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Making a Simple Book with a Sewn Binding

I have been seeing a lot of interesting and funny posts from artists, writers and cartoonists on social media in response to the social distancing measures introduced because of Covid 19.  I particularly liked @Quaranzine on Instagram.  I though it might be interesting to make a simple bound book for my own Quaranzine.  Here is a step-by-step guide to make a simple book with a sewn binding.  



  • Ruler
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Scissors
  • Needle and Thread (cut to size 1.5 x the length of the spine)
  • Paper: six pieces of 8 ½ x 11 (21 ½ x 28 cm)
  • Stiff paper or thin cardboard for your cover.  Cut to size 31.5 x 25 cm approx. (you want it bigger than your 8 ½ x 11 inch paper)
  • Textbook (to stabilize your pages when you are poking holes in the paper)
  • Push pin to make the guide holes
  • Paper clips to keep your paper in place when you are sewing. 


Orient the printer paper in landscape format/horizontally and fold in half horizontally

Draw a light line in pencil down that fold

Mark two points at 1.5 cm from the top and bottom of the paper

From the top point, make 10 dots at 2 cm increments

Fold the stiff paper/your cover in half horizontally (the larger stiff paper)

Centre the smaller paper in the larger paper with the folds aligned

Clip the papers together so they stay put

Align the papers in the middle of the text book

Push the pin through your dots that you made at 2 cm increments – you will be threading through these. 

Starting from your middle hole in the inside of the book, put the needle and thread through the first hole, leaving about 3 cm for a knot later (careful not to yank it out completely)

Begin sewing toward the top of the book (from hole 5 to hole 1)

Does your thread need tightening? 

Sew back toward the middle and all the way down to the bottom (holes 1 to 10)

Sew up toward the middle and tie the threads in a knot (either on the inside of book or outside)


Gold Birch Trees from Start to Finish

The process for making these works was really fun because it uses a similar process to elementary school scratchboard art.  Remember those small black boards that you could draw into with a wooden stylus, revealing other colours beneath?  Here is a picture of a little scratchboard I did as a demo with the preschoolers at the Shadbolt Centre a couple of years ago.  Paul Klee was a definite inspiration!

My Gold Birch Trees use a similar idea except I use metal leaf as a ground over top of birch panel (instead of wax crayon and tempera paint).  Here is a picture of the metal leaf being applied to the panel.  I use the Mona Lisa brand of leaf-making supplies because they are easy to find in the art store, affordable and they are reliable and, as long as you seal it properly, it will not tarnish.  I use the leaf instead of gold paint because it reflects a lot more light than a metallic paint.  It is a four part process: first I apply a size (a sticky glue) and let it dry to a tacky finish, then I apply the delicate squares of metal leaf over top of the sized panel, then I burnish the panels with a soft bristle brush to get it into all the nooks and crannies of the wood and to wipe away excess.  Finally, I apply the sealer to the panels so that they do not tarnish.  Both the size and the sealer come in aerosol form as well as brush and bottle form.  If you use the aerosol, be sure to do it in a well-ventilated space with an organic vapour respirator! 

When the gold panels are ready, I apply black oil paint over top.  While that paint is still wet, I draw into it with a silicone painting tool, taking care to wipe away excess oil paint with every stroke with a clean cotton rag.  If I make a mistake, I can simply paint over it again with oil paint and then use the drawing tool again.  Here is a picture of the silicone colour shapers I use.  They have flexible tips. 


In Gold Birch Trees I, I used plain black oil paint mixed with alkyd gel and in Gold Birch Trees II, I tinted the black paint with a bit of pthalo green as well as adding alkyd gel.  Alkyd gel is a medium that one adds to oil paint to speed drying time, increase translucency and gloss.  You can mix alkyd with linseed oil and OMS (odourless mineral spirits) until you have a medium that does what you want it to do.  All painters come up with their own magic mixes or ratios of oil paint to mediums.  I use Winsor & Newton Liquin because it has a surface tension and will not run off my palette.    

When the oil paint on these panels dried, I assessed whether they needed any more work.  The plain gold and black panel (Gold Birch Trees I) looked finished to me, whereas the green tinted one (Gold Birch Trees II) needed something more.  So I glazed over some of the marks with earth colours diluted with alkyd gel and linseed oil.  Here is a picture of the small brushes I used as well as my palettes.  The circular palette on the left is a watercolour palette, but I have used it because it has indentations that hold my OMS as well as my runny linseed oil.


Before I put my paintings in the frames, I painted out the sides in black.  This means there will be no distractions between the frame and the work, making it look tidier.  Some artists have strong feelings about whether to paint out the sides of work or to leave the sides of a canvas messy, warts and all.  I’m not one of those artists. 


