Points to consider when hand binding a sketchbook journal

I have a new hand bound journal sketchbook. I often hand bind my journals and thought I would share some of the points I consider when I assemble them.

hand bound journal sketchbookWhy do I hand bind my journal sketchbooks?
I like to write, and like to draw in the same book. The problem is that the paper in sketchbooks is made for drawing, and not often suitable to write on. It is also often expensive.  On the other hand, the paper in notebooks even if  it is unlined, is often not suitable to sketch on and will buckle, weaken and even fall apart if you add too much wet media. So what do you do if you want to write and sketch? My solution is to make my own journals with a mix of paper types. I have a leaf or two of writing paper and then a page which is suitable for a sketch. Once you are mixing your paper types it is a simple step to mix different types of drawing/watercolour/tinted  paper in the same book. Hand binding my own journals enables me to do this and it is a lot of fun.

different papers in hand bound journal sketchbookThe other advantage is that is cheaper to bind your own. It is far cheaper to buy a couple of sheets of good quality paper and make it into a book than buying mass produced sketchbook. Once you have the skill it takes about 2-3 hours to fold, stitch and case a book of 7-10 signatures. Also a hand bound book can lay flat when open if you bind it properly.

book openI do not use a hand bound journal all the time as I use commercial books too. For the last couple of months I have been using a sketchbook to draw in, and a separate notebook to write in. This split between activities is very rare for me, but it came about when I was given 2 Strathmore mixed media sketchbooks for Christmas. These sketchbooks had 32 page spreads in them. I have filled both of them with drawings and I know if I had also written in them I would have chewed through both of them in about 3-4 weeks. My solution? To use the 2 Christmas gifts as sketchbooks and write in a regular book during that time.

I loved the sketchbooks but did not like the division between sketching and writing. For me a journal runs in chronological order and using one book for this and one book for that feels scattered. My life is not in compartments and areas of life does not fit into boxes so I like to use one book at a time. So when both Strathmore sketchbooks were filled and my notebook I decided it was time to return my regular habit.

Many people like to personalise their journal and hand binding enables me to do this. I have already discussed how I can choose the type of paper to suit how it will be used. I can also make a book the size I want. This book is 9×9 inches (22ms x 22cms) Normally I like a a smaller 5.5 x 8 inches (14cm x21cm) as this size book fits in a hand bag with ease. Sometimes I carry a larger A4 size book but the practicalities of carrying this size can be difficult. It can get heavy to carry but it is possible. For instance when I traveled in Europe I filled 2 A4 size books and 1 smaller A5 book (yes 3 books filled in 10 weeks). My point is that carrying the larger size is possible but not always practical. Anyway I thought I would try a totally new format for me a 9 x9 inch ( 22 x 22 cm) square format. I thought this size might prove to be a compromise between the two as I like a bit of elbow room to draw in.

Apart from being able to experiment with the size of the book and choose your own paper you can make the book as thick or thin as like. In other words you can have something that is only 4-5 signatures or in this case I chose 8 signatures which means it will last me longer than 2 months. It will probably last me about 3. It has a good heft to it which I dont mind but I can see how some people would find it heavy to carry

spacer in a hand bound journal sketchbookThe other aspect of my journalling habit is that I often add ephemera to my pages. You would be surprised how much print matter and ephemera changes. It can really capture the mood of the time. Incorporating things like cinema tickets, business cards, take out menus etc can really add something to a journal. The problem is that if you do it too much pages bulge. My solution is that I add spacer card to each signature. You often see this done in old fashioned photo albums and scrap books. The space allows the book to bulge without breaking the spine. I use heavy (220 gsm) scrapbook papers as spacers.

inside cover hand bound journal sketchbookAs to personalisation the cover in this case is some hand dyed damask which I did a few years ago. Also as pure self indulgence I like to do a collage in the opening page spread. This is personalisation but it also gets over the white first page syndrome. By doing it I feel I have ‘started’ to use the book and I get on with really using it. In other words it stops the muddle headed dithers about a nice new book.

I hope you have found the explanation of some of the points I considered as I bind my own sketchbook journals useful.


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22 Responses to Points to consider when hand binding a sketchbook journal

  1. lin says:

    Brilliant Sharon. Great idea to mix papers.xx

  2. Christine says:

    Thank you for sharing.
    I am about to start a ‘Pregnancy Journal’ for my DD, I have the paper and hope to start this month. The spacer idea is very good as I have lots of ephemera to use.
    Thanks again.

    • sharonb says:

      Thanks Christine yes spacers solve the problem of pasting in ephemera depends what you have but you can also bind in those plastic pockets that you can slip an A4 sheet of paper into

  3. Faith says:

    I like the size and shape of your new journa. I might try that for my next studio journal.
    I think I am a very scattered person. I have journaled off and on since I learned to write, although I didn’t do any art in my journals until I took your class. Somehow, I’ve always ended up using more than one notebook at a time. It amuses me to imagine my son reading them after I’m gone, jumping, in one case, from before he was born to his thirties, then back again. (Couldn’t resist that whole section I was going to write something else in, but didn’t. )

    • sharonb says:

      Hi Faith I am not sure if I am going through some age related thing but I am feeling more and more that one book to rule them all is important for me to look back on.

  4. How funny you posted this one today, as I’m making my first journal with more than one signature – as we talked about. So this is very timely!

  5. Andy LW says:

    Sharon – this post on bookbinding is really helpful – thank you. My son has just (this last Sunday, St David’s Day!) been made Archdeacon of Brighton & Lewes. I want to put all the ephemera and photos, service sheet etc in a book so your post is very timely! Thank you.

  6. Annet says:

    Thanks for sharing this. So far I only made a few small 1 signature notebooks.

    • sharonb says:

      Annet if you have done one signature it is not hard to do more and there is lots of instructions on YouTube – just google book binding and they will turn up

  7. Beth in IL says:

    Sharon, I am curious about the spacers. I am using a handmade book for my journal-doing art and journaling which I love-but I did not leave enough space and the book does not close properly. That doesn’t bother me a lot, but I want to make another book and leave space for the collage and ephemera. How did you do that?

    • sharonb says:

      Beth it is heavy scrapbook paper that I cut to that size ie into strips of about 3 inches and then fold it in half, then stitch it into the signature as I stitch the rest of the pages. It is just a very skinny page of thicker card

  8. Juno says:

    I have enjoyed this post and find it very interesting, but, what is a ‘signature’? and how do you sew the pages together?

    How are you finding the new size of book?

    Thanks Sharon.

    • sharonb says:

      Juno a signature is 4-5 sheets of paper folded in half. You make a number of them and then stitch them together. If you google “stitch book signatures” you will get a number of links and videos that demonstrate how to do it.

      • Juno says:

        Thank you. Is there one or two that you think are particularly useful/good?

        • sharonb says:

          Hi Juno – sorry I don’t understand your question. Do you means sketchbooks or papers? Or tutorials? If its tutorials You want I working on a round up sort of post

          • Juno says:

            Sorry there has been a delay in response (no internet). I mean tutorials; so I will await you round up post. Many thanks.

          • sharonb says:

            HI Juno no worries I am still getting side tracked writing it!

  9. Karen says:

    Great ideas! I often make my own sketchbooks but have not used different types of papers. That is a terrrific solution. Thanks for sharing.

    • sharonb says:

      Thanks Karen I have agonised over this writing/sketching thing for ages and a mix of papers seems to be working at the moment

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