Gold Sumi-e Color and a Giveaway

Note: Congratulations to Kimberly Santini, who won the Gold Sumi-e Watercolor in the cute ceramic dish! Can’t wait to see what she does with it!

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One of the items Niji gave me to play with when I became a designer for them is their dish of pale gold sumi-e watercolor paint. Rich with gold and possibility, I’ve found several ways to make the most of it.


Ceramic dish of pale gold sumi-e watercolor paint by Yasutomo.

I can’t help it, I love the 2-3/4-inch ceramic dish it comes in. And I’m giving a dish of it away. (Details below.)

My new favorite way to apply it is with a brayer–the roller you use to apply ink to printing plates.

Using black paper and gold paint, I made a fantasy card.  For the background, choose a sturdy paper like Strathmore ArtAgain or Arches cover. Using a fat, fairly stiff brush (I use a glue brush), mix some water into the dish. Load the brush and then snap the brush to drip gold sumi-e paint on the paper.

GoldXImmediately, roll the brayer up over the paint. You can use a painted stripe if you want to include a horizon line.

Gold7I added a painted circle out of the acrylic paper for a moon and let it extend beyond the edge, trimming off the extra. You can read the entire instructions on the Niji blog page, here.

Gold6If fantasy cards aren’t your thing, you can use the gold sumi-e paint to color shipping tags, too. I had already painted several of them with acrylics (for my Tiny Journal class this weekend at Arizona Art Supply) I splashed some gold ink on them and rolled the brayer across to add bold patterns.

Last week, at the Craft and Hobby Association convention in Anaheim, California, I discovered that Yasutomo was introducing a new paper.  It’s made of  . . . minerals. Called Mineral White in the origami paper and All Media paper for artists, it is amazing to work with. Yes, it is made from very finely ground calcium carbonate in a soft binder. It feels like paper, but it has a huge benefit for watercolor artists–the paper doesn’t curl when wet. It stays flat no matter what you do with it. No buckling at all.

Gold4Here is a sheet of Mineral White with gold sumi-e watercolor brayered across it. It looks like a landscape of mountains. It’s great for art journaling or origami. You can also use it for origami or collage.

Gold9This is the Mineral White with a blue and green Splash Ink wash and a spritz of water to create the look of rain.

Then I brayered gold watercolor across it for another whole dimension of color and glitz.

Just because it’s watercolor doesn’t mean you have to use a brush to paint it on!

To win a 2-3/4-inch ceramic dish of Yasutomo pale gold sumi-e paint, you have to do two things:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog.
  2. Like the Yasutomo Facebook page.

The winner will be announced on January 27, on this blog post and on the Yasutomo Facebook page.

There’s another giveaway going on today: Photographer Bo Mackison (I altered a photograph she took in the Inner Hero book) is giving away a copy of my new book on her blog.

Quinn McDonald is the author of the newly-released Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She is on the Niji Design Team and is an art journaler, writer, and certified creativity coach.

dtbutton1Yasutomo provided the materials to all design team members and will provide the paint to the winner.

The Slippery Surface of Yupo

Yupo® is a polypropylene synthetic paper. It has a smooth white surface, is semi-opaque, and makes a very interesting sheet for watercolor, ink and acrylics.

There are pros and cons. Because it is non-absorbent (read: waterproof), whatever you use on it has to dry by evaporation into the air (instead of absorbing into the fiber).


In the photo above, you can see the light reflecting on a piece of wet Yupo®. Look closely, and you’ll see that only the top 2/3 of the page is wet. If you leave the page flat, the water doesn’t drift.

Color skates along the surface, and blending goes a long way. You’ll probably need less acrylic, ink, or watercolor.

Acrylic paint: sap green, blue, fine gold on Yupo.

Acrylic paint: sap green, blue, fine gold monoprinted on Yupo.

Because I’m a designer for Niji art products, I decided to give Splash Inks a try on Yupo®.

Splash Inks on Yupo®

Splash Inks on Yupo®

First, I tried simply putting the inks on the surface, spritzing it with water and tilting it. Interesting effect. When the inks dry, they cannot be scrubbed off with a paper towel and water. They will lift off with a paper towel and alcohol and some scrubbing, but a faint image will remain. Makes a nice ghost print.

niji9But I wanted to create an abstracted image, so I put down a blue wash on the top of the page, and an orange-brown wash on the bottom. I allowed it to dry thoroughly–about an hour in Phoenix. Then I dropped Splash black ink (two drops, about an inch apart) on the page, and used a straw to create a tree trunk. I blue the drops up until I had interesting lines, then used a coffee-stirrer-size straw to blow across the lines and create offshoots. (For more detailed instructions and photos, read the tutorial on Splash Inks on Yupo)

tree3I then mixed up some bright orange ink (I free-mix, but there are instructions for colors with the inks), and using a stiffer glue brush, pounced the brush on the surface, creating the illusion of autumn leaves. And the tree was done.

