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Re-Creating One’s Narrative in Art Therapy: Altered Books Part 2

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

One powerful and versatile technique used in narrative art therapy is the creation of altered books. Altered books are books that have been transformed, usually through art techniques such as painting, drawing, collage, and writing, to create a new visual and narrative experience. Altered books provide a unique and personal canvas for individuals to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a tangible and symbolic way. In this blog, we will explore the therapeutic benefits of creating altered books in art therapy and steps towards creating your own.

Altered books can serve as a canvas for individuals to tell their own stories or create new narratives. By altering the pages of a book with images, words, and other art materials, individuals can visually represent their own personal stories, experiences, or emotions. This process allows for self-expression and can help individuals explore their personal narratives in a tangible and creative way.

Creating an altered book involves engaging in a reflective and introspective process. As individuals choose and alter images, words and text, and other materials in the book, they may reflect on their choices and explore their personal associations with the materials. This reflection can lead to increased self-awareness and insight, allowing individuals to gain a deeper understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Altered books can provide individuals with a sense of agency and empowerment as they transform an existing book into a new work of art. This process of altering and reshaping the book can symbolize the individual's capacity to transform their own narratives and experiences. It can also foster a sense of creativity, resourcefulness, and ownership, promoting a positive sense of self and empowerment.

In addition, engaging in the creative process of altering a book can be a meditative and calming experience. The focus and concentration required to select, arrange, and manipulate materials can help individuals enter a state of mindfulness, where they are fully present in the moment and free from worries or stress. This can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and enhance overall well-being.

So, what is needed to get started? The materials needed for creating an altered book can vary depending on individual preferences and artistic style, but here are some common materials that are often used:

  1. A book: Choose a book with a hardcover, as it provides a sturdy base for the alterations. The size, thickness, shape, and subject matter of the book can also be considered based on your preferences for your altered book. It could be an old book that you no longer need, a book that has personal significance, or a random book that you find interesting. You may want to consider the theme of the book, as well as any emotional connections it may have.

  1. Art materials: A wide variety of art materials can be used in creating an altered book, such as:

  • Paints: Acrylic paints, watercolors, gouache, or other types of paints can be used to add color and texture to the pages of the book.

  • Markers and pens: Permanent markers, gel pens, or other types of pens can be used for drawing, writing, and adding details.

  • Collage materials: These can include papers, magazines, photographs, fabric, ribbon, found objects, and other items that can be glued or adhered to the pages of the book to create layers and textures.

  • Adhesives: Glue sticks, gel medium, double-sided tape, or other adhesives can be used to attach materials to the book pages.

  • Scissors or craft knife: These can be used for cutting out images, shapes, or creating openings in the book pages.

  • Brushes: Various sizes of brushes can be used for applying paint, gesso, or other mediums.

  • Protective materials: Such as plastic sheets, wax paper, or paper towels, to protect pages from bleed-through or damage from wet media.

  • Optional materials: Depending on your creative vision, you may also consider using other materials such as stencils, stamps, rubber stamps, embossing powders, heat guns, or other mixed media elements to add depth and interest to your altered book.

  • Work surface: A flat surface or an easel for working on your altered book and protecting your working area.

  • Sealant: A clear sealant such as varnish, fixative, or Mod Podge can be used to protect the finished pages of the altered book and provide durability.

Remember, the materials needed for creating an altered book can be tailored to your own artistic style and preferences. Feel free to experiment with different materials and techniques to create a unique and personalized altered book that reflects your creativity and therapeutic journey.

Here are some steps to help you get started:

  • Prepare the book: If needed, prepare the book by removing any unwanted pages or elements that you won't be using in your altered book. You can use a craft knife or scissors to carefully trim or remove pages, covers, or other parts of the book as desired. This will create a blank canvas for your creative process.

  • Gather materials: Collect a variety of art materials that you would like to use in your altered book. This may include paints, markers, pencils, collage papers, images, stamps, stencils, and other mixed media materials. Consider the theme or emotions you want to express and choose materials that will support your creative vision.

  • Set an intention: Before you start altering the book, set an intention or goal for your art therapy session. This could be a specific emotion you want to explore, a story you want to tell, or a personal insight you want to gain. Having a clear intention can help guide your creative process and bring focus to your art-making.

  • Start altering the book: Begin altering the book by using your chosen materials to transform its pages, covers, and spine. You can paint, draw, collage, write, or use any other art technique that resonates with you. Experiment with different materials, techniques, and styles to create a unique expression of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

  • Follow your intuition: Let go of any expectations or judgments, and allow your intuition to guide your creative process. Follow your instincts and let the art-making process unfold naturally. Don't be afraid to take risks, make mistakes, and explore new ideas. Trust your own creative instincts and allow yourself to freely express your inner world.

  • Reflect and process: As you create your altered book, take breaks to reflect on your artwork and the emotions it evokes. Journal about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences during the art-making process. Use the altered book as a tool for self-exploration

From self-expression and emotional release, to empowerment and self-awareness, to mindfulness and relaxation, and to personal transformation and growth, altered books offer a unique and effective way to facilitate healing and promote well-being in art therapy. So go ahead, grab a book, gather some art materials, and let your creativity flow as you embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing through the art of altered bookmaking.

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