Once upon a time scrapbooks were large format
bound books with inexpensive buff colored, or more expensive black,
paper pages, the purpose of which was to hold scraps – the ephemera,
newspaper clippings, pressed flowers and other flat souvenirs of a
person's life. It was rare for photos to be included - usually they
were kept in photo books or photo albums.
Modern scrapbooking is something very
different. In modern scrapbooking the point is the photo, ephemera
is considered embellishment and may well be purchased or
manufactured intentionally rather than collected, and the albums
themselves do not contain pages, but plastic sleeves to hold the
layouts on what might be a dizzying array of gorgeous papers.
One of the latest trends in scrapbooking and
paper crafting is "smash" books. These are relatively small scale
journals or notebooks with many different page backgrounds designed
to hold small ephemera and souvenirs and snapshots to commemorate
events and daily life, along with diary style written journal
entries. The idea is that these are intimate, fast, casual,
personal, and most of all portable - a place where a pencil sketch
of a view sits with the train ticket that took you there, and a
postcard, and your jottings about the day and the weather and your
companion – and later you slide a printed photo of yourselves into
the pocket on the page.
They can also function as mobile vision boards.
You tear an image from a magazine, and staple a swatch of fabric
next to it for inspiration – then add a scribbled haiku, a newspaper
clipping, and the folded schedule of classes at the community
college. Another page might be nothing but a favorite quote
surrounded by a wash of colored doodles.
Some might use a page a day as a diary of the
wedding plans, the vacation, baby's first months, or any kind of
personal odyssey or healing journey. Others use their book as a
temporary place holder for memories and memorabilia before adding
those elements to more formal scrapbook layouts.
What makes this kind of journal different from
an ideas notebook or traditional diary is that it combines visual
elements with the written notes
– and gives permission to be messy, crazy, slapdash - mash
the elements together with glue and staples and oh-so-pretty washi
tape. The construction of the image is part of the image. One of the
cool new tools available is the double ended glue/ink pen. It all
about extemporaneous expression on the go.
I'm interested in making my own art journals. I
carry notebooks everywhere to jot down ideas, plan out plots or
presentations, or dash out a shopping list. I collect ephemera too,
always thinking that this movie stub or that wrapper will make a
useful addition to some scrapbook page or other. But half the time
they end up lost in the detritus of less romantic grocery receipts
and catalogs awaiting recycling, before I remember to use them.
Plus I notice once I start brainstorming, I
completely ignore the lines on my notebook pages. There'll be arrows
and sketches, stars and boxes
– not neat and tidy at all. This is my visual thinking. So
why not make the papers more interesting as well? I want to end up
with keepers – a visual record of my process and progress in my artistic
Converting a Spiral Bound
For this project, I'm starting with a small
recycled paper notebook I found on sale.
The book pages need to be relatively solid in
order to carry the weight of ephemera without tearing, and it's
useful to have regular pockets all the way through the book.
Start by adhering every two or three pages
together with a glue stick or double sided tape. Mine were flimsy; I
did three. This will minimize wrinkling. Every three or four of
these new pages, leave a single sheet unstuck. This will become
For the pocket pages, use the lines or the
holes of the spiral binding to find the middle horizon of the page.
Carefully tear the page away from the spiral binding from the top,
stopping at the middle. Fold the page down making a crease
horizontally across the page. Tuck the torn part back between the
spiral binding over the existing holes. Glue the flap to its own
page. Later I like to staple the pocket around the outside and
bottom edges to either of the pages beside it, but you may prefer
tape or glue. However it's easier to decorate the pages before
attaching the pockets. For variety make a few vertical pockets by
folding the page, well, vertically.
Now the decorating fun begins. Here are a bunch
of suggestions for making the backgrounds of your pages. Oh, and
leave a couple untouched – they will end up standing out!
Decoupage the pages with other non-shiny paper such as:
Old book pages
Wrapping paper and tissue
Brown lunch sacs
Newsprint or magazines
Remnants from scrapbooking
The inside of security envelopes
Greeting cards (not too thick)
Mistakes from the printer
Old calendar pages without identifying the
Watercolor studies or tests
Old sewing patterns
Graph paper - used is fine
Ledger paper - so trendy!
Street maps - also super trendy
The idea here is to have a sense of texture.
Make every page different from the one before.
And/or paint over the pages, either the
original paper or the new covers, with acrylic paints or with
pigment inks. Expect that there will be some wrinkling. You may also
consider washing with white paint over some of these. Paint textures
by using sponges, crumpled rags or spray bottles instead of
brushing. Be cautious about getting too dark, unless you plan on
journaling with light colored opaque pens.
Then embellish your backgrounds. Stamp textures
all over pages, or stamp images that you like into corners. If you
have any frame stamps, or can create them from foam, use these to
create journal boxes.
Ink around the edges. Write out or glue printed
quotes on random pages. One nice way is to write a quote as a border
going all around a page.
Use paint or markers to create ready-made
journal blocks on some pages. The front of the pockets are often
great for this.
Oh, and remember to staple or glue your pocket
pages to actually create the pocket.
Glue an envelope that fits to the inside back
cover – perhaps from a greeting card, or a seed packet. Keep a small
stash of stickers, paper clips and tags to write onto, in this back
pocket. You can slide the tag into the pocket of the page until you
can attach it with staples or a brad (movement!) later on.
You should always carry a pen that will write
on many surfaces with your journal, and consider a small glue
stick or glue pen as well. Just make sure the lid fits well!
Cover your covers with any of the papers that you like, or with cloth
Starting From Scratch
There are some wonderful artists doing amazing things with their hand
bound books. I'm not one of them, but I have gleaned some useful
ideas from watching others at work on television shows and around
Super easy sorta cheating method:
Cut to your desired size, a mix of scrapbooking paper and cardstocks, paper
shopping bags, wall paper pages and sketch book or water color
papers. Note these are all quite thick and sturdy. Include some half
pages for pockets. Cut two matching sized pieces of cardboard, like
from a nice strong cereal box, as the covers. Take the whole mixed
up batch to your local copier place and have them spiral bind the
lot for you. Proceed with attaching pockets to pages and
embellishing as before.
After a long career designing for theater and independent films,
Robyn Coburn finds her joy as an unschooling mother who also writes and crafts.
She has been a confirmed greenie since working for Greenpeace during her college
years in Australia. Robyn is currently working on two crafty books, a fairy tale
screenplay and a TV series about doll making and collecting. A past speaker and
funshop presenter at Live and Learn Unschooling conferences, she contributes
regularly to unschooling e-lists. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her
husband James and ever inspiring daughter Jayn. Contact Robyn by email at
email@example.com or visit her at