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.

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

stenciltree

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

stenciltreeshimmer

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

sencilgoldfeather

You can also add silver acrylic paint.

stencilDOT

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.

Journal Page: Inventing an Alphabet

OK, I’m a writer, so I like different alphabets and codes. They also make great additions to a journal page. A new alphabet, a code–it’s a clever journaling piece that adds an easy design element through writing.

Could be someone cheering.

This morning on my walk, I saw interesting writing on the street. My mind went to an interesting story line–what if visitors from another planet came down and took notes on the street on what they saw and learned? What I saw on the street would be a kind of alien journal, written in code. That idea appealed to me, and I took some photos of the “writing.”

Looks like it could be a back-to-back letter.

That idea led to another one: why just use the regular alphabet in your journal? Why not add some new ones? New letter shapes, new designs are all around you. You can use alchemy symbols,  the Greek alphabet, numerical symbols.

A really interesting one is the Mormon Deseret alphabet (below). When you use shapes from an alphabet, you can invent what they mean to you–what the letter shapes are going to mean in your world. You can translate interesting letters into whole words if you like.

deseret

My favorite of the street was the one below–this is definitely the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything:

I made a journal page with a new alphabet. First I collaged various shades of white and cream on the page, then I used a brush and wrote quickly, without hesitation, inventing as I went along. And here is what the journal page looks like with a new alphabet:

alphabet

And if you want to check out a few more different alphabets, this page should get you started.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, and artist who makes things up as she goes along.

Saturday Creative Roll

Giveaway: The three people who won Dina’s book from the March 27 blog post are Shannon Ganshorn, Annettte Geistfeld, and Ann M. Philli. Congratulations to all of you!

6a00d8341c766153ef017ee9cbb131970d-500wiJulie Fei-Fan Balzer is a multi-talented multi-media artist. I love her lettering and the design of her journal pages. I never draw faces–not in my journal, not in anything. So it’s time I gave you a link to someone who does.  Sharon Evans is doing a guest post about faces. The whole idea is interesting, 29 days of face drawing, on Ayala’s blog post. Whew, three amazing artists in one paragraph.  A good beginning, for sure.

Joanne Sharpe is a Journal Artist and knows how to produce a huge variety of lettering. Here’s some eye candy of Joanne’s lettering on Pinterest. And here is Joanne’s blog.

Donna Downey fills journal pages with bright, easy colors. Her busy website has a great inspirational blog and video to enjoy.

Pocket magnifier as art, the joy of an MP3 player

Pocket magnifier as art, the joy of an MP3 player

One of my favorite art journaling blogs is John a-Lookin’ Around. John P. is an engineer who lives in Kansas, and he doesn’t post as often as he used to, but the archives are just sitting there, waiting to be drooled over. I love his elegantly simple page design.

Have a great creative Saturday!

Quinn McDonald just got a delivery from JetPens. She also has to do her taxes. This is harder than she thought.

Art Journal Freedom: Book Review (and Giveaway)

book1Note:  The three people who won the random drawing for Dina’s book fromare Shannon Ganshorn, Annettte Geistfeld, and Ann M. Philli. Congratulations to all of you!

Dina Wakley’s book is great. I could end the review there, but it wouldn’t tempt you enough to buy the book. And this is an art journaling book you should own, whether you are a beginner or an experienced art journaler.

I’ve taken classes from Dina, and I love her dedication to her art, her insistent encouraging to try new things or delight in familiar ones, and her easy way to bring out ideas and share them freely.

A few weeks ago, when I went to her book signing, I asked her just to sign the book (rather than sign it to me specifically) as I was planning on giving it away. But in the course of doing projects to review it, I got a bit enthusiastic, and splashed paint here and there and maybe dribbled a bit of gesso on the pages as well. So the giveaway book will be a fresh new one, but it won’t be here for about 10 days or so. If you are the winner, please be patient.

book2Details of Dina Wakley’s book: Journal Freedom: How to Journal Creativity with Color and Composition.
Publisher: North Light. Paperback, 128 pages long.
Chapters:

  • Tools and Materials
  • Symmetry and Asymmetry
  • White Space, Continuance and Closure
  • Proximity
  • Dominance and Repetition
  • Color Basics
  • Contrast with Color
  • Color as a Composition Tool
  • The Power of Black and White
  • Putting it All Together

On the table of contents page, there is a QR code that will take you to bonus content from Dina. A nice touch.

What I like about the book: It’s a real how-to, with basic creative art instruction. Many art journalers are self taught, and don’t want to go to school to learn color theory, the rule of thirds and other pedantic necessities. The genius in this book is that Dina teaches all the things you need to know to create beautifully composed pages by doing exercises that are fun and manageable.

book3She keeps the tone light and fun, and takes you along in a logical pattern that makes you want to learn. Her signature silhouettes are there, and in addition to seeing several ways to use silhouettes cut from magazines, you learn placement and balance.

I mean this next statement in the best possible way: Dina’s book is all hers. She doesn’t aggregate the work of 20 people, she teaches what she knows. I find it refreshing. Yes, it is nice to see different interpretations of an idea, but in this book having just one artist explain composition and color through her own work is a really good idea. It keeps lessons simple and allow the reader to try out personal ideas without having too many examples to choose from.

