Sewing a Custom Journal Signature

Yesterday, I blogged about my new (to me) sewing machine. Today I put it to use. Caught between the need to take a journal with me and the need to work on a flat piece of paper, I decided to make several journal signatures. They are small and flat enough to be portable. Once several of them are complete, I can stack them and sew them together to

Signature cover made of Tyvek, sewn with machine and white thread.

form a book.

The advantage is that I can combine any kind of paper I want. The signature covers become interesting pages in the book all on their own. My first attempt was a Tyvek cover, a Strathmore marker paper, a Strathmore drawing paper (80-lb.) and Arches Text Wove. Tyvek is the non-tear material that Fedex envelopes are made of.

I cut the pages all to the same size, cut the Tyvek cover a bit larger, and then, just for decorative reasons, stitched a random pattern on the cover. White on white was lovely, but hard to show, so I held the cover up to a light and photographed it. You can see the holes quite nicely. Tyvek takes color well, so I colored it with alcohol markers.

The inside pages give me just what I need. Alcohol markers (Copic, for example) bleed through most papers. Marker paper (like Strathmore and Canson) allow the color to show through, but not bleed through. A design that blotches the back of the paper in a journal needs a solution, but a design done on marker paper looks good from both sides. In the drawing below, right, you can see the front of the marker-page. Below, left, is the reverse side of the same page. The image on the reverse is muted, but no less attractive.

Strathmore marker paper with Copic markers (alcohol markers).

Ink markers, like Pitt pens, don’t bleed through the paper. They don’t show from the other side at all, making them a bit more versatile to use with a bigger variety of papers. On the other hand, ink markers don’t blend or layer as beautifully as alcohol markers.

The reverse of the page is muted, but still attractive.

The mix of papers allow me to use the paper and medium I need. I can use the marker paper for inks, the stiffer drawing paper for watercolor pencils or inks, and the Arches Text Wove for writing, drawing, wet- or dry pencils. It’s a great combination.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and raw-art-journaler. She teaches business writing and communications and runs workshops on journaling.

Singer Sewing Machine 401A

Singer 401A Sewing Machine

My new toy: a 50-year-old Singer Sewing machine. I found it on a shelf of a vac-n-sew. (Best name for a Vac-n-Sew is Belmont, New Hampshire’s Vacman and Bobbin.) The vac ‘n’ sew that held this treasure is in Tempe, AZ. Two years ago, when The Cookin’ Man was left back in D.C. selling our house and I was in a small, dark apartment thinking it would be for just a month or so, I found a cheap vacuum. It turned out to be a good, cheap vacuum that lasted for two years. Last week it was overwhelmed by cat hair, so I went back to the vac ‘n’ sew. Found another good, cheap vacuum cleaner and there, on the shelf, was the sewing machine, reconditioned and ready to sew. The price was unbeatable. I’ve been looking for a 401 Singer sewing machine under a $200 for a year with no luck. This workhorse is tested and not all that easy to find!

The Singer 401A was produced around 1960. It’s an all-metal machine, not a bit of plastic on it, and a workhorse capable of years of  studio work. The foot pedal has two bumps on it. The one on the right is solid, the one on the left runs the machine. You put the ball of your foot on both and then rock your foot to the left to make it run. Google helped me find SewClassic, who specializes in old Singers and SewUSA , who has free threading diagrams and bobbin winding instructions.

Footpedal for Singer 401A

It might be important to add I don’t know how to sew. Like all heavy equipment in my studio, I gave the machine a name: Betsy—years ago Betsy McCall was a paper doll line for McCall’s magazine. Each month there was a story and a new set of outfits for Betsy. (That link will take you to printable downloads for the paperdolls, 1960-version. The same year the machine was made.)

What’s a sewing machine doing in a paper studio? Working. I want to put it to work creating raw art. I love the idea of sewing on paper, it’s another attachment method. But I think it may be the solution to the “free sheet v. book” dilemma. When I’m working on raw-art part of raw-art journaling, I like to work on flat, individual sheets. I also like to work on different kinds of paper–crackly, translucent cooking parchment for alcohol markers, Strathmore’s super-smooth, blendable surface for ink and alcohol markers, Arches Wove Text for almost everything else.  On the other hand, I also like to keep the work together by date.

First, sew and fill signatures, then gather them into one book.

My idea is to sew signatures of different papers together, give them a sturdy paper cover and use them as my instant journals. The one that always is in the bag. Another signature can stay in the studio for wetter, messier work. When I have enough signatures made, I bind them all together and voilá! a raw-art journal with different papers and projects, all in one place.

