Review: Real Life Journals: designing and using handmade books, Gwen Diehn

Many of us don’t think about the kind of journal or sketchbook we want to use and just grab a commercially made one off a shelf. After we start, we may discover the book doesn’t perform well with our favorite pen or take water media.  It may fall short in terms of size, orientation or paper surface.

Real Life Journals talks us through the process of selecting a journal that we tailor to our individual needs.   In the front inside cover is a mini-book that asks questions that help to make an informed decision about what kind of book you really want. 

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen another book that not only provides such detailed information among bookbinding books but also is as thorough, well organized and attractive.

And while there is nothing wrong with commercial sketchbooks, I use and enjoy many, including the new Stillman and Birn series, the Exaclair sketchbook, among others, with a specific project I’ve been mulling over, none suited.    So I went off to a quiet corner and read Real Life Journals, and discovered that every element, beginning with the front cover, was helping me sort out the very book that would serve my purposes.  It was there on page 24-26, the “Project Book.”  This construction looks easy to handle on the go, and even easy to bind. More importantly, this reporter style was perfect for the project I had conceived but had far more pizzazz than a stocked version.

I checked the chapter on tools and while most are in my toolbox, the list and chart on the back cover assured me I was going to be able to take on the project book and perhaps more.

Satisfied, I turned to other chapters and found that like other Diehn books, history past and present were featured, as are galleries of modern day journals and techniques.

I own many bookbinding books and while several are books I consider essentials, Gwen Diehn's books stand out for her clarity and eloquence.  A perfect example of her clarity is her inclusion that addresses board warping.  While this subject will often come up in a workshop, it is rarely covered in a book.  In fact, Real Life Journals is a workshop in book form as only Gwen Diehn, an artist I admire, could have conceived and executed so finely.  

Thanks to Lark Books for supporting and publishing Gwen Diehn’s work and providing me the opportunity to view it almost first hand.  

I could wax poetic about the book, but my highest praise is to recommend buying this book and enjoying a real life journal.

 Gwen Diehn's blog here.

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