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How to Create Your Own DIY Handmade Art Journal

Disclaimer:  I would not call myself an artist. But I do love my handmade art journal.

Like many, I possess a creative bent. This means I love finding outlets for expressing my creativity. My favorite outlet recently has been within the discovery of handmade art journals.

I am someone who invites making time for allowing my imagination to come alive. I thrive on  finding channels to express creativity. Personally having the role as care-taker for my family, being a teacher, and being a ministry leader, I find that time spent being creative sustains me in finding the ability to manage life well.

Not only does a creative outlet help me to cope with life’s challenges, I have found that art projects provide healthy and therapeutic benefits. For example, finding time to be creative helps manage anxiety, stress levels, and/or provides an avenue for processing through perplexing scenarios such as job loss, parenting, or grief.

decorative art journal
Zentangle patterns are amazing structured doodles that help fill in white space with creativity and flare!
Click on photo to see a Zentangle tutorial.

Art Journal Inspiration

One of the most fulfilling creative outlets I have found to date is through my own handmade decorative art journal. This gem of inspiration and joy was first introduced to me through the work of Laly Mille Arts. Through Laly Mille Arts I found inspiration and step-by-step tutorials for creating my own art journal. Following her clear and concise instructions, I measured, cut, and hand-stitched all materials together to create my own blank-canvassed masterpiece. Since creating this journal, I have discovered the depth of satisfaction and joy that can grow from having a place to collect all doodles, watercolors, pen and ink drawings, sketches, and inspirational quotes/phrases/etc.

I now extend the invitation for you to discover the delight found in creating such a magnum opus. I have no doubt that within each of us is the capability to create our very own unique masterpieces.

Click on photo to be taken to Laly Mille tutorial

Art Journal Materials

Many of the materials needed for an art journal can be found within the confines of our very own homes. This can especially be true if there are school-aged children or a spouse who is even slightly industrious in the home.  For instance, a bulk of the materials needed are: a ruler, pencil, utility knife, glue, large paper clips, graph paper, and one large, heavy-duty needle. The remainder of materials needed include: your choice of mixed media or watercolor paper, waxed thread, and a cutting board/surface to prevent damaging the work surface underneath.

When deciding which paper to use, it is wise to keep in mind the size desired for the finished journal. For instance, consider how each individual piece of paper will be folded in half. Taking into consideration how an individual piece of 11 x 15 watercolor paper, folded in half, is an approximate size of 5.5 x 7.5, may help decide whether a larger or smaller journal is desired.

art journal
11×15 paper folded in half to create 5×7 pages

When making my choice, I considered the size of space I would enjoy working on. I knew I wanted my art journal to travel easily, and a 5 x 7 journal would be the perfect size to fit these requirements. Knowing how I also have the tendency to overwhelm easily, I surmised how a larger white space would be harder for me to creatively fill. This is directly due to how anxiety can grow within me while simply staring at blank white space.  Are there any writers out there who understand this dilemma and are sending up a resounding, “Amen!”?  

With each individual being different and unique, a larger white space may be what speaks to you. Some may find it exciting to consider a larger canvas on which to work upon.  I simply provide these thoughts for taking into consideration regarding the size of paper to purchase.

Fold, Cut, and Create the Art Journal

After gathering all materials, it is time to create what will become your handmade art journal.  Tearing out two or three pieces of the chosen mixed media or watercolor paper, take one of the pieces and line up the outside edges. Fold in half, continuing to line up edges while securing the opening with large paper clips (see above photo). Press fold firmly. 

Remove paper clips and fold paper again, in opposite direction. Secure opening again with clips. Press fold firmly again, then set aside. Repeat with next two to three pieces of paper.

Nest each folded page inside the other to form a folder of pages. This can be repeated over and over again, depending on how many pages you wish to have within your art journal.  Keep in mind that working on both the front and back of pages will be possible. So, an initial nesting of three folded pages will actually be six pages of artistic working space.

art journal
Lies flat when open and perfect size for travel.

Binding the Art Journal

With all pages folded, forming miniature folders or booklets, it is now time to pull them all together with a binding. This initially requires a piece of graph paper, the use of a ruler, utility knife, and a safe cutting board/surface for working upon. 

Taking the sheet of graph paper, make sure it is the same dimensions as the mixed-media/watercolor paper.  Once this is complete, label the graph paper with the appropriate labels for top and bottom. This will help in the appropriate lining up of all holes for the binding process of the journal. 

To find the true middle, fold the graph paper in half, length-wise. Then, fold in half again to create four quadrants. The true middle will present itself where the perpendicular folds meet. With a pencil, mark this point of intersection. 

Altogether, nine holes are needed for the binding of the journal. To start, one hole will be marked at the top, one in the middle, and then one final hole at the bottom. When measuring for holes, ensure measurements are equal from the top and bottom edges of the graph paper.  For instance, good placement of the top hole is an inch from the top of the graph paper. Likewise, good placement for the bottom hole is an inch from the bottom of the graph paper.

Now that there are three holes marked on the graph paper at the top, middle, and bottom, it is time to add the additional holes.  Working from the top to bottom, measure equal distance above and below the top hole. For instance, two squares above the top of hole and two squares below.  Repeat this same process for both the middle and bottom markings on the graph paper. This leaves you with three sections of three holes on top, middle, and bottom of your pages.

Paper with three sets of markings for the binding holes.

Now it is time to cut the holes into the actual mixed-media/watercolor paper.  To do so, aline the prepared graph paper within the fold of one piece of art journal paper.  Using a utility knife, press holes through the pencil markings in the graph paper into the fold of the mixed-media/watercolor paper.  Strive for keeping the top of each journal page together as they are nestled together as folders.

