Monoprinting Experiments

imagesA few weeks ago, I was given two Gelli Arts Plates. My creative life hasn’t been the same since. Gelli Plates are gelatin-like consistency printing surface  that you can use to make gelatin prints without the hassle of making gelatin. I have a big weakness for monoprints. But the monoprints I learned to make are very exacting and precise, and we all know by now, I admire those characteristics–in others. Wabi-sabi and rustic echoes out of my soul.

Gelli plates are used most often in creating backgrounds for multi-media uses. And they are fun to use for that purpose. You put acrylic paint on them then roll out the paint with a brayer. To put designs in the paint, use stencils, homemade tools, or just your fingers. Then put a piece of paper on the paint, smooth the surface with your hands, then pull the print off the plate.

©Quinn McDonald, 2013

©Quinn McDonald, 2013

Quinadricone Azo Gold and Quin. Burnt Orange are desert colors that blend well with Payne’s Gray and metallic gold. I used a small tile to make the imprint.

© Quinn McDonald, 2013

© Quinn McDonald, 2013

You can layer the prints, which is super popular in the layer-on-layer art journaling pages. This was fun. But I wanted a little more experimentation. So I made a custom rubber stamp out of foam sheets. That’s a separate tutorial, but it is well worth the time. No carving. You cut out foam and put it on a piece of foam as big as the plate.


© Quinn McDonald, 2013

Here’s a foam stamp, showing both positive and negative use. This is fun. There will be more of this experimenting. But I wanted to make real monoprints. Not for backgrounds, for a print. So I started with a simple one.

© Quinn McDonanld 2013

© Quinn McDonanld 2013

Three squares, layered, but translucent colors. The middle one is stamped with a gold antique clock. The piece represents past, present and future, each affecting the next. Interesting, but not quite what I wanted–something more graphic and still abstract.

After the Fire, © Quinn McDonald, 2013. Acrylic monoprint.

After the Fire, © Quinn McDonald, 2013. Acrylic monoprint.

Much more of what I was trying to get. Landscape feel, contrasting color, and some interesting detail on the lower right corner. (Above) And then I figured out how to draw on the plate and use the accidental arc of Azo Gold. (Below)

Night Pines © Quinn McDonald 2013, acrylic monoprint

Night Pines © Quinn McDonald 2013, acrylic monoprint

I worked the dried monoprint with Pitt Pens to add more detail and to make it look a little more like a woodblock. Then I added Derwent Inktense details to create the final piece. This is what I’d like to do more of. My original intent was to write over it. Now I’m rethinking that, at least for this piece.

And now, it’s the week of Patti Digh’s Design Your Life camp, and I’ll be prepping for that as well as teaching my new Persuasive Writing course. But it was a creatively satisfying weekend.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting with monoprints.

Five Things Never to Say to a Diabetic

Note: Congratulations to Deborah Weber, who won the book. And thanks to all of you for your great ideas of what to do with the flash cards.  Now to decide which ones to try.. . .

When in full snark mode combined with teacher mode, I make lists of things not to say. I’ve done one for funerals and one for writers, and now it’s time to stand up for diabetics.

drug_development_cost_diabetes_prevalenceWith the zeal of a new convert to a strange religion, I’ve decided not to hide and pretend I’m on a fad diet. Fueled by the acceptance of fads but the fear of disease, our culture accepts almost any diet as a brave attempt at carving out a slim line from a hunk of fat. . . except for diabetics. We, it seems, are fat because we chose to be. Here are five things diabetics do not want to hear you say:

1. “Is it Type 1 or Type 2?” Unless you have just discovered the cure for one of them, there is no reason to ask. What in the world do you need that information for? To decide if they got a bad genetic download? (Type 1) Or if it is “your own fault”? (Type 2). See? You just want to judge. Don’t.

2. “You know, there’s this great new cure I just heard about. . .” Most diabetics have a doctor or a dietician. If you have a new cure, call the American Diabetes Association, or Diabetes is a complicated hormonal and endocrinological disease, and whatever you read online that starts “one weird old way. . .” or “why your doctor doesn’t want you to know about. . .” is not the answer.