Full instructions for this tree and two more are on the Niji blog for January 3, 2014.

—Quinn McDonald is delighted to have been invited as a guest instructor at the Minneapolis Book Arts Center this April. She will be teaching Mind Over Chatter, a journaling class with Gelli plates.


Acrylic Skins for Upcycling

First things first: Pia from ColourCottage won one of the new Inner Hero books! The other winner was Suzanne Ourths–congratulations to both winners! As soon as my shipment arrives, two books will be on the way to new owners!

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Show me a container and I’m in love–cardboard, plastic, wood–if it’s well designed, I will find a use for it. No clever container goes in the trash, it get upcycled.  In this case, I used a small drawer-shaped cardboard box, about 3 inches by 3 inches.

After painting it in cream and black, I decided to add an acrylic skin to dress up the box. It will hold small pieces of paper for journal or collage work. Some of the skins are made with Splash Inks and some with acrylic paint.

drip2Pour three or four puddles of tar gel directly onto a teflon craft sheet. About two tablespoons of tar gel makes a good size finished piece. I’ve tried glue and acrylic gloss medium for this project, but I find that clear-drying tar gel gives the best results.

drip3Using a plastic dropper, put three or four drops of different colors in each puddle of tar gel. Rinse the dropper well between each color to prevent further blending.

drip5Using the stirrer, blend the colors by dragging the stirrer through the tar medium and colors. I start at one edge and draw the stirrer through to the other side, then circle and cross through the colors like you would if you were incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter–always cutting through the middle.

The gold adds a dramatic effect, but add it last. Because it contains a lot of pigment, it likes to settle to the bottom. You can use the Niji gold sumi-e watercolor, or acrylic fine gold iridescent paint.

Now comes the hardest part of this project. You have to wait for the puddles to dry completely. It will take at least 24 hours. You can use a hair dryer, but be careful. You don’t want to push the shape around. Do not put this project in the stove or microwave to dry it. Patience produces the best results. If you live in a damp climate, it may take three days to dry.  Here in Phoenix, it takes 24 hours.

Find a piece that is attractive and matches what you plan to place into the box. paint the back with clear-drying glue. Do not use tar gel as glue.

box1It’s nice to have one edge wrap over the edge of the box. Place carefully. Don’t slide the gel skin because the glue will leave a mark on the box. Because the tar gel dries perfectly clear, the skin allows the color of the painted box to show through.

box2Here, I used a large one on the front of the box, and a smaller one on the back of the box. The upcycled box is now a handsome gift box, ready to hold the small journal sheets or other surprise!

Read the complete instructions (with more photos) on the Niji blog site.

–Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member, a collage artist, blogger,and the author of Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, released this week from North Light books.

dtbutton1As a Niji Design Team member, I do not get paid to play with art materials. However, Niji sent me a box of materials to play with.

Monoprint Mug Mat (Tutorial)

Gelli Art plates are my latest obsession, and I’m discovering how much fun they can be. Today I’m demonstrating for Arizona Art Supply at the Phoenix Women’s Expo. I thought it would be smart to demonstrate something practical, so I made a mug mat, using a Gelli Arts printing plate, Studio Cloth, paints, and masks that I cut myself. I’ll be teaching a Gelli plate class at Arizona Art Supply on November 2, in Phoenix. If you are in Tucson, I’ll be there on November 17. (Mark the date, registration isn’t open yet.)

Mug mats protect your desk from spills and smears and provide a nice surface for a mug of coffee, tea, soup and perhaps a snack. They come in many sizes; this one is larger than most.


Here’s what you will need:

  • A Gelli Arts plate, any size. Mine is 8 inches x 10 inches..
  • One piece Studio Cloth, the size of your mug mat. Mine is about 10 inches x 12 inches.
  • A fat quarter of batik fabric, in colors that coordinate with the colors on the mug mat.
  • Sewing machine and thread (optional).
  • Acrylic paints, several different colors
  • Brayer, 2-inch or 3-inch.
  • Paper mask, one in the shape of a tea bag, one in the shape of the tag.
  • Sturdy cardstock, to cut masks
  • Pen, pencil and tea bag (to create mask)
  • Baby wipes (to clean plate)
  • Decorative comb

Drip several dark colors of acrylic paint onto the Gelli plate. About a teaspoon will do. I used Quinadricone Dark Orange, Payne’s Gray, and a bit of Iridescent gold.

Brayer the colors over the plate to reach the corners. Take a print on either side of the Studio Cloth. Allow cloth to dry completely. Take another print off the plate to create a ghost print to use for another project.

While the cloth is drying, place he tea bag and the tag on cardstock, trace around the outline, and cut out.

