Books Become Art: Create Your Own Altered Book | Isobelle Ouzman | Skillshare

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Books Become Art: Create Your Own Altered Book

teacher avatar Isobelle Ouzman, Altered Book Artist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

10 Lessons (27m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Materials

    • 3. Choose a Book

    • 4. Glue Your Pages

    • 5. Plan Your Design

    • 6. Colour The Foreground

    • 7. Carve

    • 8. Colour The Layers

    • 9. Seal Your Book

    • 10. Thank You

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About This Class

Have an old, damaged book laying around that you’d like to turn into something special?

Many books are destined to be forgotten, donated or thrown away once we have no use left for them. Maybe you’re a book-lover like myself and feel pain at this thought. Or maybe you like to repurpose materials and you’d like a challenge. I’m here for it! 

If you’re ready to give new life to an old novel, join me in my first altered book class -

Books Become Art: How to Create an Altered Book

Altered books are an art form that involves repurposing old books - painting or drawing inside them, collaging, carving...or all of those!

In this class you’ll learn how to:

  • Prepare a book for altering
  • Create layers, sections and depth through hand carving pages
  • Colour your creation using watercolours, pencils, and ink
  • Preserve your book creation for display

No experience is needed for this class, other than a little patience. But I promise it will be worth your time.

*Other altered book examples can be found under the "Projects & Resources" tab.



I’m excited to be here on Skillshare and look forward to seeing your beautiful altered book creations!

Meet Your Teacher

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Isobelle Ouzman

Altered Book Artist




My name is Isobelle and I am an Altered Book Artist based in Slovakia.

I began to repair and reuse discarded novels in 2012, after finding a box of damaged books out in the Seattle rain. Throughout years of experimenting, I've discovered a way to carve books into stories of my own and have not been able stop ever since.

Books are brought to landfills every day and many schools, libraries and individuals reach out to me when they have an abundance at their disposal. I view this type of art as a way to give books new life.


