Blown By The Wind

Haboobs, or dust storms, roll into Phoenix regularly during monsoon. High winds push balcony furniture back and forth across the balcony, roll potted plants down the street, push birds into trees, and dirt into just about anything.

One of the nice parts of the storms is seeing the unusual places trash comes to rest. I’ve seen a Coke can in a tree, a hat stuck on a cactus, and a cat collar with no cat, hanging on a street sign.

This morning, I saw a vinca blossom, stripped from the plant, and stuck in a fan palm. This delights me for the unusual combination of color and shape. I also found the delicate palm fiber almost calligraphic as it held the blossom in place. Art is in front of us. All we need to do is enjoy it. My art to draw in my journal to remind me that I’m safe from the storm. This time.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who helps people get unstuck and dare to be happy.

Fun with Neocolor II

Neocolor II come in various sizes: 10, 15, 30, and more. They come in a lovely tin.

Neocolor II is a wax crayon that is water soluble and can be used like watercolor or gouache. Because I am stuck creatively, I bought a set of Caran D’Ache Neocolor II to play with. Having no expectation of outcome helps build creative curiosity. Here’s how I experimented.

(No one asked me to write about Neocolors, and I am not getting paid to write this post. )

If you wonder what a creative drought looks like, you can read about it in the post called In Search of Lost Creativity.

First, in order to see how these colors work, I used them dry in a watercolor journal. Once I scribbled some dry crayon on the page, I used a brush dipped in water to blend and pull the color down.

Neocolors used on Yupo.

The colors are beautifully transparent and they do blend quite well. I could see these being used as travel paints without the mess.

Because I work with alcohol inks, I thought it might be interesting to try out Neocolors on Yupo, the plastic substrate so perfect for alcohol inks.

The results are really interesting.  Each color wets well and can be dragged. Blending colors works well, too. More water means lighter color. But you can add color in with a wet crayon as well.

The only drawback is that Yupo is a sealed surface, and the colors will smear and pick up, even days later. But if you frame a piece, the problem is solved.

Next, I ripped a piece of deli paper into a jagged, long piece.

I scribbled color along the edge, being careful not to smear it over the edge.

The colored edge is placed in a journal page. Using a damp makeup sponge, I brushed up, from the edge of the color onto the page, creating a landscape look. This has a lot of possibilities.

Please note that this is an experiment of a product, not a finished piece of art. Before I get serious about anything, I experiment. A lot. I encourage it to avoid disappointment and predicted failure.

The sky was made by dabbing the makeup sponge, which had been used to create the mountain range, across the sky. The dots appeared because the makeup sponge was thin and I applied a lot of finger pressure.

Neocolors are rich and apply easily. I’m still awkward with them, but I already know they are going to come with me on my next trip instead of a watercolor set. I can take a few and blend colors as needed.

I could see people using them in coloring books and to make cards. There is a lot of experimenting ahead!

Quinn McDonald is a writer and collage artist.


Tutorial: Bag Journal for Looseleaf Pages

Yesterday, I posted a tutorial for a box for your loose-leaf journal pages. Today, your journal is going to be made from a paper handle bag–the kind that better stores use. This tutorial will use two different bag, but the style is the same.

Book2Here is a photo of the outside of the completed journal. Below is the first steps, using a different kind of bag.

Bag1Start by looking at the size of the bag. There are two ways to approach the bag journal. First, you can measure and cut all of our pages ahead of time. I did that with this one. Second, you can use this method to bind a variety of page sizes as long as two sheets (four pages) are the full size of the journal.

The first step is to fold the bag flat, so the bottom portion is flat against the sides of the bag.

Bag2Next, crease the bottom of the bag, along the center of the bottom. This will become the spine of the book. If the bag has paper handles, trim them off carefully. If the bag has ribbon handles, detach them.

Bag3Cut along the sides of the bag, top to bottom, in the center crease, as shown. Cut down both sides of the bag.

