Picture of How to make upcycled art with old books

Here's a fun project to give a new life to an old book! Great for rainy days, crafting with children, and people who think they don't have an artistic bone in their body. This instructable includes making a photocopy transfer, dripping liquid watercolor and using clear matte medium with paper strips as techniques for artmaking. Enjoy!

You will need:
Acrylic matte medium
Paintbrush, medium or wide
A Canvas (shown here with a 5x7)
A photocopy of a high contrast image in black and white (use a LASER printer/copier, not inkjet- thanks for the update there, psychoduckie)
Oil pastels, liquid watercolors or acrylic paints as desired

Tip: Suggested by Framistan (thanks!)- When choosing an old book to use for a project like this, I recommend selecting a book that is already falling apart and is fairly common. Here I used The Iliad, and there were several copies of it at the thrift store where I grabbed it (a great place to find old books, by the way). If you have a unique, good condition or sentimental book, you can always make copies of the pages and cut those up instead. The only difference is that most copy paper will be more opaque and brighter white than old book pages.

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Step 1: Cut strips of paper

Picture of Cut strips of paper
Depending on the typefont size and paper size of the book you are using, you will need 2-3 pages of strips per 5"x7" (small) canvas. Rip a few pages out, then cut them into strips. For this painting, I cut between each line of text.

Step 2: Layer canvas with medium

Picture of Layer canvas with medium
Acrylic matte medium is not shiny, and is a lot like working with a smoother, more flowing kind of glue. This is essentially "decoupage". Use a palette knife, small scrap of cardboard or brush to quickly spread a layer of acrylic medium over your canvas. If you are working with a large canvas, just do one part at a time so the medium stays wet.
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davidmk5 months ago

Awesome post Marianne!

I've made a couple nifty crafts with old repurposed books myself. It can be a lot of fun, some really unique stuff can be made!

I have access to a large (I mean LARGE) number of discarded books on account of my neighbor who runs a bookstore. There are more discarded books than I could ever possibly use!

So if anyone is interested, I thought it'd make some of these discarded books available to the kind folks online, follow this link to check them out... HERE


AnooshI7 months ago

Wow! this project is so cool. I am going to try it right away. I love to use old books into new projects. It's like bringing them back to life. I have also found many new and inspiring ideas from this book by Altered Upcycling. Check it out! They also have a website where you can sign up for free stuff.
AnooshI7 months ago

I am awe-struck, looking at the vibrant colors
you used. Every tiny detail is explicit. Books don't deserve to end up in trash-bins when they can upcycled too. Check out this Book of Books for more ideas by Altered Upcycling. You can even sign up on their website for free ebooks!

yfunz1 year ago

wow... it's amazing..

I love this idea, and can't wait to start something like this for christmas gifts! Thanks for the great idea!! :)
Maery4 years ago
here are my two creations. Hope you enjoy.
jabberwocky.JPGpeter pan.JPG
The fairy one is beautiful! Awesome work! :)
its the jabberwocky!
trucdart (author)  Maery4 years ago
WOW, Maery!! Way cool! You've really imbued a total illustrative/narrative quality to these and used color in an atmospheric way that gives me the immediate impact of these stories springing to life. SUPER COOL!!! Thanks for sharing, these are really just rad.
lriley42 years ago
Can i use elmores glue to stick down the book pages???
lriley42 years ago
Can i use elmores glue to stick the book pages down????
roxylo3 years ago
Love this!!!!! Thank you so much! I made this for my boyfriends mother for Christmas-last thing she was expecting and absolutely loved it!! (we trade books back and forth) I'm already working on 2 more-so clever and original!
mermaids chair.jpg
trucdart (author)  roxylo3 years ago
Hello hello! Sorry it took me so long to reply to you. What a great piece! Thank you for sharing it with me! I love how much color you used and how you completely transformed the book and made it your own. Way to go!
kcls3 years ago
I'm planning on doing this to a book for an art project. My art teacher saved a bunch of old books that were going to be thrown away by our local library. She wants us to make "Recycled book art" with them. I'm using this as the basis! I'll post pictures when I'm done :)
trucdart (author)  kcls3 years ago
How perfect. I hope it goes great! There's so much to do with old books and I am looking forward to seeing what you create! Good luck!
sweetthecat3 years ago
A question: What kind of finish would you put on these once they're done? Mine is very textured (done on purpose) and also layered with oil pastel, as you suggested. I've actually done six quite large canvases as a project for our church. Everyone in the church wrote scripture or quotes with black crayon on their own paper strips and glued them down (using Mod Podge, which worked great). Then I added the color with acrylic over the top. Didn't attempt the transfer since I was afraid of a big mistake on a project that wasn't completely mine! :) But the canvases will be hung in the lobby of our church building and, being very inexperienced, I have no idea how to finish them so they're protected, and so they won't rub off on anyone clothes/hands.
Thank you for this AMAZING tutorial! You were so thorough and the idea is so brilliant! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! :)
trucdart (author)  sweetthecat3 years ago
Awww thank you for your kind comment. What a wonderful way to transform this idea into collaborative work! I love seeing what people come up with on their own.

