Seth Apter’s Guide to Making an Inspiration Journal

When we think of mixed-media artists we admire, Seth Apter definitely comes to mind. His innovative artwork never fails to inspire, and we’re thrilled that he now has two brand new Creative Workshop videos: 10 Techniques for Mixed Media Artists, and 10 Techniques for Painting Layers, each filled to the brim with techniques and ideas. So how does a great artist like Seth keep track of his techniques when he’s trying things out in his studio? With a technique manual. A handmade book/inspiration journal/technique manual containing pages that reference his favorite mixed-media techniques, to be exact. And in typical Seth Apter fashion, it looks super cool and we’re dying to make one just like it. Luckily we can, because he shared a tutorial for creating one in our September/October 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Follow Seth’s step-by-step instructions below to make your own technique manual, plus discover some of his ideas for inspiration pages.

seth apter
Seth Apter collects his ideas in this awesome inspiration journal.

Inspiration Journal by Seth Apter

I love handmade books. To me they are the most intimate of art forms. The viewer has to touch each and every page in order to look through a book and almost becomes a part of it as a result. As such, I often make my own books to serve as a container for my artwork. Among my favorites are books with a purpose. Travel journals are one example and technique manuals, such as the one I am sharing here, are another.

I’m always looking for new ways to bind my books and am especially attracted to methods that allow me to bind single sheets of paper, rather than binding several folded sheets, called signatures. The technique I share here is perfect for single-sheet binding. As a bonus it requires no sewing, and is very easy to complete once you have learned the basics.


  • Book covers (I repurposed a vintage book.)
  • Craft knife and mat
  • Ruler
  • Cardstock (Choose a color or colors that work with your book cover.)
    NOTE: You can make pages out of anything: watercolor paper, fabric, tissue, transparency paper, photographs, etc.
  • Adhesive (I used PVA.)
  • Glue brush
  • Pencil
  • Awl
  • Brads (Any brand and size brad will work, as long as the prongs are longer than the thickness of the book cover.)
  • Decorative or handmade paper
  • Embellishments and supplies to decorate your pages and cover (I used altered paper, ephemera, an altered photograph, stencils, rubber stamps, ink pads, embossing powder, fabric, thread, die cuts, acrylic paint, a water mister, stickers, rub-ons, wax pastel crayons, and gel pens.)
  • Optional:
    • Book board
    • Book cloth
    • Corner rounder
    • Washi tape

Create the cover and binding strips
1. Select a hardcover book with a cover you like. Remove the book block (inner pages) and spine and set aside the front and back covers. I did this using a craft knife, and I purposely left ragged edges to emphasize the vintage look.

TIP: Rather than use actual book covers, make your own covers using book board and book cloth. That way you can make a book that perfectly matches the size of any group of pages.

2. Measure the length of a book page or the end paper on the inside of the cover. If you have neither to refer to, measure the height of the book cover and subtract 5/16″. You will use this measurement as the basis for the binding bar.

3. Using a craft knife and craft mat, cut the cardstock into 1 1/2″ strips the length of the measurement you took in step 2. Cut one more strip than the number of pages you want in your book. My book has 7 pages, so I cut 8 cardstock strips.

4. Fold each strip in half lengthwise so each is now 3/4″ wide.

5. Glue one side of a folded strip to one side of a second folded strip, making sure that the folded edges line up. In bookbinding terms, the mountain and the valley folds should line up. Continue to add and glue each remaining strip until you have created the binding bar. (FIGURE 1)


Attach the binding bar
NOTE: The folded side of the binding bar will become the spine of the book, and the loose flaps of the strips will be used to attach the pages.

1. Add glue to the outermost cardstock strip, center it on the spine side of the inside of the front cover, and adhere it. The folded edges of the binding bar should be flush with the edge of the book. Allow to dry.

2. Repeat this process for the back cover of the book, so that both covers are attached to the binding bar. (FIGURE 2) Allow to dry. Your book should now open and close but have no pages. The loose strips will be used to attach the pages.


3. Open the book and draw a vertical line halfway across the width of the cardstock strip that’s glued to the inside of the cover. Make a pencil mark at the center point of the line and approximately 3/4″ from both the top and bottom of the strip. Poke a hole through each of the marks with an awl. (FIGURE 3) Don’t worry about any marks you make on the cardstock; they will be covered later.


