Turn an antique stitch-bound book into a paintable, doodle-able journal for all your scrappy artistic experimentation
This past year, I got back into art after a fifteen-year hiatus. At first I was only brave enough to tackle monochromatic media, like pencil and ink. Now I’ve gotten comfortable enough to experiment with color.
I needed an easy, cheap (ie: scrappy!) way to do this. One that is so simple (and easily collectable) that I can try all kinds of things without worrying. When I use up my paper stash, I feel obligated to make something great. (Hey, art paper is expensive, right?)
Enter an upcycled stitch-bound textbook, an Exacto knife, Mod Podge and gesso. With these four tools I made a cheap and fun-to-decorate art journal where I can experiment with all kinds of media and style . . . without using up my more expensive papers.
Here’s how you can make a scrappy art journal, too:
Step 1: Pick an old book.
Any old book will do; mine is an old botany textbook I found in the Little Free Library near my house. Stitch-bound books are best, because of the cutting you’ll be doing later.
Bonus: my botany textbook has cool drawings of plants and cells that will probably “show through” the art on many pages.
Step 2: Thin & glue pages.
Once you’ve picked your book, rip out at least half the pages. The textures of your art will make each remaining page thick, so you need to “make space” for that thickness by thinning the page count.
Pro Tip: I recommend that you rip out chunks of pages, leaving chunks of three to four pages in between.
With the clumps of pages left, Mod Podge two to four pages together into one single page, to create thicker mini canvases for your work. You could also use plain white glue for this.
Step 3: Flatten the thinned book.
Once you’ve thinned your book and glued the remaining pages into the final thick pages, close it and place something heavy on top for a few hours to let it flatten back into shape again.
Step 4: Texturize your inside cover.
Starting with the inside front cover, cover your first spread with texture and glue that texture on with Mod Podge. I used ripped-off pages from the book and left a little extra width so the book could still fold closed. This gives the spine of the book a bit more strength after all the alterations you’ve made.
You can do the same on any interior spread, as well.
Step 5: Gesso your spread.
Once you’ve texturized your spread, paint it with gesso. This primes the spread to receive writing and paints like acrylics or oils. (If you want to use watercolor, you’ll need a different kind of base.) Thin the gesso with water if you want to show through any designs beneath.
Step 6: Layer paint to your heart’s content.
Once your gesso has dried, you’re ready to pain, write and experiment. Let layers of paint dry thoroughly between coats. Use a hair dryer if you want to speed up the process. And if you want lower layers to show through, paint gel or matte medium over the layer to seal it and prevent bleeding when you paint over top.
Step 7: Add patterns, texture, text and paper.
Throughout the process, you can use different materials such as lace, cloth, paper, or beads and baubles. Use Mod Podge or gel medium to attach them. You can also add textures like coarse pumice gel that leaves a neat gritty texture you can easily paint over when dry.
Step 8: Add words if desired.
I admit, I still haven’t mastered this one. You can paint or marker on top of the fully-dried image, or glue words from books and newspapers. If you’ve got a lot of texture, though, writing will be all that much harder. Let me know what you find works for you!
Step 9: Add final touches.
It’s those final touches that make all the difference. I cut phrases from a Jane Austen novel to create poetry for mine. I also sealed the entire spread with an iridescent medium that gives the color a pearly sheen.
Step 10 – 11: Repeat on every page!
Here’s an example of another spread, where I was experimenting more with multiple layers using gel medium in between them. We had a blizzard here that day . . . so I was inspired to add the touches of white, snowballs and snowflakes, at the very end.
And there you have it! A super cheap, super scrappy art journal you can use to experiment with (and keep a record of) your artistic journey. Whenever you’re ready, you can gesso and decorate the outside of your journal, too.
If you like this, check out my Art Journal Pinterest Board with spreads that inspire me and some tutorials I used to inspire my scrappy art journal.