Stenciling Art Journal Pages

Stencils have never really thrilled me; I’ve never believed I knew how to use them. While experimenting this weekend, I discovered what I’d missed–a simple, effective stencil technique that makes great art journal pages or, trimmed down and layered on decorative paper, beautiful cards.

I am a fan of white-on-white or monochrome compositions, so I kept the early design simple:

stencilcurlyWhat you’ll need:

  • Stencil
  • Painter tape (See below)
  • Heavy paper (see below)
  • Palette knife
  • Regular gel (I use Golden’s Satin)
  • Bucket of water
  • Paper towels

1. Use heavy, slightly-sized paper. Print paper (not photocopy paper, but paper you would use for making letterpress or monoprints–at least 100 lbs), hot-press watercolor paper or smooth watercolor cards work well for this.

2. Position the stencil where you want it. Tape it down securely with blue painter tape or, even better, Frog Tape. Test the tape on a piece of paper to see that it doesn’t pull up paper when you remove it.

3. Using a palette knife, spread a thin, even coat of Golden Regular Gel (that’s exactly what it says on the label) across the stencil, working from left to right and top to bottom.

Close up of gel detail

Close up of gel detail

4. As soon as you have an even coat across the entire stencil area, check to make sure there are no gaps or bubbles, then remove the tape and the stencil. Pull the stencil straight up from a corner to avoid smearing.

5. Toss the stencil in a bucket of water until you can clean it. Once the gel sets, it’s hard to scrub off. Allow the card to dry completely before you cut it or trim it.

Once you get tired of the plain gel, you can add interference colors to the gel. (About 1 color to 4 gel). Interference colors give the image a sheen of color at certain angles.

Here are trees so you can’t see the interference in the gel


And here it is tilted so you can see the blue/green shimmer.


Want more choices? Try adding Pearl Ex pigment or gold acrylic paint to the gel.


You can also add silver acrylic paint.


If you want more color, you can use watercolors or pale acrylic to create a color background. But that’s another post!

–Quinn McDonald is glad she has a stash of stencils to play with. There is writing that needs doing on these pages.

Testing Resists

Resists are pencils, pens or liquids like rubber cement that prevent color from soaking into paper. I love using resists on my art journaling pages because it gives a type of texture to the page.

Tonight I tried three different resists, to completely different results and a big surprise to me. It seems the traditional resists I’ve used for a long time don’t always work the same way.

The first one I tried is white Uniball Signo gel pen from Jet Pens. I’ve used it to write on top of color and like the effect. It puts down a nice smooth, even line. I thought writing on Strathmore Ready-cut watercolor paper first, then using color, it would give me a nice resist. Not at all.  The gel ink soaks into the watercolor paper and the color goes on over it. I was surprised.

You can see the white faintly on the right side of the page.

I then tried Sharpie Poster Paint pens, which I did not expect to work well, but did, although it’s faint.  I used watercolor pencils and a wet brush. I painted the wet brush across the pencil and used it as paint. You can see the dots as well as the flower on the middle of the page, right side.

Colored grease pencils with wrap-sharpening showing. Image from

Next I tried grease pencil, also called tile marker or china marker, is a white waxy pencil that is supported by a wrap of paper that you peel off to expose more pencil. I thought this would work; it’s my go-to resist pencil.

You can see a faint diagonal line at the upper right corner and a few dots.

It didn’t work as well as I thought. I’ll admit, it worked a lot better with an ink wash, but I was using watercolor pencils, so it’s quite pale, but visible.

What worked best? Utrecht liquid frisket. I applied it with a brush. Use a cheap brush and be prepared to throw it out. The bottle says you can rinse the brush with soap and water, but after I do that, I throw it out. It’s just not the same anymore.

Frisket works best, but I can't get even, straight lines.

The dots are clear because the frisket goes down wet, dries, and you rub it off like rubber cement. There are no straight lines, but I like the clear effect, even if the watercolor is pale.

So, there are three variables: paper, resist, and the watercolor. I need to try ink washes to see if I get better results than watercolor pencils.

–Quinn McDonald likes the word “resist” because that’s what we do when we face ourselves in our art.

Collage Postcard

Chris Dunmire runs The Creativity Portal. If you’ve never visited, do take a peek. You may never come back, but I’d rather have you slip into the rabbit hole of wonder and creativity than not see it. Chris is turning 40, and wants postcards. You don’t have to ask me twice.

I wanted to make a collage postcard for Chris, something that expressed a wish and was fun to make.

Three wise-woman wishes for Chris.

After some thought, I wanted to send Chris the traditional three magic wishes. Because Chris is a powerful woman, I wanted the wishes to be women.

Three women, watching the dawn of a new year, each with the power of a wish. One represents travel and international friendship, one represents color and self-expression, one represents words and thoughts–all happy, of course!

Start with a base of Strathmore, ready-cut 5×7-inch watercolor paper (cold press). I cut out the cloaks–from a map, a piece of shaving-foam marbled paper, and a book page. Then I cut out the hair from black paper and sprayed it with a product called Goosebumps Texture Spray by Tsukineko. The spray adds a gloss and speckles. I used it to add gloss and texture to the hair, to separate it from the background.

