Alcohol Ink on Black Paper

Creativity often happens when we are trying to solve some other problem. Looking for another substrate for alcohol inks (other than Yupo), I came across an artist who used black tiles. (Sadly, I didn’t write down her name.) She said she had used black chalkboard paper as well. That didn’t work for me, but here is what did work.

1. Black, shiny-surface tiles work. I don’t want to store tiles, so I went on the search for black, glossy paper. Not as easy as it sounds. But I did find Stardream in Onyx, 105-lb cover stock. It is lightly coated with a mildly sparkle-finish. I found it at a local Phoenix outlet of Kelly Paper.

2. Use both Pearl (translucent) and Snow Cap (opaque) ink by Ranger. Put both on the paper. Add one drop of Eggplant (Ranger.)

3. Immediately put a piece of plastic wrap over the ink and rub to blend lightly.  Make sure there are strong wrinkles in the plastic wrap.

4. Leave the plastic wrap in place until the ink dries. This takes about 15 minutes in Phoenix, but at 5 percent humidity, it’s not a good measure for other locations.

5. Peel off the plastic wrap. I added the stem and flower base with a paintbrush and Snow Cap.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, a creativity coach, a writing trainer, and an abstract artist who combines writing with images.


Give Away Your Work? It Can Work

If you are a freelance writer, artist or have a talent, offer a service or product, you will be asked to give it away for free. Often it comes with the promise of “getting your name out—good marketing.” I’ve talked about avoiding false marketing schemes, but today the issue is different.

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

A good way to get your services, company’s name or your own name in front of people is to donate your product or services in a way that it will get seen by your target audience. The key is, as always, the right audience. Let’s assume you are fielding requests from several good organizations, all with your target audience.

The request involves both your time and materials, which have a value. They also require time and effort, which has a financial worth–part of the price. (Price and value are two completely different things.)

How much should you give away? How much free time is too much to give away?

1. Treat the request as a real job. Never give away something sloppy because you aren’t charging for it. If you are contributing, it represents you, so it has to be your best. Many requests will try to make the request look smaller by saying “just send anything.” Don’t do that. What you send represents you to your potential audience. Send your best.

2. Limit your time and costs. Not by being fast or sloppy, but through smart

. . . or a load of garbage.

. . . or a load of garbage.

time management. Instead of starting from scratch, re-write a good article for this specific audience. Make new art, but not with a new technique. Create something you already know how to make, but in a new color.

3. Know when to say ‘no.’ Ask about the deadline before you agree. Most requests for “free” also come with tight deadlines. Don’t be afraid to turn down a request if the deadline doesn’t work for you. Know your limit for “free.” A good rule of thumb is between 5 percent and 10 percent of your non-committed time in any quarter. That figure includes all charitable work–from volunteering to producing. And count in all of your production–planning, buying materials, production.  (Check with your tax person about how much of these donations are tax deductible. It’s much less than you think–your time isn’t tax deductible in most cases.)

4. Plan out the project. Let’s say you offer to write an 800 word article. Use your calendar to block out the time for research, writing, re-writing, proofreading, as if it were a real assignment. The entire block of time is now not available for any other charity work. Putting it in your calendar is a handy reminder to do the work, but also a good reminder that you can’t do any more volunteer work at the same time.

5. Understand your motivation and stick to it. Most of us get in trouble because we want to be nice, friendly, helpful and loved. So we don’t say ‘no.’ We say ‘yes,’ become resentful, rushed, and do a bad job. And inadvertently become not-nice, cranky, a problem and hated. The opposite of what we wanted in the first place. You cannot accept work to be loved if you don’t have time to be loved.

6. Know how to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be a rejection of the person who asked.  Here are some ways to say no that are both clear and kind–and that’s the real key to turning down an offer. Be clear and kind.

Say ‘no’ to now, but offer a time that’s realistic for you. “Thank you for asking for an article, Mary, I’m honored you want me to be a guest blogger. I’m booked up for the next two weeks, so tomorrow doesn’t work for me. I could get you something in three weeks from Thursday. Would that work for you?”

–Say ‘no’ because you have booked up all your volunteer time. This shows you are already loved and booked. “Thanks for asking, Mary, but Carlos asked me last week, so my volunteer time for March is already booked. I’m honored you asked.” Delivered with a smile, this feels good and is clear.

