Bookish DIY: I’m Still Making Books, and a Bonus Book Review

84 - Making Handmade Books

#84 – Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures, & Forms by Alisa Golden

  • Read: 2016 – 2019
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (56/100)
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It didn’t actually take me three years to read it. But I bought it in 2016, scratching the itch I wrote about almost four years ago, and decided I would make an example of every book from it. Because I’m ambitious(dumb) like that.

In the beginning, that was easy, because the binding styles go in a rough order of increasing complexity, the first section being devoted to folded books that require very little in the way of time or supplies. I think I cranked out the first four models in one afternoon.

But they weren’t satisfying. I bought this as a reference book for multiple types of bookbinding, and it is–but it’s also written by a book artist and geared towards those wishing to make books as art. Whereas I, who loves both books and art, wanted a book to teach me to make books to make art in. I want to make journals, not art projects.

That sounds like a criticism, but it’s not really–there’s no reason I couldn’t use the books I made however I wished, and the model art works provided as examples were inspiring, even if that’s not what I aspired to.

As I worked through the projects, I began to skip the forms that didn’t suit my needs for journaling–the pop-up books, scrolls, Jacob’s Ladder, and so on. But it’s great that they’re there, that the book is so exhaustive in cataloguing and providing instructions for so many types of bindings.

There are still forms in here I want to try, but lack the materials for–I haven’t invested in “proper” bookbinding tools, as most of the simpler projects can easily be made without them, or with makeshift tools borrowed from other crafts (of which I have many.) And as this book is such a comprehensive overview of styles, I don’t feel the need to buy any other works on bookbinding any time soon–possibly never, unless I get the craving to go more advanced and need something more specialized to teach me.

So while it’s geared towards artists in tone, it’s an excellent introduction to the craft for hobbyists like me; and for such a large book packed with detailed instructions, I found incredibly few errors, none of which threw me off for longer than it took to double-check a diagram or reread a few sentences.

Time to share a few of my favorites. This is the Concertina, an accordion-style form where the pages are glued together at their outer edges. I made it from book pages cut from my art journals for space, many of which had been painted over randomly to use up mixed paint I couldn’t scrape back into its bottles. I made it more journal-like by adding a wrapped softcover, a page from this years Shen Yun tour (a traditional Chinese dance company, which I have never seen, but they come to Detroit every year and I always get mailers and their photos are beautiful.)

This is the Crown Binding, where the pages are actually removable, held in only by the folded tabs that create the spine. While I don’t need a journal with removable pages, it was an interesting structure to learn. I finished the book blank with individual hardcovers.

This was a fun one. It’s called Piano Hinge with Skewers, and the signatures are notched at the spine edge so they can be interwoven along bamboo skewers. It’s not the best for journaling–the spine is incredibly thick compared to the book block, and it doesn’t lie flat to write in. But it’s pretty, so I’ll use this one and probably not make another.

Exposed Stitch Binding

My first try at the Exposed Stitch Binding. I see this one a lot in journals for sale on Etsy and the like–it’s not difficult, it’s pretty, it’s sturdy, and for thin books like this one, it lies flat quite well. I made this last week to keep records of my latest batch of experimental recipes–I always need one of these in my kitchen! Also, in my last fallow period between batches of books, I had the brainwave to use completed coloring-book pages to make my covers, and this was a perfect opportunity to try it.

Secret Belgian Binding

Finally, the one I made last night while I was thinking about finally making this post! It’s the Secret Belgian Binding, and aside from the Coptic Stitch books I taught myself all those years ago, it’s the most complex thing I’ve attempted. The spine of the hardcover (done in another old coloring-book page) is actually free-floating inside the stitches keeping the front and back cover together, and the signatures are laced to the inner spine through those stitches. It’s clever, it’s gorgeous, but it’s a little trickier, and my tension isn’t perfect. But this might be my favorite so far, because it feels like a “real” book and lies flat to work in!

From My Art Journal #13: Second Altered Book Complete!



It started out life as one of the books I won in a Random House giveaway back in 2015. I read it in 2016 and didn’t like it, but I was just getting into altered book journals, and it had a lot of art-related words in it, so I turned it into one in 2017. For the last year and a half, I’ve been filling it with all sorts of nonsense.

Lace Journal 8-17-18Lace Journal 8-18-18Lace Journal 8-19-18

The last three page spreads that finished the book! I can’t believe I left the journal hanging, so close to done, for three months.

Lace Journal Finished

The final thickness didn’t end up much greater than the original; I was pruning pages all the time to account for everything I was adding, and while I love seeing other artists’ journals stuffed until they’re yawning, I keep my finished journals on the same shelves as my regular books, so I need them to be as close to flat as possible.

So what’s next? I have one more full-size altered book journal ready to go, but I’ve got a mini one already started that’s devoted to found poetry; a handcrafted mini journal to fill with art; the “found” small journal I discovered last month; and just recently, I bought an imitation “Wreck This Journal” style journal that I, of course, started immediately on. So I might try to wrap up one of those (which will take a good long while) before I dive off another new-journal cliff.


