Sketchbooks on the Cheap

Last year, as a part of our new curriculum, the district purchased a small sketchbook for each 5th grade student. This was wonderful to have.  Each book cost about 3.00.  We have about 600 5th graders in our district, so you do the math.  As many of you know, the entire country’s educational system faced budget cuts. In Iowa, we felt this greatly.  Our budgets were all cut, and even in a growing school district, we found no extra mony for luxuries like 3.00 sketchbooks for each 5th grade student.

So, our department came up with a new idea.  We decided to have the students make their own sketchbooks.  The cost of ordering paper and pre-hole punched pages from our district print shop? 7.00 per school! This means that each book costs a few cents.

First, we ordered hole punched, plain white pages from our print shop.  We also had them punch one sturdy pice of card stock for the backing of the sketchbook.  It saves a ton of time to have the pages pre-punched.  The punches are around 2 inches apart, so we have flexibility in the material we use to bind. More on that later….

Now that we have the punched pages, we simply put the pages on top of the backing.  The style of this book is a japanese binding.  It involves using a stick or long object of any kind, and a rubber band.

You put the ends of a rubber band through each hole.  Then, you place a popsicle stick, paintbrush, or chop stick through both of the loops. This is the front of the book. This is what the back looks like:

The best part about this style of book, is that you can easily add pages by disassembling the book and sticking a few more in.  This is great for those kiddos who many sketch more than the average kid, and also for usability when they take it home at the end of the year.

Behold the finished product. I gathered a bunch of old paintbrushes for the kids to use instead of a popsicle stick.  The reason our holes are so close-together is because other teachers wanted to use a shorter stick. Thus, you need hole closer to gether for this. You gotta love the user-friendly flexibility of this sketchbook.

With one of my classes, I am going to go for the Chop Stick look. I had a parent donate a bunch of chop-sticks.

The students will be decorating the front of these sketchbooks. I will be posting on this process next week! Happy Sketching!  What are ways that you have cut costs as your budget de-creases? Please share!

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


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  • Pstevens

    Can I ask what type of paper your district print shop sent you with the holes pre-punched? What size was the paper and how many sheets were used for each sketchbook? I think this idea might fly in my distrrict. Thanks!

    • Hi Pat!

      We used regular computer paper for the pages, and the back piece was leftover cardstock they had on hand. We only had about 10 pre-made sketchbook sheets, and I had students add 5-10 blank pages.
      We were very happy with it. We also ordered extra blank pages to have on hand for kids who were really into sketching or finished early.
      I went in personally with sketches (imagine that) to make sure the print shop got it right.
      Hope it helps,

  • The Art Teacher

    What a great idea!

  • rws

    We make our sketchbooks using cereal boxes, copy paper and a rubber band.  For the younger grades,  I cut the flattened boxes down to the size of a folded piece of copy paper with my paper cutter.  The fold of the box becomes the spine and it opens like a book when cut. The older grades can cut  their own with scissors.  The kids all fold 10 sheets of copy paper in half.  Corners are cut off top and bottom along the fold and a rubber band is placed around the paper and cover at the fold, held in place where the corners were cut off.  It’s a great first day project, uses recycled materials and doesn’t take any money from my budget.  The kids can’t wait to start drawing!  I keep each classes sketchbooks in a zip lock baggie and students know that when they are finished with a project early, they can get their sketchbook and free draw.  Best of all, the kids can make more at home and always add more paper if they use it all up.

  • brian

    We are making field journals.
    p.s. Thank you

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