What I didn’t like: I kept a list and when I was done, I squinted at it to see if it was my preference, or an objective critique. The things I would have done differently would have made the book not Dina’s. So I am going to be happy that Dina’s fingerprints (colorful ones!) make the book what it is. I’m glad I spilled gesso on it and get to keep it.

This is more than a reference book, this is an enjoyable project and reference book.

Giveaway: If you want to win the book, leave a comment. I’ll be giving it away on Saturday morning, so you have time. And yes, partly that’s a stall to wait for the ordered book to arrive. The rest of it is that I am up to my armpits in paperwork this week.

Quinn McDonald loves seeing books with so much heart and soul of the artist on every page.

Book Review: Flavor for Mixed Media (+Giveaway)

BookCoverNote: Ms. Lillypads is the winner of Mary Beth Shaw’s book.Congratulations! Send me your address and the book will be on its way!

Mary Beth Shaw‘s book, Flavor for Mixed Media, caught my attention because it used food as a metaphor for art. Two favorites in one book! The book expands the meaning of mixed media by including favorite recipes from contributors. That made it interesting to Kent, who is a personal chef, and loves a good recipe. We both decided to try projects from Mary Beth’s book–I’d try an art project, Kent would cook one of the recipes.

Paper Mosaic is one of my favorite collage approaches, and Mary Beth’s book has a section on using a color theory exercise to help expand your use of color. I built on that technique to create one of my free-standing journal pages. Here’s the video–about 6 minutes long, and a project from start to finish.

Artists mix colors, but we often mix our favorite colors over and over and don’t expand to different hues, tints, and values. The chapter’s guest artist is Sarah Ahearn Bellemare, and her color triad theory helps you mix and keep information on colors you love and that work together.

Page 26 and 27 of Mary Beth Shaw's book shows color triad theory.

Page 26 and 27 of Mary Beth Shaw’s book shows color triad theory.

The book is full of projects and ideas, but be sure to check out Mary Beth Shaw‘s website, too.

Color
Painting Without Paint, guest artist Misty Mawn
Triad Color Theory, guest artist Sarah Ahearn Bellemare
Organic Abstract Painting, guest artist Elizabeth MacCrellish
Texture
Clayboard Book, guest artist Shari Beaubien
Texture Sampler, guest artist Susan Tuttle
Candle Shade, guest artist Laura Lein-Svencner
Layers
Collagraph Plate, guest artist Julie Snidle
Plexi Squared, guest artist Tonia Jenny
Three-Dimensional Painting, guest artist Dolan Geiman

Project from page 112.

Project from page 112.

Flavors
Icing Panels, guest artist Heather Haymart
Taste of Klimt, guest artist Deb Trotter
Collage Painting, guest artist Claudine Hellmuth
Combinations
Cardboard Collage, guest artist Katie Kendrick
Abstract Letter Forms, guest artist John Hammons
Abstract With Discarded Material, guest artist Judy Wise

Don’t take that “discarded material” too seriously. These are ideas for recycling materials and keep your art supply costs down.  I’m all for seeing materials in a new way, particularly if I don’t have to create a shopping list for them.

Project from page 77

Project from page 77

The eye candy in the links alone is richly satisfying–but what I really like is the variety of the projects. You get enough help to make the project through the step-by-steps, and the luscious photos of finished projects encourage you to keep going.

One of the joys of mixed media is choosing what you are interested in and exploring it. No problem veering into the kitchen for some of the guest authors’ recipes, either. I asked Kent to make Katie Kendrick’s  coconut lentil soup because I like lentil soup, it freezes well, and it’s satisfying without damaging my diet. But you can also make your own tortillas,  sugar cookies from a recipe that’s as versatile as the artwork, and Mary Beth’s own secret Brownies. (Yum!)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a how-to book that you can take to the grocery store with the same great results as if you take it to the studio!

Front of art journal page I made from instructions on pgs. 24-27.

Front of art journal page I made from instructions on pgs. 24-27.

Giveaway: Mary Beth generously donated a signed copy of the book to my blog readers. Leave a comment that you’d like the book, and your name goes in the drawing that will be held on Wednesday evening, Phoenix time.  The winner (international entries are fine) will be announced on Thursday’s blog and at the top of this blog post.

—Quinn McDonald is learning how to shoot and edit videos to teach online classes. She wishes she had another four hands and a side porch on her brain to provide more room for learning new skills.

Quinn’s Ink Technique

For the last four years or so, starting with Monsoon Papers, I’ve been working with ink, using it instead of paint. Then I developed this fun ink drop technique for backgrounds for found poetry or as part of a collage. This is what the completed piece looks like:

Quinn's ink technique in three colors.

Quinn’s ink technique in three colors.

Part of the thrill of making these pieces is seeing the ink move. And the only way to show you that is with a video:

I can spend an inordinate amount of time developing these. And yes, they are in the upcoming book.

Quinn McDonald is actually starting to do videos. And liking them.