My Father’s Art Journal

My father's art journal, made before 1937.

My father was an immigrant to America. Shy and studious, married with two sons, he came to America with little except his family, his talent as a research physiologist, an ability to draw, and a few boxes of possessions. He was middle-aged, and starting over. He had been respected as a physician and researcher, an intellectual living in a European capital. When he came to this country, his work was needed in the early American space exploration program. He  was sent to Randolph Air Force base, in rural Texas. San Antonio was 20 miles away in those days, and my father didn’t own a car. The family lived in a farming community close to the base. He commuted by bicycle. He was a stranger in a strange land. Within a year after arriving, he and my mother had their third child and first American family member.

My father was a naturalist—he taught me about constellations and weather, birds and plants. He created a set of nature sketches in a journal. It was an art journal, but completely different from the art journals of today.

Crab, pencil on paper, c. 1950 © Quinn McDonald, 2010

My father’s journal survived the war and was in his box of important possessions. The cover shows signs of being handmade. The paper looks like pastel paper, thick but brittle now–it’s more than 80 years old.

The art he created was spare sketches of the insects, reptiles, plants and wonders of his new world. There are a few images of the past, too–a parakeet that didn’t survive the war, a son who did. The pictures were done in pencil or colored pencil. If there is writing on a page, it is a date or an identifying Latin name. My father was a man of few words, but his journal speaks volumes to me. He’s been dead for almost 30 years, and every time I look at the images he drew, I smile at the love of nature he passed on to me.

Texas horned-toad, pencil on paper, 1948. © Quinn McDonald, 2010

Parakeet, colored pencil on paper, 1937 © Quinn McDonald, 2010

-Quinn McDonald is an artist who is writing a book for people who want to keep an art journal but don’t know how to draw. You don’t have to know, you just have to want to live fully. It will be published by North Light Books in the summer of 2011.


11 thoughts on “My Father’s Art Journal

  1. Dear Quinn,

    I was wondering if you would be willing to submit an entry from this journal (or from yours, or both) to It will be a compilation of journal entries from people across the country – all generations – and it would be great to have some entries from people who are focused on images. I’m just getting the site up and it would be wonderful to have some really meaningful posts right off the bat. There are submission instructions under the “submit” text on the right.


    To submit, click on the “Submit” on the right side for instructions.

    Thanks for sharing this insightful post.


  2. When I was a little girl, I was sent to take speech therapy at the Rehabilitation Center. My therapist was a man named Mr. Hess, who would draw items in a sketch book, the items all containing the sounds which Mr. Hess wanted me to work on – little cartoony sketches of a chicken and a chocolate bar to work on my “ch”; a stamp and a church steeple to work on my “st.”

    So art played an important role in my language and speech development.

    I wish I still had that art journal, but unfortunately it did not survive the years.

  3. Your father’s art journal is amazing! He was obviously a very talented artist as well as a keen naturalist and a remarkable physician. You must be so proud.

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