top of page

Research Task: Exploring Artists' Books

Updated: May 28, 2022

Part 4 starts with a focus on altered books, which presents an interesting set of exercises and an assignment with lots of room for experimentation with practical materials. The first research task was to look at two artist books of my choice and to write about the relationships they have between their physical forms and their contents.

When I first looked at artist books in Part 1, I looked mostly at examples that had been designed from the ground up, so this time I payed extra attention to researching altered books. I reread the section on artist books and altered books from my course materials as a refresher, then looked through my sources to discover some new projects that stood out to me.

While online archives from the V&A and the Smithsonian were a great place to start, I found most of the new artists through filtering through blog posts such as the ones on the popular art blog Colossal. Here I found many names of contemporary book artists that were new to me who all work with interesting materials and techniques. This was a great resource to choose who to feature and write about as I also investigated recommendations from my tutor and my course materials to shortlist artists that inspired me.

Examples from some of the altered book artists that I looked at.

All of these artists have created work that either enhances or transforms meaning of the original piece and none of the decisions they have look to be arbitrary. I admire the delicacy of the paper sculptures Su Blackwell, Jodi Harvey-Brown and Bethany Bickley, who all use the pages of the book to bring narrative scenes to life in enchanting scenes that connect with the books original subject matter.

Tom Philips is also a fascinating artist for constantly reinventing a Victorian novel in his long term project A Humument through constant editing and showcases how much invention and creativity can be derived from a single source. The mixing of media in altered books allows artists to use their own illustrations to transform a work too, as with Isobelle Ouzman's fantasy pages that create a depth of scene that almost obscures the original writing completely.

The removal of content through paper cutting is a process of discovery can lead to remarkable new perspectives on the original work. Johnathan Safran Foer has change the narrative of one his favourite books (Bruno Schulz's Cinnamon Shops / The Street Of Crocodiles) through removing and reshaping sentences in order to create a new narrative in his own take in Tree of Codes.

Artists that use the process of carving away pages through dissecting and cutting into a book to 'excavate' a new design draw me in the most in my search. Stephen Doyle, Barbara Wildenboer, Alexander Korzer-Robinson and have each made physical changes to the form of the book through paper cutting in their own styles, but I was most interested in the dramatic reshaping of the physical form of the book by Guy Laramée and Brian Dettmer. I've looked at a project by each of them in more detail below.


Onde Elles Moran (Where They Live)

Historia da America Portuguesa 1 - copie 2

Altered Book Sculpture, Acrylic

Guy Laramée


Part of a series of 9 book sculptures featuring the habitat of Brazilian birds, Guy Laramée uses sandblasting and power tools to erode the topography and habitat of birds from southern brazil out of the very pages of the scientific volumes that describe them. On the covers of each volume he has also made the effort to repaint the covers with a portrait of each bird, which is an extra detail that he doesn't often add to his other landscape sculptures.

I admire his work not just for it's picturesque beauty and skill of construction, but also his approach to using redundant and outdated scientific volumes to reconnect with nature in a digital world. He creates thought provoking pieces with skill and succeeds expertly of taking a book and changing it's entire meaning without it even being opened. He has a fascinating outlook on his process and an almost spiritual approach to working as a form of escapism, which I learned from the video below as he explains his artistic process in more detail.


The New Life of Invertebrates

Sculpture, Hardcover Book, acrylic varnish, Interior Magnet

Brian Dettmer


Brian Dettmer seals his found books with a thick varnish, then excavates each page piece by piece to reveal selections of text and images from the original copy all at once as a 3D collage. What is interesting to me about his work is how the original content is not directly changed, just revealed through the omission of some of the blank space around objects so that the personality of the volume can be seen at a glance through overlaid images and small sections of text.

Although not the most extreme example of the geometric restructuring of a book that Dettmer is capable of, I chose The New Life of Invertebrates as an example to feature because of its playful title. The addition of New to the original name is a commentary of what has happened to many altered books after being transformed by an artist as they have been given a new life. In the age where digital information is king, it's refreshing to see how artists are still finding ways to give new life to old books that can be overlooked.



Barbara Wildenboer | Folly at Everard Read London | 8 March - 30 March 2019 (2019) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Blackwell, S. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Brian Dettmer: Old books reborn as intricate art. (2015) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Dawood, S. ‘Stephen Doyle: “I like to make things that disobey logic and reason”’ In: Design Week 26/03/18 At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Design & Paper (2021) Bethany Bickley Brings the Pages of a Book Alive in Paper Sculpture Form. At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Dettmer, B. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Faber, M. (2010) ‘Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer – review.’ In: The guardian 18/17/10 At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Harvey, J. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Jobson, C. (2013) Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Korzer-Robinson, A. (Accessed 14/02/22)

Laramée, G. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

No outside | Guy Laramee | TEDxBinghamtonUniversity Mu. (2018) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Ouzman, I. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Seizputowski, K. (2015) Bird Portraits Painted On Secondhand Books Featuring Their Native Brazilian Habitats Carved from the Pages. At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Smithsonian. Smithsonian libraries artist books. At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Taylor, E. (2022) At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

Tom Phillips on A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel (2016) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 14/02/22)

V&A. (2022) Artist books. At: (Accessed 14/02/22)


bottom of page