top of page

Narrative Art Therapy Exercise

Making an altered book

An altered book is a form of mixed media artwork that changes a book from its original form into something different, altering its appearance or intended meaning. The book itself can be cut, collaged, painted or otherwise changed or transformed in some way.

Altered art empowers the creator to restore what has been lost and make changes to what already exists through symbol and metaphor. In brief, my simple altered book not only helped to re-author the experience of derealization, but also empowered me to honor and transform my healing journey through art and image.

Altered books are a type of mixed-media project that transforms old, unloved books into unique works of art. As a type of narrative art therapy, they can provide a safe container to process emotions with the added benefit that they can be effortlessly secured once complete.

The processes for altering become metaphors and inspiration for the changes and growing we want and are continually pursuing in our own lives. The process is meditative, thought-provoking and sometimes evocative.

An Altered book can:

  • Be a container to hold a story: events of memories and feelings

  • An unfolding and endless landscape to explore and discover possibilities

  • Allow for self expression through creativity

  • Offer a sense of mastery as you learn & develop mixed media techniques

  • Ongoing creative practice that can support you. You can take our book anywhere with you and work on it!

  • A mindful sensory experience through process based art making that helps calm and regulate our nervous system

Through the lens of art therapy altering existing books can be incredibly powerful as we are now working with the idea of changing the stories that were previously fixed. So many of us can feel stuck in a loop and not know how to get of the old path and create a new path; we can’t see that there are other options or ways of doing this. The act of physically changing a story that already exists can open our new pathways of possibilities. Suddenly we are realise that we are the one telling the story.

And working with altering books is a courageous act, its rebellion! We are cutting up something that is an ‘end product.’ We are saying, “there’s more to be told here and this time I’m choosing where the story goes next.”


The one and only rule about altering a book is that their are no rules. Whatever you feel like doing to your book is fine.

Draw in it. Doodle in it. Paint in it. Create blackout poetry. Use stamps, stencils, textures, embellishments, whatever feels right!

You can begin by ripping out some of the pages so its not so bulky or intimidating, I like to have about 20-50 pages in mine. You can also glue some pages together.

I like to Prime the pages with gesso

This step is completely optional, but is usually a “must-do” for me, as I love working with Gesso – it really does help the acrylic paint stick a bit better to the page.

Then you can make the pages thicker by adding collage layers with gesso. I like the shabby collaged ripped effect – you can make this as neat or as messy as you’d like!

If you want your pages to show through more of the collaged background – just use plain craft paint, as that will be a little more translucent and not cover it up as much as the gesso.

Cover the pages below with wax paper to protect them.

I usually do the cover absolutely last because it is inevitable I will splash paint all over it at some point (I am very clumsy, lol) – the cover can be done in the same way we thickened the pages, or you can cover with gesso and paint over it.

Lastly, altering books is a process.

It takes time. Rather than striving for a final product our intention is to gently tend and wander through the process.

 There isn’t a definitive end to the process, we could keep going and going. When we do feel our process is complete we get to see how we have transformed; all those small actions, the fiddling, the choices we made to change some things and keep others. And that’s where the power lies, knowing we have choices and that our actions, no matter how small, can change the course of how things unfold.

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page