I recently started an altered book project that will serve as a journal of my recollected childhood memories. I’m going to show you how I prep my pages and I invite you to play along with me by altering a book of your own. If you’ve never altered a book before, I promise you, it’s very easy, and more importantly, incredibly fun.

This is the book I’m using. I bought it at the library for 25¢. Check your public library. It’s a great resource for acquiring old, used, hardbound books. In my local library, they’re 25¢ or 5 for $1. I haven’t done anything to the cover yet but I do have some ideas on how I’m going to transform the cover. I’m just pumped to fill up the pages so I’m going to wait a while before I work on the cover.

When choosing a book to alter, there are a few things I consider. I make sure the condition and material of the cover is something I can work with. I check the size and weight of the book, and make sure I like how it feels in my hands. I also check the texture and thickness of the pages, and like the cover, I make sure they are pages I’d be happy to work on. I love how this book has a deckled edge, giving the book a handmade feel.

I glue every two pages together to make my pages thicker. And for every two pages that I glue, I tear out a page or two in between the two glued pages to compensate for the layers of photos, paints, and textures I’ll be adding to the pages. I hold a ruler by its edge along the spine while I tear out the pages to help keep the spine intact.

After my pages are glued, I’m ready for gesso. Gesso is a primer for painting. It resembles paint but is thinner and dries hard – making the pages stiffer. I use a palette knife to apply gesso to my pages. You can use a brush instead of a palette knife but I find that a palette knife keeps the surface smooth enough to write on while still leaving subtle textures on the pages. I’ll be doing a lot of writing so a smooth surface that won’t make my pen skip is very important.

I’m not worried if my pages do break away from the spine. I just restore the pages with a masking tape. Then I can treat the masking tape as another ‘layer’ on my page.

After the gesso dries, I create a simple background for my pages. First I color the entire page using watercolor crayon – a special type of crayon that is water-soluble. You can see on this page spread that gesso doesn’t completely cover the text of the book, which I like because the exposed text gives another ‘layer’ to the page.

After coloring the entire page with watercolor crayon, I squeeze some acrylic paint on a palette and spritz it with water to thin out the paint a little bit. I use a mini spray bottle (the one I have is called Mini Mister) to control the water I add to the paint because I don’t want to accidentally drown the paint with water.

I use a 3/4″ angle brush to apply the acrylic paint to the pages. While I’m painting, I spritz more water to the pages. This helps blend the crayon and paint and leaves a spattered effect on the pages.

This is the finished background page. It’s very simple because I know I can add more to it as I fill up the pages.