Altered Book Covers

I recently received the following email from an aspiring altered book artist: How do you prepare the hard cover itself to receive what is to be glued onto it?

First of all, I suggest leaving the cover for last. The reason is that if you plan on doing a lot of work in your altered book over a period of time, you don’t want to have to worry about damaging the artwork on the cover while you’re working on the inside of the book. Plus, if you put any three dimensional items onto the cover, it will be difficult to work inside the book if you need it to lie flat.

When you’re done with the inside, there are a lot of possibilities for how to decorate the front cover. If you plan on adding any embellishments, I would suggest using Golden soft gel medium. It has a nice, creamy texture that isn’t runny and it dries clear. Keep some baby wipes handy to wipe up any stray medium that squishes out as you press down on the items that you’re applying.

If the book has a cloth or paper-type cover, you can paint it first with acrylics. You can use a brush or even sponges to apply your paint. Be careful about over-wetting the cover; you don’t want it to warp too much. If the cover does warp, wrap it in waxed paper and put a weight on top of it. I use my pasta machine as a weight and it works great.

If the cover of the book has a glossy finish, I would recommend sanding the cover first to remove the plasticky surface so that things will adhere properly. You may even want to paint over the sanded surface with gesso to eliminate any artwork that is on the cover. This might take two coats of gesso to accomplish. I often sand the dried gesso again for a really smooth surface. Or if you’re looking for a textured finish, use rubber stamps, bubble wrap, combs, burlap or other textured items to press into the damp gesso to leave an impression.
On the other hand, you might want to allow parts of the title or cover illustrations to show through. It’s up to you.

Another possibility for finishing the cover of your altered book, is to cover it with decorative paper, which can be painted, embellished, or collaged for a really nice look.

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