Design Inspiration

Design Inspiration

As a graphic designer I probably find design inspiration for my journals differently from some other makers, but then we probably all find inspiration in different ways! The nature of these journals is that they utilize all kinds of found objects, so what I find out in the world and online tends to set me going in the direction for my next journal.

A selection of images from Pixabay with the search term “Wildflowers”.

I’ve long loved the idea of finding materials in the public domain. These are books and materials that are no longer protected by a copyright, patent, or trademark, so that they have entered the arena where anyone can reuse the image or text. Many libraries have started scanning and putting their materials online, and you can easily search for the images that are in the public domain, and so are free to download and use. There are also a number of sites that offer public domain images, either because the creator has placed it there for anyone to use, on sites like Pixabay and UnSplash, or because the site owner has done their due diligence to believe that all the images they offer are in the public domain, such as The Graphics Fairy and the Old Design Shop. Add to that images from the Library of Congress collections, and you will see that there are a huge number of places to go to find materials to find your design inspiration.

Once you have found items that inspire you, and you’re sure they are OK to use, then you can start to plan your journal. I begin by collecting all the images for the topic into one folder, then check that they have enough pixels per inch to look good when printed. It is always possible to make images smaller, but there isn’t much that can be done to make a tiny picture that was only intended for web use into printable quality. I then sort the images into those that would look good as page backgrounds, either with lines on the opposite page or spreading across two pages, and the smaller images get separated to be used as ephemera. These smaller images I arrange on letter sized pages, then print them out on white, cream, or colored card, depending on what colors I have selected for the journal. It is oddly satisfying to cut them out while binge watching Netflix during the evening! As I look through the larger photos I keep my eye out for one I’d like for the cover design.

Journal covers and inside covers laid out ready for upload to Spoonflower ready for printing.

Once chosen, the cover image is sized to work for the anticipated depth, height and width or the journal. I then add text, often the word “Journal” in a font that reflects the era or theme, then add this file and a paler version for the inside cover to a 1 yard template file I keep for the fabric I buy from Spoonflower. (You can see one layout on the left.) If I only need a couple of covers and insides I arrange them to make a “fat quarter”, then upload that file to Spoonflower and order the fabric I need. It usually arrives in about a week, but when they do special promotions fat quarter orders can go to the back of the line, so factor this into your total making time. (Or one reason why I have many journals in various stages of construction at any time!)

The pages get laid out in a Photoshop file set to 10.25″ by 7.25″ to include a printing .125″ “bleed” beyond the expected edges of the pages. This means I can cut the pages to the finished 10″ x7″ size without getting white edges where the printing didn’t quite reach. It is at this point that I add Photoshop overlays, including “stamps” or small images that go with the theme or text in a color drawn from the image. I used to work out a color scheme before I began, but now it evolves from the cover colors – and gut instinct. Each new image is a layer in the file so I can then print them out one by one, centered on letter sized paper. Then I flip the block of pages over to add lined pages or more images to the other sides of the pages. Once you have all the pages printed (with the backs and fronts facing the same way up!), get a decent paper cutter to trim the pages down to the finished size of 10″x7″. Fold each page carefully in half using a bone folder, then sort and nest them in groups to make the number of signatures you need. This is where your design inspiration combined with what you have found starts to tell your story.

Pages folded and ready to arrange and assemble.

I also look for old books in thrift stores and online to use to add more images, or related text. I always find it odd to have pages in sideways, so look for smaller books so the pages can be in the correct orientation. How many pages or signatures you create will depend on the amount of material you find, and also your enthusiasm for the topic. If the muse goes, then let her, and put that journal to one side. If you force it to be finished, your disinterest will be clear to the viewer.

The next step is to make coffee or tea stained pages to add texture and interest to your journal. Begin by turning the oven on to 275, then get out your cookie trays and a lasagne dish. In the lasagne dish make some tea or instant coffee. I’ve also found that herbal teas give a lovely, but usually very pale color, which is ideal if you have a light color scheme and don’t want the more intense color you’ll get with tea or coffee. Now collect up printer paper, the thinner the better, as good paper seems to tear more readily, any pages from books you’d like to dye, plus grid paper or lined paper if you’d like that dyed. You can also dye pages you’ve already printed on, but only if you use laser toner! Crumple each sheet up tightly, then unfurl it slightly before putting into the pan of tea or coffee. I tend to stop at about 8 sheets as some paper gets very fragile if left soaking too long. Let the pages soak for a moment or two until completely wet, then pull out the first set and place onto cookie sheets. Put the first sheet into the bottom of the oven. Repeat for the other two sheets and put them in to the oven as ready. I set the timer for 10 minutes, but check part way through as the amount of moisture in the paper can make the time variable, and you don’t want a fire in your oven. when the paper is turning up at the edges and feels dry, remove the trays with oven mitts, then put the dry pages far away from any wet stuff. Keep going until you’re bored, or have all the sheets you think you’ll need for now. When completely dry, trim the pages down to the size you need, and keep any offcuts with lovely curly edges for patching torn edges, or to create tuck spots.

Pockets and tuck spots

With all these pages made, think about tuck spots, pockets, and other such pieces you’d like to use. Again, I use Photoshop and create a layout over different photos in a way that I can print them out as on card, then cut out all the pieces. I used to add these elements to my pages before sewing them in, but it makes the pages heavy and rather unwieldy, so my recommendation would be to wait.

A cover sewn up and turned through to the right side.

I use firm interfacing to line my covers, then add an extra strip that covers the spine area to reinforce it. Every so often I get out my sewing machine and sew up a pile of prepared covers, then turn them through, iron them flat, and hand sew the place I left open to turn them to the right side. On this one to the right I also inserted a small piece of folded elastic to the back cover edge to use as a penholder.

Sew the pages onto the cover, then take all your pockets, tuck spots, and pieces and fill the inside.

With the cover sewn and turned through, I fold it in half to find the middle. I then reopen the cover and center a template on it, with all four rows of dots shown so I can mark the location of the sewing holes along the spine. I then open each signature and mark a single row of dots along the center of each one, then punch through them with an awl. This makes it is easier to align all the holes and sew a neat line down the spine, as well as being much easier to get your needle through the many layers of paper and fabric.

I use waxed linen thread to sew the signatures into the journal, starting from the back signature and working towards the front. This is easier than having to flip earlier signatures out of the way as you sew in subsequent ones. I also check frequently that I am still sewing along the correct line of holes, and that the signature is the right way up. (Don’t ask how I know these things!)

Now is the fun time when you get to stick all your tuck spots and pockets into the journal, along with any extra elements you have found along the way. Let your intuition be your guide as you work, if it feels too busy, take something away, you can always re-add it later. Lastly put your ephemera into the pockets, and add any personal touches that makes the journal yours. So that is how I use design inspiration to create my journals, what do you do?