Make your own sketchbook for under 50 cents

Make your own sketchbook for less than 50 cents




I’ve been a bit obsessed lately.

I’ve been making my own sketchbooks to record my thoughts as I experiment with a new technique, work on an art course or just practice mixing colors.

I was totally inspired by my interview with Anna Bartlett from Shiny Happy Art and her collection of personalized sketchbooks. On episode 91 of Art Made Easy, Anna and I chat about working with acrylic paints and how she organizes all of her projects. She paints the covers of pre-made, inexpensive scrapbooks that she can easily find in Australia. She also buys a matching plastic cover to protect her work.

While neither of these products are available here in the States, I decided I wouldn’t let it stop me.  I considered the benefits of how a simple sketchbook can be used to record your artist efforts on a small calendar cycle.

Anna uses her sketchbooks to create art projects that she uses for her paint parties. She puts a date in the upper right hand corner of the sketchbook for easy reference. So a 2/18 means the second quarter of 2018.


Sketchbooks are a fantastic resource for art teachers. They allow a student to have one place in which to practice their art, either for lesson warm-ups or free choice time. They allow a student to practice mixing paint colors or testing out media.


Sketchbooks can be expensive.

This was the ONLY reason why I didn’t use sketchbooks in my school. Maybe some of you can relate?

But after talking to Anna and after my interview with Kaitlyn Edington (Art Made Easy # 088), who creates these types of sketchbooks for her students, I knew I wanted to break down the very simple process for you.

Here’s what to do:

Make your own sketchbook for under 50 cents

You’ll need a long-arm stapler, 5-8 sheets of 12″ x 18″ white sulphite paper and some acrylic paints.

Fold the paper in half and create a good crease.

Use the long-arm stapler to secure the book together in 3 spots.

Fold the sketchbook well and use a hard tool like a ruler to really crease the fold.

That’s it!

Make your own sketchbook for under 50 cents

But here’s the best part….

Use acrylic paints (I’m using Crayola Acrylic paint) to brush one color over the surface. I like the white Gesso best.

Make sure to place a sheet of paper under the front and back cover so the pages don’t stick together during the drying time.

When the paint is dry, the kids can decorate the cover with more acrylic paint.

Note: acrylic paint is best for the covers as liquid tempera paint will have a chalky finish and is prone to cracking.



Do you think this would work with your students? I’d love to hear how you use sketchbooks in your art room….

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  • NYC

    I love this , thank you so much! I just have one question. I have had terrible trouble in the past with totally dry acrylic painted pages sticking to each other, which in this case would obviously be problematic if I were to store thieve sketchbooks together. Short of coating every single one with some kind of sealer (which I have also had problems with, depending on ?) is there any way around this happening? It’s incredibly frustrating for the kids & definitely me too! Thanks! Btw, I also loved your idea of the kids being able to continue to decorate their covers with more acrylic paint…but then obviously I really cannot even seal them at all then. Please help!

    • Lesly

      Thanks for posting , this is a very interesting question according to your own experience. Ye i also wonder how do we let the pages dry and avoid them sticking to each other as you say specially if we are going to have to let dry and ultimately storage several sketchbooks for our students.

      • Patty

        Hi Lesly…Great questions. I’ll answer the questions but first, I find that you learn the most by doing. When I actually made the sketchbook and started to use it, many of my answers because clear. It’s a matter of trying new things and seeing how they can work for you. Now…for the questions: Keep pages open and dry flat. When acrylic paint dries (and it dries fast0 you can then close the book. I know you teach small groups, so I would find a way to allow the page sot lay flat and opened for about 1 hour then you can close and stack. 🙂

    • Patty

      I use crayola acrylic paint and Liquitex acrylic paints. I haven’t experienced pages sticking together so I can’t offer a solution other than to try a few other brands of paint.

    • Alison

      Acrylic on acrylic can stick… I have found a super light sanding with a fine sandpaper can be enough to get rid of the stickiness. This is a great way to make an economical sketchbook.

    • Nadia

      Sometimes using matte finish acrylics will keep pages from sticking together. Also with a matte finish the kids can draw on it with colored pencils (if they want to decorate them in a different way), compared to glossy where you can’t use colored pencils on them.

    • Bailey Blu

      I paint pages in my planner with acrylic and have had pages stick even after drying. You can use a light layer of baby powder to prevent sticking. Silly, I know, but it works.

      • Patty

        Awesome tip! Brilliant.

