Composition Book Artists Journals

Using composition books as artists journalsA composition book art journal is any journal that’s kept in a composition book.

Those are generally school-type, saddle-sewn (along the crease) notebooks with cardboard covers… similar to exam/test booklets, but a little more permanent.

Composition books are inexpensive.

So, many people like them especially for informal journaling. It feels less intimidating to use a journal that doesn’t cost much, and is familiar from our years in school.

They’re affordable, so you can buy several.

Put one in your car, one in the baby bag, one by your bed, and so on. Then, you’re ready to create a journal page when you have some free time.

These journals are so inexpensive, you can rip completed pages out and bind them into your more formal artist’s journal.

(“Binding” a loose page can be as easy as taping it into your other journal. Or, you can glue it, sew it, staple it, etc.)

Mead composition book for art journalingComposition books usually have lots of lined pages in them… as many as 100. They come in a variety of sizes, but the traditional ones are about 8″ x 10″ or so. The traditional ones often have a b&w cover that looks sort of marbleized.

You can also find composition books with red covers, plain manila covers, green covers, ornate covers, and so on. You may want to choose one with a color that reminds you of your childhood. (But, the color may not matter if you’re going to cover it with art anyway.)

Also, it’s easy to embellish the cardboard covers. I’d still use something (such as fusible interfacing) on the back so that threads don’t pull through, but you can sew through the cardboard with a crewel needle. Then, you can embroider on it, add beads & buttons, etc., in addition to other embellishments.

(For more about sewing on your journal pages and covers, see Sewing on Journal Pages.)

Sewing Onto Your Journal Pages

You can sew embellishments onto your paper journal pages.

You can use any page in a book as if it’s fabric (to sew on, for example) by using iron-on interfacing on the back side of the page.

I’m talking about interfacing that is smooth on one side, and the back of it has an iron-on adhesive that melts when exposed to extreme heat.

First, cut it to size. Generally, I cut it slightly smaller than the dimensions of the book page… maybe 1/16″ smaller.

Then, iron that interfacing onto the back side of the page, the same as you would iron interfacing onto fabric. It won’t always stick 100%, but it will work well enough that you can sew through it.

(If you try to embroider or sew beads onto regular pages in a book, the thread tends to pull right through the paper, if the thread is tugged.)

Sewing to Embellish an Art Journal Cover

You can do the same thing with your journal cover. A strong crewel embroidery needle will usually sew through cardboard… but you’ll probably need a thimble to push the needle through.

Mixed media art journal coverYou can then embroider with embroidery floss, yarn, thin ribbon, etc. You can add buttons, beads, and so on, too.

At left, you can see one of my journal covers I’ve embellished with sewn-on buttons. Most of the buttons are just for decoration.

But, the biggest button is part of the journal closure.

When the journal is not in use, a string of hemp (secured to the back cover) is wrapped around the button on the front cover to hold the journal pages closed.

Concealing the Messy Back of the Page (or Journal Cover)

After you’ve finished your sewing (or other embellishment), you can glue a page or fabric over the ironed-on interfacing, so your stitches are concealed.

Or, you could cover the interfacing side with more paper… maybe a collage.

Sometimes, if I’m sewing many pages in a book, I’ll buy a second copy of the same book. Then,  I can glue a “backing” page that matches the one I’d covered with interfacing.

In other words, the un-embellished side of the page will look like it would have, if I hadn’t covered the original with interfacing. (Pop-up stores selling discounted books – at bargain prices – can be ideal for this.)

You’ll find iron-on interfacing at any fabric shop. It’s usually kept in a bin or on shelving next to where they cut fabric yardage for you.

Fusible Alternatives

You can also iron-on Stitch Witchery or another fusible adhesive. That gives you the option of sticking something wonderful on the other side… interfacing isn’t all that interesting.

For example, you could fuse an actual piece of fabric to the paper page. Or part of a favorite (but worn out) item of clothing. Or, print artwork or an image on fabric, and apply it.

Whatever you choose to support your art journal pages, you can sew onto those pages. It’s easy!

Wax Paper and Artists Journals

Two pages from an artist's journalI love wax paper. It’s always among my basic journaling supplies.

I use it any time I need to protect pages that include glue, water media, or anything sticky.

When I travel, I pre-cut sheets of wax paper, and tuck them into the back of my journal.  (Usually, I use a rubber band or a binder clip to hold them at the back of my journal, and remove them – one at a time – to use them.)

Why Wax Paper?

Wax paper can be a vital tool if you’re keeping an art journal. Wax paper can separate damp art journal pages – after they’ve been painted or collaged – so they don’t stick together.

I carry wax paper with me when I travel, so I can work on several journal pages in a row, and not wait for pages to dry completely.

Photo of waxed paper.Wax paper has many great features:

  • Wax paper is inexpensive.
  • It’s slightly porous (so the pages dry underneath). In other words, the air can get through.
  • It’s super-easy to use.
  • Wax paper is environmentally friendly.
  • You can often use the same sheet two or three times before throwing it away.

You’ll find wax paper at the grocery store, in the aisle with foil and plastic (cling) wrap. In the States, the leading brand is Reynolds’ Cut-Rite wax paper. That’s it in the photo, above. The package is about the same size as a roll of foil or plastic (cling) wrap.

Sometimes it’s half-hidden on the bottom shelf. In other areas, wax paper is a popular product for use with microwave ovens, so you’ll find wax paper more prominently displayed.

Regular wax paper is generally not recyclable. The wax surface (often made with petroleum products) is considered a “mixed” paper product.  I have not yet tried any of the recyclable wax papers (like “If You Care” brand wax paper) with my artists journals.

