Repurposing the Scrap Book

After using the scrap book I made (from scrap paper and corrugated cardboard) as a calligraphy practice book, I realized that it wasn’t the right use for the book. The paper was too dark for subtle inks to show. The paper was also soft, and wasn’t right for pointed pens, fountain pens, or anything else except markers.

Time to re-purpose the scrap book. It seemed OK for a nature journal. Before you laugh, we have more than one kind of weather in Phoenix. We do have four seasons–often very subtle changes. The times of the seasons are different than the East Coast, and how people react is different.

The scrap book is converted to a nature journal by adding leaves, petals and a feather on the front page. The initial postcards is from A, B, Seas.

For example, in February in New England, if the dog wants out, you crack open the door and encourage the dog to get out. You may keep an eye on the dog to make sure it’s not too cold for him. The equivalent happens here in July. You let the dog out, but keep an eye on him. The heat can overwhelm a dog in a few minutes.

The nature journal I have in mind is not an exact scientific study piece. I’m less interested in subtleties in barometric pressure. I’m very interested in knowing when the temperature at night will drop below 80 degrees F. Once the night time temperature drops, even 100-degree temperatures in the day won’t be so bad.

It's OK not to be serious, even in a nature journal.

Once the humidity ebbs, the temperatures are not so serious. But I don’t know when that will happen. I don’t remember from last year. So using a heat map and decorating it in hot, fluorescent colors seemed like a good way to cover some of the previous exercises on this page.

Red beet paper makes a bright contrast to the dull grayish-brown scrap book journal.

To cover the last of the calligraphy marks, I wanted to use something bright, but natural. When I cooked the beets for the beet and chocolate cake, I used some of the beet puree to dye some washi paper. I glued the paper into the book, although I don’t know what I’ll put on that page yet. I covered some of the other pages in a woven map, gesso and paint and newspaper clippings. It’s casual, but so is the whole scrap journal. I think this is a better use for the book.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach. She engages in creative projects not just because she loves to, but because it is important in knowing what her creative clients experience.

Tutorial: Strip Weaving Paper

Weaving paper strips makes a great trim on a page,  an elegant edge or letterhead-type top, or even a page itself. You probably learned to weave paper in kindergarten, and you probably learned the hard way–holding down vertical   strips with one hand while chanting “over, under, over, under” with a strip you pushed in horizontally (landscape orientation), while trying to keep everything lined up. There is a much easier way.

First step: tape all strips down to desk.

1. Let’s say you are going to weave a piece seven strips of paper wide. It’s best to use an uneven number for the strips you set up to weave through. In the illustration there are seven strips. Place the strips on your desk so the tops are even. Tape the tops of the strips to the desk using a removable masking tape. Make sure the strips are spaced evenly.

2. With your non-dominant hand, pick up the bottom of strips 1, 3, 5, 7 and hold them just off the desk. You can use a small ruler or strip of index card if you like to hold them up if you used very wide strips.  Your hand is fine, too.

3. Using your dominant hand, pick up one of the strips you are weaving with. Slip it under the lifted bottom of the strips, keeping it over the remaining strips (2, 4, 6). Slide the strip to the top, close to the tape.

Snug the woven strip so it is straight.

4. Lift strips 2, 4, 6 with one hand and slide a weaving strip from the bottom to the top, keeping it over strips 1, 3, 5, 7.  Continue this until the weaving is complete.

5. Leave the tape in place. Using glue on a thin brush, pick up the papers on the edge–only the ones on top of a strip of paper, and put a glue dot on the strip it is on. Glue only the top strips on the right and left side. When the glue is dry, remove the tape, turn over the paper, and glue this side as you did the other.

Do not glue the top and bottom, the weaving needs flexibility to work as a kinetic piece. That also means you won’t get good results if you glue it across the gutter in your journal–the page shifts and is bigger when the book is open and smaller when closed. The piece will eventually tear is you glue it across the

Weave from the bottom, lifting alternate strips.


Alternatives: Use one color for the long strips and another for the cross-weaving strips.

Your strips don’t have to be straight. They can be wavy or wiggly, as long as the overall shape is not sharply curved.

