Have you ever heard of a smashbook before? Until recently, I hadn’t. I’ve since learned that the concept of smashbooking has been around for a while. It’s touted as an alternative method of scrapbooking, and from there, it goes on to become an alternative method for any sort of journaling experience, especially those involving art. The idea behind smashbooking is to start with a mess — thereby immediately removing any sense of “perfect pages” or “being precious.” In other words, start with something that’s already wrinkled, crinkled, glued, and dried, and from there on, nothing you do can hurt the book.
Well, now, that’s an interesting way to approach art and art journaling.
And so it was that I spent a part of my morning making — or at least starting to make — a smashbook of my own. The instructions I followed are from Amanda Mauck, and I want to begin by saying, “Yes, I actually did follow her directions,” and furthermore, I followed them to the best of my ability. There were times when I had to go back and say, “Wait a minute, what’s she doing there?” Following directions is definitely a bit tricky for me, but I persisted — with only one slight variation.
This was quite a rewarding experience because I successfully did the project, because I did follow the directions, I did do what I was supposed to do, even though at one point — no, at several points — I was flabbergasted at her instructions.
Here is a picture of my lovely smashbook art journal before it was smashed.”
The project begins with a “composition” notebook, not spiral bound, but one of those familiar black-and-white books you can pick up at any store that sells school supplies. As usual, I ordered mine from Amazon.
To begin, we made a cover using scrapbooking paper. That’s exactly what I did, although I thought about using personalized “collage paper” featuring my own art. Maybe next time that’s what I’ll do. Today, I dutifully followed the instructions and chose two different — but coordinating — sheets of scrapbooking paper.
Here’s the back of my smashbook, so you can see the second pattern I used:
You’ll also see the washi tape I added. The two sheets of scrapbooking paper need to be overlapped and glued together. I then added the washi tape as a little decorative touch. This was the one thing I did that wasn’t part of the tutorial. I thought it would not only add a personal touch but would also ensure that the sheets remained flat on the back of the journal. It actually worked.
With the two sheets laid out flat, the instructions were to trace around the opened journal. Mauck mentioned “the way we used to make book covers as kids.” Well, not exactly. Since I wasn’t a crafty kid who could cut, paste, or do anything else artistic, I never made book covers. This was a first for me, another one of those “things we’re supposed to do in childhood” that I missed out on. This is one more part of my personal art therapy, a means by which I can find those missing pieces of myself and heal that inner child who did, in fact, miss out on a lot of things.
I carefully traced the journal and then followed the directions to fold on the lines — top and bottom first, and then the sides. Here’s a simple illustration I found online:
The notebook then fits right inside those side flaps, and for good measure, we then glued down the first and last pages.
Oh, wait! I forgot one thing. It’s something that I found almost magical. We wrote our intention for the journal, not in the journal itself, but on the back of the cover sheet before we inserted the journal. But, wait! Doesn’t that mean that no one will see it? Yep. Exactly. To me, that’s the magical part of this. It’s something very personal, very sacred to who we are and why we’re creating this very special journal.
I wrote a few words about getting to know my inner child, about healing those old hurts, and about exploring my role as an artist today. For me, these words are sort of a “creative secret”, something I know is there, but which no one else can see. Each time I pick up my smashbook, I will remember that it holds a very special message.
At this point, my journal was looking good. This is when I took that first photograph. I had done it! I had successfully created a book cover project, and it looked like it should. I was thrilled. Yes, simple little things like this mean a lot to me as I work through my art therapy healing.
I should point out here, too, that using scrapbook paper or collage paper is not the only way you can go with a book cover. You can use felt or another fabric. That’s something I plan to do soon. I have a lot of “fat quarters” of fabric around the studio, so my next smashbook will have a fabric cover.
Feeling quite pleased with myself, I then watched in horror as Amanda Mauck continued giving instructions. We were to start pasting pages together. Huh? What? Why?
Well, obviously these thin, lined pages of a composition notebook aren’t going to make good supports for art projects, so to thicken them up a bit and make them sturdier, we need to glue every two pages together. I was aghast at the idea, but that’s precisely the point. This isn’t intended to be a perfect journal. It’s a smashbook, so let the smashing begin!
