Lesson 10 of 10
Altered Books: The Art II Way
to Keep a Visual Journal
by Debi West
Who doesn’t love taking something old and turning it into something beautiful? Well, that’s exactly what my Art II students do throughout their second semester of class: they have weekly altered-book assignments that act as their performance final, where they alter an old book of their choice, and the results are fantastic, creative and, indeed, beautiful!
The assignments consist of weekly prompts, listed below, and each two-page spread is required to have a drawing, collage and, obviously, some text showing through. The point of the altered book is to alter the pages that are in the current book with either traditional media or cutting and gluing pages together to create miniature sculptures within the pages, or pop-up pages that then become interactive.
These weekly assignments are about pushing my students to take risks while reminding them the importance of practice in terms of drawing and compositional skills. The real challenge lies in that I have my students come up with a theme for their book, which then pushes their divergent thinking skills as they have to creatively use the weekly prompt and make it fit into their themed book.
For example, a few weeks ago the prompt was “Relay for Life,” as our school was kicking off our big Relay for Life fundraiser. One of my students was having a hard time figuring out how to make that prompt fit into her “Under the Sea” book. After several conversations and some research, she found a piece of coral that resembled the Relay ribbon and drew that with the fish having their own Relay for Life party under the sea! She made it work and created a beautiful spread that became an important part of her overall book.
From “Resolutions” and “Spring Break,” to “Youth Art Month” and “Joy,” the prompts push my students to think outside of the box and come up with incredible visual stories within their altered books, this is what teaching and learning should look like—they GET IT and they are encouraged to take risks!
Although my altered books assignments are considered an “at-home” activity, I do give kids a free “altered book” day every now and then in class, and they love it! The conversations and the learning go to the next level and students really begin to see how important it is to use their technical skills in relation to their creativity to make these memorable altered-book spreads.
At the end of the semester, students present their 12 spreads and discuss what they learned. The last page of the book has a required written critique on the overall book and explains the challenges and learning that went along with this semester-long assignment. It’s only April as I write this, and I absolutely cannot wait to see how GREAT these books turn out!
I hope that you have enjoyed this 10 part series of Art II lessons throughout the school year. I know that I have thoroughly enjoyed writing them and reflecting on the ways in which I teach my students. I hope that you have found creative ways to springboard from these to take your teaching and your students’ learning to the next level!
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Dept. Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga.