Saturday, August 21, 2010

A New Sketchbook

I'm very picky about what I want in a sketchbook. It can't be too small to sketch comfortably, or too large to carry with me. It must have watercolor paper in it. I prefer portrait format. Both sides of the paper should be the same. Preferably hardbound, not spiral. Again and again I purchase some commercial sketchbook, hoping that this will be the one to make me happy. Sometimes I dislike the book so much that I move on to the next without even finishing it, which is why I have ELEVEN sketchbooks going at the moment. Well, make that twelve now because I just made my own sketchbook a couple of days ago! And I love it, and wish that I had done so sooner!

So, here is how this came about:

I went to the art supply to see if I could use my 40% off coupon for a nice watercolor sketchbook, only they didn't have the one I wanted or anything else that I wanted to try. They did have a terrific sale on paper though, so I scooped up a bunch of paper and told my husband I'd make my own. Keep in mind that I had no supplies for bookmaking on hand. I thought I'd improvise. Because that's what I do.

I'll skip telling the hows and just send you to the two sites I used. I'd like to thank Shirley for the information she has on her blog, and for the inspiration--her journals are so beautiful! And Martha of Trumpetvine Travels for her instructions.

This was much easier than I thought it would be! My book doesn't look great, but I learned tons my first time out! Remember the "improvise" I talked about? First, I didn't have the proper thread, so I thought dental floss seemed like a good replacement. It went together quickly and easily with that, but when I finished I realized I had put too many folios and it didn't fit very well. So, I tried to take one off and that is when I discovered dental floss wasn't as strong as I had believed. My only other option was some hemp that I had for making bracelets. So, I restitched the whole thing and when I got done, it was once again too fat. I removed the top folio. It was still just a little too big, but I glued it in anyway. This book is VERY strong, though it looks a little funny because the middle mushes out a little.

What I learned:
  • Don't use dental floss.
  • Don't use hemp. While it is strong enough, it is also so thick that it makes the spine of the book fat, while the other side is skinny.
  • If you're already having problems with the thickness of the spine, for goodness sake, don't cover the gaps left between folios with strips of paper, which makes it even thicker!
It really is not a difficult procedure and with the right tools, it should be easy to make a sketchbook just the way you want it! I'll be going for some bookbinding thread as soon as possible!
Buying the paper on a mega-sale, each sketchbook that I make will cost about $6. I have enough to make three 9" x 6" books of the 90lb Frabriano cp paper that I bought. (This book counts as one of them.) And I also bought some 140 lb Canson cp which will make three more. I'm set! Except maybe for the string. Definitely need that! Oh, and some pretty endpapers to dress it up some!


  1. It's a great sketchbook! You are going to love it! I have been using perle cotton (like what is used for needlepoint) because that's what I already had, and it's been working wonderfully well. When I run out of that I may try the linen thread. I also have been using just a piece of Kiddo's modeling beeswax to wax the thread. It works. Cathy Johnson said she uses a beeswax candle. My books never lay perfectly flat and even either, but hey, it's handmade and makes me happy :-)

  2. Nothing is better than homemade stuff, sketchbook are not excluded either ^^ People could ask..."wow, that's a nice looking sketchbook, is it a Moleskine?" And you could go..."'s Raenaskine" ^^

  3. It looks very cool... did you make the cover too?

  4. Congratulations! I've seen these instructions in the past and they have scared me away from even trying. So I really have to hand it to you.

    You may or may not have noticed, but I have only one post this month as well. What a month! A business colleague/friend suddenly discovered a life-threatening condition that has eclipsed everything else happening right now. It has been very upsetting to me on multiple levels. This has also made things crazy busy. So though I had promised myself that I was going to be much quicker with the 2-n-fro this time, here I am 4 weeks away again. Still I managed a preparatory sketch today in the hope I can get it to you soon.

  5. Hooray! Another convert to the DIY journal fanatics. You're so right -- it's not rocket science and the process is very forgiving. I made so many mistakes on my first one it was hilarious. And yet it was a sturdy book with good paper that I enjoyed using, and just the size I wanted. I just bound my fourth one and only had one mistake (well maybe 2) this time. I've been documenting and updating my process each time and now that I have all the bumps worked out, will soon be posting my cheat sheet to share. I've learned so much from Shirley and Roz and Martha too.

    Yours is really beautiful and has one thing I haven't tried yet--the two piece cover. Next time I'll get brave and try that (especially since I have so many scraps of book cloth left over from the first 4. I'll look forward to hearing how you like the papers you used. I've found my perfect journal paper, Legion Multimedia 140 pound cold press (but it's smooth) and is also sold by Utrecht as their 100% cotton rag watercolor paper.

    Congratulations (and sorry for the super long comment!

