DIY watercolor journals — an easy way to fancy up inexpensive notebooks

You never know when you’re going to need to write something down. So it’s my opinion that a creative or organized person can never have too many notebooks. Here’s a simple project to take an ordinary 99 cent composition book and turn it into a watercolor notebook journal pretty enough to give as a gift.

Anyone that knows me knows I have a little fetish for notebooks and journals, calendars and lists. Pretty much anything with lined or graphed paper holds all kinds of possibilities in my mind. I’m not actually the “journaling” type, where I write about my day, my week, my thoughts or my life. But I do love blank notebooks in all sizes for other things like my endless lists to help me stay organized.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

I have notebooks of varying sizes in my top desk drawer, on my desktop (for quick jotting), in my purse, in the kitchen junk drawer, in the car and by my bedside (because so many good ideas happen when I’m just about to fall asleep!).

Anyone can go to the office supply store and buy any boring old notebook, but I choose to upgrade mine to a handmade work of art. And I guarantee you’ll feel like a kid again when you get your hands on these watercolors with a paintbrush in your hand.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

I’m new to watercoloring (unless you count pre-school) but I figured I’d just dive in and have fun experimenting and learning how to achieve different looks. But honestly is there even a wrong way to watercolor? After all, we all did this at one time or another when we were kids so how hard could it be? It falls somewhere along the same lines as finger painting. Just go for it and see what happens. You just can’t go wrong when it comes to splotching color on paper.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 4
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

And for those of you who don’t have the trendiest handwriting, don’t fear when it comes to writing your text. I’ll show you how to use your printer and easily transfer a beautiful font from your computer to your journal cover.

Using watercolor paper for this project is important for a couple of reasons. First it’s nice and thick so it glues down beautifully for a nice thick cover. And second it doesn’t curl up when you get it wet, which is important as you’ll soon see. You can purchase this at any craft or paper supply store, or get it on Amazon.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 6
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Place your watercolor paper on top of your notebook, flush with the binding so it sits nice and tight against the binding (binding shown here is black).

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 7
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Flip it over and trace around the notebook and rounded corners for a perfect fit. Cut out your cover and repeat for a back cover (optional).

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 7
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Now you have a new cover that will fit perfectly when we’re ready to assemble.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 8
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Sketch your text on a separate piece of paper and adjust as needed. Or for the calligraphy challenged (ME!) print your text in the size to fit your notebook cover.

DIY Watercolor Notebook Journals 9
Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Now that you have a pattern, you can easily transfer it to your watercolor paper by holding the watercolor paper on top and the sketch (or print) underneath, holding it up to a window for backlight, and tracing it lightly with a pencil. You can adjust your text on a slant or leave it straight. Mine is slightly curved upwards.

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Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Now let’s watercolor! I found that getting the paper wet first helped the colors run and blend much better. Just wet the area you want your color in, then get your brush nice and wet and using very little color, swirl the different colors in lines, patterns or blotches. Paint right over your pencil-sketched text. Let dry completely.

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Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Once dry, trace over your pencil lines with a Sharpie or permanent pen in your choice of color. To give the look of calligraphy, retrace all of the down strokes of each letter thicker than the rest of the lettering.

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Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Now take your glue stick and generously rub glue on the entire cover, being careful to get every single area, especially the edges and corners. Place the cover flush with the binding and once adjusted just right, weigh the notebook down with a stack of heavy books. Leave it for a good 15 minutes until the glue is completely dry.

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Image: Mariko Giverink/SheKnows

Now make a whole bunch more because your friends and family are all going to want one.

DIY watercolor notebook journals

Materials:

  • Watercolor paper
  • Watercolor or acrylic paints
  • Blank composition book
  • Glue stick
  • Scissors
  • Plain paper and pencil to sketch your text
  • Paintbrush (a soft bristle that’s not too fine works best)
  • Black or colored Sharpie for the “calligraphy”

Directions:

  1. Place your watercolor paper on top of your notebook, flush with the binding so it sits nice and tight against it. Flip it over and trace around the notebook and rounded corners for a perfect fit. Cut out your cover and repeat for a back cover (optional).
  2. Sketch your text on a separate piece of paper and adjust as needed. Or print your text in the size to fit your notebook cover. Transfer your pattern to your watercolor paper by holding the watercolor paper on top and the sketch (or print) underneath. Hold it up to a window for backlight, and trace it lightly with a pencil.
  3. Wet your paper in the area you want to watercolor, then swirl 2 or 3 different colors in lines, patterns or blotches. Let dry completely.
  4. Trace over your pencil lines with a Sharpie or permanent pen in your choice of color.
  5. Generously rub a glue stick on the entire back of the paper, especially the edges and corners. Place the paper on the notebook cover flush with the binding and weigh the notebook down with a stack of heavy books. Leave it until the glue is completely dry.

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