Part of the joy of writing is the tactile nature of it— the movement of ink across the page; the weight of your pen in your hand; the satisfaction of finding just the right journal to write in.
For some it might be a legal pad filled with lines to guide their thoughts or the soft, inviting pages of a Moleskin notebook.
My preference is to write in a beautifully-bound hardcover book filled with blank white pages I can fill with everything from poems to sketches, ideas for books and to do lists.
And because I have a hard time finding a book that checks all my boxes, over two decades ago I began making my own journals.
The results are as beautiful as they are unique, but it is the process I find most satisfying.
There is something profound and perfect about creating a journal that is as handmade as the words we fill it with.
This post is about sharing that process with you.
Step One: Define your preferences
While you can create your own pages and covers from scratch, I like to start with a ready-made book or notebook. It might be a composition book or artist’s sketchbook or any kind of pre-made journal that you can refashion to your liking.
Do you prefer a smaller notebook you can slip into your pocket or purse or a larger one you can stretch across your lap? Do you like the weight and feel of a hard or soft cover? The guidance of a lined page or the freedom of a blank one?
Once you’ve defined your preferences, it’s time to go shopping.
Because I love to write on blank pages and like the feel of a hardcover notebook I can carry with me, I start with a 5 x 8-inch hardcover artist’s sketchbook I purchase at an art supply store like Blick’s.
But there are so many choices!
Step Two: Design your covers
There is no shortage of ways to design your covers and part of the joy is to discover the materials and processes that speak to you. I like to collage my covers with paper (both store-bought and found) and acrylic paint, beads and found materials.
Here is a list of materials you might consider using:
Found images from magazines, greeting cards, etc.
Scanned copies of photographs, letters, diaries or other documents
Art paper and wrapping paper
Book cloth (or heavy-duty cloth or tape)
Natural objects like feathers, shells and dried flowers
Acrylic paint, markers, or pastels
Gold paint or pen
Book binding PVA glue (you can also use regular glue or Mod Podge)
A gloss medium like Mod podge (both to glue papers and materials to covers and to seal them with a glossy finish)
Take your time gathering your materials and try arranging them in different patterns until you find one that pleases you.
Then glue your first layer (for me it’s usually a layer of art paper or cloth) onto your front and back covers.
Wait until you’ve finished step three to glue any additional layers.
Step Three: Bind your book spine
To bind the spine of your book, I recommend using book binding cloth you can find at a craft store like Blick’s, but you can also use any kind of heavy-duty cloth or tape.
Measure the width you’ll need to cover the spine of your book, use an X-acto knife to cut your binding to size, then glue it using book binding glue or Mod Podge.
Try not to get glue on the cloth of your spine as it will look messy.*
*Full disclosure: I almost always get glue on the binding. If it happens, I recommend embracing it as part of the handmade beauty of your book.
Step Four: Finishing
Cut and paste the remaining images and materials you’ve selected onto your covers, building up as few or as many layers as you’d like. I like to seal each layer with a gloss medium like Mod podge, which gives my covers a deep, rich sheen. If you try it, make sure to give the final product time to cure before using.
Extra touches to consider
The possibilities are endless! Here are a few to spark your creativity:
Decorate inside covers with paper, images and/or text
Create a pocket on the inside of either cover where you can store notes and other treasures
Give yourself surprises to land on by gluing images and/or text on random pages throughout
Create a double cover like the one shown below. Decorate the outside to share with the world. Decorate the inner cover with messages, images, or affirmations that are just for you.
Make sure to share your results with me on Instagram @rebehuntman or Facebook @rebehuntmanauthor so I can see what you come up with!