From My Art Journal, #12: Lost and Found Edition

Meet the Journal - Moon Journal

Sometime in early 1997, I bought this small blank journal. Sometime in the early 00s, I thought I lost it–whether during the move into our current residence, or the original post-college move into our first apartment together. Considering that one of us changed countries for a year between the two and a lot of our stuff went into storage while we were apart, I figured it had gotten lost in the shuffle, never to be seen again.

Imagine my surprise when I found it in a box of old art supplies than had gotten shoved, apparently unopened, under our bed. I found it a few months ago during the big spring clean!

I debated what to do with it. Some of the art in it is terrible and cringe-worthy to my adult self–keep in mind that ’97-’98 was my senior year of high school, and while I’d always enjoyed making art, I hadn’t studied it much or gotten all that good at it–and I thought of shelving it with my other journals, unfinished, but a memory of my teenage years.

Then I said screw it and decided to finish using it anyway. So what if there’ll be an 18-year gap in the entries?

What follows is a selection of the pages I’m not completely ashamed to claim credit for.


The very first page (2/17/97) and a current picture of its subject, Mercutio, named because of his resemblance to Harold Perrineau’s wig-bedecked version of the role in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. He also featured in a whole series of works I did in my Thematic Art class in college, I’m pretty sure I have all those in the back of my closet, I should get them out sometime.

Moon Journal 2-17-97

The very next day, apparently, I brought my charcoal pencils to study hall and did a portrait of my chemistry teacher.


On vacation in August that summer, I bought my art supplies along and for some reason decided to draw card faces? The detail astonishes me all this time later, but if you turn them upside down the faces, which are supposed to be identical, are completely different.


Same trip, a few days later. I don’t remember where we’d gone (I could consult my dad and I’m sure he’d be able to tell me) but I must have been bored at least some of the time, because I did these two.

Moon Journal 2-15-98

I forgot about the journal for a few months, judging by the dates–that hasn’t changed about me at all! This is from February 1998, and while I remember “hand” art being a thing I did a lot freshman year in my school notebooks, apparently I decided to revisit that style for a page three years later.

Moon Journal 3-3-98

I like drawing my stuffed animals. I should do that some more. Meet Caledonia, my happy baby elephant, one of the few animals I’ve bought who kept the name on the tag she came with. I don’t know why an employee of my then-local Hallmark store hand-wrote a bunch of random fancy names on a batch of elephant stuffies, but they did, and so I took her. (Yes, I still have her, too. My menagerie is huge these days.)

Moon Journal 8-20-00

This was the final entry from the original journal, which I had the sense to label with a place, since I was clearly on vacation again. There was a really, really big willow tree outside our hotel that day, and I love trees, so I drew it. Not that well, but as best I can remember, I didn’t have a lot of time before we were heading out to dinner.

So that’s a sampling of the old stuff, and I’m surprised/not surprised by similarities I see to my current “work.” I still like odd (or maybe I should say non-traditional) color combinations, mandalas, and abstraction. When I drew from life, I chose a lot of random subjects: not pictured are a candlestick, a table full of empty glassware, a laughing gargoyle statue that I used to have, one of my bookshelves, and a spectacularly awful attempt at a vase of flowers.

To start off again, I grabbed my gel pens, put on some music, and got doodling.


Song lyrics + Zentangles might be a thing for this new journal, at least for a while.

From My Art Journal, #10

Lace Journal 2-7-18

It’s been a long time since I shared any of my art journaling here, but most of that was because it had been a long time since I’d done any. In an effort to streamline my blogging a bit, and feel less like I’m scrambling to get post ideas, I’ve blocked out a rough monthly schedule, and there’s room in it for an art journal post!

I think it’s important for writers to have a creative outlet other than writing, to turn to when inspiration is low, or the block is tough, or there simply isn’t the energy for words. I’ve been feeling that way off and on lately, and now that I’m doing it again, I think art journaling is good choice for me in particular because even though I do share my work, I don’t feel nearly the same level of perfectionism about it, or worry about it being judged the same way my novels are judged. It can be weird and quirky, even downright bizarre, because it’s smaller and freer than writing, with so many fewer expectations attached.

And now that I’ve poured out my heart about it, on to some more pictures of what I’ve done!

Lace Journal 2-15-18

Lace Journal 2-16-18

Lace Journal 2-17-18

Lace Journal 2-18-18

Lace Journal 2-22-18

Lace Journal 2-25-18

…because, yeah, why not a little Sandman joke, since I was lucky enough to come across artwork of Morpheus in an issue of Entertainment Weekly?

From My Art Journal, #9

Lace 3-25-17

Though I didn’t care for the book at all, the cover of Symphony was too awesome not to be repurposed for an art journal page.

