A few days ago a man came out of his apartment with banana box after banana box full of old books which he was throwing away. I ventured out of the shop to the recycling bin, and began digging through the titles, separating out all of the classics from authors such as John Sinclair and Mark Twain. I looked up from my exponentially increasing pile only to see three other people were also making their own selections. A teenage kid took a box from near the recycling bin and filled it up with all the books about statistics and mathematics. In no time there were hundreds of books formed into nice stacks based upon genre (a natural side effect of everyone’s specific taste for sci-fi or Melville). One by one we hobbled away with our arms overflowing with the smell of old books. As the day went on I periodically glanced out the shop window at the corner, and I watched the pile shrink steadily, but then eventually, the shrinking stopped. What was left were a few piles of old hardcover books about the most boring subjects ( one was called statistics and tables). The smell of rain was in the air and as I painted my mind was trying to devise a way to save and upcycle the remaining few still sitting on the corner. Needless to say, as the first drops started coming down, I went and gathered them up.
I plopped them down by my desk and picked up one to inspect it. When I took off the dust cover off it immediately became clear. These old hardcovers have a nice fabric surface covering them, which is actually quite similar to small canvas boards. I didn’t have a pile of worthless books about accounting that I would never read, but instead I just stumbled upon 40 new canvases! My first attempt was to just hack off the cover with a utility knife, but that left a tattered and stringy edge that nobody would ever want to hang on their wall. I searched online for some tutorial on upcycling hardcover books but didn’t find much so I came up with this method.
First you need to separate the pages from the spine of the book. Generally this vaires depending on the strength of the book binding tape. Sometimes you can simply rip out all the pages at once, other times I’ve had to carefully cut the pages from the spine with a razor. The main thing is to be careful about not slicing the spine, but instead cutting away the papers from it.
Once it’s separated it should look like this.
Now you’re going to want to cut straight down the center of the spine, in order to leave a little space on each side which can be folded over. Once you’ve done that, plop some glue down on the inside of the cover which will allow the spine to be bent over and secured to the inside.
It’s going to want to pop back up, so place some heavy items on it to weigh it down until dry.
And now you’ve got a nice flat canvas board ready from some primer. As you can see they often have embossed letters and symbols on them, but I don’t mind, that will just have to become part of the composition!
I then used some clear acrylic medium to coat the “canvas” to prepare the surface for paint, and to ensure that the oils from the paint wouldn’t just completely destroy fibers in the fabric. And that’s it! Start painting!
A quick portrait to test out the surface. Works well!