Novel Altered Art Ideas

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Altered art ideas are almost as limitless as paper itself. Altered paper art involves taking found papers, objects, and materials that are not intended as art materials and using them instead of a canvas to create art. Altered art is typically three-dimensional and combines many styles of art. It uses collage, assemblage art and mixed media as well as crafting techniques such as decoupage and rubber stamping. 

Altered art ideas can be found everywhere! Look around you, if a particular item catches your eye or piques your interest, it can be re-imagined into something new. Take the mystery out of creating altered paper art and keep it simple. Choose imagery that has meaning for you, awakens memories or stretches your imagination. Select text that supports your imagery and weaves a story. Add items that bring it all together in a new, personal and spirited way.

Altered art ideas can easily be incorporated into paper crafting. Explore your possibilities and create shrines, alters, books, journals, shadow boxes, jewelry, artist trading cards, greeting cards, scrapbook pages and tags, dolls and more. With a little creativity and thriftiness, different techniques can be used to achieve the look of rust, patina, white wash, crackle, peeled paint, spattering and more.

There are a variety of lovely choices when it comes to finding digital images that can be downloaded, printed out and incorporated into your altered art ideas. Inspiring images are endless and can include; Asian, French, vintage, steampunk, mixed-media, grunge, nature, animals, flowers, retro, women, birds, seasonal, alphabets, words and more. Most often images are found in collections called collage sheets or papers which can include backgrounds, artist trading card (ATC) backgrounds, ephemera and tags.  Individual clip art and Photoshop brushes are a versatile option as well. 

Altered art is meant to generate responses that gives us a new way of looking at our world. Where unexpected things happen when a game board becomes a book cover, playing cards become paper dolls or a CD case is flipped open, stood up and becomes a frame for a collage.

Altered Art Ideas - Tools and Supplies: 

Anything can be altered and objects can be used as materials themselves for altering. Get inventive when deciding on a base for your creation. Altered art ideas are about being innovative so look for old globes, garden posts, books, journals, bird cages, wooden and cigar boxes, bottle caps, game boards, clothing, tins, rolodex, suitcases, paper mache forms, bottles, vintage albums, CD cases and more.

Get elaborate and rework such materials as: junk mail, puzzle pieces, mini bottles, photos, clipart, or playing cards. You might want to also consider silverware, doll parts and broken toys, candy wrappers, vintage house numbers or fishing equipment. What could you do with wooden blocks, old album covers, typewriter keys, or old mailbox and telephone parts?

Other supplies you may use in your altered art paper craft:

  • Antiquing, distressing & faux technique supplies
  • Spray adhesive, glue, tape
  • Scissors, wire cutter, craft knife, cutting mat
  • Bone folder, brayer, molding paste, sealer, primer
  • Spray and acrylic paint, brushes, acrylic medium
  • Photos, images, graphics or clipart
  • Scrapbooking & misc. papers
  • Crayons, markers, colored pencils
  • Grommets or eyelets with setters, paper punches
  • Embossing gun and powder, heat-transfer tool
  • Stamps and ink, stencils 
  • Glitter, sequins, brads
  • Jewels, safety pins, chain
  • Eyelets, grommets
  • Charms, flowers, lace
  • Beads and buttons
  • Metallic rubs or pens
  • Chain, wire, leather
  • Etc. and more!

Altered art ideas calls for the thoughtfully selected materials to include in your artwork. You may want to gather objects that are all the same color or shape or serve a similar function, or are associated with a certain emotion or theme. All possible springboards for getting started. Materials can be found everywhere!

  • Start right at home and sift through old forgotten boxes sitting in a closet
  • Check the sidewalks for discarded junk and look to see what has hit the curbside as give-aways
  • Thrift, antique, secondhand and surplus stores all have buried artifacts.
  • Don't just drive by garage or estate sales, they can be a great source for hidden treasures too.
  • Check out your local flea markets and online auctions. 