4. Poke a brad through each of the 3 holes from the outside. Open and flatten the prongs on the inside front cover. The addition of the brads strengthens the cover, making the brads both functional and decorative. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.)

Make and attach the pages
1. Measure the original book pages or the end paper on the inside of the front cover and use this measurement as a guide to cut cardstock for the pages of your book. Optional: I rounded the outer corners of my pages.

TIP: Alternatively, make the pages different sizes so that you can see multiple pages at once no matter where you are in the book.

Inspiration Pages
I love to make and use technique manuals, even more so when I create the book that they are in. Often I find myself experimenting in the middle of making a piece of art, and equally often I forget what the materials and techniques of the experiment had been. With a technique manual, I am able to simultaneously repeat the process on a separate page with notes for future reference. When I feel I need a dose of inspiration or have a rare creative block, flipping through my technique journal always gives me ideas. It is also useful as a guide to teach others, and serves as a record of my art process and artistic style that will no doubt change over time. Perhaps most important of all, making the manual itself is also making art.

2. Work on both sides of all of your loose pages. This is where your creativity and artistry have a chance to shine. As a technique manual, each of my pages highlights a single art technique, and I have included an index in the front of the book. You can use any theme, or no theme at all, to guide your artwork.

TIP: Add interactive elements to your pages such as pockets, flaps, fold outs, windows, etc.

NOTE: Before you work on your pages, it is important to remember that each page will be glued onto one of the cardstock strips on the binder bar, so 3/4″ of one side of each page will be covered.

3. Once you have all your pages completed, put them in the desired order and glue each one onto one strip of the binder bar. You can glue the page to either the front or the back of each strip. You do not have to be consistent, which gives you flexibility. (FIGURE 4)


4. Create an end page the same size as a book page, and glue it on the inside front cover to cover the brad prongs. (FIGURE 5) I usually glue the same paper onto the inside back cover.


5. Optional: Collage over the cardstock strips that are still showing inside your book to cover them. I used several strips of washi tape for this.

TIP: Think about leaving these strips uncovered in your book and using them as labels to write on, describing what is on the attached page.

6. Embellish the cover as desired. I added metal embellishments, a die-cut label holder, book corners, and a vintage tab. (SEE OPENING IMAGE.)

The right-hand page is all about layering. A combination of acrylic paint and ink from inkpads was used to create a complex and dimensional background. The paint and ink were applied using brushing, monoprinting, embossing with textured paper, and stamping. A little collage was added for fun, but the background remains the star.
A hand-altered photo on the right page is the highlight of this spread. First, the emulsion on the surface of the photo was removed with several subtractive techniques using sandpaper and an awl. Color was added using dye ink, watercolors, and water-based markers. The page was then “mixed mediafied” using collage elements of found and altered paper, book fabric, and a bit of text.

Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist, instructor, author and designer from New York City. His artwork has been exhibited in multiple exhibitions and can be found in numerous books and national magazines. He is the voice behind The Pulse, a series of international collaborative projects that are the basis of his two books: The Pulse of Mixed Media and The Mixed-Media Artist, both published by North Light Books. He is also the artist behind six mixed-media workshop DVDs, also from North Light. Seth is an instructor at Pratt Institute in New York City, and his live workshops have been held throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the UK. He is a member of the Association for Creative Industries, and designs products for Spellbinders Paper Arts, StencilGirl Products, Impression Obsession, and PaperArtsy. See more of Seth’s work at

Ready to fill your new inspiration journal with techniques? Be sure to check out this guest blog from Seth Apter, in which he offers a taste of his unique layering process!

Learn many more techniques on Seth’s two new Creative Workshop videos: 10 Techniques for Mixed Media Artists, and 10 Techniques for Painting Layers.

In the video 10 Techniques for Mixed Media Artists with Seth Apter, you’ll learn how to make and fill a reference journal with fun techniques such as heat embossing, working with die cuts, and photo altering.
Discover ways to add paint to create sensational backgrounds for mixed-media artwork in the video 10 Techniques for Painting Layers in Mixed Media with Seth Apter.


Blog, Handmade Books, Mixed-Media Techniques

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