How to Prepare an Art Journal from Old Books

How to Prepare an Art Journal

Have you ever thought about making an art journal or a smash book? They look amazing and elaborate, but they’re actually really easy to make. If you love scrapbooking or even if you have never done it before, I highly recommend making an art journal. It’s a great way to be creative while having a relaxing outlet. We’ll show you 4 easy steps to prepare an art journal from old books!

While you can use plain, blank journals, I prefer to use old textbooks. I feel like I’m recycling and doing my part for the planet. Plus, I paid hundreds of dollars for the textbooks that no one will ever use again since they’ve come out with several new editions since I graduated college. Why throw them away or recycle them when I can turn them into beautiful works for art?! 

How to Prepare an Art Journal

Here’s what you’ll need to prepare an art journal:

v Textbook / book with a sewn in binding

v Glue

v Gesso

v Paintbrush or old credit or rewards card

1. How to choose the right art journal book:

Sewn binding vs glued binding

It’s very important that you choose the right type of book so that your art journal will hold up over time. You want to choose a book that has a sewn binding. This makes the pages stronger, so when you add paint, pictures, paper, etc. to your art journal, the pages will be strong enough to not fall out. If you use a book that has a glued binding, the pages are more likely to fall out.


Think about what type of art journal you want to make. Is it going to be more of a scrapbook documenting your life? Is it going to be more of a journal where you write down your thoughts, feelings, things about your day? Is it going to be more creative where each page is an expression of what you’re feeling or seeing that day? The possibilities are endless. Once you know what you want to fill your art journal with, you’ll be able to determine the size you want.

I tend to go for a size that will easily fit on my bookshelf. I don’t want it to be too small though as I like to use my art journals as a scrapbook and to document my day creatively. A standard textbook size works perfect for me. No matter what size book you choose, you’ll prep it the same way.

Where to find art journal books

I started by digging through my old books that I no longer needed and that’s how I found several old textbooks to turn into art journals. I wanted to make sure that I was using an outdated book that was no longer needed. In addition to old textbooks, you could use old gardening books, old children’s books, old encyclopedia’s, or any old, outdated book where the biding is sewn in.

It’s a lot of fun to search for books that you can turn into art journals. You can search at thrift stores, library sales, garage sales, your friend/mom’s house, grandma’s attic, etc. I have so much fun going through old books and seeing if there are any pages in them that I would want to turn into an art journal. I found the perfect book at a thrift store that was an old gardening book from the 1970’s. I can’t wait to turn that into an art journal!

Once you have your art journal all picked out, you’re ready to start prepping the pages.

 2. Ripping Out Pages

The first thing you’ll need to do is thin out your book. You’ll want to rip out at least half of the pages. This is so when you add your media to the pages the book won’t be too thick and will still close. If you have a 50 page book, you’ll want to rip out half the pages to have a 25 page book. 

Keep 2 pages together and then rip out the next 2. Repeat that pattern through your entire book. You can recycle the pages you ripped out or keep them for future mixed media or art journal projects. I also like to use them in place of newspaper if I need to protect my table from paint. 

3. Gluing Pages Together

Remember how we kept two pages together and then ripped out the next two? We kept the two pages together so that we could glue them together. This makes the pages stronger to hold up to the mixed media and anything else you’ll be putting on it. My textbook pages were so thin that this step was definitely needed for me. For some pages, I even glued 3 pages together to make it extra strong when I was adding a lot of paper layers and pictures.

If your book has thick pages, you may not need to do this step. It’s all about the weight of your pages. If they’re thin, I recommend gluing some pages together. If they’re thick, you can probably get away with leaving them as is.

I like to use a glue stick or liquid white glue for this. Put a light, even coat on the back of one page and the front of the other and then press them together. I like to use my brayer to really press the pages together and get out any air bubbles or bumps. It is difficult to get your pages 100% flat and that’s okay. Art is messy and unique. Roll with it and your art journal will turn out beautiful! 

5. Priming with Gesso

This is one of my favorite steps. I love working with Gesso on old textbooks. Gesso helps to prime the page and cover up the lettering on the page. I like to use white Gesso which doesn’t fully cover the lettering underneath. I’m okay with that – I like the added element it gives to my art journal. You can always add more Gesso until you get the desired thickness on your page.

I prefer using an old rewards card from a restaurant to apply the Gesso, but you could also use a paintbrush. Simply dip the card / paintbrush in the Gesso and evenly spread it onto your pages. Make sure it is completely dry before you turn the page otherwise your pages will stick together. Yes, I’ve gotten impatient and this has happened to me before. lol To speed up the drying process, I like to use my embossing heat gun. You could also use a blow dryer.

Another tip is to put something underneath the pages when you apply the Gesso. I like to use old laminated pages, but you could use card stock or anything similar.

Let the creativity begin!

You have now completed all of the steps to prep your art journal! WooHoo! Art journals are meant to be messy, creative, and fun so let the creativity flow!




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