Point to another source. This will make you a valuable resource and not cost you future work. “Thanks for the offer, Mary, normally I’d jump at the chance. I’m booked right now, but you might want to ask Haji. He’d be great for your project.”

Free work, handled like real work, can be a good marketing idea. Or it can be the project from hell. Either way, it’s yours to accept or turn down. Don’t create your own hell, I learned that lesson the very publicly embarrassing way.

—Quinn McDonald learns by failing spectacularly. Then she shares with her readers.

Images: Giftbox from, garbage truck from

Pebeo Paint Artwork

Pebeo paints has two new (to me) paints–Fantasy Moon and Prisme. Today I took the afternoon off (seeing as how it is one of the three days I’m home this month) and spent time in the studio.

Blue, purple and turquoise was the palette for this project.

Blue, purple and turquoise was the palette for this project.

The paints are solvent-based, so if you are going to work with them, do it in a room with open windows or good ventilation. These paints are actually meant primarily for resin-based jewelry. But you can use the paints on wood or canvas, too. How could I resist?

The paints create their own honeycomb effects without any help from a brush. Best of all, achieving good-looking abstract paintings isn’t hard.

First, choose a frame with a 3millimeter lip around the edge, as the paints flow.

Art1Second, shake the paints well to fully mix the sparkly bits. When you have shaken them, stir them as well. Shaking creates bubbles and that effect can change the final look.

Art2Before the paints settle, open the bottle and pour one of the colors directly onto the cradled board. You can paint with a brush or drop with a dropper, but pouring freestyle is more my style.

Art3Pour the second color. I limited myself to three colors, but you can use as many as you want. (There are at least 18 colors in the Fantasy Moon line). If you overlap the colors, they blend with special effects. I didn’t get the strong honeycomb I’ve seen in other examples, but I loved the blending that did happen.

Art5Pour the third color. I poured it around the edges and directed a few thin strings across the other two colors. You aren’t supposed to tilt the board, but I did anyway. Once the color was spread over the frame, I used a small specialized stick Starbucks plastic lid stopper to drag the paint to the edge.

The next step is important: Get a level and put the piece on a level surface to dry. It will tack-dry in about 6 hours and dry completely in 72, depending on where you live. Four hours after I did it, both of mine were still thick-set, with a consistency of latex paint.


Piece one, at completion.

If you don’t use a level surface, the paint will drift over the edge. Prop up the slanting corner with small risers–coins, pieces of gum, folded index cards.

Piece one after two hours

Piece one after two hours

The piece will change over time. That’s part of the charm.

Leave the frames alone until they are completely dry. There is a clear resin you can coat the paintings with to protect the surface.

Piece 2 after two hours

Piece 2 after two hours

You can match linens, wallpaper, and towels to make interesting, abstract art for any room of your house. Just remember that real art never has to match the couch.

Disclosure: I purchased the paints and boards. I am not a designer for any company (at the moment.)

—Quinn McDonald enjoys every minute in the studio. These pieces don’t match the couch or anything else in the house, either. She likes that idea.

Book Page Wreaths

Book lovers, avert your eyes. I’m about to rip up books (again) and turn them into something else. But first, a note to all of us for whom books are sacred and for whom the thought of damaging one is tantamount to a violent act: the books used in these wreaths are books that are headed for the shredder. Having them serve in an act of beauty is much better, at least in my studio.

So, book page wreaths. Three styles built on three different backgrounds. You’ll need to gather some materials:

  • Wreath base, straw or styrofoam
  • Scissors
  • One or two inexpensive, small paperbacks. I like to use romance novels because the paper is porous and ages quickly.
  • White glue
  • Stapler
  • Ink stain in a dauber bottle. Tim Holz Distress Stain is a common brand.
  • Spray ink with shine or glitter. Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist is a common brand.
  • Straight pins, plain or with colored heads.
  • Selection of colored papers
  • Spray bottle (plain water)
  • paper clip or clothes pin (optional)
  • gold stamp pad (optional)

Choose the size of wreath you want. The bigger the wreath form, the more pages you need. The size depends if you want to use the wreath to hang on a door, lie on a table, or from a mantel.

wreath21. Ruffled page wreath on straw base. A straw base is wonderful because you do not have to cover it or paint it to hide the “raw” look. Most of these wreaths come wrapped in plastic, which you can leave on. It stops shedding.


