Make a Junk Journal & Create Art

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An Introduction to Junk Journals

What is a junk journal?

A junk journal is essentially a collection of scrap materials, paper, till slips, plane tickets, newspaper articles, and a whole lot of other materials that are often deemed as “junk”, that is put together in the form of a book.

The artist organizes all of their found materials and carefully curates them into selections of pages. The pages are then bound together and are used for journaling purposes.

I have found junk journals to be an extremely liberating art object to make. Firstly, they are not neat little sketchbooks that you may feel confined by. Junk journals are a mish-mash of different colors, textures, patterns, and papers.

A junk journal carries a layering of meaning before you even begin using it as a journal. The artist chooses pieces of scrap paper that have generally already been used for something else and therefore are linked to a memory or a feeling. This means that junk journals are often very treasured objects despite being made out of ‘junk’.

There are also no rules to how you go about putting your junk journal together or what you should put inside it. You can literally use ANYTHING. This is a really exciting idea because you can come up with your own completely unique junk journal composition. In fact, because of the nature of a junk journal, no two junk journals are alike.

A junk journal often reflects your style of art-making in the materials, colors, textures and patterns you choose.

Living in a world where we need to be more conscious and live sustainably, junk journals are an ecofriendly way to reuse and recycle old materials.

What is a junk journal signature?

When I first heard about junk journaling, I kept hearing about ‘signatures’, and I wondered to myself why this was such an important issue in junk journal creation.

A signature is basically a collection of papers that have been folded into one another in order to create a section of the junk journal. There is usually about 6 pages in a signature, and 3 to 8 signatures in a junk journal. The number of signatures you use will depend on what you are using your junk journal for.

If you are using your junk journal for daily journal writing, you may want more pages to write on. If you are using it as a birthday book, then you may only need 12 pages (one for each month of the year).

junk journal signature

What is ephemera?

You will also often hear the word ‘ephemera’ when people are talking about junk journaling. Essentially, anything that was only used for a short period and is no longer used is termed ephemera.

Ephemera is vintage or retro. Things like old yellowed playing cards, postcards, ticket stubs, movie tickets, lottery tickets, old magazine images or articles, old book pages and many other items from a past time are ephemera.

So what is the actual purpose of a junk journal?

Well, a junk journal can be used for many things…

Private Daily Journal

Some people use them as a place to journal about their lives’ day to day. A completely new, blank page in a journal can often be quite scary and sometimes we feel like we are not even sure where to begin writing.

With a junk journal each page is different and already has something on it whether it’s a pattern or color or old print. It has been my experience that writing on the pages in a junk journal provides unconscious prompts for you to write about something you may not have thought about.

Dream Journaling

Many people create a junk journal for recording their dreams. They choose materials and images that create a whimsical dreamlike themed junk journal that can be kept in your bedside table for you to lean over and write down your dreams upon waking.

A Memory or Photo Book

You can collect old photos and other memorabilia linked to a special moment, or a special person in your past. It may be a huge comfort to have a treasured journal with a collection of memories, photos and other items linked to a loved one who passed away.

A Wedding Book

You can really create a memorable and beautiful junk journal wedding book with a collection of memories from the day. Photos, menus, notes, feathers or small embellishments can be added to the wedding book as a reminder of the occasion.

A junk journal can also be used as a guest book for the wedding reception. Each guest can choose a specific page to write a special message for the couple.

A Travel Journal

Junk journals are often used for this purpose because they can be made to easily slip into your pocket or bag. Because a junk journal is by nature a mishmash of materials, you don’t mind so much if it gets more worn and weathered through your travels. It can be made up prior to your journey to be used on your journey, or it can be a travel memory journal with a collection of memories from the places you have been to.

A travel sized junk journal is a lovely object to slip out of your pocket and quickly sketch a scene or write down an experience you are having. It’s a good way to stop and breathe in the moment.

It is very special to be able to go back and read over the experiences you have had on your travels.

A Gratitude Journal

You can make a wonderfully uplifting junk journal with images and collected items that remind you to be thankful for all your blessings. It also becomes a special place to take time each day and write down what you are grateful for.

A Planner

A junk journal can be used as a planner. Adding in dates and calendars to your junk journal pages makes this an easy item to keep yourself organized. If it gets weathered and worn it will only add to the effect of the journal.

Art Journal

Lastly, it can be used as a place to draw, sketch, doodle, paint, print, stamp, sew, stick, and basically any other kind of art-making you can think of. This is my favorite reason for making a junk journal. It provides a freeing space on which to create art and explore your creative thoughts and ideas.

And if you make a mistake? That’s great! A junk journal provides us with a space where we don’t have to be perfect or absolutely neat, we can be free to explore and enjoy our creativity.

How to make a junk journal?

Making a junk journal is a lot of fun. There are many different ways of going about making you own junk journal.

Altered book method

You can make a junk journal from a ready-made book. Many people find an old book and then take out and add pages to it to create their own junk journal. This is handy because you don’t need to make a cover or signatures.

Ring or Spiral Bound Junk Journal

Here you can collect your pages together and use a ring binder to put it together

Elastic Band Method

You can also use elastic bands to hold the signatures together by placing the signature within the cover and putting elastic bands around the cover and the fold of the signature. You put one elastic band per page, or one band per signature.

I am going to explain my preferred method of making a junk journal because I find this is the easiest method for beginners but still helps you to create a beautiful junk journal.

Step 1

Collect all your resources. You can see in my image I collected old magazine articles, pages from an old recipe book, different patterned papers, art brochures I had collected over the years and other found materials.

Junk Journal collected material and paper

Step 2

Find a piece of cardboard to build your cover.

I found a cardboard envelop that I got in the mail a few weeks ago. It had a nice fold in it, so it was easy to turn it into a book cover. I cut it down to size.

Junk journal cardboard for cover

Step 3

Cover your junk journal cover. I chose to cover my junk journal in a brochure I had found from an art gallery I visited a couple of years ago. It has a nice wooden finish effect and the people create areas on interest on the cover.

Junk Journal Covering 1
Junk Journal covering cover
Junk JOurnal covering 2

Step 4

Arrange you signatures. Start by trying out different pages next to one another to see what the effects are. Fold your paper in half to make two pages and slot each folded piece of paper into one another. For this exercise I created 3 signatures with 8 pages in each.

Junk Journal signature

Step 5

Make holes along the spine of your cover and the fold of your signatures. I bought a book binding kit and it came with several helpful tools. One of the tools is a sharp metal object that helps you to pierce through the paper and the cardboard cover, in order to sew the thread through the holes.

Junk journal book binding tools on a wooden table

Step 6

Using running stitch sew through the holes in your signatures and the books spine. Here is a video for a clear demonstration on how to sew the signatures into the spine.

A hand sewing spine and signatures of a junk journal

Step 7

Tie up your loose ends of string and you are done.

What else can I add to my junk journal?

It is quite common practice to put pockets into your junk journal. This is a great place for other material or pieces of paper you want to keep, like slips or tickets.

You can also create pop ups or fold outs in the pages of your junk journal. These all create interesting compositions and design elements.

Think about how you want to finish your junk journal? Do you want to tie it or use a rubber band to hold it closed?

Conclusion

A junk journal is a creative and exciting art object to make and own. There is just so much freedom in what you can use to create them and the opportunity for so many new and unusual ideas. I hope you feel inspired to make your own junk journal! If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy my article on How to Find Your Art Style…

As always, I love to see what you have made! Let me know what your experience has been like and send my photos!

A junk journal on a wooden table

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