    • Charlotte Anker

      Hi I have been using sketch books for my children’s art classes during the last two years as this is a way for me to keep things together and the children get their very own book to keep. Whenever we are using acrylics and the like I hand out some pieces of newspaper or any leftover paper bigger than their book and they stick this spare paper behind the page they will be painting onto, so that no paint gets on the other pages. This works a treat and we just leave the books open while drying. I am now tempted to make our own sketch books during my summer workshops as these homemade ones looks ever so amazing. When I was much younger I made my own presentation folders by using an ordinary stabler and then fit a piece of electrician tape/canvas tape on top of the staples themselves. Charlotte

    • Christy Day

      I know this sounds crazy, but get some cheap candles (like from Dollar Tree) and rub it over the page. The waxy finish will keep it from sticking.

    • Kelly

      If that’s an issue for you why not just use colored construction paper as the cover? That’s what I do . I also like to put in different papers and some lined notebook pages for notes.

  • Lesly

    I love this idea. Im going to try to make them but I do not have a long arm stapler , how can i do? any suggestion?

    • Linda

      I got my long arm stapler free through Scholastic Books bonus points.
      Not sure if you do scholastic books in your class, but this is one way to get one.

    • Bailey Blu

      They are fairly cheap at staples or amazon!

  • Tristan

    For those who don’t have a long arm stapler – you can sew the binding simply. I have done that with Pinterest tutorials.

    • Patty

      This maybe a stupid question, but do you sew it with a machine? If so, that’s just brilliant and so fast!

      • Linda Tvedt

        I sewed mine on a sewing machine… takes about 10 seconds!

    • LeAnn Benton

      Tristan that is a great idea.

  • Mary

    I’ve used books like this for nature journals and used old wallpaper, wrapping paper or scrapbook paper for the covers when paint wasn’t a possibility. Even used embroidery needle and floss to sew pages together when long arm stapler wasn’t part of my kit.

  • Stephanie

    Great idea, I think I want a long arm stapler for my classroom. My daughter just graduated and landed her first job and I am buying things for her classroom too. She got all sorts of things for Christmas. Another cheap way to make a sketch book is a cerlox binding machine. I know I picked mine up at a garage sale. After you have the machine you only need the cheap binding combs and paper after that to make all kinds of books. Many schools have them in their work room.

    • Patty

      I never thought about buying one…I’l need to. Sounds fun!

  • Nadia

    I love using sketchbooks when I teach! It’s such a great thing for students get used to having, and they love looking back on how much they progressed from the beginning of the year.

    One year I was really lucky and one of my friends told me about the local newspaper having a ridiculous amount of leftover paper that they weren’t able to use and were just going to throw it away. I went and talked to them, and it wasn’t newsprint, it was really nice, thick paper, lots of different weights/colors/textures. They even cut it up for me, and I only had to pay for the cuts. After that I asked the kids to each bring in their own cereal box, and we made the covers for their books from them. They painted the covers, decorated them, and then punched and used the plastic binding. I think the books were 9×9 or 10×10. I wasn’t able to do this every year, but it’s worth reaching out to different newspapers and businesses to see if they have any paper they aren’t able to use.

    Another thing I always do is have a list of prompts. They glue that into the cover, and if they get done with something earlier I told them to work on a prompt from their book.

    • Patty

      This is brilliant! Great suggestions about looking in unexpected places. Thanks Nadia!

    • Linda

      Great idea! I have gotten cardboard free in different sizes and colors from print shops.
      They gave me a box full of their scraps.

  • Lisa Franko

    Thank you so much, Patti!!! Your demos are so inspiring! This is such a practical and useful book…Thank you!

  • stephanie

    may i suggest – flipping the papers over so the staple ends will be in the center of the book, rather than the exterior spine? i imagine those little ends will catch over time… 🙂 this is now on my first week plan for next school year! thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Patty

      Great tip Stephanie!

  • Peggy Desrosiers

    We made some covers from nature photos to make summer sketchbooks. I encouraged the students to bring t by em with them on vacations/walks/trips and bring them backnin the fall. They love the idea!

  • Kayleen

    Hi. I live in Australia and I’m wondering which books Anna uses?

  • Irene Sharkey

    Fun project idea. I have used art scrap books for years when I was teaching, but now being retired still figuring out how to make my shed my art studio .
    Never painted the covers though. I used them mostly for free choice with primary students and I also bound their project sheets to create their portfolios. I like your idea to use them for learning the color wheel and for in-depth study of a lead idea such as studying how to paint boats.

