Record: Make your own sketchbook

September 12th, 2012

To kick off our semester-long Studio H (basic) course, which we teach first and second period to a total of 50 REALM sophomores, we went back to basics: the sketchbook. The sketchbook is an essential tool and document for designers, architects, artists, and creative professionals. It is both a tool for studying and understanding the world, catalog ideas, and coming back to them days, weeks, and years down the road. It is both a record (noun), and a tool to record (verb).

In order to promote the use of the sketchbook, and also to activate the hand-mind connection, our students will make their own sketchbooks using traditional book-making techniques (cutting, stitching, sanding individual signatures, binding them into a soft but durable cover of roofing rubber we saved from the farmers market construction in Bertie County).

photo 1

The process is fairly straight forward, but will require both craft in the making of the book, and an introductory understanding of graphic design for the ornamentation of the cover. We will use Adobe Illustrator to design and produce the cover graphics, which each student will use as an expression of their own vision. The school’s trifecta of words, Love, Grit, and Action, will guide the graphic design process, with the final graphics etched onto the book cover’s rubber using our laser cutter/engraver. At the end, each student will have a basic arsenal of analog and digital skills as a foundation for the rest of the semester’s projects.

The lesson plan is pasted below, or downloadable here as a pdf.

photo 2

photo 3


Problem #1: Record

It is critical that we come out of the gates “making” and in this case making a tool for recording your semester’s work. The sketchbook is the designer’s version of a journal—somewhere to write down ideas and inspirations, draw and sketch those ideas, work through problems and, generally, get what’s in your head onto paper. This book will also present an opportunity to express your individuality through the illustration you design and etch (using lasers!) into the cover.

Hand/eye coordination
Following sequential directions
Adobe Illustrator / Laser Engraver

8 ½” x 11” white paper
Colored posterboard
Tacky glue
Paper cement
Binder’s glue
20mil EPDM

Exacto knife
Disc sander
Adobe Illustrator
Laser cutter/engraver machine

Each of the steps below will be preceded by a demonstration. Please see the example for quick visual references.

1. fold (2) pieces of 8 1/2″ x 11″ posterboard in half, punch each using template and awl
2. cut (5) 4″ long strips of ribbon and glue to one piece of posterboard, this will be the front cover
3. fold a total of (9) signatures, each comprised of (4) sheets of 8 1/2″ x 11″ white paper
4. punch each signature using template and awl
5. cut 5-6′ of thread, knot one end, thread needle and begin sewing signatures starting with the front cover of posterboard
6. tie off thread after 4 or 5 signatures. cut new length of thread (5-6′) and finish sewing the rest of the signatures together ending with the back cover of posterboard. be sure to tie-off the thread at the back cover.
7. clamp and glue ribbons to back cover of posterboard
8. still in clamp, glue mousseline cloth to spine of book and let dry overnight
9. sand edges of paper and pasterboard to achieve a smooth finish
10. laser engrave rubber cover
11. using paper cement, glue rubber cover to posterboard one side at a time. be sure the cement has air dried before attempting to stick together.
12. trim rubber as needed.

Timeline/Sequence of Tasks

Week One
9.4 student s&t, community builder—15
syllabus review / tour of shop—30
intro to “Sketch” problem—10
demo: layout and measurement utensils—20

9.5 demo: 1st steps to making book—15
hand out materials and begin fabrication—60

9.6 demo: sewing of signatures—15
fabrication: fold, punch, glue, and sew signatures—60

9.7 demo: gluing of spine—15
fabrication: sewing signatures and gluing spines—60

Week Two
9.10 demo: sanding—15
fabrication: sew, glue, sand, ready for cover—60

9.11 point, line, and plane lecture (Emily)—30
“wildcat” drawing exercise—45
gestural sketches if time permits

9.12 demo: Adobe Illustrator—30
Illustrator exercise (in pairs): recreate renegade and rhino from picture—45

9.13 Illustrator exercise—75

9.14 Illustrator exercise—60
homework: pick from hat (love, grit, or action) and bring in an object or photograph that defines that word for you—15

Week Three
9.17 graphic voice lecture (Emily)—30
student share-out of objects, tell story—30
begin designing book covers—15

9.18 develop conceptual schemes for book covers / desk crits—75
9.19 input schemes into Illustrator / desk crits—75
9.20 input schemes into Illustrator / desk crits—75
9.21 demo: cover binding—15
finish illustrator work and export to laser—60

Week Four
9.24 finish exports to laser engraver and cover binding—75

Knot craft: 25%
Drawings and written documentation: 50%
Verbal presentation and participation: 25%


Studio H is a public high school "design/build" curriculum that sparks rural community development through real-world, creative projects. By learning through a design sensibility, applied core subjects, and "dirt-under-your-fingernails" construction skills, students develop the creative capital, critical thinking, and citizenship necessary for their own success and for the future of their communities.


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