Category Archives: Journal Pages

All about journaling, journal prompts, visual, art and soul journals.

Choosing a Book by its Cover


The journal as it was originally

Digging through my piles of partially-started journals, I found one I really liked. Why didn’t I continue using it? I liked the paper inside–heavy enough for sketches and light washes, provided they don’t require a lot of scrubbing. The top paper layer did dissolve, but I generally don’t soak my journal pages.

Why had I abandoned this journal? After staring at it for a minute, I realized the cover was too busy, the paint stencil over the newspaper-print butterflies didn’t suit the delicate swirls on the cover.

Most of my journal covers are dark brown or black. If I make the journal myself, I use a dark color–it shows less wear. Even when I loose-leaf journal, the covers or carriers are usually dark.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

The big circle is much greener, but color correction can only do so much.

Yep, I was that shallow–judging a book by its cover. And not using it because I didn’t like the cover. Milliseconds later, I grabbed paper and collaged the cover, leaving the pretty purple color and swirls in space and covering the butterflies with geometric shapes.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Some color richness is missing here, too, but you get the idea.

Since then, I’ve been using it regularly. Who knew that such a small thing could make such a big difference? As an artist, I should have. But I was embarrassed at 4972f961f1e56b004aaa0323977ed746my own “shallowness.” Until I thought about it. We buy by preference–color, texture, shading.  I wouldn’t buy the shoes on the left, for example, although someone did. And wore them with great flair.

My experiment of book-cover altering bring up another idea: the things we use have to fit our hands, our hearts, and our pleasures. Or we won’t use them. It’s not always about practical and usefulness. Sometimes it’s about sheer pleasure.

--Quinn McDonald judges a book by its cover. She tries not to do the same for people.



Creativity Prompts: July 19, 2014

On Saturdays, I’m posting some journaling prompts to get you to enjoy journal writing. My favorite way to handle these are to set a timer for three minutes, what+will+you+write+4read the question, and then write until the timer rings. I don’t go back and re-read while I’m writing, I don’t edit or listen to the inner critic. I just write. It’s freeing to not pick apart each sentence as you write it.

—You go see a doctor. What questions can you ask to make sure you get the best care, and not just a six-minute session and a prescription?

— Many birds are raised by their mothers alone. Write a letter from a father bird to his fledglings, explaining what they need to know and how to learn it. You can do this with different birds: hummingbirds and robins, for example.

—There are four-legged animals and two-legged animals, but no three-legged animals. Why did evolution favor even numbers–at least in legs?

—If you were handed a sealed envelope with the date, time and cause of your death inside, would you open it, even if there were nothing you could do to change your fate?

Have fun exploring your ideas and writing!

-–Quinn McDonald is a writer still in love with writing.

Saturday Prompts

It’s time for a switch. After years of posting links to art and artists, this Saturday I’m posting journal prompts. A lot of art journals are being painted and a lot of journals being bound, but not a lot are being written in. No surprise. Writer’s block strikes a lot of people. Stare at a blank page (no matter how many colors or layers it has) and your mind goes smooth and blank.

PromptsHere are some prompts to get you started filling your journals. Set a timer for three minutes and choose one of the prompts below. Write without editing your own thoughts or censoring yourself. Write down what shows up.

1. Lots of schools require some sort of uniform. Would you like it if your workplace made you wear uniforms? Supposing you got to design the uniform. What would it look like?

2.You’ve been mugged. You aren’t hurt, but you are shaken up. There is a cell phone on the ground, but it’s not yours. What would you do with it?

3. Is intelligence inherited? Which of your parents (or siblings) was the smartest? What criteria did you use to get to your answer?

If you use any of the prompts and come up with an interesting train of thought, leave it in the comments.

Happy exploring!

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring the interior.

Books Remain the Same

Reading a book–in any way that thrills you–is an experience. There are books that I have read more and more slowly as I came to the end because I couldn’t bear to not have the characters in my life. Pillars of the Earth. The Cider House Rules. The Women’s Room. The Thorn Birds


There are books I forced myself to finish because I knew I should. Middlemarch. Bleak House. Portrait of an Artist as  Young Man. The Red and the Black.