Bag4(Now I’m switching bags). Fold open the bag, making sure you fold the edges down neatly.

bag5You will now have the journal cover. The center spine will be a mountain fold that faces you. Strengthen the inside of the bag (now the front and back covers) with a layer of decorative paper.

This is the time to measure the bag for page size. Measuring before this stage allows too much stage for error (at least for me). Wait until the bag is fully cut, trimmed and the cover is complete. The mountain fold allows you to place a signature on each side. It also allows for pages with a lot of inclusions and attachments, if you like that style.

bag6Fold the pages so that like-size pages all are folded down the middle. Pages that aren’t the same size can be folded with a stub (one side shorter) or down the middle. In either case, line up all the creases, and nest the pages together in the order you like.

bag7Flip through the pages to make sure you have them all oriented correctly and in the right sequence. (I mess this up frequently. This is a good time to fix it.)

Open up the signature (group of nested pages) you plan on stitching into the back of the journal (right side of mountain fold). This will be a 5-stitch pamphlet. Mark five dots in the crease: one in the center (top to bottom) of the page. This is #3. The ones above and below the center mark (#2 and #4) should be the same distance from the center. Marks #1 and #5 (the top and bottom of page) should be the same distance from the mark nearest to them.

PamphletBindingUse an awl to make holes in the pages and cover at the same time.  Measure a length of 4-ply waxed linen twice the height of the book. The above diagram is taken from Design Sponge, which has an excellent 5-hole pamphlet stitch tutorial.

In the first signature, I put the knot on the inside of the pages.

bag9Repeat the same stitching for the other signature. This time, I made the knot on the outside, and tied the signature stitching together. This keeps the center fold from opening.

bag8Glue the ties to the inside of the book, allowing them to dry completely before continuing.

bag10Cut the ties in half, and repeat the gluing process on the other side. Tie a square knot to hold the journal closed.

Book1A look inside the completed journal. There is no writing because this is a sample for the tutorial.

Book3Another inside spread, showing the center of the book. The spine looks like a stub page, part of the charm of shopping bag journals.

I love making different journals with different bags. Some bags have colorful lining already in them. Others have cut-out handles, and some elegant black bags can be changed with bright ribbons. You can also paint or stencil the bags, but I like using bags with writing or logos on them and leaving them recognizable as recycled shopping bags.

Quinn McDonald is an art journaler and creativity coach. She is teaching journal-making classes at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts (April, 2014) and at Madeline Island School of the Arts (June, 2014).

Last Page of Your Journal

You already know what to put on the  first page of that new journal. No more staring at blank pages for you!  Once you get past the middle, you can decide how to end your journal.

How do you  end a journal so you don’t have to continue a thought, a project, or a story into another journal?

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Create a table of contents of favorite pages.  I like to come to the end of a project or idea flow in my journals. I don’t mind having a few blank pages in the back. Over time, I’ll fill those blank pages with dates of pages I keep looking up or those with favorite quotes or poems.  I don’t number my journal pages, but I date each page, so sometimes I write the start and end date at the end of the journal. It becomes a useful index to the contents.

Decorate the end pages. If there are a few blank pages left, I also cut steps into them. I trim the last page about an inch from the end, the next one two inches, and the third one three or four inches in from the book edge. Using a craft knife, I cut a wavy line and create a three-page landscape. Remember to put a cutting mat under the page you are cutting.

Tinting the page edges gives it a nice finish. I use a water color wash to keep the color pale. You could tear the pages straight down or give them a deckled-edge look. I like the curved look better.

dont-throwmeUse stickers or postcards. Daniel Smith, the art supply house, puts a sticker on small or lightweight packages in larger deliveries. The sticker is bright orange, about 4 x 6 inches and says “Don’t throw me away.” It strikes a chord, so I often use one on the final page of a journal. It seems about right. You might be done with it, but there is lots of meaning to be made.

Add a photo of yourself, your children, your pets.  That way, when you look back over them in the years to come, you’ll have an evolving view of what you looked like. Adding a photo of your house shows how it changes over the years. A photo of the kitchen is always fun with advancing technologies changing what our appliances look like.

