Making a Journal – What’s Old is New

Not too long ago, I began making a journal out of my very first ever art book. It was given to me by the one person that encouraged me to pursue art – my elementary art teacher (Shout out Mrs. P!). When I was a kid I didn’t think I was good at anything in particular, but in the art room I felt like I could do anything. That’s the best gift a teacher could ever give a kid.

And so this book has been on the bookshelf of every place I have lived since then, through many moves and lot of life. Now after a couple of decades I have to admit – it’s been a while since I even flipped through it.

Now let’s look back to just a couple of months ago. I was coming to the end of my last journal, which I started following this book as a guide. It worked as a first journal ever and as an exercise to see if I could really stick to it for a year. The year went by quickly and I completed all (*ahem* – the vast majority) of the exercises from the guide. The thing is, I was never really happy with what I used for the journal. It was one of those kits you get from the local art supply store and for the second time around I needed something more personal. 

I did some poking around about bookmaking, thinking that you can’t possibly get more personal than making something from scratch! And really, bookmaking is still something I want to try, but it wasn’t feeling right for this project. Then I found some stuff about repurposing old books. I had that angels-come-down-from-heaven-singing moment even though I’m not the least bit religious (which is saying something). Anyway, the ideal candidate for a book-reusing project has to meet certain criteria.

First, it has to be a hardcover. That one is kind of a no-brainer. Second, the pages should be thick enough to withstand whatever you need them to do. If they are a little thin, they can be glued together, or other paper can be added in, but some books have crazy thin pages that I would never use (except maybe for ripping them out for a collage – not that I go around arbitrarily destroying books).

journal making pages

Those are the stitches you’re looking for!

Third, and this was something I hadn’t thought about, the binding has to be stitched. The reason is that in making the book strong enough to stand up to drawing, painting, collaging, and so on, pages need to be ripped out and glued back together (you’ll see what I mean later). Pages that are only glued in might hold up, but exposure to moisture (like ink and paint) means you run the risk of pages falling out.

Stitched pages reduce the likelihood of losing pages as you destroy a book in the name of art. (Of course, if it’s going to be more of a “light duty” journal and pages don’t need to come out, then a glued binding might be ok). The tricky part is, you don’t see many stitched bindings these days. Go take a minute to flip through some of your hardcover books. How many are stitched? Guess how many of mine were. Zero. Even some of the books that looked old were just glued.

journal making

Copyright 1978. When they knew how to make a book to last.

So I stood there looking at my bookshelves thinking – this is all the books I have? Mind you, having moved these books across the country and back and between many different apartments, I have long had the opposite sentiment. But there were a couple of books in there that I guess I’ve had for so long that I sort of didn’t see them any more. There was an early printing of The Stand, and obviously that wasn’t even a consideration. Can you imagine?? Then of course, there was the art book. Cue more angels. 

journal making

This is it! A little worn and very green.

It was the perfect size and had the perfect number of pages. It had history. This would be making a journal that is infinitely more personal than buying a bunch of materials and making a book. So I picked out paint, stickers, and paper. I thought about what kind of cover I wanted and scanned and printed out doodles and drawings from my sketchbook. I found a bottle of Modge Podge that is so old I have no idea when I bought it (it’s still good!). When I had everything together, I set up a camera and got to work. 

making a journal stickers paper sketches

All the things will go into my journal!

I think that’s enough exposition for now. It’s time to start making a journal! Next time, I’ll show you the transformation!