When I was done, I created a morning sky with the marbled paper, added a mountain horizon with black paper that covered the rest of the card. Then I added the three wishing wise women and their hair.

Of course, the second I completed the card, I wanted to make a series–lighter background, different cloaks. Maybe different hair. It might be irresistible to try.

Happy Birthday, Chris!

–Quinn McDonald loves making single-page art journal sheets that she brazenly calls postcards and  mails.

Postcards for a Swap

One of my must-read blogs is iHanna–and she is running a postcard swap again this year. Last year, the group made 2,800 cards, and this year, joining seemed to be loaded with potential, so I signed up. I’m making a lot of loose leaf pages for an art journal, so postcards are not that different.

First, I asked artist Bo Mackison if I could use Pottery Row, one of her Southwest photographs, to alter and work with. Lucky for me, Bo is generous and said yes.  The first thing I did was print out the photo on a piece of cotton fabric and ironed it on a piece of paper. To make sure it stayed, I zig-zag stitched around the edge. Thanks for art-pal Rosaland  Hannibal who taught me how to zig-zag to make a good-looking edge.

Bo Mackison's photo printed on cotton fabric, then stitched to watercolor paper.

The image looks soft because it’s printed on fabric. I like the sweep of color; it looks like a watercolor painting.

Next, I isolated one of the pots and printed it off in different sizes. I combined it with a disc of mica and placed it on top of an inked page.

Printed photographs, mica, ink-stained pages, stitching.

The curve of the pots seemed so interesting, I wanted to focus on them. For the next card, I printed out the single pot in a series of sizes and different papers and overstitched them, using an undulating stitch that mimics a paper cut-out I use frequently. (It appears on pgs. 63, 90-91 in my book, Raw Art Journaling.)

Photographic print, stitched onto watercolor paper.

The pot series may continue, but I wanted to try some other objects. Peacock feathers are a favorite object of mine. I bought one and took the dye out, and then bleached it. The effect is interesting on a wonderful subtle fabric that blends several browns and a hint of blue.

Peacock feather on fabric.

Now I needed some more color. Rosaland taught me to save all the clean-up paper towels and see what they look like dry. One was soaked in bright colors. I trimmed off a piece, attached it to watercolor paper, and stitched over it in bright colors. This technique will get a lot more exploration, but this first try is fun.

Dyed paper towel stitched on watercolor paper.

iHanna’s swap will require 10 postcards, and I may not use these, but it’s a great beginning. I also recently joined Postcrossing, and while I haven’t found someone who wants to exchange handmade postcards, I’m enjoying sending Arizona postcards to people around the world.

Quinn McDonald is deeply absorbed in mixed media art journal pages. She will be teaching these and other techniques at Valley Ridge Art Studio on May 5-6, 2012. There is still room in the class.

Butterfly Journal Page

When you aren’t an illustrator, you develop workarounds to show figurative work. I have a strong sense of narrative, and that comes first. Ummm, that means if you can’t draw, you better have a good story to tell with color, design and texture.

I’m working on a series of loose-leaf journal pages. The idea for this one is about the ability to change–opinions, colors, emotions–any kind of change. The butterfly, a figure I like very much, represents change. Colors, shapes, number of legs. From something that crawls to something that flies. From something that chomps to something that sips. A huge change.

Two fine, see-through, jersey-like fabrics.

I found a swatch of blue and greeny butterfly-print fabric. Perfect. I found another swatch in a sort of paisley in a darker blue and green. Both were very lightweight and elusive.

Cut-out butterfly

First, I cut out a piece containing a butterfly. Using fusible webbing, I ironed the butterfly onto a soft, firm paper. This gave it enough body to cut out the shape without worrying about the silky fabric crawling away under my scissors. I discarded the antennae–I’ll add those back in later.

Butterfly on paisley background.

Using more fusible webbing, I iron the silky blue-green sheer fabric to a journal page, in this case, Strathmore pre-cut watercolor paper. I attach the butterfly with another patch of fusible webbing. Since I’m going to sew the butterfly, I just need to hold the butterfly in place, so there are just four spots of adhesive.

Glue would pucker the fabric, bleed through to the watercolor paper, or stain.

Using a sewing machine, I zig-zag stitch around the postcard using an intense blue.This finishes the edge and gives the piece a frame. I also sew the edge of the butterfly with a variegated thread to add textural interest. The antennae get put back on with glitter glue. I also edge the wings in glue to create a big separation from the background, and yes, to hide a few wobbly stitches.

The butterfly doesn’t quite read “change” yet. I want to show that this butterfly had ambition–so she stole her colors, not from her background, but from another winged creature–a peacock.

Butterfly takes wing--from peacock.

Using Misty-Fuse (thanks Rosaland, for showing me that trick!), I attach a peacock feather to the journal page. The Misty-Fuse creates hold without glue-marks.

The other side will carry the story. And that’s another blog post.

Quinn McDonald is completely enchanted with the idea of loose journal pages and the covers that will hold them.