How to Make a Sketchbook


After searching many years for the perfect sketchbook, I finally gave up on the commercial brands and decided to make my own. For weeks I stayed up all night tearing paper, threading needles, poking holes in mat boards, and utilizing all kinds of gadgets, until finally I created the sketchbook I had been searching for. Here are the steps I used to make my favorite sketchbook.

  1. Measure out and tear (using the side of a ruler) a full sheet (22″ x 30″) of Arches watercolor paper into eight, 7.5″ x 11″ sheets (a full sheet is actually 22.5 inches wide so the individual pieces will be 11.25″ long including the deckle edge). Make sure the paper’s front side is up (watermark is readable on front side). Repeat until 4 full sheets have been torn into a total of 32, 7.5″ x 11″ sheets.
  2. Organize torn sheets so all the deckled edges are together on the right side.
  3. Cut two mat boards 7.75″ x 11.75″.
  4. Wrap 2″ wide, book binding cloth tape lengthwise around the left side of each cut mat board, with approximately 1″ on top and 1″ on the bottom. This will give the binding more support.
  5. Sandwich the stack of paper in between the two mat boards with the deckled edges facing away from the taped ends. Take the book to FedEx Office (or any other office supply store that has binding), and have it spiral bound along the taped side. I had FedEx Office spiral bind my sketchbooks but it’s also possible to buy a spiral binding machine. Zutter’s Bind-It-all and We R Memory Keeper’s The Cinch are two products I’ve heard good things about and both have YouTube video demonstrations.
  6. Once your book is bound, use an awl to punch two holes into the back side of the mat board. (It’s a good idea to put a couple of layers of cardboard behind the mat before making the holds so as not to poke a hole through anything else.) Using approximately 21″ of elastic, push each end up through the holes and pull tight until the elastic is snug around the sketchbook. Overlap the two elastic ends and stitch them together with sturdy thread.
  7. Finished!

I recently purchased “the Cinch” for binding books. The tool works quite well and easily punches through mat board. I purchased the 1″ plastic spirals (it’s the only size they make) and found them too large. So I ordered the metal binders sizes (3/4″ and 1″) and they seem to work pretty well (I prefer the 3/4″). Ultimately, I like the binding better from FedEx Office but it’s not worth the hassle for me to drive and wait hours for my order to be completed. I think the Cinch will be my sketchbook binder of choice!

***Click here to see how to paint a sketchbook cover***

21 thoughts on “How to Make a Sketchbook

  1. I keep thinking I should make my own too although I’ve never tried. Your post makes it look easy! May I make a request and ask you what colours you have in your palette? I love how you use colours and I’m always curious which ones you use.

  2. Thanks for the comment Felicity! Making a sketchbook, especially if you have it bound by an office supply company is really as easy as it seems. Give it a try! I’ll be doing another post here shortly about my palette and my sketching kit!

  3. You’re welcome Elizabeth! Good question and one that I should have clarified. I used 4 sheets to make 32 pages total. It’s really easy to do and only took about 20 minutes to tear and cut. It’s so easy intact, I’ll probably never go back to commercial brands.

  4. Thanks Steven! yes, the hot press paper is great for several reasons. It keeps the paint more to the surface of the paper for those special water effects as well as keeping the colors bright. Hot press is also better for scanning as you don’t have all that texture akin to cold press paper to contend with. Go for it! Make your own. I bet you’ll love it!

  5. Well, you inspired me to give it a try. I’ve put the paper together, got the board, and found a light weight paper for a cover. All I need to do is get to the nearest shop to bind it and I’m ready.

  6. I’ve stayed away from making my own journals so far, but your instructions just might motivate me to give it a try. I’m just not sure how soon I’ll fit it in. Your illustrations for the process also make it look like fun. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. Sounds Exciting Zoe! I hope there is an office shop near you that can do it for you. Let me know of your progress!

  8. You’re welcome Claire! It really doesn’t take that much time to make a journal. give it a try sometime, I bet you’ll be pleased with the results.

  9. Richard,
    I love your work and appreciate your sharing processes with us. In your journals, do you paint on both sides of each page or only on one side. The Zutter and Cinch should go through book board which you can cover with decorative paper if you choose and would be a little heavier than mat board. I am enjoying the book you published – beautiful. I use hot press Fabriano – haven’t tried the Arches Hot Press. Will have to check it out. Thanks.

  10. Thank you Kay! I paint only on one side of each page these days. But when I use to use a Moleskine sketchbook, I would sketch front and back. Much of my watercolor work has been done on watercolor blocks which, of course would only be on one side. Now, with the new sketchbooks I’ve made, I’m using the back side to take notes about my experiences while sketching. Those notes later become the stories I write about. I haven’t used Fabriano for watercolor but I hear it’s good paper. I was told to use Arches in school, way back,and have used it ever since.
    I’m so glad you are enjoying my book! Thank you!

  11. This is great Richard! Very clear. I’m going to give it a go. Thanks for taking the time to show us how it’s done. As always you are an inspiration.

  12. Thank you Wakar! I think you’ll like the sketchbook. Of course, you don’t have to use the Arches paper I used so if you have another favorite paper to fill it with, go for it! Let me know how it turns out. Don’t forget world wide Sketchcrawl is officially Saturday, April 21!

  13. Thank you Tom, I appreciate it! I’ve been creating art for many years but there is always something new to learn. I guess that’s part of what makes it interesting.

  14. What a beautifully illustrated tutorial. I’ve bound my journals with coptic stitch but because it takes so long to do, I haven’t done it in a while. This is inspiring. Although we don’t have a FedEx nearby, there are various places to get things bound. I’ll have to price them out!

  15. Thank you May! Yes, I agree, stitching takes quite a bit of time and even still, they don’t really lay flat enough for me to comfortably draw. ALthough the spiral binding is not an elegant solution, it certainly does the trick and I love having my favorite paper to draw on!

  16. Richard, I so loved this post and the one about the palette. Of course, I’m the sort of person who would expect that after making the sketchbook and getting the proper supplies I would actually BE an artist! It would be such a rude awakening for me to tackle the first page of my book with unbridled enthuiasm and then actually be shocked that it was absolutely horrible!

  17. Jean, in order to be an artist, you have to create, and you are very creative! I’ve seen and attempted to duplicate your creations in my kitchen and with the help of your instructions, I’ve done very well. But if you ever decided to make a sketchbook, all I can say is “use it!” You might be shocked at what you see on the first page but I bet you’d be pleasantly surprised and happy with your results by the end. And then there are the memories you capture. And they are priceless!

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