  6. Oh, I'm impressed! I've never even thought of making my own journal. Yours looks great.

  7. What a super idea! Like you I have several sketchbooks, none of which I like. I want something 'just right' but have never found it. I actually baught a new one only yesterday - Maybe, just maybe this is 'the one'! If not, I might just give this a go :0)

  8. The dental floss made me smile, that's real improvisation! I had a go last year and I liked how the cover turned out but I just couldn't get the paper straight. I think practice is the answer, your post has made me think about trying again.

  9. Congratulations!!!!!
    I think you'll be hooked and may never buy another sketchbook. I made so many mistakes in my first two recycled books and even used 4-5 different kinds of paper so I could compare them. I learned that I hated some of them. But they were very sturdy and VERY LOVED! My latest recycled and from-scratch sketchbooks are approx. 8" square and now I've discovered my favorite format after many 6 x 8" portrait style ones. Thanks for showing us and please remember I want to see all the ones you make.

  10. Ann-Thanks so much for your comment. I've been envying your sketchbooks for a long time and kept saying I needed to try that!

    Alex- I love the way Raenaskine sounds!

    Elaine- Thanks! No, it is actually from a recycled book. I figure it will be awhile before I venture a little further into book making!

    Dan-It really is easier than it looks; I thought the same thing when I saw the instructions! It's been a terrible month for posting! Very sorry for your friend; sending positive thoughts his way!

    Jana-Definitely a convert! I haven't tried enough papers to figure out which of those I like yet, but I imagine I'll start getting picky about that too!

    Barbara and Peggy-Thank you!

    Sandra-I've spent a fortune on sketchbooks that I don't even like!

    Cathy-The dental floss was almost strong enough! :D

    Shirley-I would eventually like to get into dying my own fabrics for it so I can make beautiful sketchbooks like yours!

  11. How lovely! There is nothing like a handmade sketchbook. Buying them- I'll find I like the cover, but not the paper. I'll like the paper, but not the size, I'll like the size, but....well you get the idea. Once you've made a couple it gets to much quicker and easier, where you learn how to save time and where you can cut corners. Anyway, congratulations- that looks like an excellent sketchbook. I bet you'll enjoy using it more too :)

  12. WOW, Raena, I'm impressed! 8-0
    Do you say it's easy to do?? And where did you learn the steps for it?
    I always thought making your own sketchbook is very difficult and I wouldn't have no idea about how to start....
    Congratulations! You did a great work, and it's time to enjoy drawing now! ;-)

  13. I have to hand it to you Raena, it seems you are not just a pretty face! I'm sure it would be much too fiddly for me to make a sketch book.

    Have you thought about fishing line for the thread? It's very thin, immensely strong - 7lb should be more than strong enough for book pages and 100m of the stuff would cost you peanuts.

  14. Chuckle. I'll remember that: don't use dental floss'. Brilliant!

  15. Great post, Raena. Any suggestions for people like me who buy sketchbooks but are hesitant to "mess them up." I sketch everyplace but in the sketchbook. (Ah, maybe I should sketch first--then put them into a book.)

  16. Raena, it's a lovely sketchbook! You did a fabulous job.
    I have drawers full of different books and papers. I'm horrible at using just one thing. But I can see how your sketchbook would be totally inspiring.
    Thanks for sharing all the great tips!

  17. Gorgeous sketch book and great idea! Why didn't I think of it before??? Thanks for sharing. :)

  18. I am so in awe of those who are able to make their own journals! Good job. And Raenaskine is too funny. Let's hope we all post more in September.

  19. Way to go girl! this is a great first to what sounds like many more! (at least 2 more hehe) Sketchbooks are such a personal thing on many levels and this hand made one will have a special place for you I am sure.
    Looking forward to seeing the others.
    Oh thanks for sharing your lessons, I always thought dental floss was a sutible material...I am gonna look for the binding thread too for when the desire finally gets the best of me to make my own. :/

    It is going to be another treat to see what you put in it!

  20. A great inspiration and so many good infos. I have been tempted to try but it always seemed complicated and quite precise, not one of my strong point...
    yours looks wonderful.

  21. very cool! i'm going to give it a try once i get through the sketchbook i'm working through now! i just came across a great deal on watercolor paper so i've got that part ready to go.

  22. You are an inspiration, Raena! I've always wanted to try making my own books. In fact, I'm leaving for vacation in a few weeks and wondered what kind of journal to take with me. I've gotten rather spoiled with 140 cold pressed paper instead of flimsy journal paper. I think you just may have converted me into trying it out!

  23. Great job on the book. You can even the pages if you want but then they'll actually be different sizes. I prefer the unevenness as it proclaims the book to be handmade rather than machine made. I've never used a premade cover. Being another just-do-it person, I just took cardboard and covered it. I've used embroidery thread to sew with but others say not to. So far it's worked for me but I have now bought some linen thread. It's so much thinner for the same strength. As far as gaps between signatures, that's just another handmade look. I've wrapped my signatures in a smaller, different colored paper and now it looks like I left spaces on purpose! Actually they work for me as they allow me to do some collage which overfills a book without spaces. You are going to love this book so much.

  24. oh this is fabulous.. The best kind of book by far !!!