  • Anne Burfitt

    Great ideas! Thank you, I’m inspired. I’m going to try painting the cover with some left over semi-gloss house paint, and then stacking the papers on a styrofoam surface and pierce the middle with an ice pick, and thread the center holes with some jute string. Testing, testing….. 🙂

  • Sahar

    im going to be a new Art teacher, and i will appreciate it if you will show me a program of art/sketches/nature image/ and technique

  • Christina Youngberg

    Thank you so much, Patty! I’m going to use these in my summer art camp!

  • Kathy Ficker

    Love this #

  • Bobi Vargas Vander Meulen

    Thank you for giving simple ideas for big personalities.

  • Susan Churchill

    Awesone idea! I’ll try it with my summer art camp next week! Thank you!

  • Elizabeth Ables

    Hi- I love the idea of making /painting their own scrapbook covers. I have never used sketchbooks before. I have 2 questions- how young would you use this style of sketchbook? I am thinking that I might have my younger students create sketchbooks like Katelyn Eddington’s and the 4th graders get to paint them like these.
    What do you think of laminating the covers after they are painted but before they art assembled into books? Thanks!

  • Elizabeth Ables


    Patty- me again. I had a clear plastic calendar/notebook cover like what she showed about 10 years ago so I started searching. What do you think of this clear plastic book cover?

    • Lily Green

      I’ve often wondered what I could use extra laminate for. It seems there’s always large pieces left-over after cutting away and I hate throwing it out. I think I’ll try covering the sketchbooks with this before stapling. Hmm!

  • paintyourpower

    I teach Summer Art Camp at my Canvas and Coffee Studio. This is the second year I have made these journals for the kiddos. They love to decorate the covers and draw and paint inside. Their parents are always amazed with what they create in a week!

    • Patty

      So good to hear!

  • Kelly

    Would it be easier to batch paint the covers, prior to assembling the books? Especially for younger grades?

    • Karen

      My thought also! Hopeful markers work to decorate after the covers are.painted with acrylics!

    • Patty

      YES! Great suggestion.

  • Angela

    Awesome~ I take copy paper & make art sketch books & the students create their name in either block, 3-D or puff lettering adding different elements of art!

  • Karen

    Awesome idea! I requested drawing pads on my supply list for free time or after lunch while listening to a read aloud. This encourages me to do a monthly project with them as well. Thanks so much! I can’t wait to try this with my students.

  • anupama

    nice idea! thanks for sharing.

  • Virginia McKEOWN

    Just recently our school has closed to the end of the 2020 school year. Starting the last week in March we will begin teaching online! This is definitely outside my comfort zone! I NEED PEOPLE in front of me! With Patty and Team Sparkle I have no worries! This Sketchbook will be my first project for my first assignment. I plan to place paper and a tea bag in a zip lock bag for all my 150 K-5th graders. I’m guessing not all my students have acrylic paint so we will be using tea (Like Water color) to create a cover design! What do you think?
    Thank you for your “Emergency Sparkle Kit!” I know it will be greatly used the next 8 weeks! God Bless You and your Team! You guys are the best investment I have ever made!
    Virginia McKeown
    K-12th Art Educator
    Mankato, KS

    • Hannah

      Thank you so much Virginia 💖 This means the world to us. We’re so happy we’re able to support teachers and parents and carve some space for kids to relax and create with you!!

      -Hannah (Team Sparkle)

  • Analia liriano502

    I had a great time making it

  • sharlianys ramos

    I really love it and I enjoy due with my mom

  • Patti Shannon

    The long arm stapler is a challenge, so my sketchbooks are honestly just standard bright white copier grade paper. We use 6 sheets for our 4.5 week sessions and DOUBLE staple them in the upper left hand corner and make a small box in the upper right hand corner with first and last name, grade level and home room teacher name. These reside in their numbered table folders that are passed out daily by the first student through the door. The cover is generally their rough draft of our first project, inner pages for color studies and drawing exercises in shading, shadows, line repetition to gain hand/eye coordination.

  • Christine Patete

    Can you tell me where I can buy a color wheel poster like you have behind you in this video? I think it says Create Color along the bottom.

    • Patty

      Hi Christine!
      That’s a poster I created for members of The Sparklers Club. I have designed dozens of posters that members can download and print. Are you a member of The Sparklers Club?

  • Jostyn Orellana


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