weekly page spread in a journal

Create Your First Junk Journal Page: A Beginners Guide to Journaling With Ephemera

Have you heard about junk journals or smash books?  Do you drool over beautiful journal and travelers notebook collage pages on Instagram? Are wondering “What is a junk journal?” I can help! Read this introduction to journaling with ephemera to create wonderful junk journals.  It will cover the basic supplies you need to start your journal and walk you through your first page. This article is the first of a series on journals providing inspiration and resources. 

I started my first junk journal out of sheer frustration.  I tried scrapbooking when it was wildly popular, but I found it to be just too much – too much space, mess, tools, cost, and overwhelm.  Despite this, I kept collecting paper, embellishments and ephemera which I never used.   

One day I stared at my stash and committed to using it for something!  I decided to make a wire bound book with only my existing paper and supplies.  I used it to

  • make idea lists
  • create collages with stickers and torn paper
  • save postage stamps
  • keep inspiring magazine pictures
  • save food labels and movie ticket stubs

It turned into a collection of paper ephemera I loved or couldn’t throw away.  I didn’t realize there was a name for the book I’d created – Junk Journals or Smash Books! The best part about making junk journals is that they are relaxing and easy!  Smash books are so flexible and can be incredibly cheap as well (or expensive if you get into handmade and vintage paper!). Don’t worry about making beautiful pages to share on Instagram, especially at first. Journaling (of any kind) is just for you – if you worry about the result, its going to be stressful or feel like a chore. So lets get started!  Here are the basic journaling supplies you need:

Disclosure: This supply list contains some affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you.

Use a Journal, Notebook, or Old Book

Start with any kind of notebook you like or have on hand. Consider bindings with room for expansion – your pages may get thick if you enjoy making collage pages. I like wire bound notebooks for junk journals because they allow plenty of space. You can easily remove extra pages by tearing them out. 

Binding your own books is easy with a reasonably priced binding tool and inexpensive binding coils.  Binding yourself lets you customize the size, papers, cover, and color theme.  I highly recommenced the Cinch Book Binding Machine. It easily punches through chipboard covers and most types of paper.  If you use very thin paper, sandwich it between sheets of heavier paper to help prevent tearing. The binding wires come in different sizes (larger diameters allow thicker journals) and colors.  Cinch brand binding wires are good but expensive. Search on “twin loop” binding coil and look for a 2:1 pitch (2:1 means two holes per inch).

Travelers notebooks are also popular for junk journals.  They include removable blocks of a few pages (inserts) held in a flexible cover with elastic cords.  The covers vary from beautiful hand dyed leather to inexpensive options to fit any budget. The inserts are commonly available with different papers including white, lined, kraft, and black pages.  Inserts are also easy to make yourself by hand sewing or stapling the pages together.

Here are some other starting points for junk journals – a post bound scrapbook, a composition notebook, spiral bound notebooks, blank hard cover journals, 3 ring binder, old books, or pretty much anything with connected sheets of paper! If you use hard cover books or journals, you may need to cut out some pages to allow for your extra thick pages.  You can also hand bind your own book if you are feeling ambitious.

OR you can just work with individual sheets of paper and bind them into a book when you have a nice stack.  I prefer this because I’m terrible about starting journals and never finishing them!  If you like this idea, pick a page size and make all your pages that size or smaller.  

Basic Journaling Supplies – Pens, Scissors, Glue

Start with the fun school supplies you used in elementary school! These are basic office supplies and you may already have everything you need.  Use pens or markers for writing, sketching, drawing lines, coloring, and doodling. For writing and sketching, I use Micron Pens because they won’t bleed through any of my pages. 

Use scissors to cut paper, pictures, fabric, and other ephemera for your pages.  They are the best choice for irregular shapes.  A paper cutter is another versatile tool to invest in. It will allow you to cut down larger papers to exact sizes with square corners.  I’ve used a guillotine cutter for years. Others prefer smaller and lighter rotary paper trimmers which are more portable (they are also safer for children).

I use three types of glue in my pages.  My favorite adhesive is a glue dot roller.  It’s fast, keeps my fingers clean, doesn’t require drying, and holds even heavy paper with a few stripes.  I use it for most larger sheets or simple shapes. 

