Found Art in Altered Photos

The world is new every day.  A different slant of light, a different shadows, gives different meanings, a different mood. Found poetry hides in the lines of ordinary text. Found art hides in the shifting shadows or drying puddles.

On my early morning walks, the tiny water-saving sprinklers are hard at work before the sun evaporates the water. When a breeze kicks up, the spray drifts onto the sidewalk. The water is hard, so the place where it hits the sidewalk deepens to blue-gray. The edge of the stain is often a red or pink color, depending on the composition of the sidewalk.

Hard-water stain holds mysterious patterns

The patterns are quite ordinary, except when they are in the process of drying. At that point amazing things happen to them. They dry from the outside in, leaving Rorschach-like patterns. I photographed one of the drying puddles with my iPhone, which produces remarkably good close-ups. I printed it out on a heavy stock to alter the photo, to bring out what I saw in the pattern. Using Prismacolor light-fast pencils as the art medium, because they  work best on an uncoated stock, I began to highlight the found art.

I saw a tree, clearly, at the top. I was surprised to see the Lady-of-Guadalupe-like pattern around the figure, giving it a spiritual feel. Using Prismacolor pencils, I began to pick out the design. First I darkened the edges using French Gray 70 percent, then overlapping strokes of Indigo Blue and Dark Grape.

Next, I used French Gray 30 percent and 10 percent, along with Sky Blue to give more contrast between the light lines and dark lines. I started with a light touch and used a bit more pressure once the picked-out lines made sense and created a pattern.

There were several possible figures that could have emerged from the center, under the tree. To begin, I(c) Water Tree, Quinn McDonald called up the face I saw, using Cream and Light Peach, blended together. The work is still in progress, but it is clearly an image of a tree with a strong aura, reaching out beyond the light above and the dark below. The woman is most likely an earth-goddess, awake and watching beneath the tree.

There are other possibilities. Printed on acetate and colored with alcohol markers, the image would be completely different. It’s always surprising and sheer joy to find art already existing in nature. It just needed a few highlights to bring it out.

–Images and tutorial (c) 2008-10 All rights reserved by Quinn McDonald. Quinn is an artist and certified creativity coach who runs workshops in writing, presentation, journal writing and collage. See her work at

Spiral-Bound Book by Bee Paper

Art journalers are a fickle bunch. We want it all—acid free, sized surface, suitable for scrubbing erasers, watercolor pencils, acrylics, pens, markers. We use them all. Bee Paper Company makes two spiral pads that are wonderful for all these media–and works well with pencil and charcoal, too.

This pad also comes in 6-inch x 12-inch size, 80-lb microperfed sheet.

I saw the Co-Mo pad (on the left) first, and liked the versatility of the 80-lb. paper. The one I purchased was 6 inches x 12 inches—a convenient horizontal format for watercolor. For me, it was a perfect size for both accordion journal folding, and in creating a small journal with gatefolds.

And then I saw the Super Deluxe Sketch Book in a 6-inch x 9-inch size with 93-lb paper. It’s a bit larger than I usually work, but the roomier size is comfortable and portable.

Bee Paper in Oregon sizes both sides of the sheet, which means that you can use watercolor on both sides without buckling.  I like a rattly sheet, and this is just that—a crisp, white, rattly sheet with a mild tooth that helps hold color.

The cover of this 11 x 14 sketchbook looks like the 6 x 9 book I love.

The issue of wire binding always comes up for art journalers. It’s true that the spiral is visually distracting if you want to use a full spread. The larger size sheet satisfies my art, though.

It’s also true that if you use paint and get it on the spiral, you’ll have trouble turning the pages.  While the yellow pad is microperfed, the Sketch Book is not.

The cover is heavy enough to fold over and use as a support. I love that both sides of the 93-pound sheet is sized, which makes it bleed-proof. Copic alcohol markers and Sharpie permanent markers don’t bleed through as long as you don’t scrub them in or apply them too thickly. Fountain pen, Pitt pens and brushes, and watercolor pencils neither feather nor bleed. Because of the spiral, art journalers who love gluing in extra pages and collaging will have enough room to do so. I happen to like the look of a stuffed journal.

The acrylic painted strip at the bottom is folded over to show no bleed.

I’ve been using the paper for the heavy work of the illustrations for my book. While I do love Arches Text Wove, the paper is too soft for the scrubbing I’ve been doing, so I switched to the Bee Paper, and haven’t been disappointed.

On the page on the right, the watercolor pencils blended beautifully, the color is transparent and carries beyond the pencil marks and holds the color. The watercolor pencils here are Derwent Inktense, which are designed to be transparent watercolor pencils rather than opaque ones.

The brown streaks are Copic markers. They don’t blend well on this paper because of the sizing. I wouldn’t expect them to. But it’s easy enough to work on marker paper and attach it to a page, allowing for a depth of color.

The cover of the book is brown leather-like print. I will probably have to cover it or gesso over it and collage something onto the cover. I can’t help myself.