White strips make a lovely texture. Glue the weaving down on one page of the journal, cover with a thin coat of ivory paint. Dry. Write over the whole thing.

Weave the piece using white strips, then mark areas you want to color. Dissassemble, color, re-assemble.

Weave loosely, remove the tape, pull the corners to create a diagonal weave. Glue to keep the shape.

–Quinn McDonaldis an art instigator.  She wants people to play with art and stumble across meaningful results. That’s what her book, Raw Art Journaling encourages.

Weaving glued to right side, unglued on left.

Product Review: Highlighter Tape

Sure, you can use it in your art journal, or your plain journal, but highlighter tape is saving the training side of my business this week.

Highlighter tape comes three to a pack.

On Tuesday, I’m spending the day at a corporation, running a training program I didn’t write or contribute to. That means I have to study the instructor’s book ahead of time to prepare how to present the course. Most of the time I write notes in the margins, underline sentences I want to emphasize, and make time marks on the pages so I can keep the course moving along. But this time I can’t do any of those things.

The instructor’s manual is a loaner from the company and I am not to make one single mark in it. Not a pencil mark, and certainly not a pen or highlighter mark. What to do? Highlighter tape to the rescue.

Goes on easily, comes off clean. No, it's not the workbook, it's my book: Raw Art Journaling.

I purchased the tape from The Container Store in Scottsdale, Arizona. It comes in a small square case containing three transparent colors–green, yellow, orange, so I can color coordinate–green for items I have to mention, yellow for items I can mention if I have time, but can also skip if a discussion or exercise runs long, and red for tips or exercises that are important to put to use immediately.

Lifts off easily with no residue.

The tape sticks to a page, but can be lifted off cleanly, without a residue. It’s as wide as a line of type, so I can pinpoint material. Each tiny roll has a cutter in the box, so I can tear off as much as I need.

The three colors are different enough to use for color coding.

It’s brightly fluorescent so I can find it easily. It doesn’t damage coated or uncoated pages and won’t peel off color or ink. It’s a great tool. All I have to do is make sure I peel off all the evidence before I return the instructor’s manual.

The tape has no manufacturer’s name on it, other than highlighter tape, and the item number 128.

I recommend it highly for other uses as well–cookbooks, sewing/knitting/crocheting patterns, weaving instructions, sheet music (to mark your part), library reference books, as well as design elements on cards and gift wrap.

FTC-required disclosure: I purchased the tape myself and am receiving no compensation for this review.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer who believes in giving the trainer a workbook as part of the requirement to teaching a class. Because that seems to be a pipe dream, she’s happy she found the tape. Quinn teaches writing for the web, writing emails, copywriting, newsletters, blog writing and a long list of soft skills for hard times.  © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. 2011

Making the Same Mistake

You’ve heard it a million times: “It’s OK to make a mistake, but never make the same mistake twice!” Or “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” One of the giant myths we love to believe is that we make a mistake only once.

Buster no longer eats flowers. Why not? Because I no longer put flowers anywhere he can find them or climb to them. I finally changed, as he would not.

It’s simply not true. We not only repeat mistakes, we repeat them most of our lives. We all know the woman who has dated the same kind of man all her life. Falls for the same type, the same profession, the same opposite-to-hers values. We wonder why she does that as we stride into Starbucks and order “the usual.”

We are creatures of habit and most of us don’t like change. We do the same thing over and over because we know how to do it that way. Even though we know the definition of insanity, we keep hoping for different results.

Change is hard. It’s great the first three days when we are filled with resolve and motivation. Then our friends begin to tell us they like us the way we are. Or our family hurls the ultimate insult at us: I don’t know who you are anymore, you’ve changed!

Well, I hope so. I’d be really bored with someone who didn’t change over a whole life. I sincerely hope we grow, we learn, we adapt, we re-invent. Because making the same mistake over and over again, and hoping for growth anyway is a new definition for insanity.

We are going to make the same mistake over and over unless we take a look at the reason for the mistake, and change our habits. It’s hard, really hard to stop making the same mistake over and over again.  But it also painful to keep making the same mistake–even if we do it in new and inventive ways.

