The Library of Reclaimed Books – a collaborative project

Altered Book project

Last year SEVEN took a day trip to Turn the Page – the Norwich-based artists’ book event. No sooner had we stepped into The Forum than we were signing ourselves up for a project, The Library of Reclaimed Books. And, March 2019 was the deadline for submitting our entry:

“The Library of Reclaimed Books is a collection of altered ex-library books that started as a personal endeavour to give new lease of life to books that have lost their original use value. The library has now evolved into a social art project, involving different libraries and the public.”

Below you can read the words which accompanied our collaborative entry, an altered book called Découpage, which you can see on The Library of Reclaimed Books website.

And, if you’re thinking “what the heck is an altered book?” check out this post.

Many Hands Make New Work

“This altered book is the collective reimagining of SEVEN, a small group of artists who come together to experiment with creative techniques and idea-generating prompts in sketchbooks and art books. Exploration is our destination. And reclaiming unwanted books is our favourite.

Altered book pages

While some might view this as a sticky end for a lovely little ex-library book, we like to think we’ve breathed new life into its neglected pages, using the photographs, diagrams and words within, plus the work of our fellow SEVEN members, as creative catalysts.

We picked this book on decoupage because its theme spoke to us. Turns out cutting and sticking pictures onto things – usually furniture – was enjoyed by everyone from Marie-Antoinette to mad, bad and dangerous with a pair of scissors Lord Byron. While those arty types Picasso and Matisse dabbled too. Who knew!?

Cutting, composition and color

Never ones to be deterred by big shoes, and suitably armed with paint, glue, cutting tools, and a clutch of everyday materials – think sweet wrappers and nail varnish – we set to work, taking turns to add to the book. A year later and this ex-library book has been transformed into something unplanned, unexpected and unique.


Want to Create Your Own Altered Book?

Intrigued by the idea of altered books? Starting couldn’t be easier. Charity shops are a great source of unwanted books. Our SEVEN tips:

  • Look for books which have been drawn or written in, or which have pages missing – this helps overcome the squeamish feeling some people have when it comes to creating art in ‘proper’ books
  • Slimmish books with hardback covers are ideal – Helen’s first altered book was an encyclopaedia (she never finished it)
  • Choose books with a mixture of images and text
  • Avoid books with glossy pages – matte paper is usually better for this type of work

And you’re away!

Our art journals begin to take shape – sort of…

Mind map – planning stage

Wondering how you get started art journalling or making a creative sketchbook? This year, so were SEVEN. But by February our books are starting to take shape. The one thing they have in common? We all started differently.

Kim Loves Bookbinding

Kim, whose chosen artist is Robert Rauschenberg, has really taken to bookbinding – like a duck to water. So she chose to create her – ultra neat – book first, then work into it.

Jo’s Mini Mock-Up

Jo, who is also a graphic designer, mocked up a teeny tiny version of her book idea, before starting on the pages she planned to make into the full-size version.

Amanda’s Map Fold Technique

Amanda had fallen for the Turkish map fold, discovered in our book-making class with Chris Ruston of Art Book Art. So she has been playing with some special paper and soaking it in paint to get the effects on which to place her planned Matisse-inspired collages.

Helen’s Wardrobe Wonder

Helen’s Surrealist project would start with a wardrobe. And maybe a mermaid. So, she planned to make a wardrobe-style book which would open up to pages going forwards and backwards. Simple. No?

Juliet Returns to Concertina

Juliet’s pacific-inspired designs were starting to flow. Across. Pages. And so, once she got started Juliet had come to the conclusion that the good old concertina format would actually be perfect for her creative explorations.

Over To You…

Inspired to create your own creative journal? Then we’d suggest checking out some of the weird and wonderful book creations on Pinterest. SEVEN collective got quite addicted to scrolling the many Pinterest posts and boards dedicated to bookbinding, but we warn you, the interwebs can be a real rabbit hole. Our top tips:

  • Keep your first handmade art books or journals simple
  • Use online tutorials to get you started
  • Get your bookbinding hand in, then experiment…

Good luck!

How to manage change – creatively

All things must change to something new to something strange

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Back in September we had a bit of a SEVEN makeover. First the lovely Nicola announced she could no longer balance work, life and SEVEN. Then we completely reimagined what we were doing. Big time.