There are books I could not force myself to finish, even if they were short, and popular. My eyes rolled so hard I was afraid they would get stuck in the top of my skull. The Bridges of Madison County. Anything by Nicholas Sparks.


And years later, the opinion formed the first time I read the book becomes how I think of the book.

Lately, I’ve taken to re-reading books I loved or hated years ago. There have been some big surprises. Books that I thought were complex and deep suddenly seem less nuanced. Books that I thought were silly and trivial now seem to strike the heart of human experience.


Slowly it dawned on me. The books are the same. Same words. Same content. But the reader has changed. Life does that to you. And as the reader changes, so does the opinion of the book. As true as it is that one does not step into the same river twice, it is true that a reader does not read the same book twice.

And that is why every room of my house has a bookcase jammed with books. Because I keep going back to read books that have changed while sitting patiently on the shelf.

-–Quinn McDonald also reads ebooks and listens to audiobooks. She loves it all.


Super-specialized art supplies are fun and can ease the tedious part of creative work. What makes special supplies most useful is combining them with the basics you love and use every day. Here are my four new favorites for everyday … Continue reading

Cleaning Up Your Act (and Creativity)

A few weeks ago, when the studio was still a paper dump, the big decision was not to clean it, or even how to clean,  but what to keep and what to scrap.

Cleaning out the bookcase was a choice-struggle, but it worked. And then the hard work began. Here’s what I did:


“Inspiration,” collage © Quinn McDonald, 2014. Monsoon Papers on mixed media paper.

For three days, I worked on projects that spoke to me. Carefully chosen, they were the result of a lot of thinking about expressing my creativity in ways that resonate with who I am and who I would like to become.

The next two days were spent in listing the materials needed to make the artwork. Another list for teaching materials. Everything else was considered and put in boxes to give away.

One of my big realizations was that I often buy an art supply thinking it will make my art better: “If I have this glaze, I will be a better painter,” or “If I have this tool, it will make me more creative.” Neither is true. But that “hope in a tube” belief is the foundation of a lot of art and craft supply companies.

Out went the rubber stamps I never used, the watercolors I hoped to get good at, and single-use tools. Out went a lot of brand-name toys I rarely use and bought to make myself feel better. A lot of my purchases fell into the emotional-eating equivalent of chocolate.

I kept everything I use to create collage–papers, inks, paints, watercolor pencils, watercolor markers, different glues, and rulers, cutters, and corner rounders.

My studio is now much airier, brighter, and less cluttered. The equipment I use is at hand, and a school is going to be a lot happier with the art supplies that fill up my trunk.

Creativity needs some good tools, but emotional supply buying is much like emotional eating. It feels good, but it’s not supportive of growth and health.

–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist, writer and creativity coach who lives her belief in creativity.

Making it Mine

When I take a class, I follow the same rule that Cooking Man does when he experiments with a new recipe. First, do it exactly the way the recipe says to do it, even if  you have a better idea. Once you have tasted it, you can make changes that make sense to you. But unless you follow instructions first, you will not be sure of what went wrong. Or right.

In the collage class I took, we received clear, explicit directions. I followed them as I heard them. Then, when the class was over, I went into the studio and made the information mine and made collages using the information, but making it with my esthetic.

Here are three collages I made in class:

collagetoomuchWe were told to cut five figures. I interpreted this as figurative, although they were supposed to be random. After we pasted them down, an additional step was to add five more, using different colors. Because I had made a figurative piece, the result was quite busy.

collagetreeThis was the homework piece. We were to create a collage titled “tree” using only items found in our kitchens. This posed an interesting problem, as I was staying in a hotel. I used a paper grocery bag, a coffee filter (using the pleated seam) and a Lipton tea bag to create the leaves.  I cut the bag to size and had a large seam right through the middle. That didn’t work for me visually, so I cut two more pieces (OK, tore them with a straight edge) and placed one over the seam and another near the bottom to create balance.

collagerobertUsing the works of Robert Motherwell, we were to take the idea of the piece and create our own faux-Motherwell. I wanted to use a limited palate, and fretted a lot about the lines (and my old nemesis, the straight line). If the first piece was too busy, this one was a bit spare, but I can live with spare.

