Friday, October 12, 2012

Greeting Card Sketchbook

Greeting Card Sketchbooks
Ever since I stopped using a designated “sketch bag” and integrated my sketching supplies into my regular, everyday purse, my general habit has been to carry a 5.5” square format Hand Book journal most of the time as my catch-all sketchbook because it’s a good compromise between portability and a decent page size. When I know I’m going to want more page space or higher quality paper, I grab a larger format Stillman & Birn or other sketchbooks. But as a general rule, I don’t carry my preferred sketchbooks day to day because they add quite a bit of weight and bulk to my already-heavy bag.

When I signed up for the Sketchbook Project, I wanted to make sketches in that book in the same way that I make sketches in my other sketchbooks – that is, I didn’t want to deem it “special” in any way, because if I did, I knew that would make me self-conscious, intimidated, whatever – a certain kiss of death. So to keep it un-special, I decided to carry the 5” x 7” Sketchbook Project sketchbook continually in my purse until I’ve filled it. (Here are a couple of my first sketches in the book. Edited 12/19/12: Here's the post about my completed sketchbook.) Part of my decision to do this was determined by the fact that it contains only 32 pages of very thin paper with flimsy chipboard covers, so it’s light as a feather. (As a bonus, the stapled binding opens flat, which is a requirement for any sketchbook I use, and the page size is very comfortable, despite the crappy paper.)

As a result, I’ve been using the Sketchbook Project book in very un-special ways –sketches of the backs of heads on buses, parked cars while I’m waiting for my spouse-man to shop at the hardware store, etc. – exactly as I had intended. And I realized I’ve been leaving even my 5.5” square Hand Book at home when I’m just running errands or going to work because I know the Sketchbook Project book is in my bag already.

All of this prompted me to rethink the concept of the everyday, catch-all sketchbook, and I decided I need something like that very thin, lightweight, flat-opening Sketchbook Project book – but with better paper. The result: the Greeting Card Sketchbook.

First off, I should say that I’m not a bookbinder. I love looking at handmade books, I’ve purchased a few handmade books, I own a collection of books about bookbinding and showcasing handmade art books and, at various times in my life, I’ve taken bookbinding classes because I love the idea of making my own books (although in practice, I don’t enjoy all the careful measuring, gluing and cutting that traditional bookbinding requires).
One of my Coptic-bound books.

When I started sketching last year, in a brief burst of rekindled enthusiasm, I idealistically decided I would make all of my own sketchbooks for the rest of my sketching life because it seemed like such a perfect integration of media and message – hand-drawn images kept in handbound books. To that end, last winter I did a little research on binding formats that would produce a flat-opening page and determined that Coptic binding would suit me best. After taking a workshop in Coptic binding, I made three books that I’m pleased with. But they took quite a bit of time to make, and I realized that I’d rather spend the time sketching than making the books. However, I also learned that the process of hand-stitched bindings is a snap, so I filed that away in my mind for future reference.

Fast-forward to this week, when I was enjoying how lightweight my bag is with that thin, flimsy sketchbook, and I began in earnest to come up with a simple – defined as non-time-consuming and using materials I already have – solution to meet this need.

I pulled from my bookshelf Gwen Diehn’s The Decorated Journal, which I recalled had easy instructions for the pamphlet stitch binding (which, similar to Coptic, allows the page to open flat). I took a sheet of 100-pound, 18” x 24” Canson Biggie watercolor paper, which I happen to have a stack of, and tore it down to eight 6” x 9” sheets. I folded each sheet in half, yielding a comfortable 6” x 4.5” page: a fast and easy single signature.

But what to do about the covers? (I had made collaged and painted covers for my Coptic books that took more time than I wanted to spend on this project.) I dug around in my box of collage materials and considered old calendar covers, decorative boxes, cardboard and other materials that could be cut down. But what caught my eye was right on my desk – a greeting card with a beloved image of a rabbit from a painting by Koo Schadler (at top of page). Would it be too good to be true for the card to be the right size, without even cutting it down. . . ? It was! And a reused material, to boot!

Nothing spurs me on like the serendipity of art materials, so I pulled out my bookbinding tools (that burst of enthusiasm last December wasn’t wasted after all), and in literally a few minutes, I punched and sewed up the pages and covers into a thin, lightweight sketchbook. And since I already had all my bookbinding tools out anyway, I decided to make a second one, below (the card image is from a folding screen by an unknown Japanese artist from the Edo period). This time, I first trimmed a half-inch off the full 18” x 24” sheet before tearing it down, which made the signature fit perfectly between the covers.

Whether the greeting card covers will hold up to daily hauling and handling remains to be seen. But since the book contains only 32 pages (and I’ve been known to fill a 124-page, 5.5” x 8.5” Stillman & Birn sketchbook in a month), how long does it have to last?

Edited 12/19/12: I just finished filling my first Greeting Card Sketchbook, which has been in my bag continually for about two months. The corners of the covers are a tiny bit dog-eared, but because the covers extend slightly beyond the edges of the pages, the pages themselves are not worn at all. I even got a cover a little wet once, but the heavily varnished card stock held up well and wiped off clean without leaving a mark. Downright sturdy for a book made from a reused card! I'm going to go make a few more.

Edited 6/26/13: The Greeting Card Sketchbooks weren’t as durable as I initially thought; see “Catching Up with the Catch-All Sketchbook” for the follow-up report.

Edited 8/11/13: Ive rediscovered the joy, value and practicality of a handbound sketchbook.

Edited 10/5/13: I've developed a refinement to the Greeting Card Sketchbook.

Edited 10/20/13: Now that Ive streamlined the process, Im officially hooked on bookbinding.

10/12/12 Copic Multiliner SP pen, watercolor, 100# watercolor paper in handbound Greeting Card Sketchbook


  1. You are the second blog I've visited in 10 minutes that was making journals. Good for you! They look great and to have them filled with your preferred paper of choice is perfect! I like the idea of homemade journals and need to make some more for myself. I love the journals that I buy too, but I agree that many of them are just too darn heavy to take along in your purse just in case you have a few minutes to sketch...especially the hard covered S&Bs which I really like. Maybe I'll get inspired by you and my friend Eileen.

    1. Joan, I just checked out your friend Eileen's blog... her journals are gorgeous! Will look forward to seeing your handmade sketchbooks soon! :-)

  2. Tina, I love your sketch book ideas. I so enjoyed doing mine and have a pile of them. I think I will have to make more as my stitching improves and give them as gifts.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks, Eileen! I agree -- handmade sketchbooks would make great gifts!

  3. I missed this. Great idea! I especially like using the card as a cover.


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