Some Sketchbooks

Last week I made 3 new sketchbooks. Three! That’s a big spike in productivity, mind you. It helped a lot that my mother-in-law was visiting and helped out a ton (thanks!).

I made them according to the soft-cover sketchbook tutorial I posted a couple years ago. I love these books. No glue required, which is nice when you have no glue on hand. colophon colphon 2

I used some nice thick St. Armand handmade paper in Elephant Gray and Plum. covers spines 3 spines spines2 stacked up stitchingIf you’re interested in making your own, check out the tutorial. Now to start filling these up.

A Book for Liz

Here’s another book I made this last weekend. I actually made it at the same time I was making the red book, but I couldn’t show it until after she got it because it was a surprise.

It was a really last-minute project, so I’m glad it turned out so well, and I hope she likes it.

A little back story: My littlest sister is OBSESSED with Ireland, and she’s taking a trip to England in a few weeks (yes, I know not Ireland, but a lot closer to it than where she is right now), so I wanted to make a little book for her to take with her and record all the fun she’s having.

The four-leaf clover was my other sister’s idea. And of course it had to be green. Very Irish, right?

I had to have a quick love-holding-a-finished-book moment before I sent it off.

Have fun on your trip Liz!

A Red Project

June has kind of been a sparse month for projects, thanks to lots of work to do for my editing job, but I did get a few things done. One of the projects I completed thanks to a little push from a contest. Have you heard about this:

Well, every week they host a contest for projects that fit a different theme, and this week the theme was red, white, or blue. Well, I’ve had this little book waiting to be finished for about 8 months or so, and I thought, hey, I’ll finish for that contest (yes, I know it’s not really patriotic, but I was looking for a reason to finish this book, so I thought I’d make it work).

Not red, white, or blue you say.

There it is.

Nice, rich, scarlet-red pages, with matching dyed linen stitching and end bands.

Red book project. Check.

ps. I’m also linking this up at skip to my lou.

Bookbinding Basics: Terminology

Here’s some bookbinding terminology, in case you found any words confusing in the Coptic sketchbook tutorial or the board book tutorials (part 1, part 2).

  • Covers: The exterior covering of a book; these may be made of lots of things, from the traditional wood or cardboard boards, leather or velum, to handmade paper, aluminum, or anything else you can think of.
  • End Band: The decorative roll of cord or paper, or silk thread twisted along a paper or leather core, that is often found at the top and head and tail of the spine of the text block. Besides adding a nice finishing touch to the book, the end bands were meant to prevent dust from accumulating in the spine.

  • End paper: The first and last pages of a book, often decorative, that are generally both sewn into the text block and pasted to the inside of the cover. End papers that are not attached to the text block but glued to the cover are usually called paste downs.
  • Fore edge: The open end of the a signature or book.
  • Grain: In bookbinding, this refers to the direction the paper fibers have been laid out in. You always want to have all elements of a book with the grain in the same direction: parallel to the spine. This is essential in making your book open easily, lie flat, and look nice in general. To determine the grain, take your paper and fold over one side and gently press down. Now do the same with the side perpendicular to the side you tested, being sure to fold over the same amount of paper to make the comparison fair. The grain runs parallel to whichever side is easier to press down on when it is folded over.

    Another way to determine grain is to tear the edge of the paper in both directions; the grain runs in the direction of whichever way tore more neatly.Finally, a third way to determine grain is to tear a small rectangle out of the corner of your paper (like 2 × 3 inches) and gently mist one side with a spray bottle. The paper will curl in the direction the grain runs. A note about finding grain of boards: Tug up on the long and short sides; the grain runs parallel to whichever side is easiest to tug up. Once you have determined the direction of the grain, you may want to draw light pencil lines in the direction of the grain all along the board so that when you have cut smaller pieces of the board, you will still know which way the grain runs (because trying to determine grain on a 4×4 inch board is nearly impossible!).
  • Head: The top edge of a book.
  • Leaf: A piece of paper folded in half is called a leaf.
  • Spine: This refers to the folded edge of a signature, or the bound edge of a book. In bookbinding, you will always want your grain to run parallel to the spine (seriously can’t emphasize this enough).
  • Signature: Several pieces of paper folded together form a signature.
  • Tail: The bottom edge of a book.
  • Text block: The “guts” of a book, made up of one or more signatures.

Tutorial: Soft Cover Coptic Sketchbook

I made my first proper book when I was 14. Of course, I had done many folded pamphlet-style books, books made out of cardboard boxes, and an accordion book or two, but my first bound book was a Coptic bound book. And it was a sketchbook, too.

Since then, I have made many more books, including several Coptic bound ones. I haven’t really made a sketchbook, though, since that first one. Well, mostly because I’m not really a sketchbook kind of girl, probably because I feel intimidated by the idea. I would be terrified that someone would want to see it, like “ohhh, an artist sketchbook, it must be really cool, and everything must be really good inside.” Too much pressure. Seriously.