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1. Introduction: I've always been very quiet, so both reading and drawing have been an outlet for me since I was really young. Naturally, altered books just became something I enjoy making. [MUSIC] My name is Isabel and I am currently based [inaudible] Slovakia. I have been making, altered books since around 2012, and it was by accident. I was living in Seattle at the time and had decided to go on a walk even though it was raining, I really like the rain, but 10 minutes into my work, I came across a box of books in the street marked it's free. Being the book lover that I am, I just couldn't bear the thought of seeing them out in the street, in the rain. I carried them all the way back home and realized they were heavily damaged. But I was just so determined to use them somehow. Almost 10 years later, I'm still experimenting and I've learned a lot about crafting with books. I've definitely developed the skill for altering them. I'm really happy to be finally sharing this knowledge with you. In this class, I'm going to show you how to make an alter book of your own. The project is going to be to create a [inaudible] book. I'll show you how to choose a book for carving, what materials I use and how I color and carve my layers, and I am going to demonstrate the book exactly as I would do it. However, the best thing about altered books is that you can play an experiment. Don't hesitate to make it your own and incorporate your own style. This is a long-term project, but I promise it'll be worth all the time and effort. 2. Materials: You will need a cutting mat, an art knife, some extra blades, a ruler, any size will work, pencil, some black ink pens. I like to use Micron, generally, I use the 01 or 02 size. Some color pencils, these are the colors I'll be using in the forest scene book. Some watercolors, this is the brand that I like to use but you can use any watercolors that you have. A palette or a plate for mixing colors, a paintbrush shunning size, some glue sticks, I'm using about three for this book, and a book and we'll go over what to choose in the next video. 3. Choose a Book: The very first step is to choose your book. Here I have three different hardback novels. I do recommend staying away from soft covers because they're just more fragile and hard to work with. This one has some damage in the front, but it's definitely something I would fix with glue if I had extra time. Otherwise good condition. This is a medium to large book in terms of page count. That's important to consider when thinking about layers and how much depth you'd like to create. This next novel has a smaller page count. It also has this red front cover. Since we're going to use glue in the front of this project, the red won't really work. But if I was doing an all black ink book maybe, I think this would look very cool. This is the perfect page count to start with though it's a good size. Then this third book is in pretty good shape. Smaller page count here as well with a white front, I think. Yeah. No noticeable damage. I'm going to use this one, I think. If you're able to find a book similar to this that's great. But if you have another one that's slightly bigger or smaller, that totally works as well. 4. Glue Your Pages: Now that you've chosen a book, it's time to glue, and we'll be using about three glue sticks for this one. I am using a brand called Pritt, which I find here in Slovakia. In the US, I have used brands such as UHU, Elmer's, the heavy-duty scrapbooking glue. Generally, I do like to use a thick paste glue for my books. If you have something like that, you can use that too. In the US, I used a paste called Nori Paste, which I really liked. I'll leave a list of materials that I've used in the past for you. You'll find that in the resources tab. The first thing we're going to do to get ready to make sections is to grab a pencil. We're going to be doing about five pages per section for this book. Every five pages starting from the front, I'm going to do a little dot in the corner. This is just going to help us organize the sections later on when we glue. It does kind of get a bit confusing. It's hard to keep track of, so doing the dot is just really helpful, I find. This ruler is going to be really helpful for you as well. I take the first page in the very front and right behind it is where I'm going to start gluing and just try and cover as much as the page as you can. I will say to pay extra attention to the binding of the book. I'm not as worried like [inaudible] a little bit. That's why the ruler is really helpful. We're going to take that and start from the binding and push out. We're just going to try and push out any air little pockets out and smooth the page as flat as possible. [MUSIC] After I've done about three or four sections, I like to take a rubber band, in this case, I'll be using a hair-tie and I'll wrap it around my book and I'll put it close to the binding. This is just to help make sure we don't get any air pockets. The glue tends to like to buckle if we just keep working all the way through. After every few sections, I put the band around it, and then I put it under a heavy book for an hour or two before I move on to any more sections. Here, I'm just making sure that everything's nice and tight and flat and also making sure that the pages aren't stuck together. If everything looks good, you can just go straight on to the next sections. I think overall this took a whole day to glue, maybe a little bit of the next day as well. It's going to take a few days for this to dry completely. Make sure you put it in a really warm place. 5. Plan Your Design: I find that drafting out an idea first helps quite a bit, so let's find this book design together. I start by drawing the outline of my book. We're only going to be carving on the right side. Then I'll just draw my main tree in the middle here across the binding. Trees are my absolute favorite thing to draw because they just drag you into a scene. Trees can be drawn in so many different ways, but at the end of the day, you still know it's a tree and I think that's really cool, so I really encourage you to draw them any way that you like. But it is also completely fine if you want to copy my design as well. Here I'm just using a colored pencil to mark the areas I'll be covering later on, and it just gives me some direction so I can visualize where I'm going with it. I did get a bit carried away and did details in blue as well, I'm not going to be carving those areas. Then on this side I do write colors that I'd like to use and any mood that I would like to portray. From here we're just going to transfer the sketch to our paper. Once I had this down, I think I went over the lines with the 01 ink pen, and I did the detailing on the trees here, but later on we are going to be going over all this with color. This is my base and that helps create the texture later on. Then once you have your back inked in, we're ready to start coloring. 