old hard cover ones.  Check with your library to see if they have a section that has them for sale.  My local library has a cart they keep near the entrance with books for sale.  Stay away from soft cover ones, as I find they are just too flimsy a binding especially once you glue and gesso pages together.   Sometimes they just get worn looking but that can be perfect for journaling!

altered books
Liquitex BASICS Gesso Surface Prep Medium, 16-oz
Amazon Price: $9.99 $5.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 24, 2016)

recycled books
Avery Permanent Glue Stic, 0.26 oz, Pack of 6 (98095)
Amazon Price: $0.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 24, 2016)

Second Hand Book Stores

Not always good deals, but as they get a lot of donations they will have a clear out on their shelves.  Sadly old encyclopedias will be the first to go or dictionaries since most people tend to whip out their cell phone or tablet when needing to find information.  So they are going to end up in recycling anyways, you might as well give them one more use and keep them out of the dump!

Family Book Shelves

Take a look in your own house or family houses to see if they have any that they are will to donate to you for your projects.   If you can get FREE that is always best.

Supplies Needed

Paper Glue – This doesn’t have to be harsh glue, just some simple white stuff or a glue stick works too. 

Gesso – Perfect for painting the pages to prepare them for your artwork.  You can put this on thicker to cover all the print or you can leave some print showing for your collage.

Sandpaper – If you want to rough up the outside of the book to create a distressed look, some fine sandpaper will do the trick.  Decorating the front cover can make it very personal.

Covered Surface to Work – You will need a table or desk where you can leave your journal to dry after using gesso or getting creative making your art journal more personal.

Adding Journal Closures

altered books

altered books
ACCO Brass Washers, 15/32", Box of 100 (71511)
Amazon Price: $3.99 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 24, 2016)


The video should help you get started.  It all depends on how many pages are in your book.  You need to rip out many because it will end up too thick when you are done creating especially if you glue things to your pages such as in collages. 

Try ripping out every 3rd page to start and don’t forget to keep the torn pages for additional projects.  Just rip them by hand or you risk making the binding to weak.  Or choose the pages without pictures, but I found the integrity of the book held together with a pattern of ripping out pages such as every 3rd one.

Once you have ripped out the pages, then take your glue and start gluing at least 2 pages together.

Take your gesso and paint your page.  You could just gesso as you go, or create at least a few pages ahead of time so you can be ready when inspiration hits.

You can then add a clasp to the book by gluing one on the front of the book and back and then using an elastic or hair band to keep it closed and safe. 

You now have a very personal art journal that you can carry and work in when inspiration hits. 

NOTE:  If you want to carry yours around in your purse or bag, and love to work smaller you could try and find a tinier hardcover book.  They are out there.  Such as old story books work for smaller pages.

Altering can be a fun way to recycle books, but you can also use your talents to alter photos and add them to your journal.  There are so many really cool art supplies on the market now that these projects are much easier to undertake.  We all want to recycle.  Just make sure no one wants the book anymore first!



Sep 3, 2016 10:07pm
Wow, that's an amazing idea. There are too many books which become outdated because of either the latest versions or just because they have become obsolete and/or unusable. This is a great way of recycling, and pursuing a hobby without the guilt of wasting paper. Great article.
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