Once I got home, I wanted to explore the idea of the bird in the first image, rather than the whole, busy composition.

collage2Using a photograph of bird feathers from art quilter and book contributor Diane Becka, and a piece of Monsoon Paper, I created a different kind of collage.

collage1The original figure in the busy collage intrigued me. I wanted to explore it some more. So I created a collage using both the figure and the piece I cut out of the figure, leaving the meaning to be interpreted by the viewer.

collageshadowI can see this idea developing into a series, so I did another, also on Monsoon Paper. This is called “Shadow.” I’m liking this enough to create a serious series of figures under the Moon and Sun.

-Quinn McDonald is exploring Monsoon Papers and collage. She’s a writer, but these have, as yet, no words to go with them. Visual literacy is its own kind of vocabulary.

Geli-Plate Fun

Experimenting with my Gelli-Plate, I discovered two new ways (well, at least to me) to use this monoprinting technique. As a collage artist, I always need interesting papers, in every color or texture I can imagine.

Mono_StencilOne of my favorite techniques is to cut out shapes (heavy paper or overhead projector film) and use them as masks (to block paint printing) or as a stencil (to create a pattern with the paint.

The resulting pieces pick up paint and become quite interesting in themselves. After they have served as masks or stencils several times, they can be used as collage elements.

Another technique is to prepare the plate with a background, lay the elements on the plate, and photograph the plate before you print.

Mono_HouseThis gives you an image to print that looks quite different from the print itself, but can also give you more detail and color. You can then choose to create the collage by gluing the elements down over the printed piece or add color with a brush.

This also works for fabric–chose a fabric background, then attach the paper pieces on top of the background using fusible webbing.

Mono_PlantThe final experiment was to enhance a ghost print. Once the first print is lifted, remove all the masks from the plate. Then lay another piece of paper (in this case a piece of multi-media paper) over the plate and use a brayer to roll over the monoprint plate to pick up a ghost image of the paint the masks had protected. The plant and sun are clear, but the background picked up only partially.

I used Tombow Dual Brush markers to enhance some of the color. These markers are watercolors, so let the paper dry first. After the color is put down, I used a brush dipped in water to blend colors and create an abstract landscape.

On Tuesday, April 1, I’ll be demoing these techniques at the monthly meeting of the Scottsdale Art League. We’re going to have a busy night because I’m going to do an Inner Hero exercise, and everyone will leave with a hand-made Inner Hero Postcard. And two lucky people will win the prizes: a copy of the Inner Hero Art Journal and a Gelli plate donated by Arizona Art Supply.

Upcoming classes using Gelli-Plate techniques: I’ll also be teaching Gelli-Plate techniques on April 26-27 at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts and the week of June 2 at the Madeline Island School of Arts, where you will make a whole book of different art and writing techniques. Come join me in exploring!

-Quinn McDonald is typing this with paint-colored fingers, and an ink-stained heart.




Castle Journal Page

When my son was small, I lectured him on using items for the purpose they had been designed. Umbrellas weren’t parachutes, and  forks weren’t garden tools. I often think of those lectures when I re-purpose one item as an art tool.

I purchased a chipboard book–one that had a number of  thick cardboard pages shaped like a castle. Instead of attaching the pages with binder rings and making a book, I coated the pages with gesso, then matte medium, to protect and make them water-resistant.  When dry, they became stencils.  In this long journal, put three castle pieces high on the page, coverthe rest of the page with a blank piece of paper to protect it, and spray ink on the journal page.

castle-allTo create spray ink, I used Adirondack re-inkers, bottles of concentrated ink used to refill stamp pads. This brand is from Ranger, the company most people associate with Tim Holtz. I used two drops of denim and one drop of eggplant in a Mini-Mister,  added 10 drops of water, and sprayed across the top. You can mix re-inker colors quite nicely. (These aren’t alcohol inks). If you do this, use distilled water to dilute so the mini-mister doesn’t clog.

