Weed Barrier Art Journal Background

When the temperature drops in the winter, “cold” is a relative term. In the Sonoran desert, if it drops to freezing, our vegetation starts to die. Some succulents suffer below 40 degrees F, but when it gets below freezing, things get serious. Tonight will dip into the low- to mid-20s, and if that happens, I will lose most of the cactus, succulents, natal plums, Red Honeysuckle, desert bird of paradise, blue agave and aloes. The citrus trees and fig may survive. Last time it was 29 degrees, I lost chunks of cactus and shrubs.

weedblockIn search of freeze cloth, I went to several places but no luck. Stores don’t stock a lot of it, so it sells out quickly when it gets cold. Since I couldn’t find any, I settled for weed barrier. It was a non-woven fiber, allows some sun to penetrate (great since I have to leave it up for the next four days), and I spent most of the afternoon wrapping cactus and shrubs.

After I was done, I brought the end of the 50-ft roll of weed barrier inside. I cut off a piece and took a look at it. Light cool-gray, light weight, hmmm. it would make a good background for a journal page. Glue will glop it up, so I decided to use fusible webbing to attach it to a free-standing journal page of 140-lb watercolor paper.

Tomorrow, I’m getting some black Misty-Fuse for decoration, but for tonight, I was happy with the result. I’ll also check to see what it takes to write on it. It’s pretty smooth, but it will need a brush or heavy pen to deal with the fibers.

Stay tuned for step two!

–Quinn McDonald has completed the first five chapters of the inner hero book. Three more to go!

Bubble Background Tutorial

You may remember bubble backgrounds from elementary school. It’s fun, satisfyingly messy and gives consistently good results. I can be done on almost any paper, although thick, uncoated stock works best.

Here is the step-by-step for the Grown-Up Artist version of Bubble Background.


  • Newspapers, because this is messy
  • Acrylic paint in several colors. Thick body acrylics work best. Watercolor in tubes will work, but acrylic are opaque, and that’s what you want.
  • Straws. Bendy straws are best
  • Clean water in a pourable container
  • Dishwashing soap. Not dishwashER soap, not shampoo
  • Paper towels. This is messy
  • 3 small bowls, smaller than cereal bowls. If you don’t have condiment bowls, use paper cups cut down. About 2 inches tall is all you want. A bowl is nicer because it has a wider mouth. I used small bowls because they photograph well.

Materials, ready to go.


1. Put paint in bowl. About a teaspoon.
2. Pour water over paint. About a quarter cup.

Photo above:  Not enough paint. I added more later.
3. Use straw to stir water and paint together well.Squirt about 2 teaspoons of soap into bowls.
4. Stir soap and paint water together.

5.  Put the straw into the paint/soap water and blow gently to create bubbles. Start slowly and pick up speed. The bubbles should rise over the rim of the bowl.

6.  Pick up a sheet of paper and put it flat down over the bowl. If you touch the paper to the bowl, it will leave a ring of paint. This can be interesting. The bubbles will leave a print of color on the paper.

7.  Put the paper over the whole bowl. I left the bowl showing so you could see both the paper and bowl.

8.  If your bubbles aren’t dark enough, you can use more paint.

  • This sample was flipped over. Note tiny bubbles on upper right corner

[I have no idea how come those bullets are there, but I can neither make them go away nor make the numbers continuous without them. ]

9.  Another way to darken the bubbles is to put the paper on the bubbles, then turn it bubble-side-up and allow the bubbles to pop on the paper. This distributes more paint onto the paper.
  • Yellow acrylic paint bubble background

In the photo above, I did the red first, then the yellow.

In this photo, the color order was yellow, purple, red. A much better mix.

Comparison of one color and three color pages. Both can be used both as they are an in layers or as color-in color. Cutting out a single color square can coordinate nicely with a multi-color background. You can use this technique right in your journal as well.

–Quinn McDonald loves exploring design and color on small surfaces. Her book Raw Art Journaling has several other experiments in it.

Sand Castle Journal Page

Now that it’s summer, wouldn’t it be great to build a sand castle? Don’t want to get gritty? Build a castle in your journal instead, with ink and a stencil. Use it as a background, or work it into a dramatic foreground image. This one is almost 3 feet wide, but you’ll see that you can use the same idea on a variety of journal pages, from small to medium to big.

I purchased a chipboard “book”–one that had a number of  chipboard pages–shaped like a sand castle. Instead of

stencils of castles decorate a journal page.

attaching the pages with binder rings, I coated the pages with gesso to protect them. I then put three pieces high on the page, covered the rest of the page with a blank piece of paper to protect it, and sprayed ink on the page, using the book pages as a stencil.

To create spray ink, I used Adirondack re-inkers, bottles of concentrated ink used to refill stamp pads. This brand is from Ranger, the company most people associate with Tim Holtz. I used two drops of denim and one drop of eggplant in a Mini-Mister,  added 10 drops of water, and sprayed across the top. You can mix re-inker colors quite nicely. (These aren’t alcohol inks). If you do this, use distilled water to dilute so the mini-mister doesn’t clog. You can also use the ink you create in dip pens and brush calligraphy. I load technical drawing pens with the ink, too.

After waiting about a minute for the ink to dry, I carefully picked up the first layer and rearranged a second layer, using some of the pages I used before as well as some new ones. This time I sprayed the left side with the color pesto and the right side with mushroom. For the final layer I sprayed mushroom mixed with ginger and one drop of butterscotch. You can see the piece with two towers and the gate on the right repeated again on the far left. Repositioning the pieces makes the piece more interesting without looking repetitive.  What please me was the places of most coverage are white, which

Close up of a page showing the definition of color and white space.

will let me write on the page and make the most of the white space as well.

The really great part is that I can continue to create different backgrounds on different journals. The gesso can always be reapplied if I want to start over and create a sandcastle book. I could also paint a solid, very dark blue background, then trace around the edge of the chipboard in white china marker (grease pencil)  and create mid-dark  first line (with Payne’s Gary) and a medium-dark second line of castle images (Payne’s mixed in with a tiny bit of white) and put in yellow windows, to create a somber collage background. If you are fussy about the ring-holes showing, you can cover them with tape. I plan on turning them into windows–round on top, flat on the bottom, when I work on the page.

You can use any interesting stencil to do this. I love the castle because there is a lot of potential to write about vacations, or travel, or dreams, or even sandcastle ideas–ones that you use quickly and that are washed away over time.

Leave a comment if you have ideas about using this or other stencils in your art journal.

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler, who works at the intersection of words and images. She teaches one-sentence journaling, journaling for perfectionists and raw-art journaling, which includes found poetry.

Art Journaling with Security Papers

Security envelopes are printed in different patterns.

Security papers are found in envelopes to hide the contents of the envelope. Years ago, envelopes were lined with tissue papers, now they simply have a printed pattern. For years I thought the patterns were all the same, but recently, when I was opening a lot of bills (sigh), I noticed the printed patterns varied from envelope to envelope.

Here’s a scan of a lot of patterns. I think they’ll make great backgrounds for journal pages. Some are quite dark and distracting, others are a little paler. Wonder if I can mix prints?

–Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler whose book, Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light Craft Books in June, 2011.