Art Journaling: Ink, Sew, Pastels and a Mistake

Trying to learn how to use my sewing machine in art journaling made it easy for me to set up a new project with three goals:

1. Use the sewing machine to attach paper to paper.
2. Get away from my usual monotones (browns and black)
3. Create a page that includes a gatefold (fold-out) in my journal.

Painted watercolor stripes to use as collage elements.

My palette was blue/green/purple. I used a combination of watercolor and inks for the color. My plan was to:

  • Create a page of watercolors to use as collage pieces
  • Create a folded page colored on both sides as the gatefold insert
  • Cut the watercolor collage page into strips and triangles
  • Attach those to the colored, folded insert using a sewing machine
  • Add writing to the insert
  • Prepare the journal page background
  • Attach gatefold to journal page

I painted the watercolor yesterday to allow it to dry thoroughly. That’s it, above.

Next, I used a flat sheet that I’d build the insert from and spritzed both sides with distilled water to keep it from warping when I sprayed it with inks. I then sprayed it with dark blue, eggplant, pesto green and a small spritz of red for contrast. Even when you let inks dry completely, when you work on the other side, the first side will soak through. You’ll get one bright side and a more blended, softer side.

Once both sides of the insert were dry, I folded it to create a gatefold–a page that would open and another one that would fold out from the right side. The yellow on the bottom was a last minute addition for some crisp contrast.

Next came the sewing. I cut strips wide enough to fit onto one page, and sewed it in. Then I cut vertical strips into this piece. When it was complete, I sewed another strip over it, so the second set of strips covered the first. I added a third row, and then a fourth–but the fourth was facing the other direction–the cut strips faced up. Once everything was in place, I cut the ends of the strips to form points. I looked at the insert from both sides and decided it worked better upside down. These impromptu decisions work better before you add words or commit to the gatefold opening a certain way.

I then cut out the triangles and sewed them in with one long row of stitching, adding the triangles as I went along.

This closeup shows the decorative gatefold stitching and the freeform hole punching done by the needle.

Next came a big challenge. I let down the feed dogs (the grabby part under the needle that moves the paper through the sewing machine) and took out the thread and “sewed” randomly in big loops. This punched holes in the paper but didn’t put thread through. After adding a decorative stitch on the edge, I colored the holes that pushed out with Pan Pastels, and touched up some that pushed down with Sakura glitter pens.

I then added the words. The translation of Lao Tse’s “The journey begins beneath your feet” is a favorite of mine–I prefer it to “The journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step.” The immediacy of “beneath your feet” is wonderful.

In the crease of the gatefold I wrote, “If you aren’t making mistakes frequently, you aren’t challenging yourself often enough.” This proved to be prescient.

The journal page needed some color to help the insert, which is heavy with color, connect to the page visually. Using the same inks I used on the insert, I spritzed the page. If you are going to spray a page in your journal, slide protective papers under the pages to protect other pages, the outside of the book, the ribbon and your desktop.

I attached the gatefold insert to one side, decorated the cover with more watercolor cut outs. The piece looked like it needed some balance on the other page. Using a circle cutter and the leftover watercolor paper, I cut several circles and added them to the opposite page. Additional smaller circles, done with a hole punch, finished the look. At the time I was preparing the journal page, I got a phone call and got distracted. I began to hurry. Big mistake. One I’ve made before. When I checked the finished gatefold, I had attached it upside down.

The writing on the big triangles was upside down. I could have gotten angry, and torn out the pages, but I didn’t. After all, I had already written what I needed to know: “If you aren’t making mistakes frequently, you aren’t challenging yourself often enough.”

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler who makes mistakes and sometimes takes them in stride. It helps with her practice of being a recovering perfectionist.