How to cut wax paper for art journalingWhen I’m separating journal pages with wax paper, I try to let each page dry so it’s only damp, not wet. (Sometimes I have no choice.  If the page is really sticky and I can’t wait for it to dry at all, I have to hope for the best.)

Then, I place the journal so the pages are as flat as possible.

After that, I cut or tear the wax paper so each piece is slightly larger than the journal page it will protect. An extra half-inch on each side is usually enough.

The key to success is not to allow much weight or pressure on damp pages. In other words, the wax paper should practically float on the damp page. Don’t press it onto the page.

Wax Paper and Gesso

Generally, I gesso five or six pages at a time. I’ve successfully gesso’d up to eight pages at a time.

However, I’m usually working with spiral-bound sketchbooks. They’re generally my favorite journals.

If I was working with a regular, bound journal, I’d watch carefully to see how much the binding “pulls” the pages back together. I might have to work with just two pages at a time.

(Big binder clips can come in handy if the binding on the journal is really tight. Clip the dry pages together – in separate bunches, if necessary – and that should take some of the pressure off binding, keeping the damp pages apart.)

Remember, wax paper is not 100% reliable when you want to keep wet pages apart.  If your journal page is the most perfect thing you’ve ever created, and you’d be devastated if it was damaged… well, stop journaling until that page has dried completely.

From my experience, wax paper sticks about 10 – 15% of the time. Sometimes, that’s a disaster. More often, it’s an opportunity to add more art & embellishments.

I may collage over those pages later, since the surface of the page is already a bit distressed.

Or, I may leave them “as-is” to reflect the creative process.

It all depends upon how they look when the page is dry, and I take a fresh look at it.

Wax Paper in Different Climates

I’ve used wax paper when I’ve gesso’d in airplanes (very dry air) and – at the other extreme – in sultry, humid Houston.

I have slightly better success with wax paper when the air is dry and the pages dry more quickly.

If you try wax paper and don’t have much success with it, try gently crushing the wax paper – before you use it – so it holds the pages slightly apart.

Note: It’s important to gently crush the wax paper; if you fold it enough that the wax falls off at the crease, that  may stick to wet paint, gel medium, or gesso.

Wax Paper and Wet Paint

When I want to separate wet, painted journal pages, I’m far more careful with the pages.Wax paper and artists journals

Then, I will separate two pages at the most: The one that I’ve just painted, and the one that I’m currently working on.

I learned that the hard way, when I tried to rush… and several pages stuck together.

So, because wax paper isn’t 100% non-stick, don’t want to risk damage. Separate two pages at a time, at the very most.

Also remember: Less weight or pressure on the wax paper means less risk of sticking.

And, the drier the pages, the better.

Paint is designed to be sticky and adhere to paper.  If it’s so wet that the moisture actually penetrates the wax paper, the results may be disappointing.

Weigh your options carefully. 

Is your freshly painted journal page is the best thing you’ve ever created?

Maybe it’s more important to preserve that, as-is, than rush into the next journal page.

(If you’re in a class and this happens, have a second or third journal with you.  Then, you can keep working while the first journal page dries, and not waste valuable class time.)

Wax Paper and Gel Medium or Collages

Wax paper is best for separating pages with small amounts of wet gel medium or glue on them. However, most gel medium won’t stick to wax paper.

In storage, I also use wax paper to protect every page of my collaged art journals. Then, even during sultry summer heat, the gel medium doesn’t re-soften and stick to the page opposite it.

Think of it this way: We use an iron to “melt” gel medium for image transfers. Likewise, gel medium can become sticky if you store your journals in a hot attic, garage, or other really warm area.

Art journaling - one sheet, two pagesUnlike gel medium, glue can be hit-or-miss with wax paper. It can vary with how wet the glue is, and if the glue contains alcohol or any kind of solvent.  (Alcohol and solvents will dissolve the wax on the wax paper, so it’s useless.)

You can test this ahead of time. Put a blob of the glue on a piece of paper, and place a piece of wax paper on top of it. Press gently, enough so contact occurs.

Then, wait a minute or two and see if the wax paper sticks to the glue. If it does, wax paper won’t protect your journal pages where that glue is wet and exposed.

Wax Paper Alternatives? Maybe.

You may be safe with sheets of foil as separators. I’ve had limited success, and only when I place the shiny side of the foil against the wet surface.

Heavy duty foil would probably be your best choice, especially if you’re planning to use it over & over again.

Or, consider thin sheets of teflon-coated plastic, sold in kitchen supply shops; they were invented to safeguard very sticky cookies, meringues, and so on.

Plastic wrap (cling film) rarely works for this purpose. It tends to stick to paint, gel medium and glue.

Worse, some glues will completely melt the plastic. (I’m not kidding.)

If you have to choose between plastic wrap and nothing between the damp pages, opt for nothing.  Really.

Some plastic wraps – especially the more expensive kinds – are practically guaranteed to stick to your damp pages, prevent them from drying, and never peel off.

Summary

Wax paper is a valuable tool when you’re working with damp pages in your art journal or illustrated diary.

Wax paper isn’t foolproof, but it’s still one of the best and least expensive ways to keep damp pages from sticking to each other.

You’ll have the best luck when you’re working with gel medium. Gesso and glue have a higher “failure” rate with wax paper.

However, in art there are no “failures,” just challenges and opportunities to create new and different art, and to make the most of life’s surprises.

The good news is, wax paper will prevent most damp pages from sticking together.  And, for most of my own journaling, that’s good enough.