Stitching Burlap

In art, all materials are grist for the mill. When I was at SAS Fabric Superstore the other day, I saw some sage burlap and decided it had potential. I’ve seen over-dyed pink and yellow burlap, but the sage color was new, so it came back to the studio.

Tonight, I decided to work with it–no expectations, no project in mind. Just working to see what I can do with it, using what I know how to do.

Digging through my stash, I found some thread and some embroidery floss that worked well with the burlap. I cut a piece about 10 inches by 4 inches. To make the edges even, I pulled some of the woven threads out to create a fringed edge. Eventually, the edge will have to be sewn so it won’t unravel, but that’s not now.

Threading the blue embroidery thread, I followed a thread across the fabric, weaving under and over, adding a thread to the loose weave. It’s quite easy.

Another piece of embroidery thread is run through, this one is joined with a piece of orange thread. The blue thread was put in first. Then I used a double thread and wove it on either side of the blue. Because the space is getting filled, I pull out a burlap thread to make room for the weaving.

I continued doing this, making sure that I don’t try to do very precise patterns, because burlap isn’t a precise materials.

To give the piece more interest and a less stripey look, I pull some pearl cotton mixed with orange thread through in the other direction.  I love this look, because it has a lot of potential. It’s geometric, and fun. Perhaps I’ll back it with a heavier material and turn it into a journal cover. We’ll see.

As always, I’m open to all clever suggestions.

Quinn McDonald is having fun with non-paper materials. She’s astonished at herself.

Creativity Placebo

Say the word placebo and people’s noses wrinkle up. A placebo is a pill that doesn’t do anything, doesn’t cure anything, contains no drugs. And yet, between 35 percent and 75 percent of  people who are given placebos experience the same cure as people in the group that were given the real drug. If the doctor who hands out a placebo is optimistic and assures the patient the pill is the real thing, the cure rate is on the higher side of the statistics.

How do placebos work? They trigger the powerful body-mind connection we all have. They give the mind permission to do the healing work, and the body follows along. Not bad for a blank pill.

When I do book signings, I ask the people in the audience to make permission slips. I bring blank watercolor postcards, pens, colored pencils, markers, and glitter glue. As we make permission slips, I encourage people to give themselves permission to be creative, to let the housework slide, to take time to daydream.

Some people ask me to sign the slip. I encourage them to sign their own slip, as each person needs to give him- or herself permission to let go of their old beliefs. Occasionally, I do sign the permission slip. I look the person in the eye and say, “This is powerful, and you have to work an hour every day to make it work.” I’ve begun to hear back from people, who have discovered that their permission slip has power.

Like a placebo, the permission slip takes away excuses and replaces it with possibility. The chance that ideas will come, that creativity will flicker and catch pushes reluctance aside, and leaves space for success. When success gets breathing room, it expands.  The people who write me to say their permission slip worked–they always were creative. What they needed was the permission to believe it and act on it.

What would you like to take a pill for if it gave you what you were hoping for?

Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She will be signing books and encouraging people to make permission slips at the Desert Ridge Barnes and Noble in Phoenix on October 6 at 7 p.m.

Disappearing Act with Paint and Stamps

Before September is over, I want to try Michelle Ward’s Street Team Challenge #55–The Disappearing Act.

Michelle did make the challenge seem interesting: Paint two colors on a piece of paper, ink up your stamp with the same colors, then stamp and watch the colors blend and disappear when stamp/paint match.

At first, I wasn’t too keen on tackling the challenge. For many years, I didn’t work with rubber stamps (because I was selling my work and I was concerned over copyright issues) so the idea of finding the right stamp and painting it with acrylic paint seemed like asking for clean-up issues. I live in a dry climate, and stamping in acrylic has to be followed by an immediate trip to the sink.

On the other hand, that sounded like an inner-critic conversation, so off I went to gather paints and stamps.

Here is the stamp I used. In this image, I used Payne’s Gray and Naples yellow to paint the stamp (cleaned in between uses). When it was dry, I used Copic markers (on the left) and Caran D’Ache watercolor pencils (right) to add detail to the stamping. I was immediately taken by the different effect. They don’t look like the same stamp, although I used the same stamp in all the experiments.

I used Napels yellow and turquoise for my colors to get good contrast. The first stamping was a clean stamp on Naples yellow and then immediately stamped on the turquoise. This result was far more pleasing than I thought. The impression looked both ghostly and ancient. I love the yellow highlights in the turquoise.  I pressed on. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

Repeating the stamping, but this time, I painted the stamp before pushing it into the wet paint–half Naples yellow, half turquoise. Blending colors so some colors appeared positive and some negative also has good results. Even when the color doesn’t show up, the image does, and it makes the eyes focus to find detail. Interesting effect.

Next, I painted the stamp and pressed it onto dry paper. You can see the results from very wet paint to almost-dry paint.  Michelle suggested index cards, but I decided to use hot-press watercolor paper. These pieces will all be re-used.

Finally, I wanted to see what happened when I switched colors to Payne’s Gray and Titan Buff.  I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic change. The effect is completely different. My favorite surprise was on the buff side–right next to the gray edge, the stamp has a clear number 3, something that I had not noticed in the design before.

Thanks, Michelle! I would never have thought of doing this on my own. It was a rich and interesting experiment, and one I’ll use again.

Quinn McDonald is an art instigator who wrote Raw Art Journaling, available on amazon and on Quinn’s website–with free shipping till December.

Zipper Fascination

There is something about zippers that fascinates me. I don’t sew, so it’s not the idea of clothing. In fact, it’s the idea of not clothing. I want to use zippers in journals, to connect pages, to close a journal, to make a box that zips shut.

I love the way zippers close, one tooth at a time. I love unusual zippers, like the one below that shuts by lining up rhinestones and linking them together like a connect-the-dots puzzle.

The other day, I went to SAS Fabrics–the fabric superstore warehouse on Indian School Road in Phoenix. You don’t go to SAS to enjoy luxury, you go to SAS to get inspired. If you are looking for something very specific, you might not find it. But if you are going to see what they have today, you’ll be happy.

Three-foot high boxes of bandanas in blue, yellow, red, pink and white, fabrics in colors that make your heart beat faster. . . and your eyes water. Stacked next to each other. A soft apricot with yellow highlights next to a ultra-violet so bright and shimmery it must have been made on another planet. Buttons, belts, straps with snaps in every color and material. Piles of lace, trim, braid, and bias tape. Rick-rack so big it looks like a silhouette of a mountain range.

And zippers. Boxes of them. The longest and shortest zippers I’ve ever seen. Metal and fabric, colors from faded to saturated, teeth big enough to close a dinosaur’s mouth and another one so tiny it could zip up a mouse’s lips. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my treasure, but I have enough to experiment. Because zippers also represent what’s hidden and what shows and the temptation in between.

What’s your fabric-store weakness? Variegated threads? Batik fabric? Netting? I bought two yards of sage green burlap with no idea what I’m going to do with it, but it seemed like something to own. I’m open to suggestions.

-Quinn McDonald doesn’t limit art journaling to paper. There are buttons, zippers, and papers waiting to be connected with stitching, sewing, and fusible webbing.

Positive, Negative Thinking

“If you plan for success, you’ll succeed, if you plan for failure, you will fail.” I’m a big believer in thinking positively, planning for success, and not feeding the inner critic.

I also believe that having a Plan B–what to do in the worst-case scenario–is an excellent idea. Those thoughts, which seem to be opposite, can be held at the same time quite successfully.

Aren’t they opposites? And if I have a Plan B, am I not planning for failure? I used to think that, too, until I had a really clear understanding of planning.

Plan B is a way of looking ahead, of seeing where the obstacles might be. This is exactly what I do when I’m on the motorcycle–I keep an eye out for an escape route. Can I stop if that car cuts in front of me? What will I do if that one brakes or swerves? It’s a moment-to-moment adjustment that has saved my life more than once. It’s not negative thinking. It’s planning a way through and then out.

By thinking ahead, I am solving problems to avoid them. I am also making myself aware that I can face problems. And because I believe in learning by making mistakes, even by failing, planning the next step becomes a positive action. Studying what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it increases not only knowledge, but problem-solving skills.

And once I have a Plan B, I can turn toward the goal. Looking ahead to the goal is the best way to make steps to get there. If you constantly have to fight back the fear and refuse to face it, you aren’t being positive, you are wasting time chasing fear. Plan B is the realization that you are past the fear stop, and are moving ahead to the goal.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote:

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Fear prevents you from leaping. And not leaping prevents you from the full adventure that is your life. Planning and training for leaps keeps you prepared for whatever shows up.

-Quinn McDonald is re-thinking some of the tropes she’s lived with for a long time. It keeps her ready to leap.

Tucson Book Signing and more . . .

Raw Art Journaling in the window of Antigone Books.

Antigone Books in Tucson, AZ is a great bookstore with a good selection of books, interesting location on the 4th Ave. corridor of cool, eclectic shops and a staff that’s friendly and helpful. That was all true even  before they invited me to do a book signing there. I’d spoken to Debbie Cross several times, and she recognized me when I came into the store–probably because I was squealing at the stack of books displayed right by the front door. Or maybe it was because I was carrying a canvas bag stuffed with materials to do the permission slips. Luckily, Cooking Man came along as an art roadie, and helped with set up and clean up. I’m always grateful to have help so the bookstore can close on time, and Cooking Man can stack chairs and pack art supplies with amazing speed.