Problem was, by January we were feeling a little lost…

Looking to our art past

For our first two years showing in the Leigh Art Trail we’d shown creative sketchbooks completed using a series of artistic prompts, while using similar materials. In 2017 the theme had been the sea, in 2018 it was ‘estuarine’.

The key had been to see how seven different artists interpreted the same prompts and utilised those similar materials in their work.

But for LAT 2019 we wanted to do something different…

Looking to Leigh Art Trail 2019

So we shook things up. Big time:

  • Goodbye trusty concertina sketchbook, hello handmade journal!
  • No more unifying theme – instead, each SEVEN member took an artist or art movement for inspiration
  • We each sourced our own materials
  • And, we threw out the individually-led workshops

Yep, we had pretty much changed everything.

SEVEN become five

Added to which, by Christmas, the accomplished Kerry Doyland was considering her future with the group – Kerry has her fingers in a lot of artistic pies, including a passion for figure painting and a part in Leigh-on-Sea’s Two Tree Gallery – so it was looking like SEVEN was about to be five.

(From left) Kim, Juliet, Helen, Amanda, Jo

A lesson learned

Change is part of life. And SEVEN collective is no different. But when it came to the self-imposed changes we’d made to the way we worked in our art journals we’d probably made a tad too many.

Without a clear creative compass – a set book, shared materials, or group workshops where we exchanged our favourite techniques – we’d become a bit lost.

Can we pull SEVEN back from the brink of blank sketchbook doom? Or even worse, for those of us who haven’t decided on what shape or size of sketchbook to make, will there simply be a void where a book should be (eeek!)? Let’s wait and see…

SEVEN get a commission – a collaborative artwork

So, this December the intrepid Kerry Doyland, from Two Tree Gallery, a small space run by a group of Leigh artists, met a woman who wanted a piece of art reimagined. That’s a task for SEVEN Kerry told her. And, that’s how we got our first commission…

Old for new

Our mission – should we choose to accept it – was to rework a piece of art which had been bought in memory of a relative. A kind of collage-inspired work, with a vintage feel, the image featured lots of delicate heart-shapes in very muted tones.

The original piece of work

With that in mind, every SEVEN member was given a section of the original work. Now all we had to do was:

  • Respond to the original artwork in our own unique ways, working on small individual canvases.

The unifying threads were:

  • The heart detail – which the client was keen to retain
  • The colour palette of black, white, grey, yellow and gold

Once completed the small canvases would be framed together to form a complete piece.

Our collaborative creation

And the results were kinda interesting. Amanda told us her figurative take was inspired by the opening credits of her current fave show Vikings – what else!? While Helen looked to some of her enduring themes, like hands and gloves for inspiration:

“It seemed pretty apt to me, evoking ideas of nostalgia and connection,” she said.

Completed commission piece

SEVEN’s work usually centres around the creative process, so it was a real challenge to get together and create a finished piece. The result was something unique and completely unexpected. Is this the start of something new for SEVEN? Will we be taking more commissions in the future? We’ll see…

Why today’s creatives should steal from art history

This art year SEVEN threw out the idea of a unifying theme for our Leigh Art Trail sketchbooks. For 2019 we’d make art books and take inspiration from an artist or art movement we loved.


So far, so interesting. But isn’t that kinda stealing?

Steal like an artist

Have you ever read the Austin Kleon book Steal Like an Artist? If you’re interested in stretching your creative muscles this short book is for you. As Kleon writes:

Every artist gets asked the question:

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

The honest artist answers,”I steal them.”

But shouldn’t art be original?

Well, good luck if you think you can come up with something original in a vacuum. Kleon goes on to say:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

The key is to start now

Don’t get tempted to wait for the muse to strike you with that lightning bolt of inspiration. It’s not going to happen. Stuff happens when you start doing.

As Austin Kleon shares:

“If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started “being creative,” well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.”

Remember the Laughing Gnome?

So discovering our own groove is a key reason to look back at the art that inspires us. Even an artistic original like David Bowie took a while to find the kind of music and performing style which suited him.

Before he became the Bowie we know and love he had some famous flops like The Laughing Gnome which was inspired by his then hero Anthony Newley (co-writer of the film score for 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). But Bowie had to do that to discover who he really was.

Keen to explore your creative roots? Austin Kleon advises looking to your own art family tree.

Find out more about Austin Kleon.

In the meantime SEVEN will see where this exploration of our own art family trees takes us…