To work with digital collage sheets, clip art and Photoshop brushes you will need a computer and image editing software such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, which allows you to open, edit or create, organize, save and print your digital products.

Typical file formats for collage sheets, backgrounds, and digital scrapbook paper are either JPG or PDF. Digital clip art and tags are usually PNG or JPG files. Photoshop brush sets are ABR files that you load into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Any background image will work in the JPG or PDF format to work digitally or to just print the images. If you are wanting to digitally layer and stack images on top of either other, look for PNG files because the backgrounds are transparent. 

If you want to use printable collage sheets and clipart in hybrid altered paper arts, you will need a color printer and quality, acid-free paper. Look for photo printers that have enough printing resolution that offer ink saving options. Follow your printer recommendations and look for paper that is compatible with your printer's settings and ink to produce vibrant images. 

Altered Art Ideas - Skills and Abilities: 

Fine art skills are not required to create altered art, but you may use such techniques as: image transfer, distressing and antiquing, altering images, adding colorants and textures, creating backgrounds, print making, stamping, stitching and more. Depending on the techniques used, you may need scissors, a craft knife, gel medium or paste, brushes, a brayer, image transfer supplies, stamps and ink, antiquing & distressing supplies, supplies for background and faux techniques, and more.

Altered art ideas may require skills that include; cutting, painting, finishing, soldering, embossing, stamping, stitching, altering images or photos, using heat tools, creating backgrounds and texture, transferring images, antiquing, distressing and modifying found objects, creating faux finishes,  simple construction, fastening and joining materials together and more.

To work with digital products in your image editing software you may need to know:

  • How to open or import pictures and graphics
  • How to select objects
  • How to flip or rotate images 
  • How crop, resize, or colorize images
  • How to use clipping masks, work with layers and filters
  • How to create text and graphic effects
  • How to load and use brushes
  • How to save and print 

There will always be continual learning involved with your software and with anything, practice using it. Be patient, experiment and refer to your tutorials and manuals. Understanding basic design elements and design principles as well as different techniques is important to good design. 

Creating altered paper art is a way to rescue items that were destine for the dump and putting your unique stamp on them. It is the ultimate in recycling and reusing found objects and transforming them into a thing of beauty. It will call on your vision, ingenuity, sense of humor and adventure as you reinvent your materials and give them new meaning.

Altered Art Ideas - General Tips:

  • Always do your spray painting, faux finishing, finishing and adhering in a well ventilated area.
  • When working with sharp found objects and metal use protective gloves and eyewear.
  • Always prepare your surface before altering. Clean it thoroughly.  Roughen any smooth surface such as metal or plastic with a light sanding to help glue adhere. Fill any holes or depressions and prime surface before painting or staining.
  • For best results, always read manufacturer instructions on all products before using.
  • Look for high resolution digital files at 300 ppi so you have enough resolution to work with your digital images and to print.
  • Check copyright or license agreement for terms of use for using digital images and PS brushes in a legal, permitted way. Terms of use will specify what is acceptable for personal use of their product(s) and may also include limited commercial rights.
  • Purchase or download only from reputable sites. You want to make sure you are getting digital images and PS brushes that aren't just lifted from another site and then sold or given away as "free". This practice is actually copyright infringement.
  • When using digital images, make sure to save a copy under a new name. That way you can keep the originals as master files. This is the best practice when making any changes to JPGs because every time you re-save the original file, you will lose pixel information.
  • When working with your digital images in your image editing software remember to save and save often!  
  • Save your digital digital images and PS brushes in a safe place such as a USB drive or compile and burn to a CD. It is always good to have a backup copy. 


Did you know? Altered art is not a new form of art. Pentimento, a common practice in the past, is an alteration in a painting where an artist wishing to update an old picture painted over an earlier underdrawing or underpainting or changed certain elements to create something new.  - Courtesy of Wikipedia

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