If you’ve ever how to upcycle old paintings, check out this DIY for making scrapbooking journals. This is a quick and easy DIY project that’s also budget-friendly!

Scrapbooking journals made from recycled canvas and upcycled old paintings are a wonderful way to practice your inner Picasso skills.

When you upcycle old paintings and original art and turn them into something new, you keep them from ending up in the landfill!

(FYI – this is every fine artist’s nightmare…..that or finding your old art at the Goodwill!)

upcycle old paintings - gesso and art supplies for

Materials Needed:

  • An old painting that is painted on canvas
  • A sharp knife
  • Paintbrush
  • Palette knife
  • A palette or board for mixing paint
  • Gesso (any color)
  • Wax thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Awl
  • Ruler
  • Gel pen or marker

NOTE: I used this bookbinding kit to make my scrapbooking journal – it comes with a variety of colors of wax threads, needles, awl, and more — and it’s less than $10!!

upcycle old paintings by cutting them off old canvases

How to Upcycle Old Paintings

Begin by removing the canvas from the frame. This can be done quickly and easily by flipping over the painting and sliding a small, sharp knife between the frame and the canvas.

Poke the knife through the material, and slide it through the canvas until the piece falls away from the frame.

You can also remove the staples from the backside of the painting. That can be a time-consuming project and the edges of the canvas have distinct folds in them, so I prefer to just cut the canvas off.

upcycle old paintings - Gesso over the painting canvas

Lay the painting flat on a large piece of cardboard or a tarp to protect your table or workspace.

Using gesso and a brush, paint over the old surface until it’s covered.

Use Gesso to Paint Over the Old Canvas

Gesso is an opaque primer that covers the old surface and prepares it for another medium. It will cover oil or acrylic paints and allows you to use your choice of mediums in the future.

Gesso also comes in various colors – I chose to use black gesso for my project, but you can use clear, white, red, or ?

upcycle old paintings with black gesso

After priming one side of the canvas, flip it over and do the same to the back side of the canvas.

upcycle old paintings - black gesso on old canvas with palette knife

While the gesso is still wet, I add some white acrylic paint and mix it over the piece, creating some interesting patterns on the surface.

I use a palette knife to do this as it allows me to work quickly, but you can use a cheap chip brush or even an old credit card to move the paint around quickly over the surface.

upcycle old paintings and paint over them with a brush

Notice how the gesso allows the original texture to show through – if you want to cover the texture, you can use a thicker modeling paste or add additional layers of gesso until the surface is smooth. Remember you’ll probably cover the texture later if you’re adding collage materials or additional paint.

upcycle old paintings - asemic writing with bamboo pen

Add Asemic Writing or Additional Texture

I like to add asemic writing in my paintings and use a bamboo pen or a skewer to scratch into the wet paint. Asemic writing is a visual feature that adds the form of writing to a piece without using language. It looks like writing but is typically illegible and adds interest and visual texture to your work. Let dry.

upcycle old paintings and tear them into pages

Tear The Canvas into Panels

Using a ruler or yardstick, measure equal areas where you want to cut the canvas to form the pages of the journal. My canvas was approximately 12″ x 15″, so I divided the 12″ side into three 4″ pieces.

Use scissors and cut a small slice at the edge of each mark. Rip the canvas at the cut mark, pulling downwards. This makes frayed edges and an interesting, uneven tear that adds visual texture to the finished piece.

upcycle old paintings and sew them into scrapbooking journals

Stack the torn pieces on top of each other, and find the center by measuring with a ruler or yardstick. Make a mark at the halfway point on either side of the canvas. Connect the two marks by drawing a line with a gel pen or colored pencil.

This line will become your guide for stitching the pages together and gets covered once the threading is completed.

upcycle old paintings are torn into pages and sewn together

Sew the Panels Together

Using an awl, poke small holes along the line and through the pages. Try to make the holes equal distances, if possible.

upcycle old paintings - waxed thread in assorted colors to be used for sewing pages together

Select the color of waxed thread that you want to sew the pages together with. If you don’t have waxed thread, you can also use embroidery thread.

Use a strong thread to keep the pages sewn together when decorating and embellishing your new scrapbook or journal.

upcycle old paintings

Use a sharp upholstery needle with your choice of thread, and sew the pages together. When you get to the end of the page, flip the piece over and complete the sewing stitch.

Tie off the ends with a strong knot. You can also leave some threads to add decorations to later.

upcycle old paintings

I like to leave threads at the bottom of my journals for adding beads or charms later on. If you prefer a cleaner look, knot the thread and cut off the loose ends.

Dab clear nail polish on the knots to ensure they won’t unravel later.

upcycle old paintings - DIY to make scrapbooking journals

Here’s a photo of the finished scrapbook journal. Now the fun begins as you make over each page!

How to Use Your New Upcycled Scrapbook Journal

If you are an artist, you can paint new paintings on the gessoed surface – I painted a seascape using acrylic paints, as you can see in the photo below.

You can collage photos and interesting papers onto the canvas with Mod Podge or matte medium.

You can even stitch interesting designs or tack down embellishments on the pages.

upcycle old paintings and use to make new mini canvas books

Upcycle Old Paintings into Unique Scrapbooking Journals

Embrace the imperfections of the deckled edges and little threads – they add interest. Enjoy making each page of your new canvas scrapbooking journal into a new masterpiece you’ll be proud to display!

Check out this DIY to make a cool journaling station – it’s perfect to upcycle old paintings on and storing art supplies!

upcycle old paintings pin icon for DIY by thriving with less blog

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  1. What an awesome idea; love how this turned out. And I learned something new! I have to run and tell my husband that he’s been ‘Asemic’ writing all his life; his chicken scratch has alway been illegible – lol!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sara–I hope your husband enjoys knowing his style of chicken scratch writing now has a name for it!!

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