The book comes in five sizes, from 4 x 6 to 14 x 17, in prices from about $7.50 to about $32.00. Books are available from Dick Blick and Cheap Joe’s. In the Phoenix area, you can buy them at Arizona Art Supply.

FTC disclosure: I purchased all the Bee paper products in this review with my own money.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book on raw-art journaling. She is a writer, life- and certified creativity coach. © Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved. 2010.

Learning To Be Alone

“Alone” and “lonely” are not the same word. Their meaning is miles apart. For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When school is over, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She is writing a book on raw art journaling that will be published by North Light in June of 2011.

Postcard Swap

Lynn organized the postcard swap–a postcard in any medium, with a positive affirmation. How could I resist? So off I went to make five postcards. I’ve been fussing quite a bit with markers lately, and have decided that my medium of choice is collage. I love markers, and certainly use them–especially my Pitt pens and brushes. For versatility of expression, I prefer collage. I love finding words and colors that suit the card and playing around with the image. I’m sure the card would look tidier if I used rubber-stamp letters, but if I’m making a card, it’s going to have my hand-lettering on it, warts and all.

“The stars are always in the sky, but are visible only in the dark.” (left)   I like the red sky and towering dark canyons. We never feel lonelier than when our fear-closet opens at night, and this card shows the constellation of the hunter Orion. He’s been my companion and protector for a long time, so he was honored on this card. Acrylic paint, poster paint markers, ink on watercolor paper.

“Stand in your own light.” It’s the slogan of my coaching practice, because I see so many creative people standing in the shadows, or in the reflected light of people they think are more worthy. It’s time to come out of the shadow and stand in your own light. Ink, acrylic paint, Pitt pens and markers on watercolor paper.

“Celebrate Everything”  There are too many things to drag you down. Celebrate everything you can, whenever you can. The body of the candle says “Art as a second language.” I love that phrase, so it created the source of the candlelight. Ink, acrylic, paper, watercolor pencil, Pitt pen on watercolor paper.




“See the world with new ears.” (below, right) Life opens anew for us when we look, hear, feel, touch everyday with all our senses in different ways. There is so much to savor in a day. Page from music text, magazine paper, pencil, Pitt pen on watercolor paper.

“Woven life.” (below) I used a cantered piece of type as a background when I noticed the line of type that made a wonderful sentence–affirmative and strong.  “Trust that those who are unprotected have rights to basic sustenance.” It shows again that all our lives are interwoven. So I put a piece of weaving on the card as well. Paper, alcohol marker on watercolor paper.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach who also writes and creates art. © Quinn McDonald, 2010.

Daylight Wasting Time

Last Sunday morning the clocks magically jumped ahead an hour. It is Spring, and everyone adjusts to losing an hour of sleep. Wait, it’s not everyone. Arizona and Hawaii don’t jump ahead in Spring. So there is no need to fall back in Autumn, either.

clockWhen my friends discover this, they are horrified at Arizona’s defiance of “the law.” Arizona is sort of an entrepreneurial place.  And we care about the fine distinction–it’s not a law, it’s a convention. And the reason for the time change, saving money, doesn’t work here. Daylight Savings time was instituted to save energy costs by giving us more daylight at the end of the day. No one seemed to notice that it is darker in the morning. And that’s the reason Daylight Savings Time doesn’t work in Phoenix. We have quite enough sun at the end of the day, thank you.

The energy we save in lighting is more than overtaken by the energy we need to cool and heat our houses. And summer is the big cooling season in Arizona. Our weather has a natural 25-30 degree swing every day. In other words, if you add 25 or 30 degree to the low temperature, you will get the high for that day. Now, we are dipping into the 40s at night,digital clock and the mid-70s in the day. It’s lovely. In a few months, the daily low will be 80 and the high 110, and in August it doesn’t get much below 90 and soars to 120 in the late afternoon. When people complain, I often wonder “It’s the Sonoran desert floor, what were you expecting?”

I don’t think the rest of the nation saves a lot by switching the clock. I used to have a lot of trouble adjusting to the time change, and so did the cats, who wanted to be fed no matter what the clock said. There’s a great folk saying: “Using Daylight Saving Time is like cutting off 12 inches of the top of the blanket and sewing it on at the bottom to make it longer.”

So Phoenix saves an enormous amount in heating and cooling energy by not going on Daylight Savings Time. Studies have shown that the rest of the nation saves about $3 a year per household in electricity through Daylight Savings Time. Don’t spend it all at once.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and business communication trainer. See her work at

You Are SO Fat

In 2000, we asked “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Now I’m wondering who let the mean girls (and boys) out? We’ve learned to keep our opinions to ourselves about people who are handicapped, no longer blame alcoholics for their disease, stopped wrapping the mentally ill in sheets and dropping them in cold water. But we still find it perfectly OK to make fun of fat people. Hate them when they get on airplanes. Make fun of them when they don’t fit into fashion clothing. Walk up to them in grocery stores and ask inappropriate questions or make hurtful comments.

