13 Jan

Altered Book Commission: Time is More Infinite Than We

Late last year I was thrilled to get my first request to create a commissioned altered book for a client. The couple had recently found a deer skull on their Gulf Island property and felt it was the perfect thing for me to work with in making them a custom piece of art. It’s not the first time I’ve used bones in an altered book, but it definitely was the largest.

Altered Book - Time is More Infinite Than We

The skull was quite fragile and missing a large part of the nose, so my first step was to assess every break through the skull. I had to determine where to glue without causing further damage and then reinforce certain parts so the whole thing wouldn’t fall apart. In the photo below you can see the paper “bandages” I created inside the eye sockets. I felt without these the glue wouldn’t hold and the bottom part of the skull would come right off. (It almost did while I was feeling about).

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The book I chose to use is an encyclopedia volume with a lovely red cover with a raised border embossed on the front and gold letters and designs on the side. I carved through the cover and cut a niche three quarters of the way into the pages, making it large enough to accommodate the skull.

I took a short timelapse video with my iPhone 4 as I did this, which makes it look like a faster process than it actually was.

Once the book was ready I began pulling out materials to create the rest of the composition. I took inspiration from the background notes given to me by the client and used these to guide in the selection of objects. I won’t go into detail here but I was looking for things with symbolic significance specific to them.

The photo below was taken when I was satisfied with the placement of things and is a “sketchbook” version of the final composition. It helped me remember what should eventually go where after I dismantled and put everything out of the way. I still had much work to do in preparing the book and mounting the skull.

Altered Book - Time is More Infinite Than We

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Above are some process shots I took while I worked on different things. I used a thick heavy thread at the base of the skull as this was the only point from which I could attach it to the book. These loops of thread were sewn into a heavy paper that was glued into the book and then covered over with the sewing pattern paper. The image above with the clamps was taken after the skull was mounted in the book and some of the pages still needed gluing together.

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This is the finished altered book, many steps away from the previous photo. I used eight watch parts in the composition and it gives it an unintentional steam punk look. The fancy embossed border on the cover works nicely (as I’d hoped) with the rest of the composition. I love all the details in this altered book, from the shiny metal parts to the zig zagging fissures through the top of the skull.

Altered Book - Time is More Infinite Than We
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This was an interesting project to work on because there were many problem solving challenges along the way. But that’s what I love most about making altered books. It always gets me thinking in new ways.

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The outcome of this project is a positive one, with the client happy with the work I’ve produced and the first successful commissioned altered book under my belt. Here’s hoping many more will come my way.

Materials used: book, sewing pattern paper, tree bark, wasp nest, red thread, small glass bottle, seeds, watch parts, moss, and deer skull.


  1. Fascinating way to capture the process – the time-lapse video makes everything look oh so fast! Congratulations on the completion of this piece.

  2. Thanks Anne and Nicole. It was fun to do as an experiment to test the app. I’m hoping to do more like this in future.

  3. Rachel this book is fantastic and both the thought and the construction is fascinating. Is it ok if I use your images to show my art/design students (16+) who are just about to begin a unit of mixed media?

  4. Hi Tony, yes of course. I’d love to hear more about the design unit and how you’ll be using the images/work.

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© Rachael Ashe