Friday, June 18, 2010

Creating A Niche (Shadowbox) In Your Altered Book

While you can put your niche anywhere you like in your book, it is preferable to have it in either the front or the back, so that the book's cover acts as a sturdy bottom.  If you do decide to put your niche in the middle of the book, just glue several pages together, with a piece of cardboard sandwiched inside, to give it the needed strength and stiffness.
To begin......hold the pages you reserved for the niche. Brush the outer edges with gel medium.
Use clamps or binder clips to hold the pages together while the gel medium dries.
If you don't have clamps or clips, put a sheet of wax paper, slightly larger than the book on both sides of the glued pages, close the book and weight it down.  It should take about 1/2 hour or so for the gel to dry.
Remove the clamps and or clips and decide where you want your niche to be, how large you want it, and the shape.  It can be any shape you like, but remember that straight lines are far easier to cut than curves.  For this part of the project you'll need a cutting mat, a craft knife with a fresh blade, a ruler and a pencil.
Place the cutting mat between the last page of the niche and cover (or pages) that will be its bottom.  This will prevent your cutting into the cover.
Draw an outline of the niche, and holding the ruler steady against the drawn line, cut with the craft knife, following the lines you drew.
You will probably be able to remove 3-4 pages at a time.  Continue to cut and remove until you have cut through and removed all of the pages.
Note:   if at any time the cutting seems to be getting more difficult, change the blade to a fresh one.  The sharper the blade, the easier the cutting.
Now it is time to glue the niche to the bottom.  In my book, this is the front cover.  Apply gel medium (or your favorite strong paper adhesive) to the back side of the niche.
Then close the book and press down firmly.  Either re-clamp or put a weight on the book and allow the adhesive to dry. 

Now is a good time to add some color.  I like to give the entire page including the niche a coat of gesso first.  You don't have to, but I think it gives a nice surface for whatever decorating you'll do, plus it will cover the raw edges inside the niche and give them more stability.
I have decided that this page will have a beach theme, so I gather together the papers and objects I think I'll use.  I may not wind up using them all, but I'll have choices.
Looking at the papers I've chosen (beautiful Graphic 45 "On The Boardwalk"), the shells and sea glass and coral, I have a better idea of how to color the page.  I use several shades of light brown distress ink and a blending tool.  I'm going for the look of sand.  In the picture below, I'm adding a little texture by pouncing the blending tool, which has been inked with a darker brown, over some plastic netting.  This is only one of MANY ways to add texture.  Think bubble wrap, sponges, wadded up wax paper, cardboard....
Next I cut a piece of decorative paper to fit inside the niche.  If you save one of the pieces you cut out, you'll have a template.
I add one or two elements at a time.  Don't attach anything until you're sure.  That's part of one of those little paper umbrellas on the top.  The bathing beauty is my mom, taken in the summer of '47 when she was pregnant with me!  Under the niche is a piece of the Graphic 45 paper.  I gave it an aqua tint with some ink to it would work better with the other elements.
 NOTE:  don't use originals of your precious old family photos. Scan them if you have a scanner and use copies you make yourself, or bring your photos to Staples or Kinkos and have them make copies for you.  You can fit many photos on one page and it isn't very expensive.  Also, I think it is easier to work with copies done on matte paper....they glue down better than actual photos and you can alter them with chalks, pastels, etc. without worrying about doing permanent harm to the original.

Now I see another bit of that paper that will go well and add that to the top, along with some text that was also on one of the sheets.
Time to start filling the niche.  I have shells, sea glass, stones, and a tiny glass bottle filled with sand.
What adhesive to use to attach things?  For the photo of my mother, I used some foam dots to lift it a little.  The flat sea glass is attached with glossy accents (you could also use gel medium).  The coral and some of the shells that are far from flat are adhered with some of that super sticky tape.  I also used it to attach the bottle.   Below is how I kind of wadded up the sticky tape to give it some bulk on the underside of a piece of shell.  It really sticks well.

I decided that the area around the niche needed a little something more.  I tore up a piece of cheesecloth, attached it to the upper left hand corner, allowed some of it to fall into the niche, and lightly dabbed it with ink.
I'm almost satisfied now.
One last alteration....adding a bit of aqua here and there.

My niche page is complete, and I really love it.  There is one little problem however, caused by my not wanting to plan everything out ahead of time.  The page facing my niche is the one I did to demonstrate collage.  I love it, but the color doesn't work for me, now that it is right next to my beachy colors.
Oh, it's not the end of the world, and I'm sure I could live with it, but....anything that has been altered can be re-altered.  I mixed up some gel medium and turquoise paint to form a glaze, brushed it right over the coppery collaged page and NOW I am really happy.  I also put what was left of that little paper umbrella in the upper right hand corner, which also helps to unite the two facing pages.
When I did the collage page I wasn't sure what, if anything, I'd put on it.  But now I think I know.  Somewhere in my stash I know I have another family photo of someone enjoying the shore, and I think it will work perfectly there.

NOTE:  before you glue anything into your niche, make absolutely certain that it fits well.  Close the book to check that the object isn't hitting the facing page. 
What are some of the things you can put in a niche?   Photos, travel memorabilia, shells, stones, beads, a bit of vintage fabric, dried flowers, small boxes or bottles, ribbon from a valued gift, buttons, charms, small toys, miniature collectibles.....any three dimensional object that fits.


  1. fantastic tutorial !!! thanks so so much for sharing all your wonderful knowledge with us all.

  2. I am loving these tutorials, all I need now is a book and some gel medium! Thank you.

  3. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT, Eileen!! Love that you added such a FABULOUS image of your Mom!! Just an all around FANTASTIC page!

  4. ABSOLUTELY AWESOME tutorial Eileen!!! LOVE LOVE LOVE how that turned out!!!!!!

  5. This is a great tutorial, gf! Love the beach theme, and you can collage like nobody's business, so it' fabulous!

  6. Eileen - absolutely fabulous! Thanks for all your hard work in teaching us the ins and outs of Altered Books. It is fun, it's addictive! Thanks!

  7. great tutorial...thank YOU!!!