creative play | customizing a sketchbook

by | May 7, 2021 | Creative Play, sketches, Watercolors | 16 comments

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my Kitchin sketchbooks, reading them, doing pencil studies of the sketches, and scanning each page.  Handling them has made me think about my own sketchbooks and how I approach keeping a record of how I see the world.

George Herbert Kitchin Sketchbook Study | Miss Mustard Seed

Beyond admiring the artistry, I love how the sketchbooks are a uniform collection.  Aside from one that is a little larger, all of the books are the same size and covered in linen.  He signed the interior and put his address in addition to labeling the cover and spine with the year(s) the book was filled.

antique sketchbooks of George Herbert Kitchin | Miss Mustard Seed

It inspired me to go through my sketchbooks and be more intentional about seeing them as a part of a larger collection instead of as individual books.  I still like to have separate books for different mediums and purposes, but I want to be mindful of how they relate to one another in size, finish, and color.  I am still exploring to find my favorites for sketching and watercolor, but sketchbooks I like best so far are the Pentalic Aqua Journal (that paper might be my favorite) and the Arteza Watercolor Journal.  (I bought the Arteza books in a 3-pack and it’s a very budget-friendly journal.)

But, I wanted to customize them just a little bit!  So, one quiet afternoon, I took a few minutes for some creative play and changed out the ribbon markers to ribbon I love.  If you’re interested in doing the same, it’s a pretty quick & easy project.  Just remove the existing ribbon…

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

(Oh, don’t look at my nails.  Between guitar and painting, my hands are hard-working hands.)

There will be a little gap between the spine and the bound paper where you can insert a new ribbon.

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

It might be attached to something, as in the case of the ribbon pictured above, or it might just be glued into the space between the spine and the paper.  In every case, I was able to cleanly pull out the ribbon without damaging the book.  For this project, I used the waterproof glue I use when repairing paint brushes (you can find a tutorial on that HERE) or making my own brushes out of twigs and goat hair (you can read more about that HERE.)

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

I used a blue and white woven Swedish ribbon from my stash and applied the glue to the end…

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

For extra measure, I put a little bit more glue in the gap between the spine and the paper with a toothpick…

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

I stuck the ribbon back in…

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

…and pushed it down into place with the tip of a palette knife.

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

I closed the book and wiped away any excess glue before banding the books to dry…

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

There we go!  Now the books all have pretty, customized ribbon markers.

customizing a sketchbook | miss mustard seed

I was sort of smiling to myself as I worked on this.  I know it seems like a timewaster and it probably is in the traditional sense, but the little details of my studio matter.  I want my studio to be filled favorites, right down to the ribbon markers on my sketchbooks.  If it takes 10-15 minutes to change that small detail, well then, why not?

If you want more ideas for creative play & rabbit trails, you can find more HERE.

PS – Swedish ribbon runs about $3/yard, so it’s ideal for small projects like this.  I bought mine at a local shop, but I found a few cute options on Etsy…


  1. Lisa P

    It’s interesting to think about customizing supplies so they suit the user in every detail. It’s a way to add even more enjoyment to using each item and it honours the creative pursuit. All in all, well worth it!

    • Terry

      Perfectly said.

  2. Jo

    I am literally dumbfounded by your talents. Is there nothing you can’t do? Seriously. You decide to try oils and you are able to even sell your very first ones. Murals. Don’t get me started. It’s unreal to me how much talent you have. Your drawing above is incredible. You are my idol.

    • Marian Parsons

      Well, thank you! I have grown a lot with practice. 🙂

  3. Kim

    Great idea! And let me be the first to say, seeing your imperfect fingernails, which look like mine, makes me happy!

    • Terry

      Agree, this gardener was so impressed with Marian’s nails

      • Nancy Johnson

        I just compared my nails to yours. Except that mine are still dirty from gardening, we could have been separated at birth.

  4. Jerry Stocks

    I will not change out the ribbons on my sketch books, but I will add info to each one as to when it was used and for what reason.

  5. Donna Thibodeau

    I do plein air painting once a week with a group and have matching fabric cover journals with the dates on the spine. I am now on my forth. I sign each watercolor painting with the date, location and the temperature. Sometimes a 90° day or a 54° day brings back more memories. My journals contain many memories of past years days outside with friends.

  6. Sandy

    I agree with Jo’s comment, there isn’t anything you can’t do. So creative! But, I have to say you I cracked up at your nails, 😂 they look just like mine and so refreshing to see not everyone has perfect nails.

  7. Karen B.


    I would never think tending to little details in a project are a waste of time. It’s the little things that can bring us joy. Your sketchbooks look wonderful. I so admire your creativity and am always inspired.

  8. Babs

    I love how you used the word “intentional” when describing your artistic journey and I think I would like to try to be more “intentional” myself. I have several books with sketches and or watercolors but none of them are intentional…haphazard would be more like it. Maybe my approach to my art is more haphazard than I would like…even my workspace is a little scattered and lacking focus. Thank you for posting this article as it has come at the right time…time to get more “intentional.”

  9. Paulla

    My 77 year-old hands have taken a beating over the years. I find that the little tin of Burt’s Bees lemon cuticle salve works wonders, with little effort. Try it and thank me later!

  10. Monica

    Would you consider offering a free, or $10, course showing us how you do these sketches? I noticed in a previous post (may have been on IG) how you were using the pencil to measure lines. I would love to have more instruction on how to do an architecture study like this!

    I’m going to look for a favorite ribbon and add them to my favorite books. It’s a special detail that I love.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I’ve actually thought about that…offering a class with a few Kitchin sketches to study along with how to sketch those studies!

  11. SueA

    I spend my best days gardening, going to the hardware store, creating things and generally using my hands–cooking, cleaning, you name it. And I live in Colorado which is virtually a desert. My nails are really nice and they used to be very ragged, ridgy, and split. My secret is shea butter on them every night. No more painful hangnails! No more bleeding split nails! No more ragged cuticles. Yes I like them to look nice, but frankly, they are a lot more serviceable when they are healthy and cared for. Just massage a bit of shea butter into them before you go to sleep. It works on toenails too.


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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