A How-to: Using Old Books as Art Journals and Some Pics of Journal Pages

Earth laughs in flowers.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

What a week!  I hope that all y’all’s week went wonderfully, mine was a bit weird and kind of stressful.  I usually don’t allow much room for succumbing to stress, so this week was quite the challenge for me.

I did, however, continue arting and playing in the online workshop I joined.  It has been such a joy, such a surprise, to find a whole new dimension in my art, opened up to me in the form of sketching out ideas.  I no longer feel limited by my own clumsy hands.

What I realized this week (I think I knew it deep down inside somewhere, only I hadn’t figured out how to get it expressed out here), is that being able to get an image out of my head has far less to do with the hand and the pencil than I previously thought.  It has way more to do with how my mind’s eye sees the picture, with how clear the vision is in my head.  My hand and the pencil will get out that image, and if it’s clear enough, the image will look at least somewhat like the image in my head.

And I smashed through that fear, that reticence, that was holding me back.  It just vanished.  Now I can’t art fast enough, all of the ideas and images that have been floating around in my head for so long are all fighting at the doors of my perception to squeeze out first in line.  I simply don’t have enough time in the day!

I have a couple of images of pages in the little book I’ve been working in this week.  They don’t specifically have anything in common, other than they are pics of pages I worked on in the online workshop.  They did turn out really cute, though.

What I really wanted to share with you out of the idea of the little book:

Some tips for using books as art journals: 

  • A hard-back book is a good choice.  Soft-cover works, but it is a bit flimsy if you do a lot of heavy-handed work.
  • Vintage books are cool, but sometimes the pages are too fragile.  They tend to crumble or disintegrate if you really abuse them (which I do).
  • Do consider what kind of book you’re going to start arting in, for example, do you really want your art inside the cover of political book (maybe if it’s political art)?  Or do you really want your art inside a horror novel?  You’ll be way less frustrated if you consider that ahead of time.
  • One of my books has glossy, thick pages.  These do not need to be glued together for extra support.  They have plenty of support one page at a time. I made the mistake in one of them of gluing some pages together, and the result was really difficult to work with.  I simply gesso over the single pages and get to-playing.
  • One of my books is full of regular book page paper.  It’s not a paperback, so it’s not super thin, but pretty average.  I do glue two of the pages together for support, as I do a lot of collage work and sanding and abusing the pages (some people like to glue three pages together, I don’t like the lumpiness from all of the glued pages).  Then I gesso for prep.
  • In both books, if I left all of the pages in the book, ultimately it wouldn’t all fit inside the cover.  Because so much of what we do in our art books adds dimension (and I mean physically), it makes sense to remove a lot of the pages from the book.  In my glossy-paged book, since I am using each page individually, I removed every-other page from the whole book before starting any other prep.  From the regular-paged book, I left the first two pages, then removed two pages, then left two pages, then removed the next two pages, and so forth.  This leaves space inside the book for gluing stuff in and stuffing in little notes and pics and all of that jazz.
  • I save all of the removed pages for other art fodder.  Fun!!
  • I usually spend time gesso-ing and prepping several books at a time…a bit like an aseembly line.  Gesso a page in one art journal, set aside to dry, gesso a page in another book.  I do several pages in several books at one sitting.
  • I personally wait till the end before doing anything to the cover, cuz I’m a bit messy throughout my arting.

I hope this helps, I pondered the whole book thing for a long time before finally deciding it was okay.  I had to battle the mentality that books should be cared for a certain way.  I was able to get a pile of free books from a gal on craigslist, and I also had a couple of multiple copies of some books.  That eased my guilt enough to do the deed.  The surprise for me has been the joy of the feel of the size of the books and the joy of the text peeking out from underneath some of the arting.

11 thoughts on “A How-to: Using Old Books as Art Journals and Some Pics of Journal Pages

  1. my current art journal is an out of date map book with a wire binding. the pages are strong enough to use with gesso or acrylic background and it is oversized for large pages. i love it and plan to start another when this one is too full (it has over 200 original pages so plenty of room to play). you might want to give a map book a try when you want a large format book. tl

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    • Hi Kim,
      I have gotten less bashful about getting messy on old books 🙂
      I’m like you, I feel kind of weird about Bible pages. I used to look for pages already torn apart, but now I keep on the lookout for tattered Bibles at thrift stores and the like. A Bible that is already headed for the recycle bin finds a much more glorious life in art 🙂
      Thanks for visiting!

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