Straw wreath with plastic removed. You can leave it on to avoid shedding.

Take a paperback and hold it closed. Rub the ink dauber along the closed pages, on all three sides of the book. (The spine side is where the cover is attached, do not remove the cover).

Be generous with the ink. Cheaper paperbacks work well for this, the ink will soak into the paper nicely. The pages also look aged quickly. Allow the book edge to dry completely. Don’t use paint–use ink. Paint will glue the pages together.

Pages have been partially painted with ink to show method.

Pages have been partially painted with ink to show method.

Open the book and fold back the cover to the first page completely covered with type. Rip out pages, one at a time. Keep them intact–if a small corner rips off, fine, but if a big chunk rips off, discard it.

Crumple the page as if you were going to throw it away. Squeeze it hard enough to leave wrinkles that stay.

Find the center point of the crumple, pinch it between your fingers to form a “stem” and insert a pin through the open center (not the piece you are pinching).

Push the pin into the straw wreath. Repeat until the wreath is generously covered.  Add enough to have it look fluffy and full.

Cut thin pieces of colored paper to match the season. I’ve used orange for Autumn. Spray the paper with plain water and clip it with a clothes pin or paper clip. Allow to dry. It will be curly when you release it. You can also use ribbon for this step. Pin the ribbon ends to the wreath and wind the long end into a pleasing shape.

2. Tailored wreath on styrofoam base. This wreath works well flat as well as hanging on a door or window.  The wreath base is white, 8-inch styrofoam:


Dye the edges of the book as in the wreath above. If you want a gold edge, use a stamp pad and rub it against the edges of the book.

Wreath1Tear out pages and fold the page so the two short ends meet. Do not crease. Fold the colored edges back on both sides so the page looks like a Z.

fold2Staple the bottom. For the first row around the back of the wreath, press the folds closer together. Do not crease sharply. Place the pieces of paper so no spaces show between them.


Wreath, back view. On this model, a blue and white hanging string is already attached.

Turn the wreath over. Press it flat. Repeat the folding and pinning on the front of the wreath. Allow the fold to be a bit uneven, and this time allow them to be open and fuller.

wreath3When the wreath is covered all the way, make sure the pins are secure. Take about six more pages and roll them into a cone. Staple the bottom and pin it around the inside of the wreath. Glue the top to the existing page beneath it.

Spray lightly with Glimmer Mist. You can also spray lightly with a spray glue and sprinkle glitter on the wreath.

In the photo above, look at the 3-o’clock position and you will see a page added after the wreath was completed. If you decide to add pages, make sure you tuck them under both the existing pages and the row of cones.

3. Leaf wreath on green  3-D styrofoam ring. The advantage of the ring over the circle is that you have more space and depth. If you use long pins, they will poke through the circle.

Wreath back was photographed when the front was complete.

Wreath back was photographed when the front was complete.

If you don’t want the color of the ring to show through, paint it first. You can also cover it with burlap strips or foil.

You do not need to edge the pages for this project. Tear the pages out of the book carefully. Cut ovals the length of the page using scissors. You really don’t need to make a leaf template. Make sure at least one end comes to a point.

The leaves will look better if they are not all the same size.

WreathleafTake an oval, pinch the bottom together to help the leaf form a cupped shape. Staple. Take a pin and starting at the top, with the leaf facing down, pin the leaf to the frame. Repeat from the 12 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position on the right side. Then repeat on the left.

Once the big leaves are in, tear more pages out of the paperback. Fold the page in half, short end to short end. Cut out two smaller leaves, making sure they are not connected. Fold, staple, tuck and pin the shorter leaves in with the large ones. This gives the wreath fullness and visual interest.  You can also cover the sides and back for a really full wreath to hang in a window.

Use construction paper or scrapbook paper, or just about any kind of colored paper to make the wreath look holiday-appropriate. You can also make the wreath entirely of construction paper, but use 2/3 in one color and 1/3 in another. If you use even numbers of leaves, the wreath will look unbalanced.

Common-sense warning: Keep candles, incense, lighters, and anything else that burns away from these wreathes. They are paper and will burn.

—Quinn McDonald is a recycler of books. And just about anything else she gets her hands on.



