Recycling an Old Book as a Watercolor Sketchbook
Robyn of Have Dogs, Will Travel asked if I was planning to put a demonstration of this technique on my blog - and I'm having so much fun making these journals that I quickly said "yes."
I like to look for old books that are a specific size. The most important thing for me is the price and condition of the cover, but I also love one with illustrations and an interesting theme. Most of the books I have are more than 50 years old - and they cost $1-2. They are on the final sale cart and will be discarded if not sold. I love giving them a new life.
I first learned about recycling books as journals from Jan of ...In My Spare Time and loved how she used the theme of her book to match the destination of her travel to Provence.
From Top to bottom - a bone folder to press folds and to smooth the paper onto a surface when gluing; an 18mm Olfa rotary cutter that I use for cutting the watercolor paper and the end papers; a craft knife for removing the original text block from the book.
Step 1. Carefully remove the original text block using a craft knife to cut through the fold between the block and the end paper. I look for books that are made of multiple signatures that are not glued directly to the spine. This is what the book cover looks like after the block has been removed.
I mistakenly sliced into the spine book cloth recently and had to reinforce it by gluing on a piece of muslin to strengthen it. This is a photo of the inside of the cover after the muslin was attached and the outside of the cover to show the repair. This is the book that will be photographed in the remainder of these entries. I love it and was upset with my carelessness.
Step 2. Preparing the New Folios of Watercolor Paper:
Carefully pick apart the original signatures from the book in order to obtain one folio for a pattern for cutting the watercolor paper. I also always save the title page to include in my new journal and select illustrations.
This is a folio from Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It was the pattern that I used to cut watercolor paper with a metal ruler, the Olfa rotary cutter, and a self-sealing mat. I discovered that the metal ruler was essential as I sliced a few of my plastic ones. I also prefer the rotary cutter to a craft knife. I used 140 lb. watercolor paper for the folios and made 5 signatures for this book. As I folded each folio, I pressed the fold with my bone folder and then decided how many folios I could put into each signature and how many signatures fit into the original spine area.
Here are the 5 signatures:
Here are the signatures loosely placed in the original book cover to make sure that I have the right number of pages to fill out the spine:
Step 3. Stitching the Signatures Together:
The method that I use to stitch the signatures together is outlined with illustrations by Martha of Trumpetvine Travels. She inserts watercolor paper into small Moleskine journals, but told me I could still use 5 holes for the stitching in my larger format books.
I make a punching guide from a piece of card stock, making the first hole one inch from each end, a third hole in the middle, and the two remaining holes somewhere in-between.
I use our Manhattan phone book as my base (Thank you, Gwenn Diehn). Using the 5 hole guide, I punch all 5 holes in each signature with an awl.
This is what all 5 signatures look like after the holes are punched:
I use bookbinder's linen thread and a darning needle originally given to me by Gwen Diehn in an evening workshop where we made 2 signature/pamphlet stitched journals. I cut my thread 5 times the height of the book cover plus a little more.
In this book I markeded the top of each signature with the letters A-E (for 5 signtaures) in the upper right corner in pencil so I knew that the signature with the title page was added last - and that all pages with writing were in the correct orientation. Martha starts her sewing with "A" so this is really the last signature in your book. "E" is my first signature and gets sewn on last.
I follow Martha's stitching method, keeping a printout of those 2 pages in front of me at all times. I use a kettle stitch (also called a half hitch) when passing the thread under the stitches holding the signatures together. In the instructions, these steps begin when attaching the 3rd signature (C) to the 1st and second (A and B).
This is what the new watercolor block looks like after the signatures are sewn together:
Step 4. Attaching the End Papers
The end papers are glued onto paper block and onto the original book cover to hold the new paper block in the cover.
I love selecting end papers that add a little more fun to my finished book. I used a map of Italy for my Michaelangelo sonnet book, a NYC subway map for my NY State Tax report book, and an illustration of the human skeleton for my second figure drawing book. I selected a map of the US for this book because Parnassus on Wheels is a horse drawn "bookmobile" and the major characters set off on an adventure to sell books. All of these papers are available by the sheet in art stores or paper stores. The biggest selection here in NYC is at Kate's Paperie.
I use the original folio and my rotary cutter as a pattern to cut the end papers and then fold them in half right sides together. One half of the folio will be glued onto the book cover. The other half will be glued along the fold edge (approximately 1/2 to 3/4" to the paper block).
They must now be glued onto the front and the back of the watercolor block. I use PVA glue and a bookbinder's glue brush - and follow a technique I saw demonstrated by "Paper Source" at a craft show.
The Method: Lay the fold of the end paper between two sheets of newspaper, allowing 1/2-3/4" of the end paper to be exposed. Soak the glue brush in water and then shake it almost dry. Ihen dip it in the glue and start brushing on glue from the center out - making sure to cover the surface completely. Then glue the fold of the end paper over the edge of the watercolor block - making sure that all designs are oriented in the proper direction.
The consistency of the glue is really important and if the brush is too wet, the glue is too thin and it is a mess! Been there and done that!
Here is the end paper ready for the glue to be applied:
Here is the block after the end paper is attached. At this point I wrap it in wax paper, put it under some heavy books/trays to weight it down and allow the glue to dry overnight.
Step 5. Attaching the Watercolor Block to the Original Book Cover:
Place a piece of newspaper in the fold of the end paper to protect the watercolor block while applying glue and use the same method to brush on PVA outlined above.
Then carefully glue the front and the back end papers to the book cover - positioning them exactly - and then "rubbing" them well with the bone folder to make sure there are no bubbles and that the paper is in contact with every part of the book cover. I then wrap the book in wax paper again, weight it, and allow it to dry overnight. This is what the front and back endpapers looked like in Parnassus on Wheels.
Step 6. Covering up the Gaps Between Signatures.
I don't like the gaps between the signatures and actually like having strips of the end papers on my watercolor pages. I therefore cut 1 1/2 inch strips of the ends papers and glue them over the gap using the same method of glue application. Here is the gap which I can't prevent with this paper regardless of how much I tighten the thread while stitching.
Here is the gap after I cover it with end papers:
Here is my finished book - with a few of the original pages that I inserted because I love the illustrations.
I purchased several bookbinding "how-to" books when I was trying to figure out how to recycle a book inserting watercolor paper. None of them were sufficient by themselves - so I hope that these illustrations are helpful. I have to thank Jan and Martha for being so patient with me and answering all of my questions.