I have not completed this part of the project. It will take a while to go through and successfully glue every other page together. I worked through part of the book, and Mauck does suggest leaving some unglued. I’ve decided that I’ll glue my pages together in phases. Each morning I might sit down and glue a few more, and then I’ll crinkle and wrinkle them.
That was the next step, you see. After the pages glued together dried, we needed to crinkle them up. She did this by rolling them inward toward the center. Why are we doing this? Well, this is a large part of the smashing process. This makes sure that we don’t have perfect pages in the journal. Oh, my! Yes, it was a difficult step, but I saw the point and knew it was a very necessary step, too.
Again, since my pages aren’t all glued together, they’re not all crinkled either. I’ll do a few more pages day by day.
Here we stopped smashing a bit so that we could add ribbon. Now, it doesn’t have to be ribbon. Originally I’d planned to use yarn, but while rummaging a bit through supplies, I came across a roll of beautiful ribbon and knew I had to include it in my journal. I guess here is another place where I veered a bit from the directions. Mauck used three ribbons, placing them at 1/4-point, 1/2-point, and 3/4-point (approximately) in the journal. Honestly, unless I’m missing something, I don’t quite see the point other than having the ribbon as a lovely sort of binding. Take a look:
This ribbon is simply wrapped and tied. You can see the little tails streaming off at the bottom. These are not like bookmark ribbons that you can lift up and move to different pages — unless I totally missed something in the directions. So, for me, while it’s pretty, it doesn’t serve any practical purpose, and I saw no reason to repeat this. I placed my ribbon/binding only at the half-way point.
Now, I’m curious about how I would go about adding “movable ribbons”. I found this little tutorial that might be helpful, but that’s a project for the next journal, not for this first one.
The ribbons can be string, yarn, cord, or strips of fabric. Lots of possibilities, and it will be fun to make different journals with different covers and different ribbons for different purposes. And, of course, not every journal or scrapbook has to be smashed.
Speaking of which, the final step in the process involves gesso and/or acrylic paint. Mauck applies one or the other to all of those glued-together pages. I applied a bit of white gesso to the first page of my smashbook, but so far, that’s all I’ve done. Again, part of the purpose is to mess it all up, to make it thicker and better for artwork, and to take away any sense of a perfect blank page.
As I fill up my smashbook, I’ll use different colors of acrylic to “prep” the pages, and in the end I’ll have a very thick, very messy, and very personal book. I’m looking forward to it. I like the idea of “starting messy”. For me and my healing process, this is a key point, and I’m curious now about all the different things that will become part of this first smashbook.
That turned out great!
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It was fun. Definitely an interesting approach to art journaling.
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I have a cosmic smashbook, too, but I crumpled the pages before gluing them. They tear a little sometimes near the binding because they’re thin, but the whole point of crumpling the pages is to kill perfectionism, so a few tears here and there are no different, and the few tears are small enough that they don’t matter, just adding more texture and individuality to whatever lands on the page in the end.
Also, I typically glue 5 sets of pages at a time when I reach the end of the previous 5 that I glued. So, glue 5 pages and let it dry while doing another project for that day. Next day, I can start the first entry. Then when the last set of double pages are painted/journaled, glue 5 more pages for next time. … That way I’m not bored to tears doing all that gluing at once, similar to the stages you mentioned.
In addition to what you described here, I painted the edges of the pages after crinkling them. I used an assortment of colours and the crinkled pages means that sometimes the paint bleeds into the edges of the pages adding another unique trait to each open spread.
Then for the first smashbook entry — and I LOVED this idea — was to trace my hands on the first double-glued open spread, write my expectations and desires on them, and “paint/spray” them with my favourite scent. I used a spearmint essential oil, and now every time I open that first spread of the book, it smells delightful and reminds me of all that my hands are capable of creating and doing to bring me what I want in life. (My first instruction was from artist Elizabeth Foley, to give credit where due. But I use it now for anything art-therapy related.)
I use my smashbook as an art therapy journal, so it’s very personal. But I’ve used all kinds of mixed media in it and then journal either directly on art about what’s on my mind, or do a half page of art and half page of journaling per spread. I think you’ll really enjoy this craft because can be whatever you want it to be and removes any “I can’t barriers” because it’s full of imperfections from the start. It’s more similar to true therapy than art, so it gives you a place to turn your emotions into lines, shapes, words, and colors without having to think in terms of design.
