The Real Scrap Book

Every journaler needs a good scrap book. No, not a scrapbook–the kind you fill with machine-punched out die-cuts and purchased pressed flowers and ribbon. I mean a scrap book–the kind of book you need to practice things in. The kind you can mess up and not worry.

Having recently bought another book on hand-lettering and wanting to practice, I wanted to make a book out of paper I didn’t mind messing up–a book that will show use, and maybe progress.

Rough paper and cover make a good practice book, a real scrap book.

I found some paper at a garage sale. It looked like old paper bags, or soft, thin cardboard. There was something appealing to the surface–both hard and velvety. I moved it twice, so it has aged gracefully. (Leave room for significant pause.) The other day I received a package and instead of packing knurdles, there was corrugated cardboard. Now I had the cover and the pages.

Even holes are best made with a dremel tool. Saves your wrists, too. Hammers can be hard work.

The pages were all loose, but that’s no reason to hesitate. I tapped the pages into place, ran glue up along the long side and let it dry. Then I punched five holes  through the whole stack using my trusty Dremel tool.

I bound it using the traditional Japanese stab-binding method, about half an inch from the edge of the paper. For binding thread, I used a rough packing twine. Some stab-binding tutorials cut the cover, to make turning the pages easier. That wasn’t necessary here.

A real scrap book for praciticing hand lettering. It's ready for mistakes and do-overs.

Now I have a real scrapbook that I can practice hand lettering in. It won’t bother me if my flourishes aren’t fine and even; it won’t annoy me if my letters are a bit lumpier than I’d like. It’s all practice. It’s all creative work.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who will learn hand-lettering if she has to fill many scrap books. But she still remembers the calligraphy teacher who told her, “It’s too late. You are too old to learn calligraphy. You don’t have enough life left to practice.” That was 10 years ago.

23 thoughts on “The Real Scrap Book

  1. Yep, soft paper plays merry hell with pen nibs. Markers, less so.
    A good cheap paper that actually is recommended for Copics is Georgia Pacific inkjet/laser paper. It takes ink nicely but it doesn’t feather out as much as other papers. I now use it in my printer so I can use the scrap for practice sheets.

    • You are absolutely right. On Wednesday, you’ll see the book and how I re-purposed it. The paper was fun, and great for markers, but not at all good for technical pens and pointed pens. So I’m practicing calligraphy on another kind of paper.

  2. I would think just the opposite. I always try to use the smoothest paper I can find. I use tons and tons of printer paper and index card stock when practicing my lettering. If I’m using a dip pen or Parallel pens or any nib pen, I want to have as smooth of a surface as I can so the ink doesn’t splotch as I’m making my letters.

    • When I said the rough paper would make it easier, I thought of “rough” like “scrap” and not caring if I messed it up. As it turns out, the paper isn’t great for lettering because it absorbs at uneven rates. It’s fine with some markers, but not with dip pens. But since I have a lot of practicing to do, I’ll just have to make another one!

  3. I really like the look of your journal cover, and what a great idea to keep your “practices” in a single book so that you can see your progress. I have wanted so much to improve my lettering, but have yet to put in the time to make that happen. I will someday, though. I can’t imagine a teacher telling a student with interest that it is too late to learn ANYTHING…such a shame to imagine how many people might have listened to/believed what she said to THEM.

  4. Another suggestion for a practice journal is to use computer paper that has already been printed on one side. Bind it so that the other stuff is upside down and on the left side of any spread and you have SMOOTH practice paper which is great for dip pens (less fiber in the pen nib).
    Perfectionism is a ‘thing’ that seems to infect calligraphers. Fortunately, I was introduced to the skill by one who was willing to let that go for hobbyists who just wanted to learn the stroke sequences and not worry about the uniformity of letters.
    Oh, and I also met a very creative nun once–she was considerably older, taught yoga, and looked about forty years younger than she was.

    • I have met a lot of perfectionist calligraphers. Hadn’t thought of using printer paper for calligraphy. I think I may be using super cheap paper–it’s pretty lightweight. But I never thought it would be smooth. Good idea!

  5. I bought a journal like this also! Many years ago and it is long gone now. I’m so glad that you are not giving up the calligraphy! Practice, practice, practice and you will see lots of change in your lettering! Turn off that perfectionist thinking and just enjoy playing with the letters – like doodling! Turn on the radio or tv and write words you hear. I’ve done that for many years. I had the most wonderful calligraphy teacher when I moved to AZ. Jan Petrucci. I believe she lives in Flagstaff now.

  6. Ah the nun teachers all out to ruin instinct, promote obedience. I remember writing lines that even my uptight mother thought a waste of time. It must be a basic survival skill.

    Quinn; the journal is super.

    • Actually this nun was a lovely woman, a talented artist, and a huge proponent of arts for young women. And I am grateful to this woman for the patience she displayed while teaching 100 high school girls the fine art of calligraphy. It’s the one artistic skill I have used repeatedly for nearly 40 years.

      I wouldn’t deny her a single line of those Ws – she didn’t ask everyone to return after school, only the ones who she saw had the greatest potential. It was an honor to be asked to come to her after school practice and a privilege to have been an art student of hers.

  7. i love your journal! i am a huge fan of paper bag paper! the scary thing (cool?), is that i bought a journal exactly like this! perhaps you should market them 🙂

    i’d love to meet a cool artist-nun, that sounds so cool!

  8. It only took me four years of daily instruction at a high school run by Catholic nuns, and the coolest artist-nun, ever. “Never say never,” that’s what Sister Mary Arthur would say. “All you need is a bit more practice. Come back here after school and do another 50 lines of those ‘Ws’.”

  9. OMG! I can’t believe a teacher, of all people, would say such discouraging words! So happy for you that you didn’t pay attention. I’m just starting on the lettering part of my journey, and I’m 61! It’s never to late to start anything.

    • The teacher was a perfectionist. Her calligraphy was breath-taking. In her head, she was telling me a truth she thought I needed to hear. As a recovering perfectionist, I understand that. I feel sorry for her–for the many things she must miss because they aren’t perfect, and so not what she wants to include in her life. Meanwhile, my hand lettering seems to be improving. A little.

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