A second look: Art Journal vs Altered book

This month for Second on the 2nd I wanted to reshare or perhaps rehash the debate over art journals vs altered books. Let me know your thoughts.

Take a look….

altered book vs art journal | Halle's Hobbies

Over the years there seems to have been a shift in the verbiage used to describe the process of taking a book of little or no use and making it into a piece of art. Or perhaps it could even be a book with great meaning to you and you want to express yourself within it. Either way…you are altering it from it’s original purpose. Hence the name altered book, right?!  But the line has been blurred as mixed media and collage entered the scrapbook and paper arts world. I’m not saying this is a bad thing…more products, techniques, blogs and tutorials out there. Mixed media entered the main stream. Along with that is where the shift happened from altered books to art journals.

I’ve always felt (and still do) that explaining to outsiders what an altered book was bordered on exhausting at times. I’d, all too often, get a blank stare from the person I was talking to about my new passion. Somehow changing the way I described what I was doing as art journaling made more sense to my audience. Oh, it’s just art in journal form. Sure, if that makes it easier for you to understand…I’m cool with that.

For me, I feel as if the difference between an altered book and an art journal has a couple different facets. An altered book must first of all have been a written and published book. Secondly, for it to be an altered book, it has a theme.  Such as this Vintage Fashion altered book….which happens to be the first round robin altered book swap I ever participated in.  Too bad postage costs have skyrocketed since then.

vintage fashion altered book | Halle's Hobbies

 After completing a few themed altered books, I began creating pages randomly with no theme. Just a place to play and be creative. Somewhere along the line I started calling my “no theme” altered books, art journals. It seemed easier or perhaps more logical way to describe them once I heard more about art journals.

For me, I feel an art journal can be comprised of any substrate. Plain or scrapbook paper, card stock, bound journal, moleskin, cardboard. You name it…it’s likely been tried…as well as, you guessed it….published books. This causes the dreaded crossover…well, is it an art journal or an altered book? I feel as if I’m talking in circles.

I think what it comes down to is personal preference. It is art after all. You can call it whatever you want. We all define what we think is art in very different ways. You aren’t going to please everyone and you shouldn’t try. Art is an expression of yourself. There are no hard and fast rules…which is why I got interested in altered art 11 years ago.

So there you have it…my opinion on the difference between an altered book and an art journal. What is your take on this subject? Do you agree or have another ideas? I’d love to hear your opinions.


  1. Kathyinozarkssays: Reply

    Good post-I always thought an altered book was already in a book form-and then one takes it apart in some way and turns it into something else
    art journal for me was always a made from scratch book, or just a pad of painting papers that were turned into art but stayed in the pad or a lined notebook with someones art notes I am thinking now the two names have become interchangeable for sure good post

  2. I agree about the skyrocketing postage costs. Its put a big damper on round robins, which are so much fun. I guess I see an art journal keeping less of the original book-where as an altered book keeps the book original in some (maybe even vague) form. Interesting post. I enjoyed reading it. Hugs-Erika

  3. We had this conversation before, but I’m glad you brought it up again. To me an altered book focuses on the theme (or no theme) and the art. I often don’t use a single word in an AB spread. I allow the spread to do the “talking” and let the viewer determine what the story is.

    Art Journals require WORDS. I remember the beautiful art journals Ingrid Dijkers created. They were mostly words in journal form. She and Dianne Carey use their journals to write about their lives, the mundane to the exceptional, although Dianne intersperses more art on her pages than Ingrid does. The words for Ingrid ARE the art.

    But times do change, and I have now come to believe the same way you do. It is SO much easier to say I’m making an art journal than an altered book, although altered books have become more mainstream than they were when we both started. Of course, when I tell people I’m a mixed media artist, that is when their eyes glaze over!

    Thanks for sharing this again as your second look on the 2nd.

  4. I enjoyed reading the Altered Book and Art Journal debate, it was so interesting and thought provoking 😀. I suppose I have never really thought about it that much, and my view would be whichever medium you use having fun and enjoying what you need doing is the most important thing. Thanks so much for sharing and Happy Saturday! J 😊

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