Project Art Journal


A few years ago, my aunt taught me how to make an art journal out of brown paper bags.  She is an incredibly artistic person who always inspires me to be creative and try new things.  I’ve made more than a few paper bag journals since, but one stands out as my favorite – an art journal dedicated to travel quotations.

I thought it might be fun to share the process of the project from start to finish.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my favorite pages and techniques.  I am by no means an expert, but  I do enjoy creating and inspiring others to do the same.

The construction of the book is pretty simple and only requires a few supplies.

  • 4 brown paper bags
  • Paper piercer (or an ice pick)
  • cotton string (DMC Pearl Cotton is my favorite)
  • needle (a large embroidery or crewel needle works well)

Step 1: Gather four brown bags and fold them in half.  Stack them so that the open (top) and closed (bottom) ends alternate.  When the book is complete, the open ends double as pages and pockets.

Step 2: Poke five evenly spaced holes on the fold line.

Step 3: Thread needle with thread and stitch in the following pattern:
Down through #1 and leave a long tail of thread.  Either tack it in place or hold it with your thumb.

Up through #2 and down through #3


Back up through #2 and down again through #1.  Hold onto that tail!

Up through #4 and down through #5


Back up through #4

Grab the tail coming out of #1 and the tail coming out of #4 and tie them together with a good knot.

All done!  You’ve got a hand-stitched book!

Usually, I save the cover for last, but the idea came so quickly I had to act!  The cover is constructed in three layers of paper collage and embellishments.

Layer 1: I cut out a square of black card stock so I could mount a collage of postage stamps from around the world. Most craft and hobby stores sell bulk bags of stamps for around $6.00.  To add some sheen, I used some gold nail polish to paint a thin coat over a few of the stamps.  It’s a subtle touch that gives the stamps a little ooomph.

Layer 2:  I took some gold thread and wrapped it around the entire square at a variety of angles.  I didn’t plan the route of any thread, I just let them land where they may.  At multiple points, I taped the thread down on the back to keep it secured in place.

Layer 3: I added three textured fibers along the left side.  Each strand has a charm, bead,  and a word tag at different intervals.  I created the word tags with a set of alphabet stamps, ink pad, and eyelets.  To give the tags a distressed look, I ripped the edges, crumbled the paper and ran a translucent brown ink pad over the top.  After the creating is done, all it takes is a few strips of double-stick tape to attach the collage to the cover of the book.
Note: The postal string on the right is simply a tie down so I could get a good photograph.

– – –

Pages and layout ideas are on the horizon.  Stay tuned and stay inspired!

Want more creative inspiration?  Visit  Salmagundi Arts,  a fantastic blog about bookbinding, knitting, making handmade soap, and other amazing craft projects.

c.b. 2011


59 thoughts on “Project Art Journal

  1. I LOVE this! My students and I are going on a three day field trip to a surfing camp (we’ll also be learning survival techniques) and I think this would be a FANTASTIC activity to do upon their return. Do you happen to know where I can buy paper bags in bulk? Are these sandwich bags or the large ones? Seriously, GREAT IDEA!


    • It’s a great project for students because its easy and so much fun. I hope they enjoy it!

      The bags I use come in a package of 100 (or sometimes more) and I usually get them at Target for a few dollars. Large or small bags work. My journal was made using the smaller size. 🙂

      Have fun!


  2. I remember seeing this wonderful journal and for you to share the techniques is great. When you describe the steps they seem so simple, yet the end result was stunning.
    Thank you for sharing.


  3. Oh my goodness I love this!! Now I want to go buy some paper bags haha 🙂 This may have to be my next art journaling project… I should probably fill the one I’m working on now, but maybe I can find a different use for a paper bag journal 🙂 You are inspiring.

    You say ” I am by no means an expert” … I just have to tell you that I do not believe in being an “expert” or “non-expert” in certain things… you are creating, you are doing what you were made to do, and you are “expert” at being you! And I like you 🙂


    • You can always have more than one journal going! 🙂

      Thanks so much for all the kind words. You are so right that crafting isn’t about being an expert . . . thanks for pointing that out! It’s about creating and having fun, which is definitely how I approach every project! 🙂


  4. This is the silliest, most brilliant idea I have encountered in a long time. I can see myself doing this, I can see myself ransacking drawers, folders, filing cabinets, pockets for ephemera. I can see a cover, two or three pages, filled with bright, slapdash memories. I can see the next two or three pages filled with an orderly collection of the less interesting, less colourful items. I can see a page and a half in blank brown. I can see it on top of the bookshelf across my room, with more brown paper and string stacked beneath it, and a pair of scissors left there dangerously open, reminding me to pick them up and put them away before someone gets hurt. I notice that dust has settled and I trace the words ‘Art Journal’ with my fingertip…



    • I have so many unfinished projects, so I know exactly what you mean! This journal took almost a full year to complete. I worked on it once a week, little by little, until it was finally done. It turned out to be a nice break from writing and the creativity it brought out in me translated back to the writing. 🙂


  5. What a fantastic idea, especially with the pockets! Thank you 🙂
    I’ve bookmarked this page under “presents” – I know some people who’ll be delighted to have a portable filing system for all their loose notes ‘n’ scraps and bits ‘n’ pieces 🙂


    • Thanks! Normally, I’m nitpicky when it comes to things being straight, but these art journals really taught me the beauty of imperfection.

      I hope you have fun with it! Thanks so much for reading! 🙂


    • It’s definitely more fun to do this project with family or friends. My best friend and I made ours together, so my journal has a lot of great memories attached to it.

      Have fun and I hope the next page inspires you. 🙂


  6. Just to add to popular opinion, this looks awesome and I cannot wait to see what you’ve done with it. It was painful to leave behind my scrapbook and purpose-designed supplies when I came over to Costa Rica, but it never even occurred to me to try and improvise with from-scratch materials. I ended up buying a notebook and some coloured pencils, but I may well try this idea out. Especially since I took a fantastic bookbinding class back in Edinburgh right before I left and haven’t had a chance to try out my brand new skill over here.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!


    • I love all the enthusiasm . . . there’s nothing quite as amazing as inspiring people to be creative! 🙂

      You have such an artistic flare, your book is sure to be absolutely stunning!!! I can see it now, filled to the brim with watercolors. 🙂


  7. So cool! I’ve been using recycled file folders for my art journal, joining them together with double sided carpet tape. I really like the texture of the paper bags and the instant pockets. I see a new art journal in my future.


    • I never thought to use file folders for bookmaking material! I am going to raid my supply closet at work to see what I can find. it looks as though there is a new journal in my future, too! Thanks for sharing! 🙂


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