The same advice goes for asking if we can’t just eat gluten-free or paleo. Here’s the answer: No. Diabetics aren’t allergic to gluten, it’s all carbs they have to watch out for. Gluten sensitives can eat rice. diabetics can’t.  So glad you love your paleo diet. Please don’t try to foist is on me.

3. “You can’t stay on that diet all the time. You have to treat yourself.” Most diabetics have learned to “treat themselves” in ways that don’t involve food. What you are doing is indicating that you are unhappy with the change your friend went through”, and you are giving a “switchback” message. “I liked the old you better.” Diabetics liked the old diet, too, but it’s killing them.  That remark is not far from telling an alcoholic that “one drink won’t hurt.” Take the cue from the diabetic. They know more about their disease than you do.

4. “Can’t you just eat one dessert and then take more medication?” Is there an M.D. after your name? No? Then stop giving medical advice. The medication your diabetic friend is on depends on a diet to make it work. Insulin is not the “morning after” pill, it’s a way to balance what the body no longer produces. Messing with it leads to blindness, kidney failure, and amputation. Ready to give up a kidney?

5. “Just how much weight have you lost?” is not as charming as it sounds. Instead, say, “You look great!” –it’s a phrase that doesn’t seem to have any strings attached.

Bonus #6: “I could never jab myself like you have to.” Lucky you don’t have to then. And no heroin jokes, either. I’ve heard them all. And no, you may not look at or use my test kit.

Quinn McDonald has noticed that the test strip container is just large enough to hold some darning needles, or a pencil sharpener. How convenient.

Saturday Creative Do It!

Every Saturday for a while, you’ve seen artists and their interesting work here. This week, it might be interesting if you wrapped yourself in some creative work yourself. Not sure of what you want to do? Here are some suggestions;

Lili's great paste paper design.

Lili’s great paste paper design.

1. Try paste paper. A lot of fun for very little money. Use your fingers, you don’t need to buy anything to have fun with making marks. Lili’s Bookbinding Blog has a great tutorial. Lili also marbles paper in the traditional way. Don’t miss the eye candy surface decoration.

2. Have fun with acetate. Mel shows you how to emboss inexpensive acetate and make a 3-D flower with only one layer of acetate.

3. DIY: pumpkin with book pages. Couldn’t be easier if you want to scare kids out of reading. No, no, just kidding. I’d love to see that pumpkin done in torn-up maps, too.

4. Make a book the old-fashioned, real-book-bookbinding way. Worth a look, but not a project you are going to whip out in a day or so.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is having her own fun in the studio this weekend. It involves Quinacricone Azo Gold.


Living a Portfolio Life

Writing a blog is fun, inventive, a chore, impossible, and, well, just like real life–a mixed bag.

Lots of ideas can fit together like a mosaic.

Lots of ideas can fit together like a mosaic.

Smart people, who care about Search Engine Optimization and marketing businesses like mine, keep telling me to pick ONE audience–art journalers, writers, life coaches, training developers, instructors, workshop leaders–and write only to them. “It will focus your energy and give you a better audience,” they explain.

Perhaps. But I don’t DO one thing–I live a portfolio life. I do several things, all of which I love, and all of which connect through my heart and soul. They don’t need separate websites any more than I need separate desks.

Seven years ago, I vowed not to make my art pay the mortgage so I could do the

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

Creating your own reality happens only when you take the time to do it.

art I wanted, not just what sold well. That gave me huge creative freedom,  less creative discipline that I needed (another whole blog post), and a lot of work in different areas.

Corporate clients who were bothered that I was also an artist expressed concern. I told them that if I was not meeting their expectations as a corporate trainer, we should speak to that point so I could create better results. No one spoke up. But I know that in the corporate culture, creativity is called “disruption” and that the name itself doesn’t sound great, even if the effect often is.

So the blog continues to jump from topic to topic–training, art journaling, workshops, demos, ideas, life problems, coaching issues–just like real life.

