Bubble Background Tutorial

You may remember bubble backgrounds from elementary school. It’s fun, satisfyingly messy and gives consistently good results. I can be done on almost any paper, although thick, uncoated stock works best.

Here is the step-by-step for the Grown-Up Artist version of Bubble Background.


  • Newspapers, because this is messy
  • Acrylic paint in several colors. Thick body acrylics work best. Watercolor in tubes will work, but acrylic are opaque, and that’s what you want.
  • Straws. Bendy straws are best
  • Clean water in a pourable container
  • Dishwashing soap. Not dishwashER soap, not shampoo
  • Paper towels. This is messy
  • 3 small bowls, smaller than cereal bowls. If you don’t have condiment bowls, use paper cups cut down. About 2 inches tall is all you want. A bowl is nicer because it has a wider mouth. I used small bowls because they photograph well.

Materials, ready to go.


1. Put paint in bowl. About a teaspoon.
2. Pour water over paint. About a quarter cup.

Photo above:  Not enough paint. I added more later.
3. Use straw to stir water and paint together well.Squirt about 2 teaspoons of soap into bowls.
4. Stir soap and paint water together.

5.  Put the straw into the paint/soap water and blow gently to create bubbles. Start slowly and pick up speed. The bubbles should rise over the rim of the bowl.

6.  Pick up a sheet of paper and put it flat down over the bowl. If you touch the paper to the bowl, it will leave a ring of paint. This can be interesting. The bubbles will leave a print of color on the paper.

7.  Put the paper over the whole bowl. I left the bowl showing so you could see both the paper and bowl.

8.  If your bubbles aren’t dark enough, you can use more paint.

  • This sample was flipped over. Note tiny bubbles on upper right corner

[I have no idea how come those bullets are there, but I can neither make them go away nor make the numbers continuous without them. ]

9.  Another way to darken the bubbles is to put the paper on the bubbles, then turn it bubble-side-up and allow the bubbles to pop on the paper. This distributes more paint onto the paper.
  • Yellow acrylic paint bubble background

In the photo above, I did the red first, then the yellow.

In this photo, the color order was yellow, purple, red. A much better mix.

Comparison of one color and three color pages. Both can be used both as they are an in layers or as color-in color. Cutting out a single color square can coordinate nicely with a multi-color background. You can use this technique right in your journal as well.

–Quinn McDonald loves exploring design and color on small surfaces. Her book Raw Art Journaling has several other experiments in it.

How Understanding Are We?

For the last 30 years, I have turned away from photos. When the cameras come out, I back away. It’s part of a deeply held conviction that we are not our bodies, that our values, and beliefs, the “who we are” show up in our actions and that who we are can’t be photographed, but must be experienced. It’s not an easy

Full moon rising behind palm tree

concept to explain, so often I just offer to take the photograph. It’s not made any easier by the fact that I cannot recognize people in photographs. I just don’t see people the way a camera does. In the 587 photos on my camera, there are two that have people in them. Someone asked me to take them.

Another one of my deeply held convictions is not to proselytize my beliefs. I know many religions encourage proselytizing, but I do not. Seeking is a difficult, personal, spiritual quest that is not mine to foist on others.  I’ll be happy to discuss what I think, but I do not expect others to “see the light” shining in the same slant as I do.

I have also distanced myself from a lot of our culture of celebrity and ideas of success. Oddly enough, if a publicity agent showed up at my door with a magic wand and said, “I can get you on every TV chat show, on the cover of People and in every version of TMZ!” I’d turn him down. Or at least ask him if he would get the causes I’m interested publicized without me appearing in the photos.

All this is about to collide with my book signings and events. My book does not have an photo of me in it. That was my choice. My website doesn’t have a photo of me on it. What do I do when people reach for their cameras? In the last 30 years, I have had some pretty tough things said to me when I refused to appear in a photo. People want what they want. When they don’t get it, the response is frequently not “Of course I’ll respect your beliefs,” but more often, “What’s wrong with you?” If I act out of the norm of  our photo-loving culture, it will have a damaging effect on my book sales.

