Real Life Journals: Designing & Using Handmade Books
by Gwen Diehn


Lark, 2010. ISBN 978-1-600-59492-2.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 08/06/2010

Nonfiction: Creative Life

If you're a journal-keeper—and especially if you're artistically inclined—you'll want to take a look at Gwen Diehn's latest book, Real Life Journals: Designing & Using Handmade Books.

A unique marriage of the art of handcrafted books and the art of journaling, Real Life Journals offers a step-by-step program that will give you what Diehn calls a "design inventory" for the journal you want. It will help you decide what kind of journal fits your style, create a design and choose the materials for your book, and craft the journal.

To illustrate the process, Diehn invited nine people to choose the kind of journal they wanted and work with her design inventory. Using their responses, she created a journal for each of them (one was a father-daughter pair, another a grandmother wanting to journal for her family). She documented all nine journals—and the journaling experience each embraced, each one different and each unique to the journal-keeper's intentions and dreams. You'll be inspired by these experiences to make your own inventory, design your own book, and begin your own journal.

Throughout, Real Life Journals is richly illustrated, with careful descriptions of each part of the process, from bookbinding techniques, materials, and tools, to ideas for creating covers. I'm no bookmaker, but reading the instructions and studying the illustrations, I'm confident that I could attempt even the more complicated of the bindery processes Diehn describes. The text and illustrations are supplemented by a mini-book tucked inside the front cover that helps you "choose your own bookbinding adventure" and a foldout chart illustrating binding essentials inside the back cover.

Diehn's gentle encouragement through the book will make you want to create a journal for yourself—and use it. I've been journaling on my computer for decades and enjoy the fluency and ease of recording my thoughts as fast as my fingers can fly. But Diehn's work is an inspiration, because it acknowledges that our lives are kaleidoscopic, made up of many vibrant images and colorful ideas—something that's a little hard to capture in black and white and 12 point Times New Roman. Real Life Journals recognizes that form and function come together in the truest kind of art, and that the book we create to write in will help to shape the visions we record.


Gwen Diehn's prints, drawings, and artists' books have been exhibited widely. She teaches journal-making and other forms of art and has written several books, including The Decorated Page and The Decorated Journal. She lives in Swanannoa, NC.

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