6. Colour The Foreground: Now that we're ready to start coloring, I'm just going to gather my watercolors together and I'm going to make a really light colored brown and this is going to go over all the trees just as a really light wash and I feel like it helps when putting colored pencils over this so you don't get the white coming through in the background. I'm just doing this super-fast. I'm not being particularly careful about it. It's just a general wash of color over the top. Then, once that's ready, I go to my color pencils. I'll be using three kinds of browns, like a dark brown, burn orange-y brown and more of a yellow brown and then they've got gold, red, and black. Those lines we made in the beginning with ink, they're going to be our guide for coloring these trees. Just follow the lines that you made. This really helps to create the texture like that really gooey messy texture that trees have. I'll just keep adding more and more brown as I go. I was taught in school that you can always go darker with color, but never lightest, so I start with my lightest brown, go to my darkest brown, and then here, I start adding black colored pencil and then from here I go back to ink and add all the details back in and that really helps bring the trees to the front mark. This part of the book is going to be very dark, but that's just because when we color, we're going to be creating a lot of golden light on the inside. 7. Carve: Now, we get to move on to the fun part slash most difficult part. [LAUGHTER] That's carving. You're going to need to have your extra blades and a blade ready and your knife ready to go. We're going to grab that cutting mat and put it under the first section of the book. We're just going to go right in and carve along the two trees we have on the front right side, just following the lines. It's going to take a bit of pressure to get through there so I like to do little sections at a time, and it really helps with your hands and things. But as you can see, it is a bit of work. It takes quite some time to get even through the first layer. Don't be discouraged, it does take a little bit of practice. There's our first section. The next step is to just draw a line around that whole section you made. This is going to be the next section that we cut, and it's just to create extra depth behind this first layer. We carefully move the binding. We don't want to damage that. Then we grab the cutting mat again. Then we're going to do exactly what we did in the first step and just cut right along the lines. It should match up with the first one. Then that's your one section, and we're ready for the next one. I take my pencil and just draw the next tree that I want. Thinking about perspective and how you want the trees to fall in on each other, just move it out a little bit. [MUSIC] That looks good to me. I'm going to go in there and really line out where I want to carve with my knife, and then I'm going to line it with ink. [MUSIC] Then once that is lined in I grab my cutting mat again and we're right back to carving. [MUSIC] We're just going to keep repeating these steps. We go in and draw the tree, we outline it, and then we carve. The next layer is going to be just the outline of the first, and that's how we create depth. Just keep going in here and making more trees. I keep flipping back and forth to see that it's the way I like it. This process takes a few days. I think it took me five days actually because I'm working on other things but it is labor intensive. It takes a lot of patience, but it's therapeutic in a way. [MUSIC] As you can see, I'm not drawing the trees all the way out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes when I have more time to create a book, I'll allow myself to do the whole page is the same, but with this, we're going to be gluing the book sure at the end. I'm just going to be doing as much as the tree as you can see from the front and not filling the whole page. We're getting pretty close to the end at this point, so the trees are going to get smaller and the carving's going to get a little harder. [MUSIC] There we have it. The book is all the way carved, and it's ready for coloring on the inside as well. You can see how the trees fall into each other and they have that one focal point in the back. That's what's going to be where our light source comes in when we color. Let's move on to the next step. 8. Colour The Layers: This process is going to be a lot like the first coloring that we did. Right here it is reactivating the brown that I used with some more water and a little bit more color. We're just going to do a wash of color over all the trees on the inside. Then the parts that don't have trees on, I'm just going to color on the edges so that we don't have any white popping through. [MUSIC] At this book, we want to have a golden light shining through the back. About halfway through the book, we're going to stop using this brown wash and go to a golden yellow wash. [MUSIC] Again, I'm not being very careful with this either just because the texture of the trees is what we're going to be building up. [MUSIC] Once all the wash is done, we can go in with color and for the first few trees, you want to match to the front of the book as it blends in. I'm going to go in with that dark brown again for the first two trees. I'm really focused on creating that texture on the back. [MUSIC] Then I do go in with ink again adding all those details back over the color, just like we did with the front. Then once I start getting to the middle part of the trees, I go to the orangey-brown and start adding in some of the gold color. It gradually get lighter as we move to the back. [MUSIC] Now we have pretty much finished everything in the book. We glued it, we've carved it, we colored it. But the next step is to glue the pages together and this is optional, but I will say that gluing in the pages together really helps protect it because it's very fragile, especially after all the carving and moving around that we've done with it, now the binding is delicate at this point, so gluing up the pages really helps to preserve the book for a long time. 9. Seal Your Book: [NOISE] [MUSIC]. 10. Thank You: Thank you so much for reaching the end of my tutorial and if you have made an altered book of your own I would love to see it. You can just post it below in the share your projects tab. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out to me directly. I'd love to connect with you. See you.