A simple white craft glue is great for many types of paper.  If you smear it on thinly, it will dry almost invisible on transparent paper like vellum or rice paper.  I use Arleene’s Tacky Glue because it is thick and dries quickly.  It’s important to spread this type of glue or it will leave lumps under the paper.  For die cuts with intricate shapes, I prefer rubber cement.  It does the best job of sticking down corners or long narrow strips of paper.  Glue pens are also popular, but I think they dry too quickly. 

Journal Page Decorating Supplies

This is the fun part!  There are so many different materials and supplies to decorate your journals. I have an entire article dedicated to journaling supplies coming soon.  WARNING – collecting or shopping for these might be more fun than making your journal!  Here are some easy ways to get started

  • Shop the paper supplies on this website!  There is a great collection of stickers, die cuts, and small paper treasures which are perfect for your pages. 
  • Rubber stamps – stamps are available in so many different styles and subjects!  They are easy to use and add to journal pages of any style.
  • Visit the scrapbook section of your local craft store.  Most of the papers and embellishments will work well for junk journals or scrapbooks.  For paper, look for the smaller paper sizes such as 8×8 inches (or smaller). These will have designs which scale better for your pages.
  • Shop on Etsy and Ebay.  These sites are great resources for creative products you simply can’t find in stores. They are also one of the best sources for vintage paper and ephemera.
  • Visit estate sales – look for office supplies, cards, ledger books, stationary, fabric, ribbon, and wallpaper

Create Your First Junk Journal Page

Next comes the fun part, or what should be the fun part!  If you are new to a craft, creating something from scratch is often completely overwhelming.  It’s so much easier to start by following a recipe or copying another design.  Then you can customize it to make it your own.  So here is an example page idea to try for your first page. 

A popular technique in travelers notebooks is creating a weekly two page spread.  Let’s use this as a starting point for your first page.  This doesn’t need to be a planner – think of it as a way to document what inspired or touched you this week. Or perhaps you want to capture a small moment, memory, quote, or special accomplishment for the week.   

First, group some decorative items which coordinate or match your mood for the page.  It is easier to finish a page if you have a handful of supplies in front of you which all work together.  This is one situation where a messy desk is helpful – it will inspire creativity and spark new ideas.  If you have to search for items as you go, it’s more work and you just can’t remember everything you have to work with.   

In the example photo above I’m using a travelers notebook insert with kraft paper pages. I’ve drawn lines in pencil for the days of the week.  I’ve also grouped an assortment of number and date stamps, stickers, Washi tape, ephemera, collage paper elements, ribbon, and decorative stamps.  Gather more than you plan to use and select the best elements as you go.  

On the top left page, add the month and year.  Use stamps, write it on scraps of paper and glue it in, cut out letters from magazine pages, or paint it.  Printing out a mini calendar for the month is a nice touch.   

Down the left side of the left page, add the day of the week and date.  Number stamps, stickers, printed numbers from your computer, hand drawn doodled numbers, or anything else works here.  Feel free to add lines across the page to divide up the days.   Write or sketch anything relevant to a specific day next to it’s date or number (or wait until the page is finished).  You don’t need something for every day!   

In the example page, I used small pieces of washi tape with stickers and number stamps for the dates.  You can lay paper elements of the page with rubber stamps on top to plan your page.  

Mistakes happen! Look at the black smudge next to the number 6 which came from my inky fingers. I covered it up with a sticker as you can see below.

If you are not sue about an idea, try testing it on a similar piece of paper. I often do this with rubber stamps. In the example here, I wanted to color the days of the week in the calendar stamp, but I didn’t know how the white colored pencil would look.

The right page is for highlighting a focal point.  This can be a quote, a sketch, some memory or other journaling about the week.  This will be the focus point of the page. I’m using the large butterfly sticker for the focal point of this journal page.  Centering it in the page or near the middle of the two page spread works well.  You may want to create this on a separate piece of paper and add last so it’s on top.  Now decorate the right page with torn pieces of paper, stickers, stamps and add your focal piece.  It helps to arrange things before you adhere everything.  

Congratulations! You have started your junk journal and finished your first page!  Watch for the next article which will include a long list of ideas for junk journal supplies to add to your pages. 

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