I’ve been wondering how to handle it for several months now, and haven’t come up with a good way to handle not just the requests, but the automatic reaching for cameras and resulting Facebook and YouTube posts. How understanding can I ask an audience to be? How much do I have to keep my beliefs hidden? I have about two weeks to think of what I want to do.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.

Product Review: Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground Part 2

A few days ago, I started a review on Daniel Smith’s Watercolor Ground. I had to stop to allow the ground to thoroughly dry. Once the ground was dry, I wanted to put it through its paces.

First, using Daniel Smith watercolor sticks in yellow, red and blue, I painted a tag using the wet-on-dry method. Good color coverage and good color blending.

Next, I painted over the transparency. There was not any difference between the roughed-up section and the smooth section. Both of these were wet-in-wet techniques using Daniel Smith Prima-Tek colors–watercolors made from authentic mineral pigments. I loved the technique, and I loved the result.

Here is the watercolor ground on black paper. Again, I didn’t see much difference between the single coat and double coat of ground. I wanted a heavier saturation, even with wet-in-wet, so I loaded the brush with color. Again, good results, and the drydown still has enough contrast to make a good background.

Finally, you may remember the white fabric box I made last week. I painted the box with watercolor ground, waited until it was damp dry, sprayed it with distilled water and used the watercolor sticks and a brush to apply color. I wanted to see if I cold get a fresco effect–paint applied to wet plaster. I deliberately did not try blending, just applying color on wet ground. I like the clear colors and cloud effect, although I will continue to work on the box once it is dry.

I’m pleased with the results of watercolor ground on paper, fabric, and transparency. I like the feel, although I might sand some of the finish down if I wanted a smooth look. I think there is a lot of potential here, for mixed media artists and book artists alike.

FTC required disclosure: I purchased all materials from Daniel Smith or Arizona Art Supply. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Combining Websites

It’s finally complete–I’ve merged my two websites into one, using my company name, QuinnCreative. The former Raw Art Journaling forwards viewers to the new site. There were practical reasons to do it–keeping up two websites and a blog didn’t make much sense anymore. And while I love having the website just for the book, it quickly became my art site, leaving the business site static, never a good thing for any website.

A few interesting changes about the new website:

–It’s totally green. Not the color, but the impact. All the servers used to create and run the website are 100 percent wind powered. Not such a big deal, but small contributions add up.

–The slider on the front page highlights the different divisions of QuinnCreative. It’s hard to explain to people that I both write and deliver training programs and do raw art journaling. Having a moving slide show does a good job of it–and you can click on the text box (or the dot below the slider images) to stop the movement and read the whole box.

–The book page links to the amazon site for the book, but also has a link for a Flickr Group so people can post their own raw art journaling examples. I thought that added a nice touch. Eventually, I’ll sell signed copies of the book on that page, too.

–Events, Workshops and Tutorials are not separate header tabs. They are grouped under What’s New and appear on every page of the website.  Putting them on every page makes them easy to find.

Jen Wolfe of Wolfe Creative did the design work and WebWorksandDesign is the host. In addition to the green site, I like the prices for hosting. Without the separate price for the web-design tool, I save a good deal of money.

I hope you take a peek at the new site and enjoy it. I’m sure there are some hidden typos and errors there, but I’m pleased with the new design and the slimmed-down look.

Journal Reality–the Messy Journal

“What does your journal look like?” one of my class participants asked. She was putting away her own carefully crafted art journal filled with delightful patterns and colors that she had copied from magazines.

“What do you think it would look like?” I asked, knowing where this conversation would lead.

“Your journal would have exquisite artwork on every page, with beautiful handwriting in lovely colors. And the whole book would be perfect–no mistakes. You’ve been journaling a long time,” the participant said with the joy that comes right before the bubble pops.

Silently, I handed her my journal. It has a water-stained front cover and the elastic is over-stretched. She opened it, and gasped, involuntarily. She had opened it on a page in pencil, with an ugly sketch of a thing that might be a butterfly, maybe a moth, surrounded in what might be tire tracks.