I’ll report back when I learn how to thread and wind bobbins and sew on Betsy, my 50-year-old, all-metal collaborator.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, workshop leader and raw-art-journaler. © QuinnCreative 2010. All rights reserved.

The “Off” Switch

Everyone has to turn it off sometime.

The space heater finally died. It was quiet, efficient, put out a lot of concentrated heat, and it lasted two years. About average for small appliances. It would cost more to fix than to throw out, so reluctantly I replaced it while seeing landfills fill up with cheap, but necessary, appliances.

The new one has a digital temperature reading, a timer, a high- and low speed setting . . . and no “off” switch. I could unplug it to turn it off, but the plug is in an awkward place, difficult to reach. Sure, I can use the digital system to make the requested temperature much lower than the temperature in the room, or click down the timer, but wouldn’t an off switch be simpler?

The digital readout is always on, so it’s sucking up electricity every minute of the day.

Which made me think–our appliances reflect our needs and culture. The first microwave could cook turkeys and came with special browning sauces and powders. Now they have pre-set buttons for heating coffee, warming pizza, popping corn and baking potatoes—because that’s what we use microwaves for. Not turkeys.

Our lives no longer have off switches, either. My friends and clients expect me to be available at all times. They are sure I am checking in their Facebook posts, tweets, and their fan pages. They no longer leave voice mails, I’m supposed to notice I missed a call and phone back. Most of my clients don’t want to email me, that isn’t fast enough, they text me. The idea that I may be in a meeting, teaching or in bed means nothing. I have to be available. I should point out that I’m not an emergency-room physician or the President of the United States, I’m a life coach and a trainer in communications.

The millennials–the group of adults who are now between 18 and 25–have never existed in a time when they could be alone. They will survive little more than 30 seconds of silence in a conversation before talking or texting to someone else.

Thirty-five percent of babies between the age of six weeks and three years have a TV in their room that is on more than two hours a day. We now live in a culture that is always in touch, speaking, connecting. (I’m not sure how much we’re listening. That’s another post.)

In order for me to be fully functional, I need down time. To sleep deeply, to create, to refresh. I have an off switch and I’m willing to use it, even if my space heater can’t.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and certified creativity coach.

When to Start Working With a Coach

Tornado from

“I want to start coaching, but my life is so messy right now. Let’s wait till things calm down.”
“I’m crazy-busy this month. Next month will be better. I’ll start coaching then.”
“I’m spending half my life fighting with my spouse and the other half fighting with my boss, as soon as I know things will be OK, I’ll call you.”

The perfect time to start coaching is when your life is a mess. Right in the middle of all that crazy-busy is the small heartbeat of sanity. Go after it while it’s still beating. It’s harder to start coaching when your spouse is gone and so is your job.

All of the excuses above are the same as the old joke about the leaking roof and the rain. You don’t want to fix the roof and get wet in the rain. When it stops pouring, the roof doesn’t leak.

If your life calmed down (and it won’t) and you found yourself under a tree with a stocked picnic basket next to you, you would think your problems had ended, perhaps magically. Life doesn’t sort itself out on its own. You have to do the work. The time to start coaching is when the world looks like it might fall down around you. Because that’s when you have the most choices and the highest motivation.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She coaches people on change, transition and re-invention.

No Room for Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions on how to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: No fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided—no fear.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, not finding enough clients, getting underbid, outperformed by not risking enough. But seeing fear for what it is created the big “Aha!” in my business life.images3.jpeg

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table as a motive, your life looks different.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid at $8,000 to land the job, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s a bad decision rooted in fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine. Kick fear to the curb and stand up for accountability.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but I can look at it straight in the eye and refuse to be bullied by my own fear. There are a million  reasons in making a decision, but only one lousy one–“I did it because I was scared.”

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. (c) 2009-2010.  All rights reserved.

Carl Jung: Raw-Art Psychologist

Cover of Carl Jung's Red Book

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, pioneered exploring the mind through meaningful dreams, art, philosophy, and mythology. And raw-art journaling. Jung was a modern pioneer of the mind—he died in 1961.

In order to help himself understand his work, Jung kept a journal–The Red Book. Not just any journal, but one filled with drawings. Mandalas, abstract swirls and lines mixed with images from nature filled in repetitive, detailed patterns. In other words, Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, was a raw-art journaler.

He added his own style of calligraphy and explanations to produce The Red Book. Whatever he was interested in, he explored. Literature, sociology, astrology and vivid dreams are all included in his notes.