Re-ink the plate with lighter colors. I used Titan Buff, Periwinkle blue. Brayer over the plate, which will pick up color from the last application.

Place the tea-bag mask and tag at differing angles on the plate. Using the non-bristle side of a brush, create a “string” connecting the tea bag and the tag with a curved line. This design will remove paint.

Using decorative combs or other household objects, create patterns around the tea bag. Take a print on the same side of the Studio Cloth as before. The mask and the scraping of the paint will allow the darker first coat to come though. Allow to dry.

LinerCut a piece of batik cloth a bit larger that the Studio Cloth. Fuse to the back of the cloth using Pellon fusible webbing. (Make sure it sticks on both sides). Create a fabric sandwich: Studio Cloth, painted side down; fusible webbing; batik fabric, right side facing you. Iron to fuse.

Trim away any extra fabric, then use a zig-zag stitch to edge the Studio Cloth. You can also use a decorative scissors to trim the edge. Studio Cloth will not fray.

Your mug mat is ready to use! You can seal it with acrylic paint sealer. I leave mine the way it is and surface clean it if it needs it.

You can also use canvas, but you will have to gesso it first.

Quinn McDonald is enjoying playing with Gelli plates.

Ink Art Forest (Tutorial)

Accidental art is a type of Raw Art–you deliberately give up control to create art. For perfectionists (or us recovering perfectionists), it’s hard to give up control voluntarily. The resulting joy is seeing accidental art develop in front of your eyes.

Niji9For years, I’ve been working with an ink technique based on a mix of control and complete lack of control. Here’s a short video of that technique:

A few days ago, I created a journal page for the Niji Design Team that was both simple and stark.  It does not require you to be an illustrator. Here’s how to do it.



Here’s how you make the journal page

1. Spray a very fine mist of water on the front of the watercolor paper. It will curl slightly, with the middle higher than the edges (convex).

2. Wet the larger watercolor brush, blot, and load with ink. Very carefully, touch the tip of the brush to the drops of water. The ink will jump across the water droplets, forming interesting spidery shapes. These are pine branches.

Niji34. Work slowly and carefully up and down the page, creating these patterns. It takes a little practice–use less spray water than you think. The droplets should be separate to avoid a black wash of ink.

5. Repeat the process on the same side of the page, on the other edge. Allow to dry. Add an ink line down the vertical edge of the page. Rinse your brush.

Niji66.  When the paper is dry,  use the thin brush to draw a horizon line at the bottom third  of the page, between the trees. Use the waste water, it will still produce a light gray line.

7. Fill in some of the white areas with a very pale gray wash to indicate clouds and the ground. You have a journal page of contrast and visual interest. You can add hand-lettering if you’d like.

Niji8You can create different pages with creative use of different details.

For complete direction for this page, visit the Niji Design Team page.

Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member. She was not paid to belong to the team, but did receive free products to experiment with from Yasutomo /Niji.


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.


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.

Postcard to Yourself

Art journaling has become rote: You paint several backgrounds first, then design and layer stencils, paint, collage, and words later.  Move on. There is charm in free-slapping paint and words. You can also be precise with color and words, like Teesha Moore, whom I admire greatly for meticulous design.

Postcard with butterfly made of maps and Monsoon Papers. © Quinn McDonald 2013

Postcard with butterfly made of maps and Monsoon Papers. Butterfly path says “Sometimes your inner hero grabs the map and flies off with it.” © Quinn McDonald 2013

Long a fan of writing-only journals,  I still prefer to work out thoughts and emotions one page at a time. Without the constriction of a completed background color that no longer matches my emotion. If I work on several pages at once, they are all free-standing, drying in peace, without waxed paper.

Free-standing pages give you emotional and creative freedom. You can gather and sort at leisure. If you use 5-inch by 7-inch watercolor paper (A5 or A6 work just as well) you can also use them as postcards.  (Use regular letter postage in the U.S.) The stamp and postage mark add charm and a certain amount of wear, making your thoughts look well-used.

I belong to an international postcard exchange (Postcrossing)  and send about 30 postcards a month. People post their requests, hoping you will send a theme or style of postcard. Some people request no handmade or art postcards, and I honor that request. One person requested postcards with butterflies, and I made one, only to notice she didn’t want handmade cards. I had addressed it already, so gesso to the rescue. But that meant not sending it to someone in the exchange. I decided to send it to . . .myself. I wouldn’t mind the gesso’d over spot.

Back of postcard, with butterfly made from textbook and braille paper. It says, "Sometimes, you have to follow blind, trusting as you fly. It feels awkward, but you are still flying." © Quinn McDonald 2013

Back of postcard, with butterfly made from textbook and braille paper. It says, “Sometimes, you have to follow blind, trusting as you fly. It feels awkward, but you are still flying.” © Quinn McDonald 2013

Getting a postcard is completely different than turning a journal page and reading. Grabbing your mail and sorting it has a mindset of grumpy bill paying, tossing out, getting the chore over with.