She looked at me in real doubt. I was the teacher here? She flipped to another page. A drawing done diagonally across two pages, with a not particularly good illustration of a hand reaching up to find a pen on a table.

The participant looked at me with pity. “This is yours? Is it recent?” She was horrified. How could the instructor in a class have a journal that was so. . . ugly?

The class had gathered and I held up the ugly butterfly page. “When I saw this butterfly done in repoussé  and chased on a pendant, I loved the Asian feel it had. When I drew it, as an illustration, it was flat, missing the raised element of the repoussé and the deep outlining of chasing. The Asian influence came from the technique, not the illustration, and I didn’t understand that until I did the drawing. Had I added shading and definition, added a frame,  it would have looked like the pendant.

“Why didn’t you?” Another participant asked.

“I learned all I need to learn from what I had drawn,” I said. “Having learned it, I noted it on the page and then could move on.”

“And the . . .hand?” another participant asked.

“Hands are hard to draw, but this was not about the hand. This was about breaking the page–creating an artificial edge with a diagonal line across the page. Elizabeth Perry is an expert at it. I was not, so I practiced, and gave myself a chance to copy my own hand at the same time.”

My journals are not little artworks ready for framing. My journals are explorations on translating what I see into a flat surface. My journal is about experimenting and failing, and knowing why I failed. My journals are about experimenting and succeeding and knowing why it worked this time. Some pages have instructions for an idea, some a diagram that makes sense only to me. Some pages are beautiful, some are not. My journals are my work, my thoughts, my ideas, and they are not perfect. They can be a mess on the way to pretty good. And that’s why my journals make me indescribably happy.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and recovering perfectionist.   She teaches people who can’t draw how to keep art journals.

Review: Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground

First, before you get deeply involved, the review is a partial one. As usual, I wanted to use the material in slightly different ways than originally designed, so the first step was to wait–and I didn’t. It turned out to be more important than I thought.

Daniel Smith is an art supply company that sells a series of grounds–paintable substrates that allow you to use fabric, metal, plastic and other unlikely materials for digital transfers, or, in this case, watercolor.

Daniel Smith’s latest project is a watercolor ground–a material that leaves a paper-like background on plastic, metal or glass so you can use watercolor–not an easy medium– on the painted piece.

I love watercolor. I love the unpredictability, the transparency. But I was far more interested in using the watercolor ground on a variety of papers that won’t hold watercolor. As a collage artist, the idea of creating a wide variety of watercolor background that didn’t originally work for watercolor is exciting.

I coated a piece of transparency. The instructions say to rough up the paper, so I tried it without roughing up (top) and with roughing up (bottom).

I also tried it out on black cover stock. Half of the stock got one coat (top); the other half got two coats (bottom). Both feel like heavy, rough watercolor stock. You can easily see the difference:

Finally, I painted two pages of an old book. The instructions on the jar clearly say to wait 24 to 72 hours for the watercolor ground. That, I thought, was for metal and plastics, but paper was surely different. I live in Phoenix, and our bigger problem is paint drying too fast. So, after waiting half an hour, I painted over the book page. Not a good idea. The paint spread and soaked in, leaving an indeterminate shadow of paint. After another hour, I used watercolor pencil to add detail, and it spread a bit, too.

On the left is the result of a heavily loaded watercolor brush, loaded with both yellow and blue. The colors were strong, but without letting the ground dry, I got a much lighter result than expected. However, I can see the usefulness of being able to paint, then write or collage, on a book page.  On the right, you can see the pale halo around the flower where the first red paint simply spread out. The petals are drawn with watercolor pencil about an hour later.

At that point, I decided to follow directions and wait the full 24 hours. Using the watercolor ground could be a big leap forward in my collage work–allowing me to add watercolor to fabric and a big variety of papers. But first, I now know that the directions were serious, and I’m going to wait.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, a book for people who want to art journal, but can’t draw. It’s not a how-to book, it’s a how-to-be book.

Lessons from the Lizards Tail

The black-and-white cat was paying rapt attention to something in front of the

Crouching house cat, hidden lizard

fireplace. He had that ears-cupped-and-tilted-forward look, and was holding absolutely still, eyes wide open. He does this only when there is something of great interest to him, and that is almost always something that is about to become part of his toy repertoire.

