Inspiring ways to fill handmade books

For years, my husband and I have been passionate about using handmade books in our everyday lives and for special occasions.


But we do meet people — often at art shows — who aren’t quite sure how they would fill a blank book. “I don’t journal,” is a common refrain.

But that’s the thing. I don’t journal either, but I have many other ways in which I do use my books, along with those made by other great bookbinders.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new project to document all the ways that handmade books can be put to use. This way of thinking has already changed how I talk about my work, how I arrange my booth at art shows, and how I encourage students in my classes. I’ve also dedicated a page on my new website to showcasing these inspiring books in action, along with using the hashtag #myusedbook.

For starters, I’ve been looking closer at all the quirky and meaningful ways that my husband and I use books.

When we bought our first home we started a guestbook that began to be filled at our housewarming party and which continues today to hold messages from overnight guests. We’ve printed Instagram photos and bound them in leather albums. And we stash little notebooks in our pockets while traveling.

I keep a garden journal now. My husband fills in a “house book” with all of our home improvement projects and the ongoing story of our home. And I love the colorful sketchbook I made for myself.


We’ve found that keeping these books encourages us to observe our lives a little more closely, and to preserve the things that matter.

In turn, I hope this project inspires others to put their books into action and then share the results with others.

To take part, you can either email your photos and a story to me at or post a photo of how you use your book on social media with the hashtag #myusedbook — and you can tag me in it with @linenlaidfelt so that I take note. I hope you will!


The Sketchbook Collective at Watkins College

girl drawing in interactive sketchbook at Watkins College

Nashville's one and only festival for the book arts keeps on evolving. In its third year, I was proud to participate in the Handmade & Bound artists' market, and to take part in a bigger way in its annual gallery show.

The gallery show went in a fresh direction this year, showcasing the sketchbooks of local artists, architects, fashion designers, puppeteers, and children. I was also among local book artists who created interactive sketchbooks that attendees responded to, filling in with writings and drawings. Here's a look at some of the dozens of sketchbooks in the show, and you can see another 200 photos in an event photo album here.

Katie Gonzalez handmade book at Sketchbook Collective

Sketchbook Collective Watkins College 2013

The show, The Sketchbook Collective, actually got underway a few months in advance of its opening, with a series of art workshops all across Nashville.

With a mission of bringing art to underserved communities, myself and other book artists led classes teaching simple book structures and encouraging participants to fill them as sketchbooks and memory books. We taught children, senior citizens, and recent immigrants to Nashville. Our goal was to bring art to those who don't have access to art materials or the chance to explore the arts in their daily lives.

I taught several classes, including for children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and at the Looby Center in North Nashville.

In another class, at Casa Azafran, we got to know a few mostly Spanish-speaking families from the center's parenting and English classes. (My husband got to test out his Spanish, including creating a cheat sheet of bookbinding terms.) Together, we bound simple, two-signature pamphlet stitch books. The covers of the books were made with watercolor paper, and students got to personalize their books, inside and out. The families took them home to fill them with personal stories, photographs, and other clippings that I think really helped them to stand out in the gallery.

Casa Azafran bookbinding workshop

Casa Azafran handmade book

On the night of the opening, I loved the chance to see workshop participants standing proudly near their books. One senior citizen set up shop in a chair near hers and spoke with most every passer-by.
Hundreds came through the gallery during the weekend, including quite a few who invested real time and effort into the interactive sketchbooks that called for their participation. Those four books, arranged on pedestals, called for all sorts of expressions.

In my book, "A Collection of Lines," I encouraged people to experiment with line drawings and patterns, as well as trying blind contour drawings of their friends. Another book asked them to share childhood memories, another invited collage work with provided magazine and newspaper clippings. I noticed one couple dedicate more than 20 minutes to doodling in the book I had bound!

interactive sketchbook Watkins College

Hanmade & Bound and the Sketchbook Collective