But I’m open to different ideas, and if you have one, let’s hear it in the comments section. Or tell me how you decided to limit your blog (or not). To check out different ideas:

  • Julie Fei-Fan Balzer posts photos of her creative adventures every day on her blog.
  • iHanna takes us on visual journeys through her daily life on her blog.
  • Seth Apter often talks about other people’s art on his blog, The Altered Page.
  • Tammy Garcia is a peripatetic artist whose website (Daisy Yellow) covers a vast variety of art topics

Meanwhile, I’m getting comfy with the different kinds of work. I’m re-doing my website (every website needs an update every 18 months or so) and am open to new ideas.

–Quinn McDonald has opened the window of her mind. She’s got a head cold and is hoping for a drying breeze up there.

Tutorial: Marbling With Splash Inks

Splash Inks are versatile fun in a bottle. I’m on the Yasutomo Design Team, and Splash Inks is one of the products I got to use. As soon as I found out you could marble paper with the inks, I had to try it. Here’s how it works:


In addition to the Splash Inks, you’ll need a flat deep, non-reactive pan about 10 inches long and at least 2 inches deep (25 x 5 centimeters).  Shown  (above) is an enameled meat tray you can buy as a palette in most art supply stores.

Niji1A_StarchThe medium to float the inks is Sta-Flo liquid laundry starch. It comes in a blue half-gallon bottle.  A spray bottle with a fine, misting spray and a roll of paper towels come in handy, too.

Add an eye dropper, a big-tooth comb, a shower squeegee and a group of small containers to mix your favorite color inks and you are ready

Choose a sturdy paper to marble:  I like Strathmore and Canson Mixed Media papers. You can also use Arches Velin, or 90-pound watercolor paper by Bee.  Start by protecting your worktable with newspaper and wearing gloves if you want to keep your hands ink-free. Niji3_smalldotsShake the bottle of starch to blend the ingredients. Pour the starch into the dish so you have at least an inch of fluid in the dish. Stir gently with the comb or a gloved finger to remove the bubbles.

Using an ink dropper, add several drops of ink to the surface of the starch. The first time you do this, the drops will be small and sink. Expect one or two test sheets till the starch is tempered.

Niji_InkmixYou can use colors right out of the bottle, or you can mix inks into small containers. A color blending chart is included along with the four bottles of Splash Ink.

Niji4_stonemarbSave your test sheets  for collage work. When  the ink drops  get larger and float well enough so you can put drops within drops, you are ready for marbling.  The  pattern above, (called ‘stone’, is fine, or you can use the comb and gently drag the teeth through the liquid.


Drag the wide teeth of the comb left to right.


Drag the narrower teeth up and down. The more you comb the finer the pattern. Colors will blend with a lot of stirring.

marbledpaperWhen your surface has the appearance you like, you are ready to place the paper on the surface.


Place one end  of the paper onto the surface then “roll” the paper and drop the other end to keep air from getting trapped under the paper and leaving a white spot. You can see  (above), that the bottom, left-hand corner of the paper is picking up from the surface. That’s a sign to pick up the paper, the marbling is done. It takes about 10-15 seconds for the color to transfer.

Niji6_papermarbCarefully pick up the paper and put it on the newspaper. To get the starch to run off, tilt the paper slightly by putting it on a piece of crumpled newspaper. After about one minute, spray the paper with a mister to rinse off extra starch.  If you like a very crisp look with distinct lines, wipe the excess starch off the paper with the shower squeegee. It will take off some color with it.

Niji8_sinkTo make pastel shades of paper, drop the sheet on the surface, let it absorb color, then use a palette knife (or the comb) to push the paper under water. The back will become marbled in a pastel swirl of color.


Make many sheets at once to have choices. To clean the surface of the starch, float a paper towel on it to absorb the ink, then add more ink. Above, you can see several sheets–upper left is a sheet made with the four colors in the bottles; upper center, a pastel effect by sinking the paper; bottom left is a piece scraped with the shower squeegee.

The papers may curl while they are wet. To get them flat, put them between two sheets of parchment paper and iron them on a medium setting till they are flat.