Difference Between a Visual and Commonplace Journal

There’s been some interest lately for the Commonplace Journal. Yes! Nothing against visual journals, I wrote two books about using visual journals, and I love them both.

But after two books, I want to go back to the Commonplace Journal because it is my idea book. It’s not to show around the table, it’s not a sketchbook, it’s a book that helps me capture who I am today so I can see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. (Here’s a great post about Commonplace Journals from Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, sketcher, naturalist and journaler.)

And here’s an example of an ancient one, because the Commonplace Book has a long history–going back to how guild apprentices learned their craft.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from "Belly of the Whale," from the website Fierce and Nerdy.

Page from a Commonplace Book, from “Belly of the Whale,” from the website Fierce and Nerdy:

A Commonplace Journal (or book) is a place for ideas and pieces of stories, quotes, classes I want to develop, and maps. I love maps and making them helps me put things in perspective or just remember where I’ve been–both geographically and emotionally.

A visual journal is more of a sketchbook, with planned pages. You may start with randomly applying layers of color, then going back and creating a page. But a visual journal is planned, often with an image on every page or every spread.

Not so the Commonplace Journal. It’s a way to capture what you may need in the future, and because you don’t know what that is, each book is a compendium of what you come across in your life–quotes, book titles (those you like and those you make up in case you want to write one), song lyrics, overhead conversations.

I’ve written about 10 ideas to use in your commonplace journal, but here are some not-so-private pages from mine. Warning: it’s not gorgeous, not sketches, and not layered. It’s about memory and ideas and development.

At the beginning or end of some months, I put in a calendar page. It helps me see what happened in that month at a glance. Each date is not filled in, and some days take up a lot of space. It varies a lot.

Here’s one from March, several years ago:


The first one generally mentions the sunrise and sunset times at the beginning of the month, because I am a naturalist, which means a lot of my journal is nature-based. Notice that there are just vague lines separating the days, and not every day is covered.

And here’s one from this past September:


More complete and more defined lines. This is the page in progress. You can see that I penciled in all the lines for the dates, and then inked in those I used. This page isn’t finished yet. I need to erase the lines and maybe add more detail. I can do this because there are other pages in the book that remind me of what I did. Here’s an example:

jrnl2We went to the Phoenix Art Museum and saw an exhibition on Antonio Berni. I didn’t take my journal to the museum, so I just put a quick note of the two exhibits we saw–Japanese pottery and an Antonio Berni exhibit.

I happened to have a piece of Asian-inspired paper that a friend had sent, so that got put on that page along with the ticket.

Another page (not shown) is a detailed report about the Antonio Berni art. Berni is an Argentinian artist who invented two characters who populated his assemblages. Berni was deeply distressed by the social issues of his day–how industrialization changed the opportunities for people to grow and advance, how poverty affected the lives of families, and how politics governed cultural changes.

Berni invented two characters, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, and created entire stories about them using assemblage. The work was mesmerizing and I have several pages describing the sculptures, assemblages, found objects and colors he used as well as interesting words–he called shantytowns “misery towns.”

I received a huge surprise gift from far away on my birthday. It was handmade, jrnl3which always means so much to me. The person who sent them (who is not mentioned because I didn’t ask for permission) uses some great quotes, which I wrote on the page.

Even the stamps delighted me, so I included those. The back of the page details the gift and what I know about its production.

Ideas for art, classes and articles are all hidden in the pages, waiting to be distilled out.

Then there are maps. Maps are how we connect locations, but they also work for emotional journeys we take.

map_phx-tucson2-2011The first few times I went to Tucson from Phoenix (about 2 hours) everything along the way seemed new. That’s the best time to write down what I saw and thought. Sometimes I just jot down notes and put them in when I have a chance to sketch a map. The maps are not meant to be in scale, just remind me about what caught my interest. This map was detailed weeks after I did the first sketch.

The one above is about a trip I took to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

map2It’s a beautiful drive, and it has inspired several poems. The map helped me remember what I saw and when. This map was done quickly at a rest stop. It was all I needed and I didn’t add more detail.

This is a lot and it’s long, but I think that there is a place in today’s world for Commonplace Books, and I’d like to help people get back to using them and creating them. By hand. From the brain and through the heart.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and a naturalist who keeps a Commonplace Journal.