I got up, and looked at the spot on the tile. It looked like a stick. Suddenly, almost all of the stick shot across the room, leaving a wiggling piece behind. Nature works really well. The thing was a lizard, and it had dropped its tail, which wriggled appealingly, allowing my cat to focus on it, while the rest of the lizard scrambled to safety away from the cat.

Picking up the now-tailless lizard with a paper towel,  I stepped out the door and shook the paper towel out gently, close to the ground by the fig tree. The little lizard body tumbled out.”Must have picked it up too hard,” I thought, feeling guilty. I thought I’d killed it, after the cat had missed it. Just as guilt waved over me, the lizard pulled out of its frozen position, and shot, tailless, up the fig tree to safety.

Some lizards drop their tails to save their lives, leaving their prey interested in the wiggly, but not vital to life part. I’d never seen it work so well. The cat was perfectly happy to let the business part of the prey escape if he got to keep the  funny, wiggly part.

It seems like such a good idea to be able to drop a non-vital body part to save the important working parts. We don’t come equipped with convenient tails, but we do drag around burdensome “tales”–the stories we drag around as baggage. The sad story of how our parents didn’t give us what we needed. The mean roommate in college who was so thoughtless. The boss who wasn’t a mentor we’d hoped for, but gave us all the drudge jobs.

All those stories pile up and slow us down. They make us prey for anger, stress, decisions based on revenge and stored-up resentment. We can drop our “tales” of hurt and pity, leave them wiggling for someone else to become fascinated with. Because they aren’t helping us. No doubt, it’s hard to give up the story we live, the perspective we have on them, how we make choices based on past hurts and injustice. And those stories of injustice get us a lot of attention as our friends condemn those who hurt us. That’s what friends do. They think it’s helpful, although often attention simply encourages clinging to behavior.

Recasting our past is hard work and not appealing. The work of letting go of the past means admitting that our perspective isn’t working and deliberately looking for a new perspective, one that allows us to live a less-burdened, less blame-riddled life. It won’t be done in a single day, but the small steps and work is certainly worthwhile. My clients have experienced it, and not a single client regrets the work of re-invention.

We can’t change how our story began, but we can change how it continues and build for a happen ending.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and author of the book Raw Art Journaling, which helps people choose the story they want to live. Yes, the book can be used for re-invention. It’s a multi-purpose book!

Stitch Ripping Your Plans

A stitch ripper is a hand device that people who sew use. People who are learning to sew use it a lot. There are several different styles, but the idea is the same–you use it to cut the threads in a line of sewing that need to be taken out. They are also called seam rippers.

After ripping out the stitches from the front, I learned that if you flip the project over and pull out the bobbin stitching, you do a lot less damage to the fabric and make the sewing thread come out in longer pieces, making opening a mistake faster.

And then, because I wonder about odd things, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a great idea to have a plan ripper. Don’t like the way a project at work is turning out? Flip over your whole team and pull the thread that holds together poor thinking and wrong conclusions.

Don’t like the plot line in your story? Flip it over and find out what emotional stitching got tangled up in the logic thread and pull it out.

Unhappy with the direction your relationship is heading? Look at the other side carefully and see if the ideas, goals, dreams you both share are lined up right, There might be a wrinkle in the relationship that sounds similar to, “I’d really love that person if only s/he would change for me.” Time for the seam ripper.

I hate making mistakes, and I hate using the seam ripper, because undoing work isn’t fun and the stitch ripper requires some skill in itself–you can’t be too fast or vicious with it. But knowing that no sewing is final holds out hope for a better seam.

Change and Time

Thanks, I’m fine–to everyone who has noticed I’m not posting quite as often.

Four things are taking up my time:

1. The new website is being launched, it’s not up yet, but I’ll let you know when it is. It’s slightly complicated by my having to find where I parked several domain names, so they can all be pointed in the same direction. You may have noticed the new image in the header. That’s part of the website change, too! It won out over this image, theater doors at an old theater close to where I live:

The web designer and I are also combing through the site looking for mistakes and inconsistencies. We won’t find them all, but it’s worth the effort.