You can see here just how much of that sketchbook I actually used (I’m holding those pages). I think I spent more time making it than I did using it. Sad, I know.

But for some reason lately I’ve really been wanting a sketchbook, mostly for the reasons I mentioned here. I just want a little something to keep my skills sharp, even if I’m not able to get into full-on art production.

I decided to make my sketchbook a Coptic bound book for one simple reason: It can lie completely flat when opened. like so:

One problem, though, was that with the exposed sewing, the threads start to wear down with rough handling. I had an artist journal with two threads break by the time I had completely filled it (about two years).

Really sad. So I wanted to try something to protect the binding, but that still had all the advantages of a Coptic book. I decided to try a soft cover to achieve this.

See, the thread goes into the edge of the cover, not on top of it, so the threads don’t get rubbed at this pressure point and break like they did with my other book. You can do this with wooden boards also; the holes are simple drilled at an angle into the side. Someday I’ll try this.

Another advantage of this binding is that you can do the whole thing without a smidge of glue. That’s a fun little change from most books.

As I got started writing this, I realized that there are a lot of basic principles that apply to binding books, so I decided to leave those to some “Bookbinding Basics” posts later on. I just jumped right in with this tutorial assuming you know the basics (like what a spine, signature, and grain are in bookbinding, how to measure out and punch holes, and what not) so that I didn’t have to take time to cover everything you need to start out. If you don’t know the basics, be patient and I’ll fill you in so that you can come back and make this book later.

Here’s how I did my soft bound book. Rather than clutter up this post with a lot of text and pictures, I made this tutorial available here:

Whew! That was a marathon. No wonder there aren’t a plethora of book binding tutorials out there; they take a lot of instructions. Enjoy your book, and maybe send me a picture of your finished one. Would a Flikr group for the sketchbook project be nice? I’m not really very up on all the different social media applications, so let me know what you want, and I’ll try to figure it out.

p.s. I’m linking this tutorial over on 30 days.

Sketchbook Project

In college I had a wonderful professor who was continually encouraging his students to reach their full potential as artists. In addition, he was always pushing himself to create his best work (go here to see some examples). He said something to me once that’s been in the back of my mind ever since. It was a Latin phrase (nulla dies sine linea I think; I had a little help from Google translate in remembering the Latin** ) which translated means “no day without a line.” The way my professor explained it, an artist shouldn’t go a day without drawing something. As great as the idea sounded at the time, I just filed it away in the back of my mind, but I never got around to implementing it in my daily routine.

I first read about this back at the beginning of September, and I’ve mulling the idea over ever since as a way to start practicing nulla dies sine linea. Not of actually participating in the real project. No, that deadline came and went during that twilight phase following the birth of my baby when all I could do was nurse, change diapers, and feed my family (note: dishes, laundry, and daily showers did not make this list; gross, I know).

I was likewise intrigued by this:

I think it would be a great thing to jump-start me into creating consistently again, even if it was just the bare minimum drawing a day. But unfortunately, February 1st coincides with another big and rather unpleasant time commitment for me, so I don’t think I’ll be able to solidly commit to this either.

So this is my compromise:

Basically, I’m going to fill up this sketchbook with drawings. I did this sort of thing once before for a class where I filled up a Moleskine sketchbook with one theme (in that case, pencil drawings of my husband), and the final sketchbook was intended to be a self-contained piece. I kind of like the idea of keeping with one theme, but I don’t know for sure right now if that’s what I’ll do. I have 64 pages to work with, and I do want the finished product to be one cohesive piece, even if it deals with different things.

I won’t commit for sure to one page a day because I just don’t think that it will work out for me right now and I don’t want to set myself up for failure. But I will give myself a deadline: let’s say April 15 (tax day!).

Do you want to do the project with me? Let me know, and then we could do a sketchbook  share after it’s over. If you’re interested, here are some guidelines:

  • get a sketchbook, any size just so long as you can fill it up before 04.15.11
  • set a goal for what you want to accomplish with your sketchbook (whether it be a cohesive piece, or working out color studies, or drawing your baby or whatever)
  • document and share the end result

How does that sound? Not too complicated, I hope.

Okay, here’s my sketchbook I made for the purpose:

This is a soft cover Coptic bound book. Here’s the colophon with the book’s details, in case you’re interested:

(Cover: Saint-Armand handmade paper, elephant gray; text block: Fabriano Ingres)

I’ll try to put together a tutorial on how to make this next week. We’ll see if I get it done. Wish me luck!

**Edit: I did some more checking, and it turns out that Google got this ancient Latin proverb right. Go here to read more about its history and to hear how it is pronounced so you can share this wisdom with someone else.

