Shimmering Hand Painted Fish Journal

Fish Journal hand bound and hand painted by Ruth Bleakley

Many years ago, one of my favorite types of books to make were hand-painted ones, but with the discovery of Japanese Chiyogami paper, I got away from that for a while, but now that I have the amazing Glowforge laser cutter, I’m back at the hand-painting game! This fish journal is a great example of how just adding a bit of color can make a simple black and white drawing (in this case, a 19th century etching that I’ve digitally restored) really pop back into real-life with vibrant color.

I also remembered to take a time lapse video of me painting them! I learned watercolor here and there, but I’ve never taken a specific class for it, although it’s definitely on my to-do list.

In case you’re curious, these are the paints I’m using, very affordable at less than $10: Yasutomo Pearlescent Watercolors

However, there are a lot of other beautiful shimmering watercolor paints, and next time I think I’ll treat myself to something a bit more high end like these Fine Tec Artist Mica Pearlescent Watercolor Paint ( if you’ve used them let me know in the comments!)

Hand Painted Fish Journal by book artist Ruth Bleakley - progress 2

Hand Painted Fish Journal by book artist Ruth Bleakley - progress 1

Hand Painted Fish Journal by book artist Ruth Bleakley - progress 3

Hand Painted Fish Journal by book artist Ruth Bleakley - progress 4

Ta da! One of the secrets to watercolor paint is layering – they are semi translucent, so what you want to do is imagine the colors as transparency layers overlapping one another. Another secret is that to achieve the layered effect, it’s best to let the first layer dry before adding the next layer! I did this painting in two layers to set down the base colors of white and light blue, and then the second layer was dark blue and green. The full painting took about 25 minutes? But I’m not sure because I didn’t time it, and I was lost in the flow!

Hand Painted Fish Journal by book artist Ruth Bleakley - before and after

Sewing books by hand - Fish Journal made by bookbinder Ruth Bleakley

Close up of Coptic stitching on a 100 percent recycled fish journal made by Ruth Bleakley

Next step was sealing (not shown) to protect the recycled bookboard from fingerprints and to keep the sooty engraving from smudging. I used a spray satin varnish.

Then on to sewing! here I used coptic stitch, which allows the journal to lie flat when it’s opened. I do mine using a single needle, learned from Keith Smith’s Books Without Paste or Glue

Handmade book made with coptic stitch sewing by Ruth Bleakley

Stitching a journal together - handmade fish book created by Ruth Bleakley

And finally, the finished journal! I made two of these, so perhaps you can still find one for sale here: Hand painted Fish Journal

Why a fish? I’ve always loved fish – I had aquariums at different parts of my life (ask my mom about the infamous “Mr. Crayfish”) – and right now I have a 40 gallon outdoor pond that I keep naturally balanced without filters or chemical additives using live plants, snails and fish, along with numerous other tiny organisms. The fish keep any mosquito larvae in check, as well as provide fertilizer for the plants, and the abundant plant life as well as the wide surface area ensure that the fish get enough oxygen, and the snails clean up any dead plants – it’s amazing! A beautiful, exotic waterlily caps the whole thing off, and now that it’s about 4 years old, blooms almost continuously.

Hand Painted Fish Journal - handmade by Florida Book Artist Ruth Bleakley


Fish Journal - Hand Painted by Book Artist Ruth Bleakley - 2

Inside of Fish Journal handmade by Ruth Bleakley

The finished journal lays open flat for easy writing and contains 160 pages of 100% recycled filler paper from a family-owned paper mill in Michigan. The cover boards are also recycled (each board has it’s own special character – you can see the speckles of the different types of paper that’s included). The book is sewn with waxed Irish linen thread, and no glue is used anywhere in the book, it’s completely sewn together. This journal would be a great gift for an aquarium enthusiast or a marine biologist to use as a field journal.

Unique Hand Painted Fish Journal made from Recycled materials

Handmade Journals by Florida Book Artist Ruth Bleakley who paints and sews them

On the same day I was also taking photos of my aqua and gold branches french link stitch journal! I loved the colros next to one another. That aqua and gold journal is SO hard to photograph though! The golden paint just comes out looking strangely…green? It’s very reflective though. If you’d like to learn more about french link binding, I’m sure I’ll make a post about this one, but you can also check out my Indigo and Gold Branches French Link Journal blog post.

Handmade Journals make a great gift for the writers in your life

Two Journals handmade by Florida bookbinder Ruth Bleakley - fish and aqua branches

Hand painted Fish Journal made by Book Artist Ruth Bleakley

Thank you so much for reading my blog – if you enjoy bookbinding, check out my Pinterest board Handmade Books + Journals (which as of this writing has 10,219 followers!) and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter:

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This book looks awsome, i love the blue & green shimmery colour! I own a few finetec gold and silvers and they are awsome! They are so highly pigmented that you should water it up a lot if you want to achieve this semi transparent look but you could also use it for special effects! I really love them, even the waterglass to wash the paints is pretty afterwards 😉
I really like your laserengraved Books with the recycled board.


That’s awesome, thanks for sharing Xenia, I’ll definitely have to treat myself to some of those Finetec colors when I use up these Yasutomo ones. Thanks for reading my blog!


Oooh, Ruth, I’d love to see pictures of your pond 🙂 A lovely book, by the way!


Wow! Fantastic journal. Love the fish and pearly watercolors; perfect! Beautiful stitching!! Love it all!


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