Making a Watercolor Sketchbook - Part 1
This part of the tutorial will cover:
1-A. Removing the old page block from the purchased book
1-B. Collecting folios from the old book that you want to put in the sketchbook
1-C. Tearing down watercolor paper and creating signatures
Some Useful Definitions for Part 1
A folio is the full size page that gets folded in half to make up the signatures. Each folio will make 4 single-sided pages in the book.
A signature is a collection of folios, all folded together. I use 140 lb watercolor paper and only two folios can be put in each signature.
Grain is the orientation of the fibers in the paper - very much like fabric. Handmade papers don't have grain. When making a book, the grain of the paper needs to be parallel to the spine of the book unless you want a wonky book. This is the first and last rule of bookbinding.
Part 1-A: Removing the Old Page Block
Using a small craft/X-acto knife, carefully cut down the fold between the cover and the first page (the end paper). I have been too vigorous and sliced a small part of the book cover on one book, so do this slowly and carefully. I sometimes use my fingernail to see if I can cut through the fold without a knife, at least to get the cut started so then I can see into the opening a little better. Do both sides and remove the old page block.
This is what the book cover should look like after you remove the page block.
Take a small pair of scissors and clean up both edges.
This is how the old book cover should look at this point in the process.
Part 1-B. Collecting folios from the old book that you want to put in the sketchbook
I like to retain some of the old book pages, if they pertain to my future use of the book. If they don't, I at least try to include the old title page to honor the old book. Sometimes, however, the spine is so heavily glued, that you can't tease away many folios from the page block.
In this book, I wanted to save the title page and some of the lovely photos and quotes. The spine was heavily glued, so instead of picking at it until I could remove the glue in small pieces (frequently damaging the fold of the folios in the process), I cut the signatures apart.
When you look at each page in a signature in a book, there is one double page spread that is the center fold of the signature. Here you can see the stitches that are holding the signatures together. In this book, I cut all of these big stitches and carefully lifted off the top few folios. This gave me the title page and a few signatures to add to my Venice sketchbook.
Here are several folios that I removed to add to my sketchbook.
Note that you will get some pages that you don't want, because they are part of the folio containing the page that you do want. I use them to add photos, collage, trip ephemera, gesso and more drawings, etc. In this case I will leave them because they are photos of other parts of Italy and I like all of them.
Now the folio you remove must be carefully measured to determine the size of your new watercolor pages.
My folio measured 13 15/16ths inches wide and 8 inches high. This will need to be the size of your watercolor folios. I use Fabriano Artistico Extra-white, 140 lb, soft press paper. Several years ago Fabriano changed their product so the grain of the paper is parallel to the 22" side of a 22" by 30" sheet. In paper parlance, this is called grain short. Arches paper is grain long.
I was able to cut two folios from the width of the paper and only four total from each watercolor sheet. But I tore the paper leaving a 6" X 30" wide strip across the bottom of the sheet - and I now have a small accordion notebook for preliminary sketches before our trip from each sheet.
Here is a Venice folio that I want to include in my book, followed by the title page.
And here is my book cover with the folios that I want to use. The remainder of the page block is now in my collage bin for future projects.
In the next part we will tear down or cut the watercolor paper and the end papers. The spine of my old book is 3/4" wide and I used 2 sheets of 140 lb paper, several folios from the old book, and two smaller pieces of watercolor paper that I had leftover from another project.
You will need to have your desired paper, a decorative paper for the end papers, a solid 24" ruler or straight edge, a bone folder and heavy books to use as weights.
Part 1-C: Tearing down watercolor paper and creating signatures
When you buy your watercolor paper, ask the most knowledgeable sales person for the direction of the grain of the paper and put a small arrow, in pencil, along the edge so you remember it. Most of the other watercolor paper manufacturers (like Arches) make papers that are "grain-long," meaning the grain is parallel to the long (30") edge.
There is a way to determine the grain for yourself - but it takes a little practice.
Determining the Grain
Lay the sheet of paper in front of you and try to fold the paper, first one direction, and then the other. But only bring over the edge of the paper, DON'T ACTUALLY FOLD IT. Bounce your hand on the paper trying to feel the resistance and note the direction for the LEAST resistance. The grain runs parallel to the soft fold when you feel the least resistance. Mark it in pencil on the sheet of paper.
Here is a photo of me bouncing the paper when trying to determine the grain.
Making the Folios
Beginners may wish to cut their folios with a metal ruler and a craft knife. That is what I did for the first few books that I recycled. Now I prefer tearing my pages to get a faux deckled edge on the pages.
To tear the paper into folios: Measure and lightly mark dots for the cuts on the watercolor sheet. Place a metal ruler between the dots, and score the paper along the ruler with the pointed edge of the bone folder. I go over the same line 4-5 times. Then fold the paper along that line and use the bone folder to compress the fold down the entire length, on both sides of the fold. Next I fold the paper in the opposite direction along the same line - burnishing the fold again on both sides.
Here is my well folded and burnished fold and my bone folder.
Insert the bone folder into the fold and gently "wiggle it", pulling along the fold to get the paper to tear. This is very easy after you practice, so take some other scrap papers and try it until you are happy with the result.
For this book I used 2 22 X 30" sheets of watercolor paper and made 8 folios plus my two 6X30" accordion practice booklets.
Making the Signatures
Fold each folio in half and lightly burnish the fold on both sides. Then take 2 folios and nestle them together to make a signature. If you are using 90 lb watercolor paper, you will be able to put more folios in each signature and need more signatures to fill the book spine.
For this book, I decided to add several folios from the original book and several smaller pieces of watercolor paper, left over from other projects. I like having odd little pieces appear randomly in travel sketchbooks. I might use them for business cards or lists or as a tab to attach photos on our return.
Here is a photo with one of my added small pieces of watercolor paper - folded asymmetrically.
When I rearranged all of these extra pieces, I actually had 5 signatures for my book, each with 2 folios of watercolor paper and one folio from the original book. And when I put all of the signatures inside my book, they filled the spine of the old cover perfectly.
Cutting the end papers
End papers are the "hinge" to put your new page block in your old cover. Have some fun picking them out, but make sure that you pick sturdy paper. I love to carry the theme of the book through to the end papers and had this piece of paper in my stash - just waiting for this project.
You must determine the grain of this paper and then cut (not tear) two folios the same size as your watercolor paper. For me that was 13 15/16th inches wide and 8 inches high. Then fold them in half, right sides together, until we need them in Part 2.
Now pile up all of your signatures and put them under heavy weights to further compress the folds until you are ready to stitch them together. I wrapped two cheap bricks in plastic and taped them up to use as my regular weights, but any heavy objects are fine.
In Part 2, we will stitch together the signatures, tip (i.e. glue) on the end papers, and glue the spine. You will need linen or heavy duty thread (some people have even used dental floss), a needle, an awl (or something to make small holes with), PVA glue (some people use white craft glue), wax paper, and a glue brush.
In Part 3, we will case-in the book (i.e. glue one page of the end paper to the inside front and back old book covers. No new supplies are needed.
After drying the glue overnight, under heavy weights, you will have a watercolor sketchbook, in the size you want, and with the paper you like best!