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.


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.


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:


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?

2015: What Are You Thankful For?

postcard16Comments have been closed, and the winners have been notified. Thanks!

Every year, right before Thanksgiving in the US, I’ve been asking people to tell me what one thing made them feel thankful. This year, I thought I’d do it over here at Mixed Media Club.

So. Leave a comment below, telling me what ONE thing made you feel thankful. Just one.

I’ll leave this post open until Thanksgiving. Before I go to sleep on Thursday, I’ll draw a name or two, and send them a pack of collage goodies.


ETA: Since we now have 50 replies, I’ll choose two names on Thanksgiving night. If we make it to 75, I’ll choose three, and four if we get to 100. Spread the word!

6 Things to Know About Your Creativity

2005_09geniusI get a lot of questions about creativity, inspiration, and where I get my ideas. I thought I’d jot a few things down about how the creative mind works, and what you can do to make it work for you, rather than against you.

Think of your creativity as a runner in training. It doesn’t start out running marathons. It starts by getting off the couch, and taking a walk around the block. Slowly, it builds strength and stamina, aided by regular workouts, the right food, and careful training. Eventually, muscle memory takes over, and running long distances gets easier.

So. Let’s start by learning how to give your creativity some of the things it needs to whip it into marathon running shape:

Your creativity thrives when you’re tired.

Too tired to focus? That’s not a bad thing when it comes to creative work. This is why, when I was in grad school, I took a life drawing class at 8AM every morning, and dragged my tired butt to it, even when I was up ’til the wee hours the night before. Being too tired to obsess about every little thing made my early morning work looser, and I progressed faster. If you’re in a creative slump, try sketching or journaling right after you roll out of bed, or right before you go to bed.

Your creativity doesn’t like music.

While silence is good for solving analytical problems, a little ambient noise is good for creative tasks. That means you should try turning your music or TV down, or swapping it for a white noise machine, to stimulate your creative brain. I have no TV or radio in my work room, which is sandwiched between the outdoor fan for my a/c, and the indoor power unit. I also run a ceiling fan in there, year ’round. These provide a steady hum that keeps the room from being silent.

Your creativity likes low light.

Are you working with bright lights turned on? Try shutting them off, and working near a window that doesn’t get direct sun. Studies show a lower level of natural light can make you feel free from constraints, and may trigger a more explorative processing style.

Your creativity thrives on restriction.

How many times have you been stuck because you have too many choices? Too many projects to start, and too many art supplies to choose from? Try setting some restrictions on what you can work on this week. Those restrictions could be “I’m only going to work on pages in this journal” or “I’m only going to use acrylics” or “I’m only going to make artist trading cards”. One of the most productive restrictions I use is with color: I can only use these three paint colors. Instantly, a ton of choices are eliminated, and I can focus my creative energy on those few that are left.

Your messy desk may stimulate your creativity.

Do you spend a lot of time cleaning and organizing your work space? Stop it! Scientists have done studies showing that people are more creative in a messy environment. A little chaos is good for your creativity, which is why my work room always looks like someone tossed a grenade into it. There’s enough clear space for me to work and film, and I can generally find whatever I need quickly, but I spend maybe two minutes a week putting things away, and making that space clear. Less cleaning, and more creating!

Your creativity needs a vacation.

Creativity is stimulated by new experiences, so one of the best things you can do for it is take a break. That could be a trip to another country, or an hour in an art museum, or 15 minutes walking up and down the aisles of your favorite store. I regularly have “thou shalt not work” days, where I close the work room door, and go out into the world to do something other than making things. I always come back refreshed, and ready to work.

Mind Games

When I was in grad school, I took a class that was required for everyone in my department, called Creative Visualization. The class met once a week, and each week, we'd play a game, or do an activity together. Easy A, right?

The class was really a series of mental exercises, designed to help us develop our creative abilities so we could switch them on and off, like a light switch. Like athletes who develop training regimes to keep their bodies strong, we were being taught to build our creativity and imagination.

The class came to be known by some of those who took it as Mind Games.

It's Time To Train Your Brain

People often ask me how they can be more creative. I tell them that creativity is something you can learn, like math, or yoga positions. It takes practice. I've been practicing for over 30 years, and I no longer wait for inspiration to appear. It waits for me. That's what happens when you train your brain to allow you to access things like imagination and creativity at will.

Let Me Be Your Trainer

Sign up for my Mind Games mailing list, and every week for the next couple of months, you'll receive an email with a mind game in it. Play each game, by yourself, with a friend, or with a group. They're very flexible that way.

Some of these games will be silly. Some might be familiar. They're all tools that you can use to help build your ability to be creative at will.

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