To answer your question, finishing over oil pastel is a bit tricky, however art stores do sell spray varnish that would likely be suitable for large pieces and heavy texture as well as a combination of modgepodge and oil pastel... I think specifically there is one product called "kamar varnish"- but just ask the people who work there which spray finish is okay to go over oil pastel, and they should be able to help. :)
Here's the one I did on the notebook. Took me 2-3 days. Since I partially followed ya instruction
trucdart (author)  residentevil53 years ago
Awesome! Great idea to do it on the cover like that (that's what I am seeing, right?)
yup it is.
bchan73 years ago
I'm a bit frustrated. I put the medium on my canvas, put the paper strips down, let it dry, then put more medium over it, but instead of a nice smooth surface, all the paper is bumped up, like it was left in the rain for too long. Should I try to rub it down once the medium dries, then apply more, or is it such a lost cause that I need to start over?
trucdart (author)  bchan73 years ago
Hey there! You can either embrace the wrinkly texture and explore that, or start over. :) the wet paper has to be babysat and bubbles brushed down/smoothed out as it dries. I think I mentioned that in the 'ible, if not I will add it in to the instructions. Good luck on take 2!
bchan7 trucdart3 years ago
Yeah, I see where you mentioned it now. I think I'll just start over and follow the directions more carefully.
dara1114 years ago
but the illustration you flipped on the book, was it placed on normal paper ?!
trucdart (author)  dara1114 years ago
Yes, it's just standard printer/copier paper, nothing fancy. :)
iheartblank4 years ago
I actually have a few of these in the process.. I've got a few cousins who love reading- christmas presents! But I'm having a hard time finding images to use. Do you have any suggestions on what to look for or a site you'd recomend?
trucdart (author)  iheartblank4 years ago
Hey there! Glad to hear it! I have a few book-crazy friends as well, it's smart of you to think early for Christmas. :) As far as images go, I found the victorian key by doing a google image search for royalty-free, free clip art specifically for keys. The heart came from an old sewing book. But you can also search vintage or victorian clip art to get the creative juices flowing. Illustrations from a long time ago are usually in public domain (i.e. free to use). So you can also check old books for random illustrations or charts. One other person mentioned in the comments that they are going to do this with a photograph. As long as it's high-contrast, anything works. Good luck! I'd love to see the finished pieces!
It took me forever- cause I was really picky with them, but here is a link to all the ones I've finished.

I couldn't find any pictures I liked to use for the people I made them for, and their not as cool as some of the others I've seen, but I had fun non the less, thanks!
trucdart (author)  iheartblank4 years ago
Those are lovely! Glad you had a good time with the project, thanks for sharing!
Jduval014 years ago
Trying again to get pics to load
beginning.jpg39021_1577062989348_1318812003_1600213_5684843_n.jpgclose up.jpgbottom pic.jpg
O ==h my gosh~ I love the book Girlwood! :)
trucdart (author)  Jduval014 years ago
How lovely!!! Well done! I can see what you meant about wanting to keep it for yourself. Then again, you can always make another one. :) Thanks for sharing that with me!
ksturges4 years ago
My version of this project is with some recipes that I've "glued" to the canvas. I need to thin the paints out substantially so that when the project is finished you can still read the recipes. Any advice on this? Thanks for this instructable! I've been having so much fun expanding on this idea!
trucdart (author)  ksturges4 years ago
Hey there! So glad you're enjoying your creative process. If you're using acrylic paint, thin it with matte medium. Watercolor can also be mixed with matte medium, thinning with water works too, but can wrinkle your underlying paper if it gets too wet. Matte medium wont do that because it maintains paint consistency and is clear. Have fun!
sumit mahar4 years ago
its nice.soon i'll try it. :)
BloodyHavoc4 years ago
I have to say this is amazing!
Question though, when applying the paper strips could I use Mod Podge instead? and will the use of water color pencils work at the end for coloring and drawing?
trucdart (author)  BloodyHavoc4 years ago
Hello there! Thanks for your comment. :) I am pretty sure one of the other commenters has used Mod Podge successfully; I'm sure it's very similar in composition to matte medium. I have personally not tried Mod Podge with watercolor pencils (or anything over it for that matter), but more likely than not it will work okay.

The only issue I foresee is that when you are using a dry watercolor pencil on a dry surface, it generally requires some "tooth" (like the texture of paper or wood) to come off onto your surface smoothly. Mod Podge and Matte Medium can be a little slick/gummy in texture because they are essentially plastic suspensions.

I have tried wetting a surface on which I previously applied matte medium and "drawing" on it with watercolor pencils or dipping a watercolor pencil in water and then using it on a dry surface, which does work pretty well in combination with a brush. It just won't be as fluid as regular watercolors or liquid watercolors and you may get some pronounced drawing lines (but if that's what you're looking for, great!).

It might be easier to color over the top of your Mod Podge with oil pastels (these work very well over a slick surface) or chalk pastels (which still need tooth) or acrylic paint, which is the best bet since it is composed of a similar binder to Mod Podge/Matte Medium (i.e. it is also plastic. Plastic likes plastic when it comes to adhering to surfaces).

Acrylics can be watered down quite a bit and used like watercolors, or diluted with matte medium, slowed with retarder (so that they don't dry as quickly) and made more fluid with "flow aid" or similar mediums.

Hell, crayons would even work. ;) Have a great time, and feel free to post a picture of your finished piece here!
Thanks for the tips!
I cannot wait to try this out over the weekend.
Another question, for the transfer image, does it have to be "Just printed"? The only printer I can have access to is my mom's at work, but that would mean it could take hours for it to get back to me. Will that still work?
trucdart (author)  BloodyHavoc4 years ago
Oh, it doesn't matter when it's printed. I think I meant "just" as in "easy/simple", not "recently flying out of the machine". :) Is that what you're asking?

Make sure it's a laser printer and not inkjet. Have fun!
Maery4 years ago
Nice job :) It''s good to know how to do transfers now, even though I don't have the tools at the moment, so I think I'll just paint the images myself since I'm all inspired and don't want to wait.

These make fun little projects. I'm doing a fairytale series of these addictive little pieces and will potentially make more for Xmas presents!
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