What’s a gluebook and how to make one (for beginners)

Gluebooks have been around for a few decades now, and recently I’ve seen them become popular again.

I really love making gluebooks! Making collages using trash from around my house is almost a meditative experience for me, and I like the act of cutting and pasting things into a notebook. Gluebooks are purely cut-and-paste!

They’re also great for collage beginners, since you don’t need a lot of supplies to get started. Literally, all you need is something to glue into, something to glue with, and something to glue down.

If you’ve heard of a gluebook but aren’t sure what it is or why you should make one, keep reading:

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What is a gluebook?

It’s a book you glue things into. It’s literally that simple.

A gluebook is a bound notebook filled with a collection of paper ephemera, glued onto the page using a gluestick. Glued objects turn into a collage, and so a gluebook is a collection of collages.

Closeup of Gluebook collage featuring magazine images, napkins, and ephemera

Gluebooks can be as junky or as pretty as you’d like, though traditionally they’re more on the junk journal side of things. You don’t need any paint, stamps, ink, or “extra stuff” to make a gluebook, just a couple basic supplies and a collection of paper you want to stick in a collage.

You might’ve even seen a gluebook before without realizing it.

Some journal artists on Instagram and TikTok technically make gluebooks, though they more often just call them “junk journal.” Since they’re only glueing (or taping) images onto a page and creating a spread, technically they’re making gluebooks!

Why make a gluebook?

It’s a quick and easy way to get started making an art journal.

First, gluebooks are a low-cost way to make art.

Since all you need is some ephemera, a gluestick, and scissors– plus a notebook– it doesn’t take much money to start making one. Even a $1 notebook and $0.50 gluestick from the Dollar Tree would work!

Secondly, gluebooks are easy to make.

Artists of any age or skill level can make a gluebook. If you’re intimidated by large multimedia art pieces, a gluebook is a fantastic way to dip your toe into the world of collage.

The only “rule” is to glue things onto a page, and it doesn’t even really matter WHAT you glue in or HOW. No worrying about how to compose a page, having the “right” materials, etc.– just glue stuff into a notebook.

Third, gluebooks are a great memory journal.

If you use ephemera from around your home or from your travels, a gluebook makes for a good way of memorializing your life. And this could be anything!

For instance, a collection of food packaging, junk mail, and fruit stickers could make a really interesting little snapshot into what’s happening in your life, which can be fun to look back on years later.

Or if you have a huge stash of vintage photos, bits of scrapbook paper, and random ephemera, gluebooks can be a great way to use them up and free up some space in your studio.

What does a gluebook look like?

Here’s some examples of my own gluebook pages from years past:

This is one of my first gluebook spreads I ever made– way back in October 2010! It’s hosted in a desk planner from 1989 which I got from a thrift store for…$1, maybe?

I lived in Albuquerque back then, and I wanted to make a collage themed around ABQ. You can see it’s mostly magazine images, business brochures, and snips from a local newspaper.

Here’s another favorite gluebook spread from around the same time:

This one has magazine images (National Geographic and a lifestyle one, I think), a napkin, a catalog, and some leftover snips from other collages. This one was more about coordinating colors than anything else.

As you can see, I tend to pile a bunch of images together into a chaotic collage, and I love to fill every inch of available space. That’s why I tend to use cheap, no-name composition notebooks or upcycled day planners, because I’m going to just cover all the pages with glued-on stuff anyway. I tend to move fast and loose when I’m making a gluebook page: I don’t want to think too much and ruin my creative flow.

What goes in a gluebook?

Anything that can be glued down can be added to a gluebook. The contents of a gluebook are totally flexible and based on what you enjoy looking at or collecting.

You can use paper things from around your house, photos or images you’ve printed from online resources, or even scrapbook paper and professionally-printed ephemera.

Some gluebook ephemera ideas:

  • magazine pages or clippings
  • vintage ephemera (whether original or printed)
  • business and travel brochures
  • book illustrations (torn or damaged books are perfect for this)
  • newspaper ads or articles
  • postage stamps
  • letters or handwritten notes
  • foreign money
  • food packaging or stickers
  • junk mail
  • drink labels
  • movie tickets
  • receipts
  • tissue paper
  • wrapping paper
  • greeting cards
  • business cards
  • canceled checks

Think of the paper products you regularly use in your day-to-day life– any of that can be glued into a gluebook.

What notebooks can be used for gluebooks?

Pretty much any kind of book or notebook will work for a gluebook, even an old one you’ve already written in.

I do recommend something that can lay flat, just to make it easier to work with. My favorite is a composition notebook, like the kind used for school. They’re cheap, easy to find, and stack nicely on a shelf.

Keep in mind that because you’ll be gluing an entire layer of paper to a single page, whatever notebook you use will get VERY chunky.

If that bothers you, then tearing out every other page before you start adding materials will help. (Please note that you CANNOT do that in a composition book, as it’s a sewn binding. Tearing out pages will make the book’s spine weak.)

If you don’t like chunky notebooks, another option is a spiral notebook, the thin kind that’s used for school. Since it’s spiral bound, ripping pages out to make room for collage spreads isn’t a big deal.

And finally, you can always use a mixed media sketchbook or notepad. The paper is much thicker than on notebooks meant for writing (such as a composition notebook), which is great if you’re using very wet glue.

What glue can be used for gluebooks?

Personally, since I tend to use notebooks with thinner pages (and I’m not gluing down heavy ephemera) I mostly use a regular gluestick for my gluebooks. My favorite is Elmer’s Glue, especially the extra strength version.

For a more permanent solution (as sometimes gluestick glue can dry up!), I recommend grabbing Mod Podge (matte finish only) or DecoArt’s Decoupage Glue. They have a similar consistency and work well for glueing down tricky paper ephemera, but I prefer the Decoupage Glue as I’ve never had it dry up or act weird like Mod Podge sometimes does.

Gluebook resources

Interested in making your own gluebook? Here’s some more resources which can help you out:

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