Cheap Art: Using Book Illustrations as Wall Art

Do you have a favorite book from your childhood? Chances are, we all have a book or two that warms our hearts to think about. For me, it is “Otto of the Silver Hand” by Howard Pyle. As it is a children’s book, it was filled with elaborately done wood carvings by Pyle himself, and looking at those, I realized the solution to the bare space on my walls.

If you want to turn an illustration into a decoration, there are a few things your should know. First, you want the best possible resolution on the image in question. That means that bigger, more detailed, and clearer images are obviously better to start with. Also, you want a high quality scan of the image. That may take some serious work. If you don’t want to break the spine of the book or remove the pages, it may take 10 or 12 tries to get the even scan of the image that you want. If you have a book that you are already planning on throwing away or ruining though, it is easier to pull the pages out and scan them flat on the scanning bed.

If you only have a low quality scanner, it is worth the effort to have it scanned professionally at a Staples, FedEx, or other professional location. The reason is again a matter of resolution. You want to make the image larger, but blowing it up also highlights the flaws in your scanner. If you use a great scanner and do a great job scanning it, you will get the best quality poster. Personally, I like to have an image that is high quality enough for me to see the grain of the paper (if applicable) when I zoom in on a computer.

The illustration should be clear and vibrant. Photoshop or other image editing software like the freely available GIMP can touch up the colors or balance them so that you get the illustration the way you want it. Take your time with the preparation steps though, since making a poster isn’t cheap and you want it to be just what you wanted.

Now head back to the professionals at a printing place. Choose the size you want, and get it blown up to poster size. The staff can help you with sizing and paper choice. If the illustration was on a glossy page, I would use glossy paper, but if it came from an old, yellowed book, I would go with matte paper.

If you want this to be a classy decoration, frame it. In the impression of the viewer, framing elevates the illustration from a generic poster to something that is obviously a treasured possession. It brings the picture out to the viewer and makes it more noticeable. Pick a frame that complements the illustration.

Now I can have the elegant woodcarvings of Howard Pyle hanging in my living room. The total cost? about $14 with a cheap-but-nice-looking frame. For less than the cost of a print at a museum, I can have exactly the picture that I want, reminding me of my favorite books and illustrators.

This works great for children’s rooms as well. I will warn you that you shouldn’t sell the prints however, since that is almost certainly a violation of the copyright on the illustrations. If it is no longer under such copyright or you live somewhere that doesn’t respect the copyrights however, then you are free to make whatever you want. Be creative and remember that the best decorations are the ones you assembled yourself.