The Rubin Museum of Art in New York put The Red Book on display. Each week, they put a different page on their website to widen the circle of visitors. Here is the link to the colorful pages of The Red Book. It takes a bit to load, but you can flip through it page by page. I was amazed at this amazing work. I hope you are, too.

Tip: Scroll down till you see The Red Book. Click on the book. Click on the far left image of The Red Book. Allow time to load. Turn the pages by clicking on the arrows. If you want to avoid scrolling, I’ve also posted the book to my website. Move the pages by using the small arrow on the right side of the page. Each page may take a few seconds to load.

Journal Page: Road Trip to Tucson

Map of the road trip from Phoenix to Tucson. © Quinn McDonald, 2010

Journal writing is fun for me, but I don’t like to fill pages and pages with details. I won’t be able to find details if I have to read my handwriting. One of the reasons I began to draw in my journals is to create an easier way to find things, and to reduce the amount of writing. When you write for a living, writing some more to relax isn’t always the answer.

What I do love to do is draw maps. Drawing maps of road trips covers all the important details and doesn’t require a lot of writing. And because I use raw-art journaling, it doesn’t require me to be a cartographer or illustrator, either.

Last weekend we drove to Tucson and Tubac for the art fair. South of Phoenix, before I-8 turns off for San Diego, I noticed two groups of headstones in the middle of the desert. About 20 stones roughly 100 yards from the road.  No church, no fence, no formal graveyard. I’d seen them once before, and they seem just as lonely and forgotten as before. There were a lot of descansos, too–handmade roadside shrines to honor someone who died in a car accident.

On the way to Tucson, you see volcano vent mountains, copper mines, saguaro. By noting where I saw them, and then putting them on the map, I can create a detailed record of the trip. In a few months, when I want to check for a good Mexican restaurant, my map will remind me that we ate at El Charro Cafe. (Here’s the list of menus you can download.) When I want to remember that we had a perfect breakfast at that epitome of University hang-out, the Epic Cafe, I’ll check the map and find it.

Drawing a map is fun. You don’t have to be an illustrator to do it. I write details on my map and use a lot of symbols–the Epic is a steaming coffee cup; El Charro is a plate of tamales. OK, so the plate looks like it might have flying food on it. That’s fine with me. I’ll remember those tamales with a grin for a long time.

I don’t expect the map to be  GPS accurate. It’s a journal page that covers a lovely weekend and helps me keep the memories fresh. Best of all, it covers two pages in a journal that I can see with one glance. No flipping through the book, no wishing I had better handwriting.

Recently I’ve started a map of where rainwater flows in our neighborhood. We don’t have storm sewers in the desert, the roads are graded to have the water run into arroyos or creeks. It was complicated, because you don’t want the whole neighborhood to get pushed onto one street. Our water runs into Skunk Creek, but it takes amazing turns to get there. You can do a map of almost anything–events in time work as well as places in space. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and raw-art journaler. © Quinn McDonald, 2010. All rights reserved.

Progress Report: The Book’s Title

Shadow of tree on roof of artist's tent, Tubac, AZ, 2010 ©

After teaching raw-art journaling for six years, I decided to write a book about it. I found a publisher, and with incredible luck, a gifted editor. I’ve written about the book contract and the research, so I won’t rehash that.

I have no idea how people who self-publish books manage without an editor. Maybe they hire an editor. I’ve been a writer for a very long time, and I am absolutely sure that every writer needs an editor. It has nothing to do with how well you know how to write, it has to do with seeing the book from a different perspective. And I don’t think writers can do that by themselves. When you write you don’t see the impact or the effect, you see the shadow of your work. And editor pulls back the screen and takes a look at your writing from the viewpoint of the person who will eventually read it. Big difference.

After I sent the editor the first two chapters, she sent me back the thumbnails. When I opened them, two chapters had become three, and the layout made so much more sense then what I thought was fine when I sent it. I had the feeling of seeing the forest when I had been writing trees.

The book is also real. For the first time it looks like it will when someone opens it. After six years of teaching classes, taking notes, drafting chapters, after a year of wondering why I want to write a book, knowing why, and sitting down to write, it was suddenly in front of me.

It’s not the first book I’ve written, but I did the first one on a fixed cash contract and didn’t get to choose the subject. I had to follow a general outline. I was paid to do a lot of research and assemble it.  This time, I’m writing what I know. I’m

Artifact statue, The Bario Gallery, Tubac, AZ

writing what makes sense to me.  I’m writing because I hope that other people will see it and think, “I know this feeling. I live in that space, too. This author lives in my studio.” And then, more than anything, I hope someone says, “Wow, I was hoping this would happen. I was hoping someone would understand me and write to me. This book was written just for me.” Because it is. So many people think they aren’t enough, don’t have enough to be an artist. And so many people do.