Close up of another announcement in the window. Yes, I was squealing on the street.

Book signings are fun, but I thought it might be more fun if we also made permission slips–giving people permission to do art, make mistakes, not clean the house right now. And while some people are making permission slips, others are getting their books signed, eating the yummy cream puffs and drinking the punch Debbie put out.  She’d even saved up cardboard pieces to let people work on their laps. What a kind touch!

A cheerful crowd asked good questions. It was nice to see PaperWorks people show up, as well as members of the Tucson Handspinners and Weavers Guild.

As always, I offered to mail the permission slips back to the people who wanted to get mail art and a surprise permission boost. In the selection I’ve shown, I’ve Photoshopped out any names to guarantee privacy.

Here’s a close-up of the borders on some of the cards.

After the signing, we went out to dinner at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. Excellent service, an mouthwatering menu descriptions that perfectly matched the plate bought out hot and delicious. When something didn’t work out quite right, the staff apologized and immediately made it right, with a smile. I assured them they didn’t have to do anything, but they insisted that they had to not only for my expectations, but for theirs. What an nice customer service surprise. The menu was interesting and varied enough so we’re planning another visit. And because we weren’t on the bikes, we could take home a box for later.

Tucson is a charming town, here are some of the sites we wandered by:

A mosaic in a pocket park, showing two bike riders, birds and fish.

The park had a tarp, and I took an accidental shot of it, too:

Yellow tarp angled in the fence. The shot was accidental, but worth keeping.

This window caused me to do a double-take. Oh, it’s the Church of SATIN.

Sky reflected in the Church of Satin.

And finally, the House of Medusa. Well, sure she was Greek. But she also had snakes for hair, and turned people to stone when they looked at her.

Is this really the best name for a restaurant? I finally decided that they meant “Mediterranean and USA” so I didn’t go in to find out.

Thanks again to Antigone Books, it was an evening to remember!

-Quinn McDonald is always surprised when she signs books. It’s still a little shocking to be signing a book she wrote. And fun.


Functional, fabulous, forgotten

Note: Please join me tonight, September 23, 2011 at Antigone Book Store in Tucson, AZ for a book signing of Raw Art Journaling. It’s at 7 p.m. and we’ll be making permission slips before the signing. Hope to see you there! [411 N 4th Ave  Tucson, AZ 85705-8444]

(520) 792-3715

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My parents were immigrants to this country. They came with very few possessions, so the things they brought had to be the most important. Their possessions fell into three categories:

  • Useful items for a household
  • Books
  • Clothing

It was pretty lean, but it was all important, practical, and functional.  I often play the game in my head, “If I had only three wooden crates to fill with important possessions, what would I take?” For my parents, it was no game. It was their life–in middle age. They had two children and three crates.

Wood inlaid darning egg

They chose things that would last. There are still linens in my closet, real linen, with the initials of my father’s mother. They are soft with age, but still ready for use. I should point out that those still-used linens are more than a hundred years old and show no signs of wear.

And then there is this item, on the left. It’s solid wood, inlaid, not painted. About the size of a goose egg. Much larger than a chicken egg, about the length of a navel orange. It’s beautiful and not only did my mother use it, I did, too.

I showed it to a friend about a month ago and she guessed it was decorative. My parents brought nothing decorative unless it was functional, and this piece was functional.

It’s a darning egg. You used it to darn socks. Socks developed holes from use, but you didn’t throw them out when they did. You got a thick cotton thread, dropped the darning egg into the sock, pulled either the long side or the rounded end into location to mimic the curve of the sock and darned the hole. Darning the hole consisted of stitching long supporting threads across the hole, then weaving back and forth to create a patch. You could also use it to fix holes in the knees and elbows of sweaters and jackets. I wore a lot of darned clothing when I was a child, and I learned how to darn. My mother’s patches looked like she had appliqued woven fabric onto the fabric.

This beautiful piece of mosaic wood now has no use. We throw things out when they wear out, socks are not meant to be darned. In just the span of one lifetime, the darning egg is forgotten. It’s not a tragedy, change happens. I’m not demanding to bring back darning as a money-saving method. Most clothing materials today aren’t built to take darning well.

I’m simply glad that this utilitarian device, which could have been made of glass or steel, was made with care and still delights the eye and hand. In my world, this carefully made piece is a piece of art that holds memories along with function.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops and seminars through her business, QuinnCreative.

