making a recycled sketchbook


hi friends, welcome to the first of many art-related blog posts. in this one i want to share how i made a sketchbook at home from all the paper ive hoarded over a period of time. i also provide examples of other ways ive made sketchbooks over the years. this page can be followed as a guide, but it is also just here to share my process and perhaps provide inspiration :o)

i love the planet and care deeply for the environment, and so its important for me to live as waste-free as possible and i try to reuse/recycle as much as i can, which manifests itself in all areas of my life including my artistic practice. im still using paints and pencils ive had since i was a child! the most sustainable thing a person can do is to use what you already have, and that is how this sketchbook came to be. my sketchbooks are VERY DIY and arent 'pretty'....thats what the artwork itself is meant to do ;o) theres lots of other tutorials out there that show you how to do things in a more neat way!

type of book

id not been getting on with my current sketchbook at all - it was a book i was gifted which is binded beautifully but for some ungodly reason is landscape making it difficult to use. it did not spark any kind of joy, excitement, or inspiration. sketchbooks i like get filled quickly, but this one has been gathering dust and was only half filled despite starting it in oct2020. the used section of this sketchbook will be archived, and the remaining paper will one day be harvested for other uses.

i looked over my pile of paper and half used/empty sketchbooks and decided none of them could ever live up to my sketchbook of ss2019. what i liked about this book was its ability to lay flat, due to its spiral bind. a5 size is also my ideal size for sketching. if i want to do larger sketches or pieces, i will do it in an A4 book of which i had many of. on the back of this book, it informed me that it had 70 leaves (individual pieces of paper - if you were to number each page like a book, you'd have 140 pages) of 150gsm.

selecting and preparing paper

as mentioned, id managed to gather a large collection of paper and sketchbooks over the years thanks to education, gifts, and other sources.

i sorted this paper into a few separate categories, for future use - A5, A4, and other sizes stacks of good quality paper. id say this was paper above 130gsm, but a lot of it i had to go by feeling. i also put aside any empty sketchbooks, most of which were A6 or A4. i made another pile for lower quality paper of which i wouldnt use for my main sketchbook, but can be used for future notebooks, journals, or fast paced studies where the quality of the paper doesnt play an important role.

i ended up finding random bits of artwork too from all different time periods :o)

i also decided to go back through my archive of sketchbooks for a paper harvest and remove blank pages that hadnt been used - some of the paper i found goes as far back as 2008, from my school sketchbooks. these are excellent places to find good quality paper. there will also be a collection of larger papers, id say between A3-A1, in my university folders under my bed, but these will be harvested at another time for larger pieces.

binding the book

then came the question of how i was to bind the book. some of the paper i had found were already folded into signatures (for example, i found an A5 sketchbook which is A4 pieces folded in half inside of each other and stapled in the middle as binding). i have in the past used signatures and stitching to make many of my sketchbooks, especially at university. not only was my work recycled, but my sketchbooks often were too - id use the white paint they had for painting walls to cover scrap paper, and fill with my thoughts and research.

i prioritise function over aesthetic when it comes to the sketchbook itself, i genuienly looked up one blog, read it once, and did it and then used the same method i could remember in my head forever so im just warning u if u like the neat life this may hurt ur soul

a small selection of uni sketchbooks

binding on the outside vs how it can show through on the inside. neatly/properly stitched signatures with matching colour thread wont show like this. i used embriodiary thread and other thread i had on hand.

for this book in particular, id stitch in each individual page. id reinforce with glue.

for my previous research book for online afterlife, i simply hole punched pages and used those fabric+plastic tags which id harvested from my old school excersize books to keep them together as i often had to go back and add pages. my current project (working title JITA) resides in a ringbinded folder as i need this to have quite a good level of organisation for that project.

half the suitable paper i had for the new book was these signatures, and the other half were single A5 leaves. i already have a large gifted collection of A6 books which i find too small to use and have sadly never touched (what to do with these books i am unsure...). i was also trying to emulate the 2019 sketchbook and how it laid flat thanks to its spiral bound. i split the signatures into single leaves, and combined with the already existing single leaves i had around 74.

i did not want to use the fabric tags as i found them a little flimsy with my previous book - you can see in the image how gravity had pulled the pages down. they would also sort of slide around. i decided to settle for these metal binding rings which i found in ryman stationary. using a hole punch, i punched the pages and inserted the rings into the pages. i only needed 2 of the rings - but i imagine for an A4 book, 3-4 would be more suitable.

these were £1.99 for a pack of 4

choosing a cover

i was lucky to find in this paper pile an A4 very dense piece of cardboard which i decided to use for the cover.

as shown in the sketchbooks above, sometimes i used pieces of general cardboard as covers, ive also used thicker paper, canvas, and sometimes adorned the cardboard with paint or fabric. i dont bother to decorate too much but im sure if this is something you want to do then you can :o)

finished book and future plans

and there u have it...a fresh new sketchbook :o) its not perfect and the alignment is a little off, but as long as it serves its purpose well i dont mind. it lays flat and the paper is exactly the quality i need.

depending on how fast i get through this sketchbook ill probably end up making another one. i go through A4/A3 books much slower as these are usually where i do fuller, more time consuming pieces, and i have lots of books still left over. so for the time being, most of the A4/A3 paper ive harvested will stay as they are until i find myself needing them for a new A5 book...

thanks for reading...

- omoulo