Children’s Board Book, Part 1

Okay, we’re moving one step closer to the big reveal. The next step is learning the basic children’s-board-book structure

I think making your own children’s board books is a great way to give your child something extra special and unique for them. You don’t have to be a great author or illustrator to do it, either, just fill it full of pictures, simple words, shapes, stamps, stickers, or punched paper. You can do teaching books, story books, or a mini album about your child’s life; whatever you decide, it will sure to be a treasure that your child will want to share with their children.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. The basic book structure is a stiff-leaf binding, which I modified from the one I learned from this fabulous book. If you are a book binder, you are probably already familiar with the Penland Book of Handmade Books, but if not, it is a must-read (note: it is not really a how-to book suited for beginners; I look at it more as inspiration rather than basic instructions). Before we get started, here are a few things basic book-binding terms you need to know:


  • Board shear (if you’re lucky enough to have one, these things are EXPENSIVE, see here to see what I mean) or heavy-duty xacto-knife (the “box-cutter” variety)
  • Board
    You can use mat board if you want colored backgrounds,  binders board (if you’re planning on covering the whole thing with paper, since it just looks like cardboard), or illustration board (which I will be using in this demonstration). Just know that your final “page” thickness will be twice the thickness of whatever kind of board you choose, so keep that in mind.
  • Book cloth
    You can buy this from most art-supply stores or online art stores. You can also make your own, and there are tutorials available online if you search for “how to make book cloth.” I personally haven’t tried any of these methods, though, so I don’t know which to recommend. My teacher used the heat-n-bond method with Japanese paper, but feel free to find the method that works for you. Making your own book cloth certainly expands your design options. For this project, the book cloth will be used primarily as the hinging element, and only one portion will be exposed (the spine), so you could choose a basic black for the hinge, and a decorative print for the exposed portion. I will be using a basic linen book cloth.
  • Glue and glue brush
    I use PVA, but any kind of permanent, acid-free glue will probably be fine. Paste generally isn’t strong enough to bond boards to boards, but you can use it to bond paper to your boards before or after you build your structure. Any stiff-bristle brush will work. If you’re covering  a large surface, you will want a big brush.
  • Metal ruler
    Plastic or wood won’t do. You will be cutting against this edge, so it needs to be metal. I have wrecked the edge of many plastic rulers trying to cut against them, and I say just avoid the trouble and go with a metal ruler.
  • Cutting board or self-healing mat
  • Bone folder
  • Book press, weights, or heavy books

Prep Work and Set up

  1. Decide on the size and layout (# of pages, etc.) of your book. For this demonstration, I am making a mock-up, which I recommend for the first time you make this book so you get the idea of how to do it before you start gluing up pages that you’ve worked hard on.
  2. Find the grain of your board. You’ll do this by pressing one hand down on your board about 6 inches from it’s edge and tugging up on the edge with your other hand. Do this again on the perpendicular side. The grain runs parallel to the side on which it was easier to tug up. You may want to mark the board on the back in pencil with arrows marking which direction the grain runs. It is very important for the grain to be facing the same direction on each page, parallel to the spine.
  3. Cut the “leaves” (see diagram above) out of the board. Each leaf will be two pieces of board glued together, so double the number of leaves you want and cut that many pieces out (you must have an even number of pieces). You will want to cut the pages so that the grain runs parallel to the spine.   If you are making a mock-up, you can leave the pages blank. But if you are going to decorate the pages, you will want to do that before you decide to put the book together. If you do have designs on the pages, make sure to number the backs so you know which order they go in.
  4. (Optional) Cut out your covers. If you want to use a different type of board to make your cover, cut these out. I am going to cover pieces of binders board with paste paper to use as my covers. You can use the same kind of board you used for the pages, if you want, but be sure to cut two more pieces in addition to the number you need to make your signatures.
  5. Cut your strips of book cloth. (a) Start by cutting a long strip that is the same height as your spine. (b) Then cut the long strip into individual strips for each signature. You will want the individual strips to be the height of your spine × (1 inch + 2 board thicknesses). Determine 2 board thicknesses by stacking 2 pieces of your board on top of each other and measuring the thickness. Err on the side of a little too much rather than a little too little. If you have glued pictures or paper to your pages, you may want to include the thickness of these add-ons in the total thickness so that you don’t experience page swell. Do this by placing the enhanced pages face to face and measuring their combined thickness.
  6. Make a jig. (a) Cut 3 strips of board the height of your spine × 1/2 inch. (b) Glue 2 of the strips together so now you have a single strip and a doubled strip (if you have pictures or other paper glued to you r pages, you may want to add this thickness by gluing a couple strips of paper cut the same size as the board strips to your doubled strip to accommodate the extra page thickness). (c) Glue the end of the double strip to the center (yes, I know mine is off center; I wasn’t paying attention) of the other strip to form a “T.” You will use this jig to help you glue your signatures together without having to remeasure each one, so don’t skip this step.
  7. (Optional) If you want your book to have corners like many children’s board books, round the corners. (a) Trace a coin around the top and bottom corner of the fore edge of your book. I used a dime because my book is small, but you may want to use a nickel or quarter if your book is bigger. (b) Using your xacto knife or a pair of heavy-duty scissors, cut along the traced line. (c) Sand the corners smooth (you will be sanding this more later to make the pages flush, so this step is just to get the general shape correct).
  8. Cut a groove on the back of your page for the cloth to lie in. (a) Measure about a half-inch from the spine edge of the BACK of your board. (b) Run your blade over this line with medium pressure. You only want to cut into the board about 1/3 of the way down. Make sure to use even pressure all the way across. (c) At the bottom spine corner of the back of your board, peel up about 1/3 of the layers of the board.

