Tutorial: Recycled Envelope Journal

Studio Saturday is on a short break. Please enjoy this blog post, portions of which were previously published on our sister site, ArtistsNetwork! ~ Jeannine

As mixed-media artists, we don’t take a cookie cutter approach to creating art—we always make it our own. In that spirit, I was inspired by Seth Apter’s Inspiration Journal featured in the September/October 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, and made a recycled envelope journal using his inventive techniques. This no-sew book is so easy to make. The basic structure can be adapted to a huge variety of materials, and can be used for almost anything.

Seth created his book to house his favorite mixed-media techniques, giving himself a great go-to reference. I needed something that would hold my ephemera collection. I have a habit of collecting paper bits (brochures, maps, gift wrap scraps) for later use in my art journals, and then shoving them in my handbag or backpack or in a book, then forgetting where I put them. With this book I can corral everything and leave it on my worktable for easy access.

Using recycled materials always appeals to me, and I especially love repurposing everyday items that have great design appeal. Take, for example, this Wheaties box. When I saw it at the grocery store I grabbed it, even though this cereal is not typically on my training table. But the bright orange color, the iconic Wheaties logo, and the black-and-white image of Olympic diver Greg Louganis was too irresistible to pass up. I knew it would make the perfect book cover for this envelope journal.

Cereal box used for the cover of an envelope journal
I used a Wheaties box for the cover of this envelope journal–I love its iconic look.

To determine the size of the cover, I measured the envelopes I wanted to use (repurposed from an old box of holiday cards). I added ¼” to the height and width, then cut out front and back covers from the box.

To make what Seth calls the binding bar, or the tabs on which the envelopes sit, I used decorative cardstock, cut to the height of the book minus 1/8″, and 1 ½” wide. The strips were folded in half lengthwise and glued together, matching cut and folded edges, to create this fan-like bar, left.

Creating a binding bar for an envelope journal
Strips of decorative paper were cut and glued to create the binding bar.

Quick tip: Folding the paper strips with the grain of the paper will prevent them from cracking and breaking. To find the grain, bend the cardstock along two sides, then the other two. The way it bends more easily indicates the grain direction.

I glued the outermost fold of the bar to the inside front cover, aligning it with the spine edge, and did the same with the back cover. Before gluing, make sure your covers are oriented the correct way—I don’t even want to tell you how many books I’ve made with upside-down back covers.

Binding bar glued to the covers of an envelope journal
The fan-shaped binding bar was glued to the inside of the front and back covers.

Two pieces of decorative paper were cut to the same size as the covers and glued over the tabs to the inside covers. The tabs are now sandwiched between the cover and the inside paper, which makes them secure.

Decorative endpapers for a handmade book
For this envelope journal, decorative paper was glued to the inside front and back covers, over the binding bar tabs.

Quick tip: To make sure your envelope journal covers dry flat, sandwich them between several sheets of scrap paper, place heavy books or a weight on top (make sure to leave the binding bar free), and leave them there for a few hours until the glue dries.

While the covers were drying, I decorated the envelopes. What, you thought there wouldn’t be a mixed-media component to this? Not on my watch.

These plain envelopes were in dire need of some color, so I grabbed some stencils, stamps, and acrylic paint, fired up the Gelli Arts gel printing plate, and went to town. Monoprinting is such a fun and easy way to make gorgeous prints, and you can’t ever go wrong. Even if you pull a print you don’t like, you can continue to layer over it with more printing, stamping, stenciling, doodling, and collage, until you get something you love.

Monoprinting envelopes for an envelope journal
Monoprinting with a gelatin plate is fun and foolproof!

I printed both sides of the envelopes (minus the flaps) using a similar color palette to the cover and decorative papers, which lends some cohesion. But you can go completely wild and make each one different—it’s up to you.

Plain envelopes printed with monoprints
Not bad for plain envelopes left over from holiday notecards!

To finish the envelope journal I simply glued the envelopes to the tabs, and added labels on each envelope to identify what’s inside.

Attaching envelopes for an envelope journal
The envelopes were attached to the tabs, and labels glued onto the flaps.

Whenever I monoprint I always pull ghost prints (second and third generation prints) on scrap paper for use later; I used one piece for a wrap-around label for the cover. I also rounded the outside corners of the cover, using a heavy-duty corner rounder.

Envelope journal cover
A label was added to the cover, and the corners were rounded

Now I never have to go digging through my black hole of a handbag again looking for that photo I tore out of a magazine—and I also have a one-of-a-kind envelope journal I love using.

Looking for more creative ways to recycle? In this blog post, get instructions for making a miniature mixed-media 3-D dress made from recycled materials like a rug mat, maps, and watch parts!

We’ve got plenty more ideas to help you satisfy your urge to recycle everyday items into something special. Check out these great resources!

The Altered Book video with Seth Apter
See how Seth Apter constructs a handmade book using recycled materials in the video The Altered Book.
September/October 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Discover ways to make handmade books from a variety of materials in the September/October 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Art Lessons Volume 5: Recycled and Re-Inked with Rae Missigman
You won’t believe what you can do with laundry dye-catching sheets; Rae Missigman shows you in Art Lessons Volume 5: Recycled and Re-Inked.
Printmaking Unleashed by Traci Bautista
In Printmaking Unleashed by Traci Bautista, see how you can turn household items into favorite printmaking tools.



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