Don’t you just love ideas that turn old, unused items into something new and interesting? Here, we make art using books, which you can use as wall art, shelf or desk décor. This is the kind of art project that even those who don’t think they are artistic enough can accomplish!

Art Old Books

This is a great idea for books at home that are already falling apart or those that you don’t need or read anymore. Don’t have any? Then you can buy old books from thrift stores. Pick those that contain interesting or relevant texts for you. If you want to use text or pages from a good, sentimental book, what you can do is to have them photocopied and cut those instead. But of course, your art will most likely look whiter and brighter than when you use old book pages.

Art with Old Book Pages

Imagine having these lovely little canvas sitting on your bookshelves or work desk. Or why not buy a bigger canvas and hang them on your wall? Two or three pieces of these in a row will look good  on a pretty wide, empty wall! Sure, this art project will take a long time using a larger canvas. But it’s definitely worth the time and effort, don’t you think? I personally find it as a de-stressing activity. And I’m definitely making a few of these as gifts to my close friends.

How about you? Do you know anyone who would love this idea? :)

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Materials:

  • Canvas (shown here is a 5×7)
  • Old Books
  • Image Photocopy (Important: must be from a LASER printer/copier, high contrast black & white image)
  • Acrylic Matte Medium
  • Oil Pastels
  • Liquid Watercolours
  • Acrylic Paints
  • Scissors
  • Paintbrush (medium or wide)

Steps:

Art Old Books

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.

Upcycled Old Book Art

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.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Lay strips of paper into the matte medium. Push them down with your finger and smooth them out. Wet paper can ripple, but acrylic sets quickly, so just keep an eye on your newly applied strips for a few minutes and smooth them out if necessary.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Layer as many strips as you want, just think of them as a sandwich. You want to have matte medium under and on top of the paper. Once you’ve set strips into your first layer of medium, stop before it dries to smooth it out with a brush.

Upcycled Old Book Art

If you need to add more medium to make sure all the paper gets covered, do so now. You don’t even have to let it dry to add more paper. Just use your topcoat as a new base for more paper.

Upcycled Old Book ArtTip: your fingertips will get clumpy, dry medium buildup quickly. Either wipe it off on a rag as you go or just rub it off (like we used to do as kids with Elmer’s glue) to avoid getting clumps of medium stuck into your painting. You can put some strips of paper between your fingers for quick access.

Upcycled Old Book Art

If you carry your work over on to the edge of your canvas, you’ll have a more finished looking piece that won’t require framing when you’re finished. Trim strips that extend past the edge or paint with medium all the way around to the back of the canvas.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Once your ground of paper strips is to your liking and dry (seriously, this won’t take long even with lots of layers), you can transfer an image on to it to give your piece more interest and depth. You can use one of your own illustrations, free clip art, or any image not protected by royalty or copyright.

In this piece, I used an illustration from a vintage Good Housekeeping Guide. Make a black and white photocopy of your image. Trim it close to the borders of the image, but keep the paper a semi-regular shape so it’s easier to peel off later.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Apply a thin layer of matte medium to the face of your photocopy image and the area on your canvas that you’ll be applying it, and stick it down.

Tip: Tweak the contrast on your image on the copier or in your photo editing program for a crisp, dark transfer.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Once you’ve applied the photocopy image, burnish or rub it for about 30 seconds. I use the smooth plastic handle of my scissors. Use your fingers or anything that won’t snag and tear the paper. This light pressure will help transfer the copy toner into the matte medium on the canvas surface.
Upcycled Old Book Art

Now let the paper dry. It does not have to be completely dry, but if you touch it and it still feels cool or moist, wait. When you think it’s ready, slowly peel a corner of the paper away. Peek in to see if the copy toner is staying on the canvas as planned, or coming off with the paper. If it’s coming off with the paper, it needs to dry some more. If you used a lot of medium, it will take a little longer to dry.

Upcycled Old Book ArtOnce you peel off the paper, you should see the toner behind a thin layer of remaining paper. Rub the remaining paper off with your fingertips. It will come off in little balls. If you have trouble with this, you can lightly dampen it with water and rub with a soft rag (or fingers).

Upcycled Old Book Art

As you’re assembling this piece, chances are some words you like will pop out. If you wish, you can highlight a particular word or grouping of words that you like with a quick circle of oil pastel (which you can smear/soften by rubbing with fingertips), or add some color to the surrounding area with a layer of acrylic paint.

Upcycled Old Book ArtUse the acrylic matte medium if you want to thin/blend color as seen here with the magenta. Here, I applied a thin layer of matte medium to the center of the painting, then began brushing the magenta on from the bottom of the painting. As I reached the medium, the paint on my brush mixed in with the clear medium and gave a blended appearance.

Upcycled Old Book Art

Adding some drops of liquid watercolor is an easy way to give your piece another layer, some movement, and of course, color. Liquid watercolor is more saturated than cake watercolor and comes in glass bottles with droppers, so it’s easy to splash it on in drops or lines. Put drops next to each other so they will swirl together (I used orange and burnt sienna; the brown gives depth to the orange and they’re in the same color family, which I like).

Upcycled Old Book Art

You can also drop a little bit of water on the edges of the watercolor drops on your canvas, which will thin the color a little and give it a different look. Try dabbing some of the watercolor with a rag or paper towel as it dries as well for more variance in tone.

Upcycled Old Book ArtOnce you have it how you like it, let it dry flat to keep it that way. It may take several hours to dry fully. Or, while the drops are wet, quickly stand up your canvas in a direction you’d like them to drip in (their pattern may be affected by the paper strips unless you have a thick layer of medium over them).

Art Old Books

This can be a fun and original gift idea, especially if you have a literature-loving recipient in mind. You can mix papers from different books and create your own free association poetry as you go along. Add any image easily with the photocopy transfer technique. Make artful splotches of color like a pro just by using liquid watercolor. The possibilities are endless!

Thanks to  for this great idea!