The editor suggested a different title. My first thought was, “No, I’ve planned this title.” But instantly I knew she was right. The book wasn’t just about raw art, it was about being raw. Standing with bare tools and writing on the cave wall, starting over every time you turn the page of your journal.  I love the concept of slow food. I love the concept of putting down the kits and putting yourself on the page. So this is the title of my book:

The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required.

I am prepared to answer the question “How can you make art with no skills.” Ah. That’s raw art. We are all born to create. We are all born creative. It’s not a skill, it’s a right. We have to reclaim it.

Quinn McDonald’s book will be published by North Light books in the summer of 2011.

Review: 3 Journals

Three journals covered in this review.

Every time I fill up one journal, I consider before reaching for the same journal over again. It takes a while to get used to a journal. Starting a new one doesn’t always seem like a good idea. I’ve used Moleksine Sketch, and it’s a good journal. Ink doesn’t bleed, it is needle stitched to the binding, and I learned from Molkesine, that’s an important part of a tough, long-lasting journal.

If you don’t throw your journal in your bag or drag it around with you, a delicate journal could do the job. If you write in your journal in pen or ink, and don’t draw, glue, paint, collage, fold, or overstuff, almost any journal will do. But I abuse my journals. I use watercolor pencils, inks, alcohol markers. Alcohol markers will bleed through anything except  granite, and it’s tough to find a granite-paged journal.

I had three journals to choose from–two wire bound and a hand-made, Coptic bound journal meant to be a wedding album.

In the photo above, the red, wire-bound journal on the left is a Holbein, Multi-Draing Book/ OF. It’s a water color and multi-media book that’s made in China, purchased at Dick Blick. It has 60 pages in a 5-3/4 inch x 7-1/4 inch format. (Size approximate.) It has a cloth tie and ivory pages that are watercolor paper. The right side are a bit rough and the left page is a bit smoother than the other page.

The journal on the right is a Barnes & Noble Kraft Sketchbook. It contains 120 pages of smooth, white paper, the same on both sides. The book is 8-1/2 inches x 5 inches. The cover is embossed with three shiny black watercolor brushes. The covers are very heavy and sturdy.

The book with the flowered cover is a journal handmade by Erica Daschbach, known as Parkside Harmony at Etsy and

Top: Kraft-paper journal. Middle: Red cover journal. Bottom: Parkside Harmony journal

Twitter. Erica uses 90-lb Stonehenge paper in ivory and hand tears the pages. She stitches them with waxed linen. This style is 6 inches x 7 inches.

Here’s how the journals performed. Double-wirebound journals are easy to use. If they have a stiff cover, they provide a place to draw or paint. Wirebound  pages can easily be ripped out without a care–I love that. But wire bindings don’t work for me anymore. My work has gotten larger and more complex, and wire bindings don’t allow double spread drawing or collage. You have to stay within the edges.

If that isn’t a problem for you, both of these journals will do well. The red journal has great watercolor paper. Because there was no demarcation for front or back, I flipped it over to use the smoother side. No watercolor-paper  journals will work well with alcohol markers. The paper soaks up the ink quickly, and there is no chance to blend. I love heavy stock, and this is heavy enough so fountain pen or markers don’t soak through.Watercolor pencils blend beautifully and there is no buckling once it dries. The tie is a nice touch.

The Kraft-paper-cover journal has a paper that allows some blending of alcohol markers, but they soak through and bleed onto the next page. The watercolor pencils blend incredibly well, and there is no buckling. I began working in this journal only to discover that the very heavy cover makes it difficult to manipulate shut. It hangs up every time. If I were more patient, I’d love this journal.

Parkside Harmony’s journal is beautifully made, with lovely Italian paper on sturdy covers. The inside front and back covers have a well-chosen green paper as lining. The waxed linen thread provides support–Coptic bindings don’t have a back, so the signatures are exposed–and the thickness of the waxed linen is also protective of the signatures. The paper is hand-torn, leaving a lovely ragged deckle. The Stonehenge paper is heavy enough to stand up to collage and paint without buckling. Alcohol markers do show on the reverse, but it doesn’t bleed through to the next page. Best of all, Erica signs each journal, which alerted me that I had tested the book upside down. No worries, because this is my next journal. It’s pretty and will hold the extras I glue in.

I’m one of those journalers whose books get fatter as they pass through time. Tickets, receipts, fold-outs–it adds up. I like fat journals. You know what they say, after a while, a journal starts to look like the journaler.

-Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler. Her second book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in 2011.