The last page of a journal doesn’t have to be an ending. For a powerful last page, flip back to the beginning, and read the first post or two. End the book with a recognition of how far you’ve come.

–Quinn McDonald keeps journals. She’s also the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, and keeps loose leaf journals.

Re-Use, Recycle, Rejoice

Note: Congratulations to Janice (aka Rubber Rabbit) who wins Gina’s book No Excuses Art Journaling! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Drop me an email (under “Contact” on the right side of the header) with your mailing address and the book will be under way!

*     *     *     *

Long before recycling had a name, my family was doing it. Every family whose parents went through either the Depression or a war in the country they emigrated from learned how to recycle out of habit. My mother cut down usable pieces of  my brothers’ shirts and jeans to make clothes for me.  When I wore through them, the shirts became dishtowels, dust rags, and doll clothes. We darned socks and sweaters and when they had too many holes, the sweater was cut, the yarn re-wound and re-knit.

It is part of my inheritance and certainly part of my DNA that I became a collage artist. Those pieces of paper don’t get tossed, they get made into art.

tag4No surprise then, when I added another journal to my collection, I began to hunt through my papers for a way to hold it closed.

My journals get tossed into my purse, and if I want to pull them out in one piece, there needs to be a way  to keep the pages held together.

This journal is made in India out of cotton rags. I adore cotton paper, and this one had unlined pages heavy enough for watercolor markers. I purchased it with a smile, as the 5-inch by 7-inch size is perfect to take along in a purse.

How to hold it together? It didn’t take long to find a tag from another purchase. The tag was glossy light-weight cardboard with a thin elastic band through the hole in the top.

tag1I cut open the elastic, put another hole in the bottom, and discovered the elastic was long enough not to warp the tag.

tag2Next step, gesso the tag–both sides. Then brayer paint over it, making sure to add a bit of gold. Let each side dry thoroughly–about a minute here in Phoenix. Then restring the elastic and it’s ready to go.

tag3The book is held shut comfortably. When the journal gets tossed into my purse, the tag gets moved over to the open edge to protect the pages from bending back. It also works nicely as a bookmark to hold the pages while I’m writing.

Quinn McDonald had a lot of fun at her book signing Thursday night. She is trying to ignore the idea for the third book that keeps floating up. [Quinn at lectern,  Rosaland Hanibal (seated) and Traci Paxton Johnson (standing), both book contributors, helping the audience find their Inner Heroes.


Book Review: No Excuses Art Journaling

And yes, there is a giveaway of a signed book. But first, about the book.

Before I met Gina Rossi Armfield, her book, No Excuses Art Journaling, had me hooked. After I met her at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association Convention in Anaheim), I felt I’d met someone I’d known for a long time and crossed paths with again. She’s warm and happy to share her ideas. Over dinner, I got hooked on her style of art journaling and am having a lot of fun doing a “No-Excuses” journal of my own.

Cover of the No Excuses Art Journal.

Cover of the No Excuses Art Journal.

Her book is a flat-out, ingenious way to journal. There are easy step-by-step instructions. Take a book-size calendar, weekly preferable. Convert the datebook into a  journal by adding the journaling program (a free download) by taping it into the datebook. Add envelopes in each month, to store snippets you will want to use as you go along.

Gina also gives you monthly theme pages with quotes, ideas and prompts to put in the calendar for each month. You then add watercolor paper so you can draw, collage or paint, as you decide.

That’s just the beginning. Each month has a theme, there are tasks for each week. Feeling overwhelmed? No need. She just wants to make sure you aren’t bored. You can do as much or as little as you want.

I decided to use a watercolor sketch book and added sticky-note weekly calendar pages. This page shows some envelopes I made to hold painted leaves and feathers.

I decided to use a watercolor sketch book and added sticky-note weekly calendar pages. This page shows some envelopes I made to hold painted leaves and feathers.

To help you stay interested, she teaches you some techniques: how to carve your own rubber stamp, how to create collages, how to do contour drawings (so you can create sketches, which you also learn.

Jennifer Joanou's pages on seasons.

