A Mess of Sketchbooks – How to Make Your Own

I got into making my own sketchbooks after I felt I was holding back from making that first mark on the page of my newly store bought sketchbooks out of fear of somehow ruining them. Instead, I got over my hesitation by employing a little DIY. If I make something, it feels like I have the right to wreck it if I want to, and that seems to do the trick in removing that mental barrier for me. Truthfully, I’ve learned that all the marks I make in my sketchbooks are noble – all heading toward my improvement of expression – squiggles, scratches and all. So, I just needed to get over myself.

But now, I love making my own sketchbooks. I feel like they are way more precious than store bought (which, ironically, doesn’t seem to make me pause even a little bit before marking them up).  They have become a tool of expression, as they should be.

Here are some insights into my process, as well as links to where I learned how to put everything together. Some of the following links are affiliate links.

Paper: I like fabriano hotpress. I buy a pad of the 8×10 or 9×12 (or 11×14 then halve it) and use the whole pad to create one book, reserving the cardboard backing for the front and back cover board. It’s got a nice smooth surface, so it takes ink nicely, as well as watercolour.

Other Tools:
  • bone (or plastic) folder – use this to create a nice sharp crease when folding each page
  • awl – for punching holes in the paper
  • spray glue – for fixing the cover fabric/paper to the cover board
  • thread, string, or embroidery floss – for stitching the groups of pages together. You can run this item through solid bee’s wax to help prevent tangling, if you like.
  • sewing needle – that suitably fits the type of thread you choose.

How To Put It All Together:

  • figure out what kind of binding you want. I have a bunch of posts on my pinterest board. Have a look. My favorite so far is an open binding (no spine) using the kettle stitch (and Jennifer from Sea Lemon has lots of great tutorials, so look around her channel).  This kind of open spine allows me to open the book flat, no matter what page I am on. It’s great for sketching.
  • Whether or not you intend to include a spine, check out this tutorial from James Darrow (or on Deviant Art if you are not on Pinterest).  He outlines all the steps you need to do to get to the point of stitching, and beyond, if you want to include a spine. This process requires a bit more patience (overnight glue setting) and you will need a few other supplies for this, like a glue stick, a strip of cotton and extra cardboard for the spine. I have been know to glue together double or triple layers of cereal box cardboard to get a reasonably stiff spine. It looks great and is definitely worth the extra time if you can spare it.  Otherwise, when you are ready to stitch, leave this tutorial and refer to the kettle stitch video above.
  • For the cover, I LOVE to upcycle old pants pockets. Use what you already have. And it’s so dang practical. I can tuck all of my most used travel sketching supplies in the pockets and grab n’ go when I want to head out on the town and sketch. Super convenient.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in bookmaking. Leave me a comment. And I’m happy to answer any questions.


Happy stitching and sketching!


More about Julie Prescesky

Julie spends much of her time paying attention to what's happening around her. At Design Inkarnation, she's head designer, illustrator, and creative problem solver.

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