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How-to: How I Choose Books for Re-purposing into Art Journals

So many books, so little time.

~ Frank Zappa

I’ve been looking into how to merge the content on my original blog setup with this blog setup. I have tons of stuff there that I love…and at the beginning I didn’t know better than to just use a free WordPress blog. Now I’ve got this great setup, still using the WordPress face that I know and love, but I am missing all of my content that I spent so much love and time creating.

And did you know that even if you own the other blog, it is still considered plagiarism if you copy any of that content on the new blog?? You can’t copy yourself lol.

That’s my current techie nightmare…trying to read through articles so that I can merge all of this great stuff.

So I’ll reference a previous article from that blog as I share one of my current artsy projects here on my new blog.

I really love using pre-loved books for art journals. They smell good, many times they have awesome paper, and the text and images make for nice backgrounds or added texture on art/journal pages. I love incorporating stuff from the content of the books. And I love using the inside covers and the covers themselves as part of the overall feel of the journal.

As I have used more and different kinds of books over the years, I have learned a lot about what I look for in a book to use and how I prepare them for my journals. I’ve also learned to keep my eyes peeled when I’m out and about for the kinds of books that will work for me.

I have several posts from previous years about using old books for art journals. These are probably some of my most viewed posts, I guess because lots of us like using old books and seeing someone else’s processes and what they like to use is so inspirational.

What I look for in a useful book

First of all, a book with sewn bindings is a must for me. You can look at the top of the book spine and see if they signatures have actually been sewn together or if the book is bound with only glue. It can be a bit tricky to spot if you haven’t ever really thought about it. Typically paperback books are going to be glued not sewn. That doesn’t mean always, but often. Gluing it is a cheaper binding, and paperbacks try to keep the cost of a book lower. that also does not mean all hardbacks are sewn bindings, by the way. Here’s a picture of a glued binding:


And here’s a couple of pics of sewn bindings:

I think the noticeable thing is that the sewn bindings have the string row that doesn’t sit cleanly right up against the inner spine of the cover.

Then in the middle of the inside of the book you can flip through to find the middle of one of the signatures and look for signs of string or holes where the signatures have been sewn together, like in this photo:

The book cover

I also look for book covers that feel good. Maybe that’s not a very technical description, but that’s sort of how I do it. I hold the book, and run my hands over the cover, and imagine looking at it and handling it a lot. What color is it? Does it have a print? Is it textured? I don’t keep dust jackets on my books as I would just muck it up and eventually get angry and throw it away 🙂 so it’s all about the hard cover.

That close up is showing the texture on the cover of the book pictured above…it’s covered in a linen and has an embossed image on the linen. LOVE IT!!! I actually collect books from that series with their linen covers…they are old books from National Geographic Society and have all kinds of subjects. I love them, and I watch for them at yard sales and so forth (and I love to go junking with the kids during lovely weather and on artist’s dates with the hubs).



I also check out the inside covers, what paper’s glued to it. Sometimes I keep it the way it is, sometimes I glue other paper on it, and sometimes I use it as a background and glue collage items on it. But I check it out to see how I can imagine using it.

The paper for the pages

I totally fondle the pages while I’m looking a book over…that can make or break a book for me! I will use lots of different types of papers, but my favorite is a thicker paper, sometimes glossy and sometimes matte. But the thicker paper, the less prep work I’ll have to do for my mess-making in the book.

Content of the book

Okay. It seems like the content shouldn’t really matter, since I’m going to art all over the pages, often covering up all of the content.

I will not use content that feels icky to me. So for instance, I won’t use seriously political books. I have my political leanings, but I won’t even use books that lean in my personal favor. It just seems for me that politics and art do not mesh. That’s not so for everyone, I know, but for me it doesn’t feel good. So I don’t use that kind of content.

I also don’t use content of ideas that feel ugly or negative. Subjects like serial killers have a place in books, just not in the books that I will be using for my art journals and projects.

Content that has a neutral feel I will consider if I love all of the other parts of the books, like it has really great paper or a super cover and so on. But I prefer books that also have awesome content.

Which leaves books with AWESOME content…that’s what I really love to use. That is a totally subject to me kind of thing. You might love content that I find objectionable for my journals. Go ahead and use those things. But choose your content purposefully. We have so many books out there to choose from, why settle for some content that mucks up the vibe in your art???

Here’s an example: I went to a yard sale today, and they had lots of hardcover books. For a buck a piece. Nice start! So I started flipping through some of them, and history books just don’t do it for me. Not in general. A couple of books on the shelf, though, were books about the history of potter and the history of blue and white dishes (those are a specific style I’m sure). Now those are some books I can use. I don’t have a particular connection with those things, but the pictures in the books are artful and lovely, and the pages are thick and the text is sparse. It has lots of white space. And they have hard covers and sewn bindings. Score!

Shape of the book

I do consider the shape of the book. I have some relative dimensions that I prefer. I like squares, and almost squares. I like big books, but not too big. I like books that aren’t too long with too many pages (takes too much work to get them ready and I get bored before I fill them up). I like certain weights in my hand. These are personal feel-y things. You’ll figure out what you prefer. Just fondle a lot of books…

Last couple of notes

I don’t keep the dust jackets, so I don’t care what condition those are in. I don’t like books with water damage. I do look at the spacing of text and images. I like white space in the book. If the pages aren’t glossy, I like textured paper with tooth. I like to smell the book pages. I like yellowed-on-the-edges pages. I feel a bit weird about telling someone why I’m buying their book, that might have been a loved item. I check out the person selling the book, if applicable. I sometimes carry a book around for a bit before deciding whether or not to buy it. I do buy some books just to rip them up and use the pages in other art. And some books I wouldn’t dare to use as journals or tear apart for collage.

And I hope my mom doesn’t yell at me when she reads what I do to books…

Check out my Instagram page for some pics of my most recent finds junkin’ it this fine Memorial Day weekend with my kidlets!

Prompt: Have you considered making an unorthodox art journal?? Do you feel guilty about “messing up” an old book? I give you permission to do so…start with a book that’s already falling apart. It’s cathartic.





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