I’m excited about the upcoming Sketchbook Revival 2022. Last year’s series of free workshops was an interesting experience, one with lots of ups and downs for me. In the end, I came through the program with a very different attitude about art and the creative process. I’m looking to gain even greater awareness of the powers of art, mindfulness, intuition, and imagination as I go through this year’s workshops.
Like last year, the first project involves making a sketchbook of our own. In 2021, the sketchbook we made was fairly simple. I loved it! Bookbinding was something I’d been interested in since childhood but had never pursued. For me, learning to make a simple sketchbook was truly a dream come true.
This year’s “make a sketchbook” project, however, has seemed more like a nightmare! I’m laughing as I write this. No, of course, it really wasn’t that bad. It was more difficult, though, and I honestly couldn’t have finished my sketchbook without my husband’s help.
First, mine is ugly. Really ugly. I don’t care. It’s done — to a degree — and I’m ready to use it for the Sketchbook Revival projects coming up. Here it is, inside and out.
It’s not pretty, I know, but it will serve the purpose. I purposely used pages of an old watercolor pad that had been ruined — with a little help from grandson Madox several years ago. Those ruined pages will be great for playing and practicing different techniques during Sketchbook Revival 2022.
The cover, perhaps you can tell, is corrugated cardboard, part of a big box we had lying around waiting to be broken down for the recycle bin. Here is where I called upon my husband for help. I failed “scissors” back in Kindergarten, remember. I don’t do “crafts” because I can’t cut anything neatly. So, I gave my husband the dimensions specified in the pre-session video: 19″ x 12″.
The sketchbook is an example of “art upcycling” — taking otherwise useless or worthless materials and turning them into something useful and practical. It’s a way of renewing resources. Keeping this in mind might make it easier to understand why I chose the “ruined” watercolor paper.
But, back to the cover. I knew I’d have trouble measuring and cutting a piece of cardboard to the right dimensions, so I asked my husband if he would help me. To him, what that really means is “Tell me what you want to do, then step aside and let me do it.” Fine. No problem.
He did the measuring and cutting, but one thing we neither one considered was the direction of the corrugated material. In the video by Sarah Matthews, I saw later that her cardboard was turned in a different direction. The corrugations in her hand-made book are vertical; mine are horizontal. My husband also left a few ragged and jagged edges, and this was fine with me. I appreciated his help. I couldn’t have done it myself.
I added the sheets of paper — I don’t recall the exact size. They’re folded in half and placed together in a “signature”. This is a book-binding term meaning “A group of sheets folded in half, to be worked into the binding as a unit.” I didn’t include as many pages as the demo suggested, simply because I didn’t have more sheets of the “ruined” paper. I’ll make it work, though.
From this point on, the project involved all those “crafty” things I’m not good at — measuring, marking, clipping, and finally… sewing. This, you see, is what’s called a “link stitch book”. I did learn a very useful technique for measuring equally-spaced holes for the spine:
MEASURING TIP: We were instructed to take a small strip of paper the same height as the pages of our signature and then fold it in half three times. Amazingly, this creates 7 folds on the strip, neatly dividing it into 8 equal spaces! This strip can then be lined up with the center of the spine and the “creases” marked to show where on the spine and the signature the holes should go.
I’m truly glad I have my small “book-binding kit“. I purchased the set from Amazon last spring to use for Sketchbook Revival. It’s inexpensive. It has all the tools needed. It’s compact and easily stored.
I used the awl to punch holes through the pages of my signature. These were then lined up with the holes on the spine, and that’s when the “link-stitch” sewing began. At least the presenter, Sarah Matthews, referred to the sewing as “link-stitch”. It is a way of “linking” one stitch to another, but it’s nothing like the fancy “French Link Stitch” or “Chain Link” binding technique.
If you’re interested in making a simple “link-stitch” sketchbook or journal, here is the link to the SR2022 “pre-session” video:
Watching Sarah Matthews makes it all look so easy, but trust me, it was not easy at all to work the needle and waxed thread through the holes, not easy at all to keep the signature and spine holes properly lined up, not really so easy to knot the thread and finish the binding as it appears. At least, it wasn’t easy for me. By the time I’d worked my needle and thread through all seven holes, I was worn out!
As Matthews suggests, I placed my cardboard sketchbook under a heavy bin and left it for 24 hours — all in some vain hope of flattening it out a bit. Mine never flattened out too much, and I still had a lot of those ragged, jagged edges, plus to be honest, the whole cardboard cover was a bit lopsided. Oh, well. This was “our” first attempt — including my loving husband here — and nobody said it had to be perfect, you know.
For the “cover art”, well, you can tell by looking at it, I just wasn’t “feeling it” that morning. I had my sketchbook — such as it was — and because it was such as it was I didn’t see any need to get too creative. I just wanted to call it done. I had several acrylic paints sitting on my worktable, so I dabbed on a few colors, brushed it into the cardboard, and finished it off by sprinkling a bit of glitter over the whole mess! It’s ugly, all right, and in some perverse way, that’s how I wanted it to be. For the purposes of Sketchbook Revival, the uglier the better, I think. My sketchbook is far from “precious”, but it is functional. I can “mess it up” all I want, and no harm done.
There was one final “finishing touch” my husband made to the sketchbook for me. I bought a new paper-cutter (something my studio has needed for a long time), and he managed to trim off a few of those jagged edges and to also “straighten it up” a bit. So, this morning it looks better than it did yesterday.
Of course, I then visited the Sketchbook Revival group on Facebook and saw all the gorgeous sketchbooks other participants have made. I felt so inadequate — at first. I felt that, once again, I’d failed at a “crafty art” project. But then, I thought again about why I’d deliberately chosen ruined paper, why I’d made such an unattractive cover. I felt a wondrous sense of freedom with my book. It’s a book that’s made to be used, not a work of art I’d be afraid to touch!
And so, I’m ready! Bring it on! I can’t wait to fill up this handmade sketchbook.