Boost Your Creative Vision Through Sketchbooks

If you ever get the chance to take a class with Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn (a.k.a. Double Trouble Enterprises), jump at it. They are two of the most innovative people I know when it comes to creative embroidery and textile art. Plus, they are just a hoot to be with! 

Jan and Jean are fearless when it comes to artistic experimentation and firmly believe in the practice of sketchbook keeping to inspire ideas for textile work. However, we all know that the blank page can be very daunting.

A couple years ago in our sister publication Cloth Paper Scissors, Jean Littlejohn shared a trick to dress up the blank page and give it some texture and depth on which to add your photos, drawings, and ideas. Although Jean works in different types of sketchbooks, she finds using old recycled books an effective vehicle for developing themes. 

Altering recycled books into sketchbooks

By Jean Littlejohn


  • Recycled hardbound book (Look for some unwanted books: children's annuals, cookery books, and road atlases, etc. that are no longer special or have outlived their usefulness to me, a book of 40 to 60 pages is ideal; too many pages will prove unwieldy.)
  • PVA glue
  • White gesso or white acrylic paint
  • Plastic container
  • 2 Foam brushes
  • Waxed paper or parchment paper
  • Old maps, magazine images, bits of text, and other printed ephemera
  • Sharp paper scissors or craft knife, ruler, and craft mat

A finished spread from Jean's “Falling Roses” sketchbook. These pages contain splattered paint, text, quotations, and layers of collage and paint.


1. Mix 1 part water to 1 part PVA glue in a plastic container. With a foam brush, glue the pages together in groups of 3 or 4. You are gluing sets of pages together to make a base that is strong enough to handle layers of paint and collage. Make sure to paint each page thoroughly with the glue mixture and press firmly so no air bubbles appear.

Step 1. Once the sets of glued pages are dry, a collage of ripped papers is glued down to add texture.

2. Place waxed or parchment paper between each set of glued pages to prevent the sets from sticking together while drying.

Step 2. A gesso wash is applied to create a drawing surface.

3. When you are finished gluing the sets of pages together, allow the book to dry standing upright on a plastic sheet with the pages fanned out.

Step 3. Here, a light acrylic wash was painted on top, creating a colored background for the drawing surface. Now your journal is ready for some featured imagery and text.

4. Now the pages are ready for further texture to make a complex background for your sketching. Some pages already contain print and photographs. Further elements can be added with the application of collaged old maps, tissue papers, color magazines, etc.

note: If the edges become ragged with these added layers of collaged paper they can easily be trimmed when dry with a sharp knife or scissors.

5. Once dry, paint the pages with gesso or white acrylic paint to make a good surface for drawing. If a thin wash is used, some of the print or imagery shows through and can add an exciting serendipity to the drawings. Paint and ink react differently on the uneven surfaces and add an unexpected dynamic to drawings, as well.

Jan and Jean offer more inspiration in Constructions: Buildings & Structures and their other new release, Fragile Fabrics, which offers a variety of techniques to give everyday fabrics and fibers the appearance of fragility. Check out Double Trouble's entire line of books at the Interweave Store. They will open up a new way of seeing everything that surrounds you.

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2 thoughts on “Boost Your Creative Vision Through Sketchbooks

  1. Great idea. I have a thrift store book called “The Very Best People,” which didn’t meet my reading standards, but the book title intrigued me. I will use that book to alter into a sketch book using your ideas. It will contain ideas pertaining to projects for my family–the very best people!