Friday, January 2, 2015

Creating a Handmade Art Journal

Hi y'all!

I hope your holidays have gone (and maybe are still  going) well!

For my first post of the new year I'm starting off with a little DIY project.  A group of us on Instagram have gotten together and decided to do a fun little project this year.

We are each making a handmade art journal and will be sending it off to the next person in line.  Each of us in turn will create wonderful journal pages in everyone's journal.  At the end of the year, we should each get our own back - full of wonderful pieces of art from our friends!

I want to share with y'all how I've made mine.  And let me tell you, it wasn't easy!  This is my very first foray into the world of book binding and handmade journals.  I scoured Pinterest, Youtube, and the Web for tutorials and inspiration.  I'm very happy with how it turned out and can totally see my way to making more of these.  As a matter of fact, I actually did make two more already - they were Christmas presents for my two favorite crafting friends!

Ok!  On with the tutorial...

The journal I made is 6" x 9".  At least the pages are - the cover is slightly taller so the pages would be inside rather than at the edges and considerably longer, because I wanted to be able to fold it.


Watercolor paper - I used a piece that was 14"x17"
Paper Trimmer - preferably one with a score blade and cutting blade
Mixed Media paper - I used 9"x12" (which saved a ton of headache!)
Twine (or thread, jute, etc. of your choice)
Large eye embroidery needle (the bigger the eye, the easier it is to thread)
Washi Tape
Scissors/ X-acto Knife
Craft Punch/Hole Punch
Paints, Ink, Stencils, Stamps, etc. for decorating
Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish

Directions for the cover:

1. The watercolor paper is the base for the cover.  Play with different folds - do you want a flap, do you want it to wrap around the front, until you're satisfied.  If folding over the front, you'll need to make an additional score because those pages will take up a lot of room - especially once they're filled.  Once satisfied with your fold, go ahead and score your paper.
*I had to fold and score before trimming my paper because my paper trimmer will only go up to 12", you can trim before you fold.

2. Trim your cover down to size.  I cut mine down to a height of 9 1/2" so my inner pages would not be flush with the cover.

 3. At this time, I went ahead and began coating my cover with gesso.  While drying, I could work on the pages.  Coat liberally with gesso.  Don't be stingy!  The reason for the gesso is added strength.  Once one side is dry, flip and coat the other.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  I had about 4 good coats of gesso for each side.

4. Once the whole thing was completely dry (took about 2 or 3 days between dry time and having to go to work) it was time to decorate!

I squirted acrylic paint in long lines along the length of one side and brayered it - one to spread and two to blend the colors - was going for a kind of ombre look.  Let dry.  Then have fun decorating to your hearts content!  I used molding paste, stencils, paint pens, souffle pens, and lots of layers.  Once dry, flip and do the inside of the cover too!  If you get a bit of paint on the side you've already painted, just take a baby wipe or damp cloth and wipe off the wet paint.

 Sorry for the color change between the pics - the bright ones were taken during the day & those are the true colors.  Click the images to make them larger.

5. I gave each side 24 hours to cure.  I was already noticing some cracking on the outside of the cover along the folds.  I wanted to protect the outside of the cover because it's going to go through a lot of wear over the next year.  I took some Golden Heavy Gel Medium (Matte) [because it's what I had on hand at the time] and a palette knife and applied a liberal layer over the outside.  I let that dry for several hours.

Using the matte gel medium, it did give a matte finish - which is ok, but not quite as pretty as it was.  And it did smear my lovely white gel pen circles and stenciling on the feathers.  After it dried completely, I still noticed cracking because the heavy gel medium is just not that flexible.  In order to "fix" it - I used washi tape along the folds.  It added a nice pattern contrast as well as adding strength to the folds and hiding the cracks.

So instead of using a heavy gel medium (matte) on the other 2 journals I made for my friends, I picked up a bottle of Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish.  I applied liberally and let dry.  It was perfect!  It left very few brush strokes, dried shiny, and is much more flexible than the heavy gel medium. 

I completely forgot to take pics of the other 2 journals!  I was so excited about getting them finished and wrapped!

I did not coat the inside of any of the journals with any sort of medium.  I didn't notice any cracking on the inside of the folds and I wanted to keep the texture.

The really nifty thing about so many layers of gesso, brayering the initial background colors, and adding so many layers of paint is that once both sides were done and dry, you couldn't tell it started as paper.  They really feel like leather!

So now the cover is finished both inside and out and it's time to work on the pages!  The pages can be done while waiting for your paint to dry!


1.  Using Mixed Media paper, either cut your pages to 9" x 12" or just use a 9" x 12" paper pad - I used a 9" x 12" Canson XL Mixed Media paper pad because the pages themselves are perforated to correct dimensions.  Some 9" x 12" pads that aren't perforated won't be that exact size once you cut off the ragged edges.

2.  Fold each page in half from the 12" side.  You're making pages that are 6" wide and 9" tall.  Use as many pages as you want to fill your journal.  I used 8 pages in this journal and 7 pages in the two I made for presents.  Totally up to you.  Make sure you get a good sharp fold - either score the pages, or use a metal ruler/bone folder to go along the outer edges.