That’s why having a coach is useful. They encourage you to create a new vision and a new way, and they hold you accountable for walking toward the goal. And then, they walk with you, because change is not easy and making mistakes is painful.

Quinn McDonald still takes on too much work and needs more sleep. She and her coach are working on it.

Art Postcards: Ink Spray Map, Found Poetry

Earlier this week, when I was in Prescott, I taught a group of college students how to make art postcards. These were not art students. What I loved about the class was the spirit of adventure, the interest in trying out new ideas.

I brought a lot of inks, loaded into spray bottles. The instructions were simple: spray ink on the postcard, find an emotional map in the spray, and create the map. For the second card , there were books and magazines piled on the table for found poetry.

Here is a random sampling of cards. It’s amazing what happens when the door to the imagination opens up–even for just half a day.

Topographical map as art postcard

Saturated colors on a hot map.

I love the "Strem of consciousness" on the right.

Poem: “But I don’t want to arrest the laughter and music cracking open the heart of my impulse. Things go wrong, killed by a sensitive something. I was inadequate, loving you.”

Who can miss "Here" compared to "There"?

Poem: “There was no formal announcement made. Pierre here will tell you/ to stand quite silent and listen. Each visitor moved away, cramped and useless and burdened.”


-Quinn McDonald teaches raw art journaling–the work that makes meaning. The work that often never gets farther than the heart, but the work that creates a full and rich life.

The Real Scrap Book

Every journaler needs a good scrap book. No, not a scrapbook–the kind you fill with machine-punched out die-cuts and purchased pressed flowers and ribbon. I mean a scrap book–the kind of book you need to practice things in. The kind you can mess up and not worry.

Having recently bought another book on hand-lettering and wanting to practice, I wanted to make a book out of paper I didn’t mind messing up–a book that will show use, and maybe progress.

Rough paper and cover make a good practice book, a real scrap book.

I found some paper at a garage sale. It looked like old paper bags, or soft, thin cardboard. There was something appealing to the surface–both hard and velvety. I moved it twice, so it has aged gracefully. (Leave room for significant pause.) The other day I received a package and instead of packing knurdles, there was corrugated cardboard. Now I had the cover and the pages.

Even holes are best made with a dremel tool. Saves your wrists, too. Hammers can be hard work.

The pages were all loose, but that’s no reason to hesitate. I tapped the pages into place, ran glue up along the long side and let it dry. Then I punched five holes  through the whole stack using my trusty Dremel tool.

I bound it using the traditional Japanese stab-binding method, about half an inch from the edge of the paper. For binding thread, I used a rough packing twine. Some stab-binding tutorials cut the cover, to make turning the pages easier. That wasn’t necessary here.

A real scrap book for praciticing hand lettering. It's ready for mistakes and do-overs.

Now I have a real scrapbook that I can practice hand lettering in. It won’t bother me if my flourishes aren’t fine and even; it won’t annoy me if my letters are a bit lumpier than I’d like. It’s all practice. It’s all creative work.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who will learn hand-lettering if she has to fill many scrap books. But she still remembers the calligraphy teacher who told her, “It’s too late. You are too old to learn calligraphy. You don’t have enough life left to practice.” That was 10 years ago.

Prescott, Pines, and August

Spending a day in Prescott in August is a wonderful break from the griddle-heat of Phoenix. At 5,600 feet, you get pine trees and big-leafed trees, green grass and flowering vines. I went to do an art project with a group of amazing kids–OK, college-age students–whose enthusiasm for creative work was refreshing as the cooler temperatures.

We did the spray-ink maps and found poetry, with great results. My main job was refilling the spray bottles–a sure sign of art enthusiasm. There were a total of 50 students, in two groups. One section took yoga first, and I think that that group was more ready to experiment, more open and relaxed.

So was I. I had arrived at the retreat center the night before, and took the time after dinner for a short walk before I set up the room.

The retreat center had once been a tuberculosis sanatorium (lots of those in Arizona because of the low humidity) and is now an Episcopal retreat. The cabins are rustic and spare–no TV, no fancy restaurants, no pool. But then again, lots of greenery, windows you can open at night, and fabulous night sky.

