How to Prepare an Old Book for Altering or Art Journaling

preparing-an-old-bookSomething that is very important before altering a book or using an old book for art journaling is properly preparing it before you start creating in it. While it takes some time and patience to do this, in the end it will definitely save you a lot of headaches and ensure your creative work stays intact. In this post I will walk you through step by step my process of creating an art journal from an old book.

Choosing the Right Books to Alter

Choosing the right type of old book to alter is the first important step to take. While one would think that any old book would do, you’re going to want to look for one that has sewn binding as opposed to glued binding. Sewn binding is stronger and the pages will be less likely to fall out, whereas with glued binding you risk the glue coming apart and pages falling out.

Some ideas for old books you can use: old children’s books, old hardback books, old textbooks. The possibilities are endless! Also think about the size of the book – do you want a big fat book with many pages or maybe a big skinny children’s book with plenty of room on each page as your canvas?

Where to Find Old Books Cheap: Finding old books can be a challenge. Fortunately you can often find them for less than a few dollars each book. Here are some of the places I’ve been successful in finding them:

  • Public & Private Library Book Sales in my area
  • Flea Markets and Yard/Garage Sales
  • Thrift Stores
  • Craigslist
  • eBay (try to find local sellers near you to avoid high shipping costs for heavy books!)
  • Used Bookstores such as Half Priced Books and others
  • Ask Family & Friends for old books you can buy from them

Once you have your books, you’re ready to start preparing it for altering and making into an art journal!

Ripping Out the Pages

Something I’ve learned with experience is the first thing you want to do is rip out at least half of the pages in the book. So if you have a 30 page book, you will turn it into a 15 page one. This is because when you paint on your pages, and glue stuff to them, it makes the book much thicker than the binding can handle. So get ripping away! I usually save my ripped out pages for gluing and collaging later on in the art journal.

Gluing Pages Together

Depending on the weight of the pages in your book, you will probably want to glue some of the pages together to make for a stronger and heavier page. I use plain old white glue for this – lather it up on a 1″ paintbrush, give a light even coat to each page and then press together. Be sure to put a little extra on the corners as that is where they are most likely to come apart at. You can glue 1-2 pages together or several, depending on the weight of the paper in the book. Gluing your pages together will likely cause some rippling and bumpiness in the page, but no one said art journaling had to be perfect – and sometimes the messier the better!

Priming With Gesso

This step is completely optional, but is usually a “must-do” for me, as I love working with Gesso and I usually choose some odd books for turning into journals and don’t usually want all the words and titles and page numbers showing through the pages I draw and doodle and paint on. I also apply gesso the entire cover of the book so I can later design my cover directly onto the book. This is the tedious part, but I know it will be well worth it later when I can start creating in my altered book!

Not sure what Gesso is? Gesso is a white primer available at most craft and hobby stores. You can also find it online or if in a real pinch, go down to the local hardware store and buy a pint/gallon of white primer – that will work too!

Now You’re Ready!

Once the pages are ripped out, glued together, and the gesso has dried, you are ready to start creating in your new book! Have fun!

Comments 19

  1. Love the idea of using an old book. I don’t care to keep my feet on the ground all the time.I like to step outside the box and explore. I am trying to develop new ideas to help widows find joy on their new path in life.
    The old is my life prior to my husband’s death. Now I will take that (book) life and find new meanings, purposes,creativity inside and build something beautiful by the grace of God.

    Oh thanks so much for the inspiration!

    • Maryanne~

      I’m so sorry to hear about your loss!!! Praying that you will be comforted as you give comfort to others. I think this will be a wonderfully crative thing for you to do and am sure you will be greatly blessed by it.

      Praying for you~~

    • Mary Ann, I’m a widow too. I’ve used a technique similar to this to create a joy journal as part of my healing process. Wish I’d known about these hints! Blessings to you as you create your new, wonderful life. <3

  2. Hi,
    I am fortunate to have a lot of old books, we found some being thrown out and I used them more as props for that old look on a mantel but love your idea about using them for a journal. I do have 2 questions. Does normal pen ink work on the pages after they have been primed or do I need a sharpie? Also how do I glue the pages back in? Would normal white glue do if I linned the edge with it and pressed it on the binding? I am new at doing this as I used to use old photo albums that had the vintage black construction type of paper and the photos had corners that you glued on. So it made it so much easier. But now I would like to one your way and see how I do. If you can just answer how to glue the pages back in and what type of pen or market to use would be great. I left my email above if you prefer to just respond that way. Thanks so much for all the information.

    • No need to glue pages back in. Only take out those that you want to take out. I would try to find some acid free pens and pencils to write in your alter book. I realize that many of your other materials are not acid free, but you have better work ability with better I would try to find some acid free pens and pencils to write in your alter book. I realize that many of your other materials are not acid free, but you have better work ability with better pens and pencils. Have fun!

  3. Hi,
    I find when I put gesso down on a page, it’s hard to draw/paint on – things don’t leave their ink on the pages, do you know what I mean? Like it’s waterproof. Is this just me?

  4. How do you keep the gesso pages from sticking together once they are dry. I let each page dry for 24 hours but still had problems with pages sticking together when the book closes–at least those pages that have not yet received their journal entry.

    • You can help the sticking by rubbing the page (when you are finished with it!) with Dorland’s Wax Medium. It is a non-yellowing wax and resin mixture that strengthens oil paint film against shrinkage and cracking while sealing out dirt and air. I just use my fingers, or a soft thin cloth, to spread a tiny little bit all over the page. Works like a wonder. You can find it in small cans in an art store or online, of course.

  5. I don’t know if 2nd and Charles is a nationwide store or not,but they have free books outside and I’ve been able to collect a bunch of them for my projects Thanks for your good advice.

  6. All of these are great tips for prepping for some serious art journeling! Gesso is amazing for crafting purposes so I’m right there with ya! Thanks for sharing this post! It has my creative juices flowing!!

  7. I’ve always wanted to make one and I never knew where to start, so thank you for this post. I wish you included some pictures so we could see how it looks! Regardless, it was a good read with some great tips (like tearing half the pages away).

  8. I purchased some antique bird books to alter for scrapping, etc. what’s the best way to affix cloth to pages? I don’t have a sewing machine. I really want to complete these for my sisters and I as a way to remember our precious mother who loved birds and flowers and was the quintessential HOMEmaker.💔

  9. Thank you for the useful tips. Please remind people that some old books, especially those including local historical information or info on local people, are extremely useful to genealogists, so if you are buying old books, be careful not to destroy someone’s genealogical find.

    Happy journaling!

  10. Profile photo of Elizabeth Knaus

    I have some parchment paper on hand that might be glued on to cover the pages and make a cool background for art. What kind of glue would you recommend so pages would be a little bit flexible, or isn’t it important to have flex?

    BTW if anyone needs access to 8.5×11 parchment, let me know and I’ll let you in on a good source 🙂

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