You can also marble directly onto your looseleaf journal pages, then write on the front or back (or both). Here are three examples of that:

pagemarble This is part of a Robert Jeffers poem. It completes on the back, along with some comments I made about the poem.

WavesmarbleI found this a handy way to use those quotes I save for journaling. And “llustrating” them with abstract marbling poses an interesting challenging.

fishmarbleThis is one of my “fish out of water” pages. It’s an interesting theme I explore–what makes us feel uncomfortable, what gives us community? So the background is blended in blue (water) and green (land) and the fish is adapting.

On the Niji Design Blog, I used the marbled pages to make two different kinds of postcards. You can read about that project here.

dtbutton1Quinn McDonald is a member of the Yasutomo Design Team. She experiments and designs projects for Niji/Yasutomo. She receives free product from the company to complete the projects.

Hate-Reading: Queasy Diet for the Soul

The second I saw the article in the New York Times (Style Section, page 19, Sept. 22, 2013) I knew it was worth a blog post. The article was about deliberately Life-Is-Good2reading social media posts that make us angry, crazy, upset or fills us with fury over someone’s perceived hypocrisy, goody-two-shoe-attitude or some other feeling we hate to feel but can’t stay away from. It’s called hate reading, and it seems a lot of people are caught up in it. Considering the comments I see on Twitter (about the new, East-Indian Miss America, for example), there is a lot of free-floating hatred.

The article cites different kinds of hate-reading. One person is tired of seeing endless posts from a friend about her dog and kids. Another person hate-reads an acquaintance’s relentlessly cheerful, hope-filled messages and wants to demand proof of that emotion.

Katie J. M. Baker, who writes for Jezebel, says, “Our motives rarely come from a position of strength . . . when I walk away from my computer, I feel like I’ve just binged on a butter-sogged bag of popcorn before the movie even started; I’m slightly nauseated but still can’t help licking my fingers for more fatty flavor.”

Dislike-Social-Media3Hate-reading fuels up our negative energy. Much like binging on sugar, it makes us feel oddly exhilarated to have caught someone in a lie, hypocritical posing or overt bragging, but the crash is as bad as the push up the emotion was gratifying.

The article says we downward-compare to feel better. But the feeling doesn’t last.

Professor Alexander H. Jordan, an adjunct assistant professor of business administration at Dartmouth, says “It’s when a person’s typically rose self-view is temporarily threatened that self-enhancement processes, such as finding people to ‘hate’ online, are triggered.”

Of course, the people we hate (or hate-read) become tethered to us emotionally, and, like an addiction, we continue the behavior.

We used to engage in this behavior only with celebrities, “hating” an actress when we didn’t know her personally at all, and simply drew conclusions from photographs and our own opinions.

And still, and still, we all want to be loved and heard. But it’s so hard to do it for others. Something interesting to think about, for sure.

Quinn McDonald is not above hate-reading. She’s going cold-turkey after reading the article. She’s received emails from people who hate her without knowing her, and has decided negative energy needs doesn’t need to be stored.  It can’t be harder than giving up sugar.

It’s Not About You (Always)

This blog is about life. Not always my life, but about the things most creatives experience–and just like the tag line (up there somewhere) it’s about the leaps, stumbles, trips and tips I discover along the way.

And that’s what I write about. Things I pick up in conversations, images I see during the day, ideas I pick up from reading. And I absolutely never take something I hear in a coaching conversation and write about it. What can happen, though, is that I hear a topic that begins to become common to a number of clients. Then I notice articles about the topic–OK I read a lot of magazines and books and it could just be a coincidence. But I don’t think so.

Our lives are a reflection of where we are and what we see.

Our lives are a reflection of where we are and what we about it

Once it has jumped out of one conversation and become a topic of popular culture, or common interest, I will write about it.

Inevitably, when I wrote about a topic that affects creatives, I begin to get emails that tell me (flatteringly) that I am a mind-reader or (accusingly), I’m using one person’s ideas, life, or thoughts as grist for my blog. It makes me smile when a client sees something difficult or problematic in a blog and thinks I’m writing about them. Personally. In a critical way.