Altar in the open-air chapel

In the center of the cluster of cabins was an open air chapel. Pews, altar, and walls are hewn out of stone. I sat down for a moment of thought-gathering and felt great peace and love. Even if I’m not Episcopalian, the rocks didn’t seem to mind.

Pews and wall are all rock.

I’d guess the services are short here, the pews are rock-hard. Looking up, I saw the moon bracketed in the pines–it’s a gift to see these things. And if they had had a TV, I might have missed it.

One of the cabins had a set of shovels hanging on the outside wall. They aren’t snow shovels, so I imagine they are used for planting or digging fire breaks up here in the woods. I would have loved to show the cabin number, but I was pressed against a truck as far as I could, and it wasn’t moving.

The next morning, I took another walk and found some Queen Anne’s Lace. When I lived back East, it was the flower that signaled the end of summer. When the Queen Anne’s Lace started blooming, you began to think of boots and cold, windswept days not far off.

Seeing these today, I thought of how differently I think of the end of summer now. In mid-September, the days become noticeably shorter, and the sun begins to lose its power. Nights cool down, and even when the days are still hot, a cool night is a wonderful break.

The class was a lot of work, but I was glad for every minute of it–including the early morning and evening walks.

Quinn McDonald keeps a raw-art journal, and appreciates a break from weather so hot her arms stick to the pages.

Making Room for You in Your Life

You’ve heard it before. You are in a class and the instructor says, “All you need in ten minutes to do X. Do it right when you get up and it will be done.” The instructor means this, because the instructor has a routine and the routine feels about 10 minutes long. In reality, nothing takes 10 minutes, least of all right after you get up. If you lined up all those10 minutes you want to dedicate to exercise, writing, spiritual practice, organizing or pet walking, you’d have to start at 5 a.m. and stay up till midnight. And never go to work.

So how are you ever going to get a daily practice of writing, art, music, dance, meditation, anything—in and stay alive?

I have an alternative suggestion. All of us have the same amount of time in a day—24 hours. They aren’t making any more. So getting up earlier or staying up later is not the issue. You are booked. Your day is full. If you want to a daily practice, you have to choose.

Give yourself permission to make meaning, let the housework slide, or let the kids make dinner so you can get your creative work done.

Choose one thing over another. For most artists, everything else comes first. We got into that habit with the day job. Work came first, then kids, housecleaning, pets and art came dragging along late at night. No wonder it didn’t earn a living. You treated your art as if it were an afterthought, not the creative force in your life. It seems fair to take care of everything else first, but when you put your creative work last, meaning-making takes a back seat to laundry.

Move art making as a daily practice to the top of the list. Fit in a day job, eating, and sleeping. Everything else drops down the list.

You not only don’t have to do all the housework yourself, sometimes it doesn’t get a priority at all. My house is hardly ever company ready. Cat hair swirls in the corners of the staircase. I don’t have dust bunnies, I have dust buffaloes. But I write, meditate and read every day. Because I changed priorities.

I used to do all my chores on time–vacuum, dust, clean bathrooms, empty dishwasher, do laundry. . .the list is impressive. At the end of the day, I was too tired to be creative. Then I gave myself permission to let the housekeeping slide. Not forever, but some cleaning doesn’t get done until it needs to. Ask others in the house to pitch in. Don’t do it for them when they don’t. Laundry that isn’t perfectly folded can still be worn. If the sink backsplash has water spots on it, the sink is still clean enough to use.

Use the  newly-found time to focus on your art, or reading or daydreaming, but don’t use it to check up on Facebook, watch TV or read blogs. Try daydreaming instead—it can be an important part of your creative practice.

Or, make yourself a permission slip? Don’t have time? OK, I’ll send you the one above–but only if you give me a compelling reason why you can’t make your own!  (I have three to give away)

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She never has enough time to do everything she would like, but she has learned to choose a mix of things that keep life interesting. Ironing isn’t one of them.


Creative Time Wasting

Overbooked. Crazy busy. No time to breathe. We are all of these things, and it’s depleting. We don’t schedule time to recuperate from our lives. Several years ago, I joined a group of people who create every day. We posted our efforts,  we encouraged each other, we supported our efforts. We were embarrassed at our beginning efforts, but we kept working on it.