Jennifer Joanou’s pages on seasons.

There are hints to work with photo strips, the color of the day, getting in touch with your emotions and drawing the weather. Just when you think you are going to pop if you don’t grab a journal and get started, she gives examples of her own and from guest artists like Jenny Doh, Jennifer Joanou, Traci Lyn Huskamp, LK Ludwig, Susan Elliott–one for each month of the year.

"Nice Pair" watercolor marker and Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

“Nice Pair” watercolor marker and Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

Each artist chose a color palette to work with and answered a set of interview questions. You get an intimate look at each included artist and a view of their interpretation of the assignments.

The book is cheerful and peripatetic. You will want to use it as a reference, as a guide, as an inspiration.

Gina has offered to sign a book as a giveaway. Leave a comment, letting me know why her book would help you, and I’ll have a random drawing. Winner will be announced on Sunday–make sure you check in to see if you won.

This book will show you a fresh new way to create a fat, interesting journal while exploring your own seasons and landscapes. Oh, and Gina’s giving away the Inner Hero book today, too.

Quinn McDonald loves to read other artist’s journaling ideas.

Living with Your Messy Journal

Somewhere in your head is the vision of the perfect journal. Maybe it’s all online, on a beautifully decorated page with changing photographs. Or maybe it’s all written in fountain pen, in a lovely Palmer penmanship. It’s a nice thought, but it’s unlikely. If you are like me, you drag your journal with you and it has sticky spots on the cover, grease spots on the inside pages and some place where the cat (or your) chewed the corner.


“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are, you’ll fall into someone else’s plan and. . .”

Life is messy. Your journal will be, too. Unless you create separate pages and include only those you like, (and whose life is that controlled?), you will have pages that are neater than others. If you use your journal daily, you will write in various pens, include things torn from magazines, and in other ways, create a journal that looks like your life–messy and busy.

"Guess what they have planned for you? Not much."

“Guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

It’s a much more realistic approach to journaling. There are people who tell me that they are waiting for their lives to “quiet down” before they start coaching. They never get around to it. Coaching, like journaling, takes place in the middle of messes, tears, joy, and confusion. That’s how life is.

If you hate a messy journal, here are three ways to make changes:

1. You can cut out an annoying page, leaving about an inch close to the spine. Then tape another page, one you like better, to the stub, using washi or masking tape. (If you have a sewing machine, you can stitch it in.)

2. You can gesso over the page you don’t like, and re-create it. Now you don’t have to look at the annoying page. You can also use a cream-colored acrylic and let some of the old work peek through. It’s more interesting that way.

3. Tape a piece of vellum over the offending page and write a list of things you would do differently on the vellum. That helps cover the old work and lets you remember what you like and don’t like. (That may change over time).

Or, you can enjoy the journal exactly the way it is, knowing that you are a recovering perfectionist, and your journal is fine the way it is.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a messy journal. Several of them, in fact.

Niji Design Team

It was a lot of fun to demonstrate Splash Inks in all five locations of Arizona Art Supply. Doing demos gives you direct exposure to the audience that wants to know about the product. And I was thrilled beyond belief when I was chosen to be on the first-ever design team for Niji–the company that makes Splash Inks.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

And the box of goodies arrived this week! Inks, watercolor paints, papers. The paints are Asian formulations, so they are not the transparent watercolor, they are more opaque, like gouache. I can’t wait to start up and experiment. The Splash Inks are a lot of fun all on their own.

I rarely post my artwork here–as any more than side illustrations. But now, those ideas for Niji will appear on the Niji blog as well as here. Of course, the second I think that, the Inner Critic shows up with a truck full of relatives and unpacks the picnic lunch of worms and crow. Sigh.

But I’ll be sharing them here. It’s time to show that, as a creativity coach , I work on creative projects steadily: journals, art journals, collage, alternative journals. You’ll be seeing more tutorials, too.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

I’ve developed some new in-person art classes and will be showing results and class photos. My proudest recent moment is that Madeline Island School of Arts has invited me back–for June, 2014. I hope to see some of you there this coming summer. We’re going to. . . well, that’s for another post. With photos of  art sample art work that each class participant will create their own version of. It’s starting to be an exciting New Year!