After waiting about a minute for the ink to dry,  carefully pick up the first layer and rearranged a second layer, using some of the pages used before as well as some new ones. This time, spray the left side with  a different color than the right, allowing the colors to blend or overlap in the middle. You can see the piece with two towers and the gate on the right repeated again on the far left. Repositioning the pieces makes the piece more interesting without looking repetitive.

castle21The spaces you cover the most often and consistently  are white, which will let you write on the page and make the most of the white space.

Inventing your own stencil is fun, often more fun than purchasing expensive ones.  A lot of every day items can be turned into stencils (or the opposite, masking pieces).

If you are fussy about the ring-holes showing, you can cover the book holes with tape. Or you can incorporate the pattern into the finished page.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler who works at the intersection of words and images. She teaches one-sentence journaling, inner hero journaling, and on Friday,  April 25, will teach a journaling class at the Minneapolis Book Arts Center.

Tutorial: Bag Journal for Looseleaf Pages

Yesterday, I posted a tutorial for a box for your loose-leaf journal pages. Today, your journal is going to be made from a paper handle bag–the kind that better stores use. This tutorial will use two different bag, but the style is the same.

Book2Here is a photo of the outside of the completed journal. Below is the first steps, using a different kind of bag.

Bag1Start by looking at the size of the bag. There are two ways to approach the bag journal. First, you can measure and cut all of our pages ahead of time. I did that with this one. Second, you can use this method to bind a variety of page sizes as long as two sheets (four pages) are the full size of the journal.

The first step is to fold the bag flat, so the bottom portion is flat against the sides of the bag.

Bag2Next, crease the bottom of the bag, along the center of the bottom. This will become the spine of the book. If the bag has paper handles, trim them off carefully. If the bag has ribbon handles, detach them.

Bag3Cut along the sides of the bag, top to bottom, in the center crease, as shown. Cut down both sides of the bag.

Bag4(Now I’m switching bags). Fold open the bag, making sure you fold the edges down neatly.

bag5You will now have the journal cover. The center spine will be a mountain fold that faces you. Strengthen the inside of the bag (now the front and back covers) with a layer of decorative paper.

This is the time to measure the bag for page size. Measuring before this stage allows too much stage for error (at least for me). Wait until the bag is fully cut, trimmed and the cover is complete. The mountain fold allows you to place a signature on each side. It also allows for pages with a lot of inclusions and attachments, if you like that style.

bag6Fold the pages so that like-size pages all are folded down the middle. Pages that aren’t the same size can be folded with a stub (one side shorter) or down the middle. In either case, line up all the creases, and nest the pages together in the order you like.

bag7Flip through the pages to make sure you have them all oriented correctly and in the right sequence. (I mess this up frequently. This is a good time to fix it.)

Open up the signature (group of nested pages) you plan on stitching into the back of the journal (right side of mountain fold). This will be a 5-stitch pamphlet. Mark five dots in the crease: one in the center (top to bottom) of the page. This is #3. The ones above and below the center mark (#2 and #4) should be the same distance from the center. Marks #1 and #5 (the top and bottom of page) should be the same distance from the mark nearest to them.

PamphletBindingUse an awl to make holes in the pages and cover at the same time.  Measure a length of 4-ply waxed linen twice the height of the book. The above diagram is taken from Design Sponge, which has an excellent 5-hole pamphlet stitch tutorial.

In the first signature, I put the knot on the inside of the pages.

bag9Repeat the same stitching for the other signature. This time, I made the knot on the outside, and tied the signature stitching together. This keeps the center fold from opening.

bag8Glue the ties to the inside of the book, allowing them to dry completely before continuing.

bag10Cut the ties in half, and repeat the gluing process on the other side. Tie a square knot to hold the journal closed.

Book1A look inside the completed journal. There is no writing because this is a sample for the tutorial.

Book3Another inside spread, showing the center of the book. The spine looks like a stub page, part of the charm of shopping bag journals.

I love making different journals with different bags. Some bags have colorful lining already in them. Others have cut-out handles, and some elegant black bags can be changed with bright ribbons. You can also paint or stencil the bags, but I like using bags with writing or logos on them and leaving them recognizable as recycled shopping bags.

Quinn McDonald is an art journaler and creativity coach. She is teaching journal-making classes at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts (April, 2014) and at Madeline Island School of the Arts (June, 2014).