Section Sewn Stitched Binding

With all holes punched into the art journal paper, it is now time to stitch the folders of pages together. This will be the binding for the art journal. It is one of the final steps in the process of creating an art journal, and, trust me; it is thoroughly rewarding to see it all come together as the binding is stitched.  

One of the best tutorials I have found for stitching the binding together for an art journal is found on YouTube, and once again, with Laly Mille Arts (Handmade Art Journal Tutorial, 13:40). Her tutorial is simple and thorough.  She walks through how to bind using a technique known as section sewn. This stitching method enables the art journal to open and lie flat, no matter which page is turned to within the book. This is a wonderful feature when creating any art piece or journal, as a flat surface is always the preferred surface.

art journal
When using a thicker, waxed thread, the binding will have this appearance.

Stitching First Folder

For stitching, the needle will need to be threaded with the waxed thread.  It is a good idea to measure the thread four times the length of the journal. Once the needle is threaded, knot the end of the thread to create a giant loop. Working from the outside of one of the nesting folders, holding two to three pages, push the needle and thread through the top and first hole of all pages.  It is important to leave some slack in the thread and to not pull it all the way through to the knotted end.

From the inside of the journal pages, now push the needle and thread through the second, or middle, hole at the top of the page. Once through to the outside, guide the needle through the slack left in the looped-thread and going through first hole. Pull taut and in a downward motion (toward bottom of the pages).  Now push needle through third hole, then back through the middle hole from the inside. Once needle and thread are through to the outside of the middle hole, it is time to knot and tie off the thread. This section is complete. Simply repeat this same process for the groupings of the middle and bottom sections of binding.  

Stitching Additional Folders to Art Journal

Stitching the next folder of pages into the binding is much the same with one simple variation. To begin, line up the folders top-to-top and bottom-to-bottom. In doing so, it should be apparent that all holes align with one another.  Re-thread the needle, keeping in mind to measure the thread approximately four times the length of the journal pages. 

Once the needle is re-threaded and knotted, push it through the first hole at the top of the second folder of un-stitched pages. Just like before, leave some slack while pushing the needle through the middle hole.  It is here that the variation occurs in order to stitch the folder of pages together.

To gather the threads, simply run the needle and thread under the top threads from the first folder of pages.  Next, slide the needle through the slack in the thread at the top hole of the new pages being added. Pull taut, toward the middle and bottom of the journal.  

Stitch as before, pushing the needle through the third hole of new pages. Go back through the middle, once again leaving some slack, to loop through and pull taut. This time, while pulling taut, push the needle through the first hole in middle section of new pages. Guide the needle from inside of pages through the middle hole and then under the threads from the first folder.  Once again, push the needle through the third hole, then back through middle, leaving some slack to loop through. Pull taut and move onto the final section of holes at the bottom of pages. Repeat the process, knotting off the thread once the stitching is complete for the bottom section.

 Simply continue with this section sewn stitching for adding additional folders to the journal.

journal; Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Get Creative With Your Art Journal


One handmade art journal is complete! 

While inspecting your work, a hard cover for the journal might be desired. This helps to protect all art work, and provide more solidarity. Surprisingly, a great resource for a hard cover are cereal boxes. Another great resource is the cardboard backing from the back of the watercolor/mixed-media paper package. 

Simply cut the cardboard into the same dimensions as the journal. Glue the cardboard to the front and back pages of the journal. Allow this to dry overnight and apply heavy books atop the journal for pressure. This helps to prevent warping while drying.  

Once dry, the art journal is ready for sketching, watercolor, collages, etc.  Creativity is at your fingertips and can be managed in one concise place!  

In fact, I think I hear my art journal calling right now. 

You can also unleash a world of creativity and versatility by exploring other ways to spruce up your journal, such as incorporating puff heat transfer vinyl into your overall design. You may experiment with new ways to embellish your pages with raised textures, adding tactile elements that invite touch and exploration. Create intricate designs, bold lettering, or whimsical shapes to make your journal entries truly stand out. Whether you’re highlighting key phrases, adding borders, or creating focal points, and offering endless possibilities for expressing your artistic vision. Elevate your art journaling experience with unique texture and vibrant colors, transforming your pages into dynamic works of art that captivate the senses. 

It’s time to unwind and de-stress with each doodle, brush of paint, and expression of creativity.  I can’t wait to see what we will each create!

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Stacy McClelland

Stacy is a woman with Texas roots, who, as a lover of mountains, camping, and hiking, is over-the-moon to call Loveland, CO her current home. Stacy holds a degree in Elementary Education, having spent many years in the classroom as a Special Education or Substitute Teacher. As wife to her pastor-husband for over twenty years, and mother to their three daughters, Stacy has been blessed with the opportunity to manage their home and focus on raising their girls. Partnering with her husband in ministry over the past two decades, she is armed with experiences of walking through the hardships of life with many. However, she has also had the opportunity to embrace beautiful moments of joy, grace, and overcoming with others, as well. It has been her honor and joy, as of late, to serve and teach within Bible Study Fellowship as a Substitute Teaching Leader. Coming alongside other women to read, study, learn and grow in their understanding of the Bible and how it applies to their everyday lives has been where Stacy has discovered her “sweet spot” for teaching. Having traveled many parts of the world, she yearns to come alongside, support, and edify others in and through their circumstances. She hopes another avenue for finding connection with women will be found in and through her writing. For, it is her joy in life to encourage, uplift, and connect with youth and women in navigating “this thing called life.”

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