    This step is important to the final look of your book. You are creating room to inlay the book cloth so that it is flush with the surface of the board. If you do not do this, the two layers of book cloth between each page will cause the spine to swell. Sometimes this spine swell is good, but in this book structure, the swell will cause your pages to not fit together well. You may want to practice this step on some scrap board before cutting into your pages.

Binding Your Book

Once all these steps are complete, you can move on to the binding portion. It may seem like a lot of set up, and it is, but once you get the hang of it, it will go faster. Book binding is all about taking care of the details so the big picture falls into place. Make a habit of fine tuning the details and your end result will come out great every time.

  1. Glue your signatures together. Start by brushing glue on one “groove” on the back of one page. (a) Lay your book cloth face up or face down in the glued groove (depending on which side you prefer to have show in the joint) and press down with the bone folder. (b) Flip your page over so it is face up. Place your jig over your page so that the page is snug in one side of the “T” and the book cloth lies underneath to the other side of the “T.” (c) Brush glue on the “groove” of another page, and place this page, groove-side down into the other side of the “T,” over the book cloth, and press firmly down. (d) Remove the jig and flip the joined signature over and press the book cloth into the groove. If the cloth overlaps the edge of the groove, trim with an xacto knife and press so the cloth is flush with the top of the board. Wipe off any excess glue and trim the book cloth so that it is flush with the head and tail of the the boards. Repeat these steps for all of your signatures.
  2. Press your signatures. Lay the signatures open on top of each other with the right-sides facing each other, and press them in a book press, under a board with some weights on it, or under some heavy books (my heaviest books are always my art books and my husbands computer engineering textbooks). Leave to press  for 30 minutes.
  3. Glue your signatures together to form your book. (a) Take your signatures out of the press and fold them in half with right-sides facing each other. Run your bone folder along the spine to get a good fold. (b) Stack your folded signatures together; this is the thickness of your book. Take the first two signatures and lay them flat with their spines facing each other. (c) Brush glue over the back of one signature from the fore edge to about 1 mm from the spine.

    (d) Take the other signature and lay it on top of the glued signature so that the spines and fore edges line up. Press them firmly in your hands. Make sure all the edges line up as best as possible. You may want to open the signatures and press directly on the pages that have the glue in between. If you use a bone folder to press, put a piece of paper down over your pages first so you don’t score your pages. (e) Lay the two signatures down flat and place another signature next to it so that the spines face each other. Repeat steps 3c–3e until all the signatures have been glued together into one book. If you are using the same materials for your cover, go ahead and attach these to the outside of the first and last signature. If not, wait til Part 2 of this tutorial to see how I did my covers.
  4. Press your book. Put your glued book in the press and leave overnight.
  5. Sand the corners and trim edges as needed. (a) Remove the book from the press and hold in your hand with the spine inward. (Doesn’t this feel good, holding your own little handmade book. I love the feeling of first holding my books after they have been bound.) Take some sand paper (I usually sandwich a piece of board in between my sand paper to give it some support, but you can use a sanding block if you have one; I don’t) in your other hand and gently sand the corners of the fore edge so they are uniformly round. (b) If you are like me, and you don’t have a board shear, your pages that were glued to each other may not line up exactly and little strips of the back show on the edges. You can trim these with an xacto knife, or sand it lightly to make all the edges flush. This is just a perfectionist step, but don’t worry about it too much; you’re not going for a “machine made” look anyways.

We’re done. With this part of the book at least. I know this was a lot of steps, but it really will get easier the more you do it, so practice pracitce. (Hint: It’s never too early to start on those handmade Christmas presents!)  A few things I learned while doing this project:

  • It is really hard to take pictures of steps that require both hands.
  • I need to get a new self-healing mat (did you notice how many unhealed wounds it had?)

Stay tuned to see how I finish my book and what I put inside.