I just finished framing these works in front-loading canvas frames.  If you are working on canvas or on panel, there is no glass or matting needed for framing.  The way to attach the panel to the frame is by using offset hardware and screws (these ones are ¼ inch).  Use at least four of these, one on each side.  For a more detailed description, visit (there is a good video). 


I like to make a guide hole for my screws with this little rosewood awl.  It is one of the handiest tools I have in my studio.  It’s also good for untying stubborn knots.  I found it at Lee Valley Hardware.  


Once I had my canvas attached securely, I then attached my backing hardware, in this case D-rings for my picture wire. 

I like using plastic coated hanging wire because it seems less likely to scratch me, my artwork or any walls from which these works might be hung. 

Pull it tight.


Still Life Underpainting and Glazing Technique

For the past two weeks in my intro acrylics class at Emily Carr Continuing Studies, we have been working on a still life using the underpainting and glazing method.  During the first class, we worked from life and then took photos to use as references once the still life had been dismantled.  Here is the photo from my point of view.

Our first task was to complete an underpainting, which is a monochrome study of a subject (still life, landscape, etc…).  This means that we paint an entire composition in one colour.  We chose burnt sienna as our colour because this lends a warm tone to the entire painting once we glaze over it with multiple colours.  What? You mean we do one painting in one colour and then paint over it?  Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.  The reasons why we do an underpainting are threefold:

1.  An underpainting works out value relationships (what is light and what is dark) before we have to work out the even more complex colour relationships.  This ensures that we have good contrasts between lights and darks and it also begins to model form (value shifts help us to create three dimensional illusion in our two dimensional paintings). 

2.   It helps us to troubleshoot.  If you are anything like me, you never get your drawing or painting right the first time, or the second, or perhaps the third.  An underpainting is like a rough draft that you can keep correcting without having to redo the whole thing.  Basically, it acts as a study of your subject. 

3.  It lends depth to your finished painting.  Have you ever seen a painting that seems to glow from within?  Well, it’s not divine light that creates that effect; it is many layers of translucent colour that an artist has patiently applied over many hours, days or weeks.  I’ll tell you more about glazing further along. 

I used burnt sienna paint, water and glazing liquid to achieve different values.  My darkest value was expressed using burnt sienna straight out of the tube, my lighter values were achieved by “watering the paint down” using glazing liquid and water.  Glazing liquid is a medium (something you mix with acrylic paint to make it more translucent and easier to blend with). 

Here is an image of my underpainting. 

The first area that I began to work on was the skull, using a blend of titanium white (opaque), zinc white (translucent and warmer) along with some darker values (a mix of ultramarine blue, burnt sienna and yellow ochre) to glaze over the shadow areas of the skull.

When I am glazing, I use very small pigment to glazing liquid ratio, maybe 1 part paint to 20 parts glazing liquid.  I need my paint to be really translucent so that part of the underpainting still shows through, while I am also starting to build gentle layers of colour over top of it. 

It is also important to note that glazing is a very lush, wet painting technique.  So when you are painting, you should feel smooth strokes, not dry-brushing.  In addition, using smooth bristle brushes (natural soft hair or synthetic) works best.  And finally, use wide brushes like flats or filberts where possible as they blend better.  You will find you get nastly little streaks if you try to blend with round (pointy) brushes. 

Here is an image of my progress on the skull so far.

I spent some time blending wet in wet with the skull and then felt it was time to move on to another part of the painting for the time being.  One of my golden rules of painting is to work on the whole painting in a sitting rather than perfecting one spot.  Why?  Because it ensures that the entire painting is working together stylistically, colour-wise and in terms of value contrasts. 

I felt that the middle of the flower area was a confusing mess.  I knew it was a mess when I did it the first time, but because an underpainting is part study, I did not expect to get it right on my first attempt.  Rather, I knew the importance of pushing through, trying to work quickly and knowing that mistakes can always be corrected.  The areas that needed the most work were around the middle flowers, they needed some kind of dark outline so that they would advance (move forward) in the picture plane. 

I still don't like it, surprise!  That's normal though.  A painting is a long process of taking many passes and correcting things here and there.  One important note, is that when I have to correct things, it means I have to paint over of the underpainting with opaque paint at times.  That's okay, because I can always glaze over that with translucent layers afterwards.  But if my underpainting was correct in the first place, I can just keep on glazing to my heart's content.  Basically, painting in this method means that you will be doing a combination of glazing and working with opaque paint. 

This is my progress so far, and as you can see it is far from finished.