Originally, I wondered how they could think that way about me. And then I smile, and realize that it’s not about me, it’s about them. They see themselves in an unflattering way, and despite the fact that I never use names, regions, or any traceable information (unless the client has given me specific permission) they feel exposed. It’s hard to recognize your faults when they are in sharp focus in front of you. But it’s also not about you specifically. It’s about a lot of people who feel this way, an inner critic convention. And just like fad diets, fad styles, fad art projects, there are fad problems. And it’s good to see how they show up in your life so you can decide if it’s helpful. And make some decisions about what you want to collect and what you want to discard.

But as much as this blog is about the creative life, it’s not about a particular person. It’s just written by a particular person. (And yes, I typed “peculiar” first).  And it covers a wide scope of creativity. Always.

-Quinn McDonald has a big brush that colors her world.

Saturday Creative Stroll

Philip Barlow is a South African painter. So often, when we think, “painting,” we think “photo realism,” and so does Barlow. Perhaps too closely. He paints realistic images that are slightly out of focus, like a photography might be.

Blurred painting by Philip Barlow.

Blurred painting by Philip Barlow.

The blur is familiar in photographs, but it seems interesting and strange in a painting. Barlow does it to leave much of the image understanding to the viewer.

“The figures in the landscape serve as carriers and reflectors of the light that falls upon them. Bathed in the luminosity, it is my hope that they would become more beautiful. To me, light is the ultimate subject because it embodies the pinnacle of all reality,” says Barlow.

Joe Sinness illustrates in colored pencil. Colored pencil is not an easy medium. The colors are blended on the paper, and layer upon layer of delicate color creates depth and vibrancy. It’s a time-consuming art form. But the results, when done well, are lovely.

Color pencil drawing by Joe Sinness.

Color pencil drawing by Joe Sinness.

And Sinness does lovely very well. His illustrations are rich and complex, whether the image is a flower or as complex as crumpled piece of mylar.

Color pencil illustration by Joe Sinness

Color pencil illustration by Joe Sinness

Shi Shaoping sculpts eggs. The ceramic ovals weigh about 22 pounds each. Shi makes them in large numbers, takes them to remote locations in China and leaves them there.

Shi-Shaoping-installation2The work questions the essence of life. The 3,000 eggs in placed in lonely locations emphasizes the potential of life and the ability of life to exist in a location after abandonment.


Shi-Shaoping-installation3In that way, life creates the location in which it exists. Shi also opens the discussion of the link between art and life, and the reaction to both depending on the surrounding area.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald has inky hands and is making samples for Patti Digh’s Design Your Life camp.






Flash Cards, Next Step

Note: Congratulations to Deborah Weber, who won the book. And thanks to all of you for your great ideas. Now to decide which ones to try.. . .

A generous soul gave me a box of flashcards some years ago. They showed up again when i was cleaning up the studio. There are about 200 of them. They are page_cardivory card stock, 8.5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide. Sturdy with rounded corners. Each one has a word on one side, and a small number in the upper left-hand corner.The other side is blank.

What do I do with them?
I’m looking for creative, interesting ideas–not ones that anyone might think of–bookmarks, journal covers, journal pages.
Think of something you would love to do with them.  Or something you wold love to see them turn into.

I love combining words and art, so I should have thought of something really fast, but I didn’t. So I’m asking you. What should I make from these cards?

collage workbookIf you leave a comment, you have a chance to win the Collage Workbook, by Randall Plowman– a quirky, interesting source book for collage ideas.

So let’s hear those imaginative ideas!

–Quinn McDonald has found some extra time hidden in the studio.


Sometimes you want to see the world in black and white,  yes or no, right or wrong. Shades of grey keep adding definition and shadow.

blackandwhiteSometimes vibrant red and yellow wakes you up and makes you pay attention to the details.

"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light." --Theodore Roethke.

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” –Theodore Roethke.

Each has a place in your life. Light and shadow. Color and gray. Joy and sorrow. We are not guaranteed a trouble-free life. And we wouldn’t really want one.

-Quinn McDonald is back in the studio.