Decorating With Collections

Yes, it’s too early for winter holiday decorations. Unless, of course, you are hand-making them. In which case, it’s time to think about all the Autumn and Winter holidays (because some decorations can be combined or re-used).

On October 18 and 19, the Women’s Expo is at the Phoenix Convention Center. I’m volunteering for Arizona Art Supply. I’ll be making wreaths with paperback book pages. While prepping some books, I had another thought–most of us have collections–office supplies, sentimental collections and pieces we keep through all the de-stashings.

treebuttonsI had my mother and my mother-in-laws button collection. I also ran across a stash of push-pins. I rarely use them anymore because computers and smart phones have covered a lot of ground that bulletin boards used to cover.

treepushpinsWhile buying the wreath rounds I saw a  green styrofoam cone and picked it up, too. I regretted the green almost as soon as I took it out of the bag, so I used Dylusions Ink in white, and sprayed it, which gave it a nice textured color. No complete coverage needed, but when you spray, do it in a bag or cover a big area. The ink drifts and sticks.

treehalfSort the button collection to gather the same sizes and colors. I chose colors from black through gray to white. Start the project by putting three rows of push pins into the base area of the sprayed and dried cone.

Then pin a row of buttons in the darkest color in the space above the push pins. The buttons don’t have to touch the pins. Larger buttons will take up more space so the smaller buttons will seem to float. That’s fine. The pins that hold the buttons should be pushed in at an angle from top to bottom to keep the buttons in place more easily. You’ll also be able to carry the project around more easily.

Once the row of buttons is in place, put another row of push pins into the cone.

Then alternate buttons and push pins, using lighter buttons as you move up. You can see the black through gray here, but you could also use black and orange for Halloween, or yellow, red and brown for Thanksgiving.

You could choose extravagant buttons to show off your collection favorites, ortreetop coordinate them with your wedding colors. All white is also attractive.

My collection has a lot of white buttons, so the top third was all white.

The top of the cone is decorated in three pieces of trim shaped like white poinsettias. Put a push pin in the top center to support them, and then angle in straight pins to hold the flower in place. The gold circle is part of the photography background, not on the tree.

tree8When the tree was done, I decided I wanted to add a bit more glitz, so I bought dress trim in silver beads. The scale has to be right, but there are many choices–pearls, pre-strung sequins, or any other trim.  Put the pre-strung “garland” over the row of push pins and use the heads of straight pins to hold them in place.

You can use a glue gun for all this, but pins are adjustable and make much less of a mess for someone who is not used to glue guns. (I don’t own one.)

These trees would make great centerpieces or mantel decorations. Have fun!

Quinn McDonald has a big button collection. She’s thinking of doing a tree with all buttons, too.

Making Acrylic Skins

Acrylic skins are made with acrylic paint and gel medium. Why not just mix the paint and gel medium on your journal page? Because creating a skin is more versatile. The skin can be cut, stamped, printed, or stenciled. It can be placed where you want it to be, not where it accidentally wound up. It adds an interesting texture and color to your art journal pages.

Here’s how to make your own acrylic/gel skin:

gel1Cut a piece of plastic wrap about 12 inches x 12 inches. Smooth it out on your work space. Put the plastic wrap on a light piece of paper so you can see and control the color mix. Drip several colors of acrylic paint on the plastic wrap. Don’t use tube watercolors, as they aren’t plastic, and right now, you want plastic.

gel-2Once you have all the acrylic down the way you want it, pour about the same amount of gel medium over the paints, spreading it around as you pour. This is semi-gloss, so it will be clear, but not have a high shine. If you want a high shine, use gloss. You can also use matte medium, but it has a tendency to be a bit translucent rather than transparent. Don’t dismiss it, it’s quite an interesting effect, particularly when mixed with gloss gels.

gel3Using a palette knife, blend the paint and the gel until you get an interesting mix. Do not over-stir, otherwise you’ll get a muddy color instead of different color blends.

gel-4Once you are finished blending, the hard part starts–patience. Before you peel the skin off it has to have cured overnight–and that’s in Phoenix. You may have to wait longer if it’s humid where you live.  Peel it off too early, and you won’t get a single piece, but rather rubbery bits. It does need time, so I like doing skins before I go to bed at night. That way, they are ready the next day. I deliberately made this uneven–thinner and thicker places. I think it’s more interesting to play with.

Quinn McDonald never got over playing with paints.