Discovering a postcard with a personal message is the equivalent of slamming on the brakes before you pass the store you’ve been looking for. You see and feel the message in a completely different mindset–one of vulnerability and surprise. What better time to get a message you need?

—Quinn McDonald designs free-standing pages, postcards, and containers to hold them.  She is teaching these postcards in Tucson on September 22, 2013.


On My Workdesk . . .

Note: Thanks for the 76 percent of readers who would read a newsletter. Another 11 percent said “It depends if I like it.”  So, it looks like I’ll be starting a newsletter soon. Stay tuned–I have to create a space to sign up and get the first copy together. Thanks for voting!  Congratulations Barbara I –you are the winner of Marney’s book!

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While I’m working on the Commonplace Journal, ideas began to bubble to the surface of my brain. Many of the pieces I work on are now looseleaf pages. Why?

Looseleaf pages

  • let you create more than one page at a time
  •  allow you to work on different stages at the same time
  • let you to turn the page in different directions while you are working.
  • give you more freedom in color choices–you don’t have to worry about pages that back up to each other and don’t coordinate
  • Don’t have a gutter or a wire  coil to work against
  • Let you separate private from public pages (important if you teach)
  • Encourage sorting through your work in ways that a book doesn’t
  • carry a smaller package of looseleaf pages to work on instead of a bulky book

The very idea of “book” is a closed object. We think of a row of spines, books closed in.

bookrowNow suppose you store your looseleaf pages in such a way as to invite opening, sorting, reading them, even cutting them up to recycle them into new pages. Now that’s a real art journal.

In the Inner Hero book (coming out in January), I have several suggestions on how to carry looseleaf pages. But the one I remember best from Middle- and High-School is the three-ring binder. It’s practical, it is meant to be opened. It lies flat (it really is lie in this case and not lay).

Binder1The big binder shape is a little awkward, but that’s where I started. I used a recycled binder, a naked one with no creepy plastic. Note that the outside edges are offset. That’s fine. When it’s full of paper, that will disappear.

Binder2Using, gaffer’s tape, I covered the space around the ring mechanism and the place where the Japanese Washi paper meets the book-tape edge on the outside. (You’ll see it in the next photo).  Gaffer’s tape is a woven cloth tape, very similar (but less expensive) than book-binder’s tape. I mitered the corners and glued the washi paper down.

Binder3Although this Japanese paper looks delicate, it can take a lot of abuse. It’s dense and tough. I glued it with PVA book glue, being careful not to stretch it, so it wouldn’t warp the cover. You can see the black gaffer’s tape that protects the join of the paper to the red cloth cover on the spine.

Binder4Using map pieces and the index for the atlas of maps, I created a collage for the inside covers. You can see the effect of taped edges on the left compared to un-taped on the right. I taped both sides to make the book look neat.

The first thing that went in was the 27- page quote collection I printed off yesterday. Then some other inspiration pages. For now, this is going to be the reference journal.

Coming up next: Smaller three-ring binder journals, about 7 inches x 10 inches. No, they won’t fit in my bag, but they don’t need to. I now carry looseleaf pages in my Monsoon Paper carrying case. (below)

papercaseI’ll be teaching Monsoon Papers and the carrying case on Saturday, July 13, at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix. Save the date, details will be on my website soon.

How do you feel about using a binder to hold journal pages?

-Quinn McDonald is prepping four classes, one online and three in-person.





Collage and Perspective

Working on another letter-and-number collage, I made a few decisions. Just letters and numbers is tedious. More color is needed to keep the work visually interesting. So I added maps pieces for mountains. But something wasn’t right. The piece looked odd.

Thanks so the experienced eye of a collage-art teacher, I learned something important about perspective. “To get the book to sit up, you have to place it into the mountains, not just up against them.” That made sense. Collage is a forgiving medium, so I could add mountains around the book, correcting the problem.

Collage in progress.

Collage in progress.

To make the perspective of depth happen from the front of the field to the back, I wanted to add wider strips of paper in the front. That wasn’t quite enough, so type came back to the rescue. There is a small line of type on the right, toward the back. Larger handwriting type is in the front. That helps set the perspective.

The completed collage

The completed collage

Why is the type line on the right upside down? It’s a complete line of type and makes sense if you read it. I don’t want the reader to feel the focus is in that line of type. So I placed it upside down, covered in tissue, giving a sense of scale, not not making it the important thing to look at, that’s still the book.

I like this development from the pear to this piece, and I’m ready for the next step, which is using numbers and letters for definition and shading, but collage elements in the background. Another choice is to paint the background and make the focal point collage. Experimentation is called for.

-Quinn McDonald has gluey fingers and a better perspective.