Mingle, Gather, Community

When Stampington asked me to preview their new magazine, Mingle, I was delighted to say “Yes!”  Mingle will bring you ideas about gatherings of friends and creating community. It will bring you ideas for celebrations and reasons to celebrate.

I write a column for Somerset Studio (The Business of Art) and Art Quilt Studio (The Raw Edge).  I was a fan of  Somerset years before I wrote for them, and am a fan of Art Journaling, Green Craft, Handcrafted and many more.  Mingle’s first issue will be out on October 1st, 2011.

When my preview sample arrives, I’ll be giving you a peek inside, and holding a giveaway of the magazine. There may be a few other surprises to give away

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling and a long-time fan of the art of magazines.

Paper Stacks: Origins of Raw Art Journaling

Journals, hand-made and purchased, from my studio.© Quinn McDonald

Over at Altered Pages, Seth Apter had a great idea: On September 21, 2011, post your stack of journals, handmade journals, artwork–whatever you stack up in your studio. An inveterate piler, I loved this idea. Things filed neatly away disappear from my memory, but a good stack of journals and papers is a searchable treasure. Check his website today for a list of links to participating artists and their stacks.

In my stack (above, a fraction of what’s in the studio), is a copy of my book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. I included it because it had its origins in stacks of work. And so did the name. Raw art is the work you do with your hands and heart. It might be outsider art, if you consider Jean Dubuffet’s definition of outsider art: “Dubuffet’s concept of Art Brut. . . was of works that were in their “raw” state, uncooked by cultural and artistic influences.” When we make art that delights us and helps us understand our lives, our journey, ourselves in our culture–that art is raw art. Full of raw emotion, alive with raw meaning. It is not art made to suit an audience, it is not perfection assembled from a kit. It is made with emotion, wonder and discovery.

After years of teaching collage, art journaling, card making, I had stacks of work

Same stack, different angle.

in the studio. Sifting through it, I found small treasures, pieces of experiments, scraps of memory that I could feel over again, pieces that were precious to me because they represented a flash of understanding of who I am and what I was called to do. The beginning of raw art is discovery, the middle is understanding. There is no end.

Please join me at Antigone Books,  411 N. 4th Ave. in Tucson at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 23rd for an informal talk, making a permission slip and book signing. Bring your colored pencils and questions about Raw Art.

–Quinn McDonald hopes to see you at Antigone books on Friday evening.

Getting Stuck: Glues and Pastes

For all artists, crafters, or just people who need to know how to glue two items together, there is a website for you:

The homepage gives you two boxes to choose the two items you are trying to glue together. Click Submit, and it gives you the best glue for the materials.

There is also a page for trivia that includes items like:

” When you are sucking in all the toxins from your cigarette, you can rest assured that the glue used to hold it together is completely non-toxic. It is made from a combination of casein (milk) and wax (to increase moisture resistance), and is absolutely harmless.”

There are many ways to stick one thing to another. Methyl Cellulose does not irritate human tissue, which is why it’s a popular glue. You generally have to buy it dry and mix it with water yourself.

Candle wax will hold one piece of paper to another, but it leaves a grease stain and you need quite a bit of it–you have to cover one piece of paper to get it to stick to another.

PVC paste is white book glue. It’s archival and is probably my favorite. Dilute it with distilled water to thin it. I also use Elmer’s brand, as it is ideal (and inexpensive) for creating crackle paste:

  • Paint a background and let it dry.
  • Apply a thick coat of Elmers glue, using a brush to paint it on in one direction.
  • Immediately apply a thin coat of paint on top of the glue
  • Let dry completely, several hours. You can help it with a warm (not hot) hair dryer.
  • The dry glue will create cracks and pulls in the direction you brushed it on

I may be the only person with a studio who doesn’t own a glue gun. Hot glue seems to work fine, I can never get it to stay stuck once it’s cooled and about a month old. So I’m a wet glue person. Or a cold connection person. (Cold connection is what you call attaching metals without solder in jewelry). I mean on paper–staples, tabs, stitching are great attachment methods.

Nori glue is made from seaweed. It’s very wet but it works beautifully because it goes down evenly and doesn’t soak paper or warp it much.

You can also use the countless gel mediums, glazes and pastes made to use with acrylic paints. For that matter, you can use acrylic paint itself as a glue.

Glue Tip for Cactus Owners: If you’ve touched a cactus and have dozens of no-see-um stickers in your finger, coat it with a white glue (Elmer’s is fine, any kind of PVA will do. Do not use super-glue) and let it dry. Then carefully, slowly peel it off starting at one edge. The glue will pull out all the cactus spines.

–Quinn McDonald is an Raw Art Journal artist who sticks up for original artwork, with and without glue.