A page from my book, Raw Art Journaling. (You can buy it on my website, QuinnCreative and get free shipping)

I decided to blog every day. Some days ideas ran like water through an arroyo after a thunderstorm. Other days, it was as if the toothpaste tube of ideas could not be squeezed productively one more time.  Over time, the group dwindled. It was too time consuming to be creative every day. It started with one person promising to return as soon as her health issues resolved. Another said she’d skip just this one day.  Another said her life was “frantic” and flipped the priorities—from creating every day to being frantic every day.

The tiny group that remained understood—who wants to demand time for creating when driving a car full of pre-teens must be done? Any other decision would be . . .selfish, right? After all, creativity is not really a productive pursuit when we have so many things on the to do list.

Writing every day is a chore. But the more I did it, the better I got at generating ideas and putting them in writing. Making time for creating became a meditation of sorts. I developed a mindful creating habit.

Mindful creating is a soulful practice. It feels like prayer and looks like art. And before you whisper, “but I’m not an artist, “ I would like you to widen the aperture on the word “Art.” Art can be many things. There is mindful parenting, dancing, caretaking and performing music. We can make art out of life, instead of making adrenaline to push us through life.

Few of us are born experts. The change is slow and incremental, and often not noticeable to those of us engaged in it. Much like going to the gym, we experience the effort first, long before we notice the results. And the effort is often why we quit, which stops the benefits of the results before we can enjoy them.

A daily creative practice is worthwhile. It conditions the mind, spirit and body in good ways. It allows us to get better slowly. It allows us to think over small issues, solve little problems, and try out little ideas. When we get good at that, it grows into nurturing those small ideas and projects while they grow into big ones. When we run into big problems, we have the expertise on how to handle them. Not bad for a practice most people don’t want to waste time on.

Quinn McDonald is the owner of QuinnCreative and she is often overwhelmed. Lucky for her, she developed a habit of managing overwhelm with writing and art. It’s not foolproof, but it feels better than frantic.

Talking To The Other Side of Your Brain

I was in a diner in Tarrytown,NY,  years ago, when I had a meltdown about being a jeweler. Too many creative decisions were turning into financial ones, and I wasn’t doing what I loved, I was supporting my family with my art, and that is a different choice from meaning making. Snorgling into my mashed potatoes and watching it rain outside, I longed to return to the paper arts. But I needed to make money to support the family. But I was soooooo unhappy.

Water lillies can bloom only if their roots are in stagnant water and their blossoms are in the air.

Imagine that: unhappy in the life of an artist. How could that be? The simple answer is–I wasn’t making meaning, I was making money. For many people, making money with their art is a life time dream. For me it became an unimaginable burden. Every decision I made was based on profit margin. Could I make this design large enough to show detail? Well, if I made it smaller, I could save time because the detail wouldn’t show. Should I fabricate the clasps? That would take time, and add to the price. If I purchased them, it would mean I could sell the piece for less, and still make a profit. And save time. That meant making more. Nothing had meaning anymore. The taste in my mouth was dry and dusty. The mashed potatoes were dry and dusty. My life was dry and dusty.

Right there, in the diner, I made a decision. I would no longer make my art do the heavy lifting of paying the mortgage. I would create other business outlets to do that. On the left-brain/right brain debate, I come down right in the middle, and that’s what was causing my problem–I was trying to make meaning “equal” to making money. I was trying to say that spending equal amounts of time on left brain business and right brain creating was fair. After all, equal is fair, right? Wrong.

Just as not everyone at a meeting has equally brilliant ideas, or even equally OK ideas, everyone has an equal right to speak. So I gave my brain equal time to think and then chose what works for me–teaching business writing, teaching the under-served, writing copy. And then teaching art, making books, and making art that I don’t have to sell.

For me, it works remarkably well. I support my family through my own work, I do what I love, I am a life- and creativity coach, and I have time to work deeply on the art that influences everything else I do.

Image: Used under the Creative Commons attribution license. Photo by wasoxygen at

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.