3.  Now, let's talk about signatures.  A signature is a group of pages that are put together.  If you're making a skinny journal with only a few pages, then go ahead and only make one signature.  If you're using mixed media or watercolor paper, your best bet is to make several signatures.  That way, the edges of the pages line up instead of the middle ones sticking further out.

Each signature contains 4 pages.  At this time, you can add flaps, or wait.  I went ahead and added flaps.

4.  To add flaps, I took some scrap mixed media paper and cut it all to 9" long and various widths.  I then took a pencil and lightly traced designs (swirls, triangles, etc.) and then cut out the designs with an X-Acto Knife.  Some of the designs I did free hand.

5.  To attach the flap to the main page, I used a washi tape hinge.  I placed the flap next to the page and put a strip of washi along the entire length.  Then I turned the page over and put another strip of washi along the back side.  Flipped back over and folded.  Voila!  Insta-hinge!


I'm not going to lie to you - actually sewing the signatures to the cover is not easy to do.  But it is do-able!  There are also about a jillion different ways to bind a book.  I went with something simple, yet effective.

1.  Take a pencil and your ruler and mark where you want your holes to be in your pages.  I did mine about 1 1/2" from the top and bottom and then another 1 1/2" from those holes - so only 4 holes total.  I marked these on both signatures.

2.  Tap your pages together, making sure they're straight.  Take your craft pick/hole punch and lay pages over a piercing or self-healing mat.  Push straight through.  Wiggle it a little so there's a little room to maneuver during sewing.

3.  Take one signature and lay it out flat on top of your cover - make sure the inside is facing up.  Get it lined up just how you want it.  Then take the craft pick again and punch through the holes in your signature, through your cover.  This is an easy way to make sure your signature's holes and cover holes will line up even if your measuring was off a little.

4.  Take your other signature (again, just in case you're measuring is off a little) and place it to the right of your first set of holes.  Then move it over a little bit.  Remember, these holes are going to get tugged on, so make sure there is enough space that you're comfortable the holes in your cover won't tear.  Punch your holes again.

5.  Take your twine/thread/ribbon/etc. and pull it to about 4 times the height of your journal.  Thread through the needle.  Do not knot the end.

6.  Line up your cover and signatures.  You're ready to sew this thing together!

7.  Sew signatures in place.

Now of course, I forgot to take pics while I was struggling with sewing my signatures, but I have a terrible diagram and I will do my best to explain it.

 Begin on the outside of the cover at the top.  Do not pull your thread all the way through the first hole!  Leave plenty on the outside to work with!

1. Push your thread through the outside top hole into the inside of the signature.
2. Push your thread through the second hole from inside the signature to the outside.  You should now have 1 short thread showing on the inside of the signatures.
3. From hole 2 on the outside, push your thread through the 3rd hole back inside the signature.
4. From hole 3 on the inside, push your thread through the 4th hole to the outside cover.

Pull the thread tight.  You may have to adjust later, but now everything is lined up.

Now you'll be working from bottom to the top.

5. From hole 4 on the outside cover, push your thread through the 3rd hole (careful not to snag your thread or sew through the middle of the thread that's already there) to the inside of the signature.
6. From inside the signature, hole 3, push thread through hole 2 to the outside.
7. From outside hole 2, push thread through hole 1 so you're on the inside of the signature.

Now what to do to get the thread back on the outside?

8. From hole 1 on the inside of the signature, push thread through hole 2 back to the outside.
9.With your fingers, tighten everything.  The thread can't be loose or it won't hold everything together properly.  Once it's all nice and tight (but not too tight - don't tear through your holes!  This is paper after all!), then you're ready to tie off.
10. Tie your knot close to hole 1.

You can leave extra lengths of your thread on the outside to use as a book mark or to tie charms (or whatever).  I left all mine long.  

Repeat for more signatures.

You now have a finished handmade one of a kind art journal!

Closing the Journal:

You can use a variety of different things to keep your journal closed.  Everything from ribbons, to rubber bands, to buttons, to velcro.  Your imagination is the limit.

I'm keeping mine closed with a black and white Smash Book rubber band I picked up in Michael's.  I love the contrast. 


More Washi Tape:

For a little extra contrast, because it was fun, and to keep the acrylic paint from sticking to each other, I added Washi Tape along edges and inside the top and bottom corners of each fold (including under the signatures).

Time to Decorate!

Now your journal is ready for anything you want to do with it.  You could add envelopes on the inside of your journal using a washi tape hinge, doodle on your flaps, add more flaps, whatever your imagination can come up with.  Here's mine...

Because this is a traveling journal and I want everyone to "sign" their work - I stamped a place for them to add their name and the date they did their page on the outside of each flap.  Once you open the flap, then there's even more space for them to work on.

Each person gets a 2 page spread plus inner (and outer) flap to work on - including myself!

Since I did 2 signatures of 8 pages each, that means the first single page is my "Introduction page" and I have 14 full 2 page spreads.  Yep, that means I have 2 extra spreads - but I figure I can fill in those last 2 myself.  And then of course, there is the the very last single page.  Which will be a great place to journal about the journey this journal will have been on!

1 comment:

  1. Great journal! I love the combination of colors and stencils for the cover.


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