Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mary Green: Fun with Vintage Gluebooks

A good composition allows the viewers eyes to move easily over the piece, going from one area to the next, without glaring starts or stops.

One thing you should know about vintage gluebooks is that, quite honestly, you probably won’t like the first page you do. Don’t be discouraged, it happens to just about everybody! Just start a second page and you’ll be amazed at how much better you like this one. Maybe we have to get a bad page out of the way so we can enjoy the rest of the journey!

When playing in your gluebook, you’ll practice a lot with your composition skills, so be prepared to move your pieces around many times, and to change some of the patterns or pieces you choose, before you find something that’s pleasing to you. I recommend creating your main composition before you actually glue anything to the page.

To start, I suggest working on a small scale. You’ll have more flexibility with the images you choose. For my book, I use the Moleskine pocket size sketchbook or cahiers notebooks, which measure just 3 ½” x 5”. You can use any sort of notebook or sketch book you like, alter an existing book, or use loose pages and bind them later with binder rings. Please don’t feel you have to use a specific book.

I collect and use vintage papers. I remove pages from damaged books I pick up at antique stores, flea markets and online. I’ll also use old handwritten letters, maps and ledger papers. Ebay is a good source for bulk purchases; Etsy is terrific for getting a few great pieces. You can also use new things with vintage imagery and colors – collage sheets, scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, wallpaper, etc.

Next, I use regular scissors to cut out images and then a smaller pair for detail. S omething like the little Cutter Bee scissors are great for this.

Finally glue. Avoid children’s school glues or repositionable glues – they take longer to dry and aren’t as long lasting.

That’s it – the list of necessary supplies – book, paper, scissors and glue. You can add optional items, maybe great punches or decorative scissors.

Next grab a selection of the papers and images you’re considering for a page. Here, I have the main image I want to use, some additional images and accents, and some background papers. The pieces here are a mix of genuine vintage paper and those I have scanned and printed from my own collection.

If you’d like to play along, here’s a collage sheet you can print, with some of the images I used:

Images sheetI start by choosing paper for the background. I want this to coordinate well with the main image; and with the opposite page since I’m doing 2 pages at once. I choose carefully because I do glue this piece down to the book and trim the edges.

1I begin by trying my focal point in a variety of places, usually guided by the shape and size of the image, and the best parts of it that I want to retain. With the pretty woman, I love those sleeves and want to keep a good portion of them visible. I place her on the left page so that she’s looking towards the rest of the pages, not looking off the page.

I also try a selection of coordinating papers to add to the background or compliment the main image. For example, I need something below the image since she’s not as long as I’d like. I don’t leave cut-off images “floating” in mid page.

You'll notice that in many pictures I'm using a cardboard "frame" over the pages to blockout any paper that's hanging off the edges. This helps me visualize what the final pages will look like after excess paper is trimmed off.

2 3 4 5Next, I try a selection of focal pieces for the opposite page. I want this to go well with the first image, and often choose something of a similar size. I rarely use a picture of a person on both sides of a spread.

6 7 8
Finally, I choose accents and small bits to blend it all together. In this stage I am looking for areas that need a little something, and focus on size and color. For example, I want some sort of small accent over the top right of the woman’s head, and I would like it to blend the blue color from the right page over to the left – again, moving the viewers eye around the page. I try different bits of paper, tickets and labels.

10 11 12 13I choose a bit of bird imagery, since I like the colors of blue and sepia with the other papers. It’s torn from (a copy of) an album page in the free images section of my blog, HERE. It’s great to look for little sections of images in your larger papers – you’re sure to find something interesting.

14 15
Lastly, I add a bit of Latin to the outside top of each page, for a last bit of color and corresponding interest.

That’s it – the way I build pages in my gluebook

Some little tips:

  • If you frequent antique stores and flea markets, look for damaged and shabby books and ephemera. Using the real thing makes a huge difference in the final look of your product, and the damaged pieces are often very affordable.

  • Don’t “clean up” your imagery if you scan and print it – save as much of the discoloration and ripped edges as you can. It will blend better with your genuine vintage papers, and you won’t be tempted to ink the edges.

  • Tear paper – it helps the pieces blend with each other and makes it easier for the eye to move around the page.

  • Then looking for small accents, consider a snippet of map, music or flowers, rather than a complete image

I hope you liked this little walk-through and that you’ll play with gluebook pages yourself soon. I welcome your questions and feedback, so comment if you can!


  1. Great tutorial, can't wait to find some bits and pieces to have a go!

  2. Thank You!!! It's really great Tutorial!!!!

  3. really good tutorial, and thanks for the images!

  4. Great tutorial! You are right I didn't like my first page I did, but warming to the idea now!

  5. THANK YOU for the tutorial! Thanks for the freebies too. I've been studying composition lately and you gave me some really great pointers.

  6. This is fabulous - thank you so much, Mary!

  7. Thank you so much for your tutorial... what a great way to pass time... I have a ton of ephemera!!! Even a mole skin sketch book... just need to get it all out!

  8. Beautiful, Mary! You are an inspiration. :)

  9. Thank you each for such sweet comments, I hope you all have a wonderful time with your own gluebooks!

  10. Mary, I left a message yesterday which must be somewhere in Cyberland to say this is so great and inspiring, so much useful theory but beautifully illustrated. I have really learnt from this; thank you so much,

    Lucy x

  11. Mary what a wonderful tutorial! Well I have no excuse not to try a page this week since I have been wanting to give this a go!

  12. I'm not much for glue-booking - I stick to the old paper and let it go at that. However, Mary has a unique way of combining vintage with new using collage techniques that really work. This gluebook spread is really great, and she stepped through the process of composition with appropriate explanations. Most excellent!

  13. Beautiful, Mary!This is so greatand a wonderful tutorial!Thank you

  14. thank you for sharing your thought process on building your pages.

  15. What a lovely way to use beautiful vintage papers and ephemera. Your glue book pages s look gorgeous and I'm sure it must be very enjoyable making them. I'll be adding this to my 'TO DO' list as soon as I've posted this reply. Thank you for sharing these lovely photos and your brilliant step by step tutorial.


Thanks for your wonderful words!

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