–Quinn McDonald loves surface design and is including letterforms and colors into art journal pages.

Featuring #4: Giveaway

FcoverNote: Congratulations to Kristin Freeman who won the magazine! I used a random number generator to choose the winner. Thanks for reading the blog, Kristin!

The fourth Featuring magazine arrived from the Netherlands, so it’s time for a giveaway. The magazine’s focus is on international art journaling, expressive arts and mixed media.

There is an article about Maria Prados, a Spanish artist and her combination of photography and painting. Maria is fascinated by the immediacy of photography and her painting adds the inspiration of the moment to it.

Miranda Robb from Blueberry Muffin Studio is featured in an article on the benefits of art journaling. She called it “inexpensive therapy” and that made me smile. (Looking at my studio, I’m not at all sure it’s that inexpensive, Miranda!) The article has some beautiful illustrations from her journal.

FearJulie Elman knows fear. And she knows about others fears, too. As an associate professor at the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University she sees the people who participate in her Fear Project and who admit to having lots of fear. The article is fascinating in several ways–the content, the breadth of the artwork, and the topic–not what you’d find in a run-of-themill art magazine.

Tammy Garcia (of Daisy Yellow) has a page on creative change–which is about perspective and gathering ideas. You won’t want to miss her perspective and some very interesting tips.

Lexi Dali and Marjorie Schick are featured in an article on wearable Fartart–sculpture in which the wearer becomes part of the art and still uses the beautifully crafted work as jewelry or adornment. One of the benefits of Featuring is that the Marit Barentsen, Editor-in-Chief, allows the stories to develop and includes enough photographs to enrich the effect fully.

The magazine is generously sized, 74 pages plus a cover. I loved the artwork of St. Petersburg artist Aleksandra Kabakova–it’s minimal and spare and still expressive and evocative.

There is much, much more in the magazine, from people you will recognize and about art to drool over.)


The spare graphic art of Aleksandra Kabakova

I’m giving away one of my copies. Because the magazine is less expensive to ship in Europe, the drawing is for North America this time. Leave a comment and I’ll include you in the drawing to be announced on this Saturday, July 6. You won’t want to miss this one! And if you don’t win the copy, you can order one for yourself here.

Letters as Tools

Chefs have knives, carpenters have screwdrivers and saws, painters have canvas. Writers have letters and numbers. And so do journalers. I’ve long been fascinated by letterforms and shapes, by the rhythm of numbers and the flow of typefaces.

For a while, I had an ID bracelet that had the alphabet on it, along with the punctuation marks and the numbers from zero through nine. That, I realized, were the tools for everything I wrote. Twenty-six letters, 10 numbers, and six punctuation marks. It fit on a small bracelet, and all the speeches, letters, memos, bad news, good news and announcements in the English language were written with those. It was a humbling realization for a writer.

lettersMy art hinges on words and numbers, too. I’ve always expressed myself with writing, and letters and numbers have always been important in art, whether in found poetry or in collage.

Now I’m exploring writing as a background for collage. Part of this is an exercise in visual poetry, part of it is using writing as a collage element.


What I liked about the collage I did is that I wrote part of the background upside down, so it doesn’t make you want to read it, it’s just a pattern. The large words “Day” and “Night” complete the idea of “dream” and writing down your daydreams or your night dreams makes sense. But what is almost hidden is the small phrase “they are assembled and already in existence,” which completes the cross bars of the A, G, and H in the words Night and Day. It’s a reward for spending time looking closely at the collage. Another discovery.

This feels like a starting point. Again.

If you’d like to explore your journal’s content in a way that includes both art and writing, as well as confronting your inner critic, please join me on May 18 and 19 at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts or July 22 through 26 in Madeline Island, Wisconsin.

–Quinn McDonald teaches what she does. Sometimes she knows more than other times, but she is always curious about what’s out there.