2. Raw Art Journaling is shipping. I have to finish the book trailer, get the virtual book tour organized, and more ahead with interviews. It’s time consuming.

3. I’m teaching this weekend in Glendale’s (AZ) Creative Quest, so I have to make kits and prep the class. I encourage you to join me there for a sneak peek at the book.

4. The dust storm. Wow, that was a great photographic event. Also a big mess–dust inside the house, in the pool, on the trees and patio. Big cleanup.

Once the website launches and I get the class squared away, I’ll be posting more regularly.

Tutorial: Fabric Postcard Box

Friend Rosaland came over yesterday to help me figure out how to make a fabric postcard box. I know how to make fabric postcards, but a box–sure, I can figure it out, but Rosaland knows sewing tips that are vital for a sewing machine newbie like me. We are both practicers–we make things to figure out how to do it, and figure that ripping stitches, making mistakes, and starting over is part of a successful project. I admire (but don’t understand) people who think that the first time they try something, it better be good enough to give as a gift or display. I don’t think that has ever happened to me.

Rosaland had done the part I’m weak in–measured out the box pieces. She started by ironing muslin onto Peltex (a sturdy double-sided fusible interfacing. This is the stiff stuff.

Tip: Ten minutes of planning saves an hour of frustration. Then she outlined the box pieces– four pieces that are 4 x 6 inches  (two of them will need to be trimmed, but this was about laying out an easy-to-cut pattern) and one 1.5 inch and two 1.5 x 4 inch pieces. these pieces will make the part that makes the lid a fitted lid.

In this close up, you can see that she not only outlined the pieces, but labeled them for use. This is great when you are in box construction mode, and many pieces look alike. The writing also helps you figure out which side goes on the inside, if you are not decorating the box until after construction.

Tip–while you are learning construction, keep your bobbin thread a different color from your top thread. This helps you know which side is which, and it helps you troubleshoot tension issues. Loops on the yellow side would mean bobbin trouble. Luckily, tension was not a problem, but had we used decorative thread, it would have been. In this sample, you can see that the side attachment is sewn on in yellow thread–which means I attached it backwards. Good to know early, for convenient ripping open.

We had originally made all the pieces show here the same size, for easy pattern cutting–best done with a rotary cutter in long, smooth cuts. The sides, however, are not 6 inches tall, they are 4 inches tall, so a rotary cutter trimmed them smoothly to the right size.

Once the sides were trimmed, you can see the basic box shape. Next step: add the lid flap, then sew the sides together. I thought this would be art hell, but fabric (and Peltex) is wonderfully flexible, and you can bend and fold for easy attachment.

Tip: Use a starter scrap for sewing. I didn’t understand this till this box. If there is anyplace where the stitching will be uneven, it’s at the beginning. The bobbin thread may bunch just a bit, you may adjust the fabric, causing a slight swerve. All that happens on the scrap, which is about two inches long. When you get to the edge of the scrap, stop. Put the project fabric under the foot, leaving a slight gap between the scrap and your piece. Remember to put the foot down (it’s my favorite dumb move). Continue sewing. All your pieces will be sewn right to the corner, and with an even stitch. You can tell the corners that I didn’t use this tip by the messy stitching.

The completed box. Trim the back portion of the flaps at an angle to make the lid open and close smoothly. You can still surface decorate the box, if you want. I will use these practice pieces to practice surface decoration.

Tip: If you are making a box, you would also finish all the edges of the box that will not be sewn together.

Tip: You can sew the front edges together with matching thread, then use embroidery floss to “lace up” stitch decoratively across the front.

Tip: You can add a fancy closure if you like.

–Quinn McDonaldis a journaling freak who will make this box out of themed postcards and fill it with small journals on that theme. It would be a great travel-journal box, with colorful cloth postcards made after you come back from your trip with ephemera from the trip, filled with printed out photos.

-Rosaland Hannibal is a generous art quilter who never laughs at my mistakes.