Carving Up Books

Bibliophiles, don’t hate me. My book carving is done out of love. 

Rarely is a writer only a writer. We have facets and interests which span beyond the boundaries of merely crafting words on a page. A few of my other interests include psychology, astronomy, gadgets, couchsurfing, antiques, furniture design, spreadsheets, weird shit, low-fi music, dry wit, art, etc, etc…

Learning and creating are my two favorite things in all the world.

A few years ago, I created a series of altered books for a solo show at Kenosis Gallery in Mansfield, OH. These were amazingly fun to make. The inspiration for each work sprang from a concept I wanted to convey, the book’s title, inside illustrations, the cover image, or a trinket I wanted to incorporate.

In the medium of altered books, I can tell a visual story using recycled materials. Some of the books were given to me or came in box-lots I won at auction.  A few I purchased for their visual potential: size, title, cover design or color.

Here are a few of the wall-hanging pieces:

“Into You” was sparked by the transparencies from an “H” volume of an old set of encyclopedias. As a kid, I used to sit and read random entries for hours at a time. The pictures and captions always caught my eye first. All but the last few pages of this book are carved out. Each transparency layer is suspended between a 1/4″ thick layer of pages so they align but do not touch. 

“Into You”

“Dynamo Electric Machinery” speaks to the influence of technology upon the family. The different collage elements are mounted on varying depths of carving. Some of the images are from the actual book itself. I love breaking the plane of a piece, and the telescopic antenna does that beautifully while remaining on-theme.

“Dynamo Electric Machinery”

“Foreclosure” was a response to the economy, the housing market crash, and the whole myth of the American Dream. Whether a homeowner’s property was in a low-end or high-end location, those 12 monthly mortgage payments and any effort to sell the house were major issues. The title and cover image of this book sparked the piece.




“Free Love” is definitely a play on words. A key part to this piece is the exposed words from the original text which can still be seen peeking around the anatomical image of the human heart.


“Free Love”

For “Fragile”, I studied the illustrations within the book and created my own story for the main character. The stitching and real egg speak to the internal state of this new character I created in my head. 



I have over a dozen more wall-hung and free-standing pieces I will save for another post. I see my altered books as visual pitches: a quick snapshot into a story. Of course, these pieces do not represent the premises inside the original books, but stories I chose to tell instead.

I already know that–when my manuscripts become novels–I will definitely alter them into visual works of art. An autographed copy of an altered book written and reconfigured by the author sounds like a sure-fire giveaway to me.

In the meantime, I’ll throw this out there. I do commissions.

Do you have a favorite book or story you would like transformed into visual form?
Are you an author who would love to have an altered version of your own novel?
Agents: Would you like to see your clients’ books as wall-hung art?

Let me know. My willingness, creativity, and carving tools stand at the ready.



*** A few words about the main image at the head of this post:

“Surrender” is the most autobiographical piece in this post. It is also one of the more intricate altered books I have created. Each level of the tiny steps is about 1/2″ deep. These were quite a challenge. It took me a while to collect the images from multiple sources–looking for just the right one to relate with the others. The spiral staircase dropping down is constructed from the arch-shaped section I removed from the cover.