One exercise I’ve done a few times, for example, is from certified art therapist Youhjung Son at her channel/website Thirsty for Art (she is amazing). Ask yourself “What does my stress look like?” Think about that for a bit in terms of line, shape, colour, images, etc. Then briefly recreate it on half of one piece of blank paper. Next ask yourself “What would that image look and feel like without the stress?” Put that on the other half of that page. Title each result. Then on a second blank page, write about why you picked those titles. The “stress” picture is always gnarly and ugly. Always. It’s dark, tangled, sharp, smudgy, and awful every time. It’s not something you would think of as art at all. She suggests using pastels for this, probably because of the smear quality but you’re always free to use whatever tools you want. “Art” isn’t the point of this exercise. Art therapy is about using art tools to untangle and express feelings without the limitations or frustrations that tend to come with more structured art projects.
Anyway, my smashbook is an art therapy brain dump for things like this. I hardly ever show it to anyone, but sometimes I do cover the written parts to share some of the prettier “artsy” therapy sessions. Mostly I love just having that space set aside for those days when I really need the healing power of art more than practice, projects, or even play. And looking back on the good and bad days becomes a story about my therapeutic journey.
Lots of great ideas here! Thank you for sharing your smashbook (and therapy) with me. I love your way of defining the purpose of art therapy. “Using art tools to untangle and express feelings…” Brilliant! I have to agree that a “smashbook” is great for art therapy because it is so messy and imperfect. That makes it very inviting. In addition to writing my “secret intentions” in the book, I started by just smearing colors — reds and oranges and a teal blue — over the first two pages and then writing words that had meaning for me. Its just a jumble of colors and words. I added a couple quotes and this and that, so it’s a real mish-mash, but it’s very bright and colorful. I LOVE the idea of adding a bit of fragrance. I’ve used a bit of essential oil with my oil painting before, but I hadn’t thought about adding it to my art journal! I’ve been working with a lot of different therapy ideas, browsing around for suggestions, and mostly making lots of messes. What I have noticed is that my inner child loves to play with bright colors. Doing personal art therapy is quite an interesting experience. I will check out Elizabeth Foley and Youhjung Son. On a different but somewhat related topic, I’m doing a bit of qigong now. I’m interested in learning more Eastern philosophy instead of Western. Any good books you might recommend?
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Oh, that sounds just like what you should be doing with a smashbook! ^_^ Quotes, words, colours, lines, yes, yes … whatever reveals itself. Elizabeth Foley’s projects usually focus on writing from a starting pov to a “where you want to be” pov, and uses art as a vehicle to move from one to the other. Whereas Youhjung Son is more about tactile expression, experimentation, and then interpretation of what feelings went into the creation and results. I find both very helpful in different ways. 🙂
As for the philosophy, one book that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Eastern philosophy is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. It uses the Winnie-the-Pooh characters to discuss principles of Taoism. And, honestly, I never noticed it before this, but each character in those children’s stories represent a mental obstacle: Piglet is anxious, Eeyore is depressed, Owl is all about factual knowledge but not so much about wisdom, and Rabbit is a busy-body, etc. Whereas Pooh takes one day at a time, one problem at a time, accepts what he can’t change, and then tries to make the most of what’s good about his problems. Pooh is the perfect example of wu wei — how to flow with life, rather than fighting or forcing everything. Most of what I’ve picked up from Eastern philosophy came from just living in Japan and experiencing what I experienced. I don’t follow any particular spirituality. But I do like that book as a basic introduction to Taoism and Eastern philosophy in general because is all about trying to live in harmony with what happens around you. If you want more about meditation and mindfulness practices, I recommend anything written by Pema Chodron and Ticht Nacht Han. They are Buddhist monks, but their books tend to be relatively secular, relatable, and practical where mindfulness training and wisdom are concerned. When Things Fall Apart is my favourite book by Pema Chodron; it’s about healthy ways of coping with the stresses of anxiety and depression when life falls apart on you (because IT WILL). And with just those two books alone, you get a good introduction to how the mind can shift from “This is a disaster!!!!” to “This is part of the nature of life. It’s just like this right now. So, what are some things I can do to move forward from here.” And that, for me, has been priceless.
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Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ve been watching a few documentaries and doing qigong every morning. The Tao of Pooh sounds like a great starting point for me. I really haven’t been doing much at all with my art journaling recently — a lot of other things going on. I will be getting back to that very soon.
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