What You Can Learn From Gluebooks

In 2004, I wrote the first English-language article about gluebooks, Discovering Gluebooks, which is still posted over at Go Make Something.

Ten years later, I wrote a second article, How Discovering Gluebooks Changed My Life, which is also now posted at Go Make Something.

Reading those articles will give you the gluebook basics, and might put what’s written below into context.

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I’ve been gluebooking for over a decade. Even though my art has progressed from simple collage to drawing and painting my own images, I keep coming back to my gluebooks. I work in them when I need a mental break, or when I’m knee-deep in non-creative work, and need something easy to nourish my creative brain. For me, gluebooks are the arty version of comfort food.

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So, why should you be working in a gluebook? Here’s what you might learn:

Gluebooks can show you how to work with limitations.

When I was in school, one of my teachers took away all but three tubes of my watercolors, and sent me home to design costumes for a show. I explored tones, textures, and patterns to get the most out of those three tubes. Sometimes, having all the colors in the crayon box can be a bad thing, and inhibit your creativity.

If all you have to work with is three magazines and a couple of flyers that came in the mail, you have to get creative to put together a set of gluebook pages. You may find yourself looking at photos for blocks of color, rather than what’s depicted in the image. You may start turning magazines upside down, to look for shapes and textures, rather than at words and photos. You may flip some creative switches that haven’t been turned on yet.

Gluebooks teach you to work without relying on products.

The arts and crafts industry bombards you with products every year: the latest pens; the coolest new printing tools; that one $100 thing you simply MUST have if you want to be one of the cool kids. It’s exhausting!

Gluebooks require three things: some glue, something to glue on, and something to glue down. Any glue you have. Any blank book or catalog you have. Any magazines, flyers, or junk mail you have. You can start gluebooking right now, with whatever you have laying around the house—and you can keep gluebooking forever with that same stuff, without ever having to buy any of those cool kid products that you probably wouldn’t have used. Once you’ve done a bunch of gluebook pages, you’ll find yourself being infinitely more selective about the products you buy, because in the back of your head, you’ll be thinking, “I don’t really need another thing to be creative.”

Gluebooks can improve your composition skills.

I teach a class called A Year of Art Journaling, and I use gluebooks to teach basic principles of composition. It’s very easy to cut out a bunch of elements, and arrange them on a page, and then rearrange them until you have a balanced composition. Learning those basic principles without wasting paint and paper makes it easier to keep at it until you’ve mastered each one—and then, what you’ve learned will go with you as you move on to your next piece.

Gluebooks can help you combine colors.

It’s very easy to cut out a pile of red things, and use them to create an interesting gluebook page. But what if you used an interesting color combination in an ad as the jumping off point for your gluebook page? That’s what I did with this set of pages:

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I can honestly say I never would have combined these colors on my own, but with the color spark from the ad, I was able to assemble an interesting group of images that worked well together. If you’re stuck in the same three-color rut, flip through some magazines, find a colorful ad, and whip out a set of gluebook pages using them as your inspiration. It’s an instant rut breaker!

So, those are the things I’ve learned from gluebooking. How ’bout you?

What is a Gluebook?

2004_0911This is going to be short and sweet, because I’ve already written two long articles about gluebooks for Go Make Something.

A gluebook is a glued collage journal. The basic steps for gluebooking are:

  • Find a book. Any book that works for you. Any size that works for you. Any paper weight that works for you. Some gluebookers like composition books, because they’re cheap and easy to get. Some use old printed books. Some make their own journals from folded paper or magazine pages. Whatever book you choose to use is fine, because it’s your gluebook.
  • Find some glue. Any glue that works for you, and doesn’t make your paper ripple, or make you cuss while you’re working. I use a glue stick when I gluebook. Some people like matte medium, or Elmer’s glue, or rubber cement. Don’t use Mod Podge, because your finished pages will stick together, no matter how long you let it dry. Beyond that, any glue is fine.
  • Find some stuff to glue. Most glue monkeys use magazines, junk mail, and whatever paper fallout they collect during the day. The object here is not to go out and buy stuff like stickers or papers, but to use whatever is headed to the recycle bin. Receipts. Envelopes from bills. Flyers stuck on your front door. Paper food packaging.
  • Glue like there’s no tomorrow. Arrange your paper bits on the pages of your book, and glue. Make pretty pictures, or funny ones, or creepy ones. Add words, or make a whole page of words. Use images and no words. Whatever. Glue stuff down so that it says something to you.

Bam. You’re a glue monkey. That’s really all there is to gluebooking. There are no techniques, or products, or rules. Just glue stuff.

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To learn more about gluebooks, try these two articles I’ve posted at Go Make Something:

Discovering Gluebooks, written in 2004, was the first English-language article ever written about them.

How Discovering Gluebooks Changed My Life, written ten years later, in 2014, about how a decade of gluing had influenced my art, and my career.