Altered Books Workshop with Cathy Melio


Books can inspire us on many levels.  I took this workshop to learn about using discarded books as a starting point for art-making.  When I entered the workshop room, I passed a table loaded with art supplies and found a selection of discarded books spread out along the floor.  I made my selection and found a seat near the rear of the room–it was already full of people–and settled in.  While waiting, I unpacked a few of my favorite portable supplies including some watercolors, brushes, and scissors.  I was ready. 


Cathy Melio, an educator from the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, began her presentation by addressing the thorny issue of creating art with published material.  She explained that, in her local librarian’s view, “Books are already decomposing from the moment they leave the printers.”  We shouldn’t, therefore, be concerned about altering books that were likely to wind up some day in a landfill.  This put some of my concerns to rest.  In further research, I learned that copyright-protected material can be an issue.  By choosing books published before 1923 or between 1923 and 1967 with no copyright renewal you will avoid any issues with infringement. (Altered Books, Collaborative Journals, and Other Adventures in Bookmaking by Holly Harrison, 2003.)


 Cathy presented a slide show of altered books from a community project in the Rockport region.  The results, from child-created projects to finely developed pieces by adult artists, were impressive for the wide range of expressive possibilities they revealed.  We saw examples where the idea for the altered book was suggested by the title and others where the discarded book served simply as a blank canvas.  Some works folded out or incorporated materials from nature.  We saw altered books that used folding, cutting, and collage as methods of transformation.  After filling us up with images and possibilities, Cathy set us loose to gather our materials and begin.  The workshop ended before most of us had completed our altered book constructions.  Cathy offered to make each of us a cd of the results if we would email her images of our final products.  I am hoping that workshop participants will send their images to Cathy—there were some really amazing projects underway.


            For me, this workshop was valuable on two levels, both for expanding my own studio practice and for helping me to think about ways I might introduce altered books to my elementary art students.  I found it refreshing to attend this hands-on workshop after spending most of the morning in an auditory-visual processing mode.  After returning home I spent much of the weekend finishing up my altered book.  To support this new creative habit, I have formed an altered books group with artists in my area.  We will be meeting on a monthly basis to share our work.


If reading about altered books has piqued your interest, there are a variety of published works on the subject, many of which are on Minerva, Maine’s library database, and are available through the inter-library loan system. 


Robin E. Brooks October 27, 2009

This workshop was offered as a part of the Arts Connect Conference which took place on October 8, 2009 at Point Lookout Conference Center in Northport, Maine.