How to make a junk journal from a composition notebook | Tutorial

This post is a collaboration with Casablanca Cargo, my mom’s creative journal Youtube channel! Today we’ll learn how to turn a normal composition notebook in a fabulous, personalized junk journal using supplies mostly found around the house.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and buy something, I get a small percentage of that at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.)

Materials needed

  • Composition notebook
  • White school glue (recommended: Elmer’s)
  • Art Glitter Glue
  • Good pair of scissors such as
  • Brown paper bag
  • Tim Holtz Distress Inks
    • Colors used in the tutorials include: Vintage Photo, Wild Honey, Tattered Rose, Crushed Olive, Forest Moss, Dusty Concord, Spiced Marmalade, Mowed Lawn, Tea Dye, Festive Berries, Faded Jeans.
  • Various stencils
    • Some stencils used in the tutorial videos include: Craftreat’s clocks & Eiffel Tower/harlequin, CTS302 “stains & splatters”; Fab Lab’s floral (strips); Delta Creative’s climbing vines; Doodle Genie’s Angel Wings; Dylusions’ large stencil “staggered Brickwork” (similar set here); Andy Skinner’s mixed media stencils “baroque” (Faces)
  • Various rubber and/or clear stamps
    • Some stamps used in the tutorial videos include: Tattered Angels’ screen prints; grand-scale clear stamps “Notes from the garden” (large heart & lines); Dragonfly, coffee cup, lanterns
  • Blending Brushes
  • Scrapbook paper, “junk journal” paper such as interesting magazine clippings, etc.
  • Bone folder
  • Washi tape

Optional add-ons

Video: Journal Flip-through

Here’s the completed journal once it’s been decorated:


Step 1: Reinforce the binding

Video tutorial

The first step in turning a composition notebook into a junk journal is to reinforce the binding.

Composition notebooks are (usually) bound with a single-stitch though the center of the signature. While that works fine for using it as a written journal, junk journals usually involve a lot of mixed media action– paint, ink, wet glue, etc– and that can make the binding loose or even fall out of the cover.

To reinforce the binding, take a piece of brown paper bag and cut it to about 4 inches wide and the length of your notebook. Find the middle of the notebook’s signature, where the binding is located, and glue the strip of paper into the crease.

The easiest way to do this is to put a line of glue on the binding, then use a bone folder or ** to press the strip of paper deep into the binding. Use more glue to secure the sides of the brown paper bag strip to the composition notebook pages on either side of the binding.

Reinforce pages

The downside of composition notebooks for mixed media art journal purposes is that the pages are VERY thin. They can’t really take any wet medium without starting to fall apart.

To combat this, our next step is to glue two pages together. This makes them a little sturdier and able to handle some wet medium!

Note: Doing this WILL make your pages wrinkly. Even if you use a gluestick, you’ll probably end up with wrinkly pages. Embrace the wrinkles! They’ll give you an interesting texture to build spreads onto later and are just a part of the process of upcycling a notebook into a junk journal.

Starting from the center binding, flip the page over and place a piece of wax paper behind the following page. This’ll help keep the glue from spreading beyond where you want it. Spread glue over the page and then press it to the page next to it to secure them together.

Going back to the center, repeat the process on the pages on the left side. Alternate glue the pages on the right/left sides– this keeps the binding from warping.

If you miss a page or two, fold it over lengthwise onto itself and glue it into a mini-page. See 5:35 in the video tutorial above to see what I mean.

Once your pages are all glued, place a heavy book on top of your closed composition notebook and leave it to dry overnight.

Step 2: Prep the pages

Washi tape the edges

The next step is to add washi tape to every page edge in your notebook.

This’ll both start the decorating process (yay!) AND keep the pages that we glued together from splitting apart later on.

Put the tape on your pages by lining it up against the far edge, then wrap it OVER the top of the page to continue placing it on the other side.

You can use whichever washi tape you’d like on this part, though wider tape will work a little better than thinner tape. Using different patterned tapes in a similar color palette is a good way to keep your journal looking cohesive throughout, though really anything goes.

Don’t have any washi tape at all? Amazon has some amazing sets for sale:

Add thumb page turners

Cut circles out of a brown paper bag (maybe using a circle punch to quicken things up) and then fold them in half to make a crease. Use an ink pad (the example video uses Archival Ink in Coffee color) and go around the edges of the circle to give them some dimension.

Glue the circles onto the bottoms of the pages, wherever you’d naturally try to turn the pages.

Add tabs

Use a tab punch to cut some tabs from scrap paper! Or hand-cut them, of course.

Because the tabs are going on top of the washi tape, glue won’t work as well. Try using a stapler to attach the tabs to the edges.

Another option is to skip the washi tape and just glue the tabs on instead.

Step 3: Building up the page

Video tutorial

Now we’re going to start building up the pages so you’re not making a whole spread from a blank white starting point (super scary, sometimes!).

An easy way to do this is by using stencils and stamps. You don’t need specific ones, just anything that interests you and fits your artistic style. Use a set of Distress Inks and blending brushes to get a lighter style stencil laid on the page– bonus that it’s a relatively dry medium, so it won’t crinkle up your pages like acrylic paint or alcohol inks would.

Tim Holtz Distress Inks Set
Blending Tool
Stencil Set

Place your stencils randomly throughout your notebook. Try layering different color inks on top of the same stencil, or use two stencils that blend into each other.

Do the same thing with stamps! Because stamp will press down harder onto the page than the blending tool, you’ll have an added dimension to the page. Be sure to put something firm underneath whatever page you’re stamping onto, to provide some stability. The stamped image will come out clearer, then.

TIP: For clear stamps, if you use a stamping block to temporarily mount them, the finished imaged will come out clear. If you prefer something grungy, then simply place the inked stamp onto your page and press down gently with your hands.

Step 4: Inside cover pockets

Video tutorial

Having a pocket on the inside of your journal is handy for stashing tags and large ephemera pieces. Here’s how to make one!

Cut down 12″x12″ scrapbook paper to fit the length of the journal cover. Leave a little space by the spine when measuring the cover paper, so the binding won’t bulk up.

Use a scoreboard to score the following measurements on the scrapbook paper: 2 1/4” and 4 5/8”. Fold paper edge and then glue the fold. Cut out a smaller piece of paper to use as another pocket and glue it to the front of the larger paper.

OPTIONAL: Sew around cover paper and pocket. Sewing paper is a really neat way to add texture and interest to a journal! You can also make a piece of fabric trim to add around the edges of your cover.

Next, we’re going to cover the inside of the notebook cover. Add a strip of washi tape to the space between the signature and the cover, beside the binding. Glue the trim (if you’re using one) to the bottom edge of the cover.

Add a second strip of washi tape to the opposite end of the cover from the binding. This’ll give the glue something to grab onto.

Glue the pocket to the cover and voila! Done!

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