My friend Ashley (all names have been changed) has lost 100 pounds. She has lost the weight of an adult, but is not yet a size 10. Despite the amazing effort and persistence, she still hears whispers behind her back. “Someone should tell her how fat she is!” Trust me, she knows exactly what she weighs. And how much she has lost.

My client Gina works 94 hours a week. She’s the sole provider for her family since her husband got laid off. She had to give up the gym membership, cut out size-restricted foods, and spend more time working and less time exercising. She’s put on weight. Are her co-workers supportive? The other morning one of them said, ‘If you can’t even control what you put in your mouth, you are so not going to control me!’

Brianna has arthritis. She exercises on good days. On bad days she takes medication. In combination with the medication she takes for he autoimmune disease, she gains wait, slowly and steadily. She would have to eat under 800 calories a day to lose weight. When her friends see her, they ask, “Are you gaining weight? If Elin Woods and Sandra Bullock can’t hold on to their man, how will you ever do it?”

Janine is from sturdy peasant stock. She eats well, exercises regularly, but once she hit menopause, her waist disappeared. When she gets on an airplane, she hears people sigh in relief when she passes their row. “Good she’s not sitting next to me! Fat people smell.” She wonders if the linebacker for a well-known team she saw in line will get the same remarks, although he weighs considerably more.

Finally, there’s my pal Alice. She munches her way through boxes of Sees Candies and bags of potato chips,  loves hot dogs, makes her own fries (in oil), and never has lunch without a milkshake made with real milk and full-fat ice cream. At 5′ 8″ she has never weighed more than 127 pounds or worn a size larger than 6.  “My brother and I got the looks, my sister has the brains,” she says, “I’m the envy of all my friends.” No one corrects her diet or makes fun of her. She’s slender, and that’s what counts.

All of these stories are true. They don’t happen once in a lifetime, the happen every day to fat people because they are the last class that it is acceptable to criticize out loud. Of course there are people who make bad food choices, have no self control and weigh too much. There are also bad doctors, unethical lawyers, sloppy writers and stunningly bad teachers who sleep with their students. Fat people do not need or deserve your derision, mean comments, smirks, or slurs. If you wouldn’t substitute a racial group, religion, or nationality into your sentence, because it wouldn’t be right, don’t say it about fat people. It’s not right then, either.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a life coach. She has been thin and she has been not thin. She thinks brains and compassion trump size.

Call for Art for Gallery in My Book

Background: I’m writing a book, on Raw Art Journaling–a way for people who don’t know how to draw to keep an art journal. The book has a strong focus on making meaning from the journey you are on,  not drawing pretty pictures.  I’m asking for volunteers for one of the Example Galleries in my book–the one after Found Poetry, Chapter 3.

The Book: The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. The book  answers 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. The book shows how.

Who: Anyone who is sparked by the idea of Found Poetry. (A link to example is just below). You do not have to be a poet, an artist, or a writer to contribute. The entire purpose of my book is to show that people who have never considered themselves artists can enjoy doing meaningful art.

What: Your task (should you decide to play along) is to create a Found Poetry Collage. There is an example and a how-to at this blog post. There are two methods shown, you can use either one.

When: Before May 1, 2010.

1. The entry can be any length between 3-12 lines. You can use either method shown in the link. This means you don’t have to draw or decorate the page unless you want to. If you want to, you can do that, too, but keep it flat, please. Mixed media comes later in the book. The finished piece should fit comfortably in an 8 inch (20 cm) X  10 inch (25 cm) space. (You can make it smaller in any direction, just not larger).

2. There is a deadline for sending a photo or scan to me, and a separate one for the editor to make her choice for the book. I need a photo or scan before May 1, 2010. The editor makes the final choices, but not for a while–based on the number of choices she has.

Until the final choice is made, you cannot publish your entry anywhere–not your blog, not on Facebook or Twitter, not in a magazine. If you are chosen, you cannot publish it until the book comes out in July of 2011.

3. Send in a scan, or a pretty good photo (72 bpi is fine) to  Put “found poetry” in the Subject line. Do NOT send me the original–I will lose it. If your piece is chosen, you will be asked to send the original to the editor for professional photography at the publisher’s, so please create it on a flat sheet of paper, not in a journal.

4. If your found poetry gets into the Gallery, your name will appear next to the photograph, and that can be a good thing for your resume or just for bragging rights. There will be two or three Galleries in the book, so I can’t pay real money, much as I’d like to heap cash in your lap.

5. Participating in this Found Poetry Gallery doesn’t keep you from being in the other Galleries in the book. You can get in more than once.

5. The deadline to get your found poetry scan or photo to me is before May 1, 2010.

Questions? Stuff I didn’t mention? Write me at

Have fun making meaning!

Quinn McDonald’s book,  The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. will be published by North Light books in the summer of 2011.