Lace 6-11-17

she feels as the society acts

This small slip of paper fell out of the first chapter about Hatsue in Snow Falling on Cedars. I have no idea who owned the book before me, who wrote that, but I liked it, so into the journal it went.

Lace 6-12-17

Always looking for new ways to use Zentangle patterns.

Windflower 6-12-17

I’ve made time in the last few weeks to start “real” drawing practice again, using exercises from The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I got a copy of the original edition from Thriftbooks and started working through it last fall, but fell out of the habit as the holidays approached. The binding of the book was crumbling, pages falling out every time I touched it–so when I discovered a pristine copy of the updated edition at a library sale, I jumped on it, and here I am, doing hand studies again.

Lace 6-13-17

I liked that particular exercise so much I did it again in my altered-book journal. Extra practice is a good thing.

As much as I want to get my nose back to the grindstone with writing, focusing on honing a different skill has done me good, helping with the long climb out of depression and grief. I’ve always been told I’m good at art, in a general way–I’ve taken art classes and earned good grades, back in school–but none of them were specifically devoted to drawing, and whenever I see one of those 30-day drawing/painting/art challenges and the first day is (nearly) always “self-portrait,” I cringe. I’m terrible at faces. That’s what enamored me of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain when I first heard about it–the ultimate goal is portraiture, building up from learning the fundamental mechanics of engaging the right brain’s ability to “see” things instead of the left brain’s incessant need to “name” things.

And, honestly, I hate being bad at things, so it frustrated me to feel like I was “good” at art without being “good” at drawing.

So there you have it from my artsy side, I’ll be back on Wednesday with something much more book-related, and Friday, of course, with this week’s book reviews!

From My Art Journal, #8


That’s how I’ve been feeling about my art lately. It’s fun, it relaxes me, and sometimes, like this page, it’s fabulous.

By the end of January, I’d finished my first art journal, in which I lovingly repurposed The Girl on the Train. A few more of my favorite pages from it:


So then, it was on to a new altered-book journal. I’ve got plans for this one.


I made it from The Sunlit Night (which I was not fond of at all) and glued an envelope to the inside front cover where I could store a self-made list of prompts gleaned from several inspirational sources. Whenever I want to “art” and I don’t already have an idea, I can pull out the list and try something that sounds like fun. It’s working well so far, and I think I’ll be doing this in all my journals from now on, art or otherwise–because there’s no reason I couldn’t use a list of regular journal prompts too in my personal journal!


The first page needed an artist’s quote, of course.





As I’d hoped, the text of The Sunlit Night is proving to be fun for found poetry.

That’s all for this installment–I had trouble choosing my favorites, I could have easily included twice as many pages–so until sometime next month for the next batch, stay creative!


From My Art Journal, #7


It started here, a week early–my New Year’s resolution to keep my journal more actively, by doing at least one page in one journal every day. I was headed away for a visit to family, so why not take my art journal and a few supplies with me? I sat down with some Zentangle instructions online, tried a few things out, and found serious inspiration that’s been carrying me through since. I have far too much to share in a single post, this time, so I’ll stick to my favorites I’ve made in the last few weeks.





Eventually I found my old compass and protractor buried under some other art supplies, so I could try out mandalas as well. I see many of these in my future.


So I think it’s fair to say, finally, that my art journal posts really will be once a month, as I always intended them to be. Some months, I just didn’t have enough material to make them worthwhile, because I let my journals languish. No more of that!

From My Art Journal #6


I’d intended to make my art journal posts monthly, and I knew I missed September, but looking back I didn’t post in August either! I haven’t had as much time to play with my pens and paints, what with getting the book ready to be published and all.

But I still have some pages to show off. Above is the Deconstruction challenge.



Two sets of backgrounds I painted to go back to later…




…and what I did with them for later challenges.


Finally, I leave you with the Inspirational Quote challenge. Of course I chose one about writing!

From My Art Journal #5

WSC #6 hand 2

WSC #6 hand 4

With my decision to participate in new Weekend Sketchbook Challenges as they’re posted, plus catching up on the ones I’d missed, my art journal is bursting with new pages this past month, so many I’m not even going to post them all.

Just my favorites. Above are two of the five pages from the Hands challenge.

WSC #10 page 3

WSC #10 page 4

Two from the Song Lyrics/Lettering challenge. (The songs are Open Book by Cake, and Lemon by U2.)

WSC #14 page 3

From Five Landscapes, Two Colors, One Hour. (I actually finished in 52 minutes, but who’s counting?)


One of the plants I did for the Nature challenge.WSC #27 page 1

And finally, the Cell challenge — basic animal cell on the left, basic plant on the right. I had to do these once upon a time for class, complete with labels, so it was fun to do them again as art.

With the rate I’m producing new pages, I’ll try to keep doing these updates once a month. And pretty soon, I’m going to need another altered book journal–fortunately I’ve saved The Sunlit Night in my craft pile for just this purpose!