Have you ever had trouble finding just the right sketchbook? Maybe you can’t find the right kind of paper, or they are just too darn expensive. Well, it’s probably easier than you think to make one of your own, and everything you need might already be lying around your house.
Why Make Your Own Sketchbooks?
Use your favorite paper. Why settle for the same old white paper when you can use toned, textured, heavy weight, watercolor, or lined paper instead? Or, this is a great way to get rid of all those half-used sketchpads you know you’ve got tucked away somewhere.
It’s cheap. Since most of your materials consist mostly of scraps, paper, and glue, this project is pretty easy on the wallet.
Style points. No more boring black sketchbooks! Choosing the colors and patterns to use for your sketchbook is half the fun. I once made a sketchbook that was entirely pink, just for the heck of it.
What You Need:
Drawing Paper – This is for the interior pages of your book. Use whatever type of paper you like to draw/paint on.
Patterned/Colored Paper – For covering your book. I like to use scrapbook paper — it comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, is pretty cheap, and is readily available in places like Michaels or Wal-Mart. You will need to pick different papers for 1) the cover 2) the spine, and 3) the endpaper.
Heavy Board – Chip board from the back of sketch pads or scrap mat board works beautifully.
Glue – I use regular white glue. You need something that is durable and will paint on smoothly.
Needle and Thread
Awl, or another sharp object like a thumbtack.
The Paper Block
Take your paper and cut it to the size of a “spread.” In other words, double the width of the final page size. (You are going to be folding these in half.)
Separate your paper into piles of eight. Take each pile and fold it in half. This is one “signature” of your book.
Create more signatures depending on how many pages you want in your book. I usually use two or three to make a good medium-size sketchbook. Keep in mind that if you use a lot of signatures, it will become more difficult to bind.
Stack your signatures together so that their folds are lined up nicely. Draw several, evenly-spaced marks across all of the folds with a pencil. How many you make isn’t important, as long as it is an even number.
Now, take each signature and open it flat on your table. Carefully poke a hole on each mark, using an awl or a thumbtack. To make sure the hole penetrates all of the pages, place a piece of cardboard or foam board underneath. Keep your pages tightly aligned to avoid your holes from going off center on the other side.
After you’ve poked holes in all your signatures, get some needle and thread. I like to use embroidery string because it’s thicker and stronger than ordinary thread. If you do use thread, just double it up to help reinforce it. You will also want to use string that is a color that blends well with your paper.
Cut your string the length of your spine, multiplied by the number of signatures. I had three signatures, so I cut my string three times the length of my spine.
Take your first signature and thread your needle through the first hole, going from the outside in. Pull it through, making sure to leave a few inches of string remaining.
Continue to sew up the remaining holes, alternating in and out. Keep the string nice and tight. At the last hole, your needle should end up back on the outside.
Take your second signature and line it up with the first. Pull your string through the adjacent hole on the second signature and pull tight.
Sew the needle back through the second hole on the second signature. Then take the needle and thread it through the adjacent hole in the first signature.
Continue to sew the needle in this manner, down the spine and through both signatures. Stop when you have threaded the needle through the last hole in the second signature. (Don’t thread the needle back through the last hole in the first signature.)
You should have two strings hanging out of your spine – the string you left when you first started, and the remainder of the string that has the needle on it. Tie these two pieces together with a simple square knot, making sure all your strings are nice and tight first. If you only have two signatures, you are done sewing and can cut the strings.
To add another signature, simply sew the third signature to the second signature using the same process as before. When you reach the other end, you won’t have a string to tie to – bind it by threading your needle around the small amount of string that is holding the first and second signatures together, then continue on to your next signature. Or, if you want to finish off, sew back down your last signature to tie up your strings.
Take your entire “block” of paper and carefully trim off the edges (about 1/8″) so that they are nice and even.
Your paper is now done! Set it aside…
Okay, don’t set aside your paper block just yet. You need to measure the final size of your pages, because this size will determine the size of your cover. You need to be as accurate as 1/8″.
Get your heavy cover board. Cut two pieces. They need to be the same width as your pages, and the height plus 1/4″.
Next, cut a piece of board for your spine. It should be the same height as your cover board. The width depends on how thick your paper block is.
Take the paper you have chosen for your cover. Cut two pieces, one for each cover. They should be the same width as your cover board, and the height plus 1 1/2″.
Take a piece of cover paper and mark 3/4″ on three sides. (The cover board should fit inside these lines, except for a small strip near the spine.)
Draw and cut a 45 degree angle off the two outside corners. For best results, don’t cut exactly on the corner, but leave a small space.
Wrap the paper around the cover board to pre-fold the lines and make sure it fits correctly.
Now take the paper you’ve chosen for your spine. Cut it at the width of your spine board plus three inches; cut the height at the height of the spine board, plus 1 1/2″.
Mark the back side of your spine paper, 1 1/2″ on the sides, and 3/4″ from the top and bottom. You should have a rectangle drawn in the center that is the size of your spine board. Take your spine board and place it in this space, and pre-fold your paper around it.
Finally, cut your end paper. Cut two pieces, each the same height of your interior pages and double the width. Fold them each in half, with the pattern on the inside.
Take your glue and pour some out on a palette, or in a shallow cup. If it is especially thick or sticky, thin it out slightly with water.
Paint a thin, even layer of glue on your cover paper, completely covering the section where your board will be. Place on your board and quickly smooth out all air bubbles and wipe off excess glue.
Now, paint some glue on each of the edges and wrap them around the edges.
Place your cover boards under some heavy books to keep them flat while they dry.
Place some glue on your spine paper and glue on your board in the center of the paper.
Put it all together
Paint some glue on one side of the spine paper. Place one of your cover boards there. Leave a space about 1/8″-1/4″ between it and your spine board. Glue the other cover board to the other side.
Finally, glue the top and bottom edges of your spine paper over the edge of your cover. Press the paper down firmly on the notches to secure it.
Place the entire cover underneath some heavy books for a few minutes.
Paint a layer of glue over half of an end paper. Glue it to one of your cover boards, with the fold facing toward the spine. Glue the other end paper to the other side.
Finish it up
Place some glue in a column about a 1/2″ wide along the inner edge of your end paper, next to the fold. Line up your paper block and press it down on the glue firmly.
Place some glue in another column on the other end paper. Fold the entire book over, lining up with the paper block, and press the entire book together to secure the glue. Use clips to hold it together even more securely while the glue dries.
Press the book under some heavy books until it’s dry. You now have a finished sketchbook!
Tips and Tricks
If you are using an especially thick paper for you interior pages, like watercolor paper, decrease the amount of sheets you put in each signature. You should be able to fold them in half fairly easily.
For a more durable cover, you can find scrapbook paper that has a velvety or plastic texture. Or you can experiment with other materials, such as cloth.
When you are sewing your pages, keep your string taut, but be gentle to avoid tearing your holes.
As you can see by the length of this tutorial, this process may seem a little confusing with all the measuring, cutting, and gluing. However, it’s all pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. Your first sketchbook might not come out as neat and pretty as you’d like, but it all gets easier after that, I promise.
Have fun, and happy drawing!