Eye of the Storm

Altered Book Journal :: The Art of Happiness

Like others around the world, I have been transfixed, appalled, and saddened by what I have seen happening to the people in the Gulf states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I have been following one blog in particular Dancing with Katrina where two journalists who stayed holed-up throughout the storm have been updating us daily with conditions, news, pictures, and their personal experiences.

Ironically, when I came to the latest page in my altered book The Art of Happiness, the text was full of imagery about the wrath of Nature. As I selected words and phrases for my poem, the pictures of the hurricane poured into my mind. When it came time to do the art, I searched on the internet for one of those deceptively beautiful infrared satellite images of the storm and that became my inspiration for the art work. Such bright colors hiding the murky, gray reality of the devestation of so many lives

Visible and invisible
stirring and heaving
chaotic, panic
drifting towards the darkness.
tossing and wailing
recurrent winds
a battle between
the forces of destruction
and the forces of creation
and all the poor creatures of earth.

The Art of Happiness Turns Sad

Altered Book Journal :: The Art of Happiness :: Page 10

You know how some things conspire to make you feel sad? Can you see the despair in this picture from my altered book The Art of Happiness? That’s not exactly how I was feeling, but a brew of meloncholy was created when I –one–watched the last episode of Six Feet Under, –two– watched the song/video of the the song from the final montage, Sia’s “Breathe Me,” –three– discovered Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking rendition of the Nine Inch Nail’s song “Hurt,” and –four– listened to them over and over in a loop on iTunes with Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and “Come as You Are.” Lots of pain and death in there. And then the text of the book was leading me towards a very desolate found-poem. This painting just flowed from all of that. Please, somebody snap me out of it! Just kidding…everything’s good.

I taste
something to hate
in this place
of desolation
and misery
last resort
wretched wretched
weary tedium
sick to death of the daily struggle
and burden of the mind
poor decisions
weak will
i dont’t
feel like ending it.

Altered Book Technique :: Avoiding Yucky Board Book Gutters

I recently received this question from a fellow altered book artist:

…how do you have such neat gutters? i am doing my first board book using your info to guide me…my gutters are the worst…i thought i read something in your pages about some kind of tape for them, but i am not sure…could you let me know when you have time…

Here are some techniques I use to avoid having yucky gutters in my board books:

Gesso Method :: If I know that I’m going to be painting the inside of my book, I cover it with two coats of gesso in order to obliterate the printing inside. I paint the first coat and let it dry. Then I open the book and bend it back so the gesso splits open at the gutter. I take a fine grit sandpaper and sand back the gesso and the paper ridges that come up. Then I cover the book with gesso again, and maybe, if it needs it, I gently sand again.

Tyvec Method :: Tyvec is a type of paper that is used for USP Priority Mail envelopes and insulation for houses. I save the envelopes when I get them in the mail. One time I ran out, and I got a box at Office Max which will probably last me forever. This method is particularly good if you need to reinforce the gutter as the Tyvec is very tough and sturdy and doesn’t curl up. I use adhesive (Xyron, double-stick tape, or soft gel medium) to adhere the Tyvec down the center over the gutter and then I paint over it when I paint the rest of the book. The edges of the Tyvec will be visible.) I have found that it’s important to make sure there’s a little bit of “give” in the gutter; I’m not sure how to explain this. I put a crease down the center of the Tyvec and center it over the gutter of the book, adhering the left side first. Then I fold the book backwards ever so gently as I adhere the right side of the Tyvec. Next, as I close the book, I use a bone folder, popsicle stick, or palette knife to tuck the Tyvec into the gutter, trying to make sure the Tyvec doesn’t bulge over. I usually get a very tiny crease, but it doesn’t look bad.

Tissue Method :: You can use the same technique as mentioned for Tyvec, but use a strip of tissue instead. It’s not as sturdy, but it will the gutter look smooth.

Collage Method :: Finally, using collage papers over the gutter can make it look neat as well. I make sure my paper is very wet with soft gel or fluid matte medium.I lay it over the gutter and gently fold the book backwards, then close it up, then lie it flat and apply medium over the top of the paper, and push the paper gently into the gutter with my paint brush (if it won’t change the texture of the paper). If I don’t want to put adhesive on the surface of the papers, I use the same folding process, back then closed, and use a bone folder to smooth the paper along the crease. This take a bit of practice; I’ve messed up plenty of books. Even some of the ones on my web site look a little less pristine when you see them in person.

You can see several examples of board books that I’ve done using these methods on the altered books pages of my web site.

Altered Book :: The Art of Happiness

Altered Book Journal :: The Art of Happiness :: Page 8

It’s been a year, but I finally did some more pages in my altered book The Art of Happiness. The original text is by John Cowper Powys, copyright 1935. I found it at a barn sale in Sacramento over a year ago. The title was perfect; I knew immediately that I wanted to use this book to play with color and create spontaneous art that would make me happy. I wanted to try different color schemes than I would normally use, so for each double page spread I find a square of colors/textures from a magazine clipping and glue it to the page. Then I use the colors in that square as the inspiration for the art work. Not surprisingly to me, I have of course chosen patches of colors which I find appealing, so the colors that I’ve been using are ones I tend to gravitate to anyhow. However, I have used combinations of colors I wouldn’t ordinarily use, so that’s been challenging and fun.

Altered Book Journal :: The Art of Happiness :: Page 7

I’ve been using F&W acrylic inks, watercolor crayons, pastels, and pencils, wax pastels, sharpie markers, and acrylic paint on the pages of this altered book. Although it takes me a while to find the poem and mask out the text, I try to work very fast with the art work. Unlike my other altered books, where I tend to have to do a lot of planning and contemplating prior to starting, in this altered book, I try not to over-analyze or think too much about what I’m doing. It’s nice to come back to this book in order to be a little less serious and a bit more carefree.


I got my very first official rejection to a juried art show today. Here’s a snippet from the letter:

“I am sorry to say that your work was not selected for inclusion. We received over 140 entries from 51 artists from all around the United States, and 50 artworks were juried into the exhibition.”

I wrote about the entry process in my blog Paper Art :: Rising to the Occasion. I had every confidence that my altered books would be selected. So when I got my rejection form letter I was surprised and disappointed.

I understand that rejection letters are usually terse and unrevealing, but I sure wish I could find out why my books weren’t accepted. Was it the quality of the work? The photography of the work? Did I botch the entry form? I have no clue. I don’t mind failures if I can learn and grow from them, so this lack of input really irks and irritates me, especially since I spent $30 to be rejected. Feels pretty stupid. Am I bitter? No, I’m not bitter. After all, 90 other pieces of art were rejected too, so I’m probably in pretty good company. I look forward to the online exhibit that’s going to be posted in September. I’ll post a link to it at that time.

I have two more applications in transit right now. I will remain positive. I will keep working and making my art and getting better and better.