Visual Journals Need Visual Edits

She handed me her journal–pages splashed with color, thick with found items and inserts. “What do you think?” she asked eagerly.  Tough question to answer. It doesn’t matter what I think if she is satisfied. If she likes her work, if she found meaning in the activity or the result, then my opinion has no importance.

A journal, like a suitcase, can be over-packed. At that point, it's not luggage, it's baggage.

A journal, like a suitcase, can be over-packed. At that point, it’s not luggage, it’s baggage.

In another way, I’d like to know why she’s asking the question. Is this the art journal equivalent of “Do these pants make my tuchus look fat?” Is she asking for praise in a hidden way? Is she looking for suggestions? Approval?

I turned the pages of the journal. I’d heard of the technique–do anything. Some pages were sewn chaotically, combining junk mail and lace, tulle and magazine pages. The bobbin thread had become confused with the different tension needed for the different papers, and there were big loops and knots of thread. One page had a piece of ruler glued to it, the next one an angel next to which was stamped the word: guardian angle. When I smiled at the typo, which seemed to make sense along with the ruler, I thought (to myself): What this needs is visual editing.

It’s fun to slap things together and see if it makes sense. Occasionally.

It’s also interesting to ask yourself what you are doing and are you presenting a message or searching for one.

Visual editing is much like word editing. It’s done in stages. When you edit your -1writing, you first look for content, logic and flow. Does it make sense? Does it unfold logically?  Is it interesting?  Next you look for typos, meaning-gaffs, punctuation errors. Next you make sure all the visual elements–headlines, image credits, page numbers are in the same font and style within each category,  Three passes and you’ve done some editing for clarity and understanding.

Visual editing works the same way.  Is the journal going to be shown to anyone or is it private? (Since she showed it to me, it became public.) Is there a theme to the overall journal? If so, is it obvious or does it need an explanation? While turning a page and moving from front to back is the normal order of Western books, does this one create an order? If there are inclusions, attachments, found objects, how is space created for them?

There are guidelines for visual editing just as there are for word editing. To break the rules you have to understand them first. Yes, ee cummings and James Joyce broke the rules, but they first followed them, then knew why they wanted to break them. And some well-read people are still grumbling about that decision.

Personally, I’m not fond of splayed-out books that are sewn, spackled with gesso, layered randomly with paints and papers, and weighted down with found objects that don’t create a narrative that can be followed. But then again, I’m not the art police. If that makes meaning for you, it is your meaning. If you are satisfied, that is an important step for you.

In the end, instead of giving an opinion, I asked questions. “How did this book come together for you?” “What did you like best in making this book?” “What caused problems for you?” “How did you solve those problems?” “Will you keep this for yourself or will you give it away?” The answers told me a lot, including that my opinion was not required. So I kept it to myself. And we both parted with our perspectives intact.

Quinn McDonald understands visual editing, and knows that sometimes, no matter how much she loves that page, it doesn’t belong. Sigh. So she saves it for another time.

Book Review: Alternative Art Journals (And a Giveaway)

Winner:  The winner of the copy of Margaret Peot’s Alternative Art Journals is Lisa Brown–Congratulations, Lisa!

Title : Alternative At Journals: Explore Innovative Approaches to Collecting Your Creativity.
Author: Margaret Peot

Details: Published by North Light Books. Soft cover, 128 pages in eight chapters, plus a Gallery of Work, and further reading.

Contents: Traditional Sketchbooks, Collections Art Journals, Card Set Art Journals, Landscape Art Journals, Correspondence Art Journals, Box Art Journals, Faux Family Album Art Journals, Tag and Charm Art Journals.

What I Like: Right up front, I have to say I am a sucker for books that encourage people to bring out their inner artist, give ’em a handful of art supplies and then let them feel successful with simple instructions that work well. And this is a book that does that. I love the breath of “simple” here.

Several times in the book, you get a bonus step-by-step demo on the website. Coptic book binding, bonus demonstrations, and if you sign up for the newsletter, there are additional downloads available.

The step-by-step photographs are large and clear and numbered with big, bold numbers.

The variety is big and interesting. The suggestions for alternatives are challenging so the book is suitable for beginners and advanced artists as well as those who like to flip through a book for ideas and head off on their own.

The book has a lot of tips, ideas, explanations. I am a huge fan of marginalia, and this book does a good job of it.

On technique uses white gouache as both a resist and as paint, and the instructions include washing ink off the page and allowing the sheets to dry by lining them around the walls of the bathtub. That photo alone made me want to plaster the walls of my tub with wet art. I tried the technique and found it worked well and gave great results.

What I Don’t Like: I had to think a long time to find something I didn’t like. Then I didn’t find one. The typeface is big enough and dark enough to read when you are in process of working. I’m guessing that not everyone will like the big variety of non-traditional projects–boxes and faux photo albums, round cards, charm journals and illustrated stones. I might not make all of them, but I’ll use ideas and adapt them. I’m also guessing that some people would want a more colorful book–I am a big fan of sepia, brown and cream tones, but some people will want brighter colors.

Disclosures: I received the book from a publicist for free. North Light Books is also my publisher.

GIVEAWAY: I’m giving away the book. Once more, I’m willing to spring for international postage. All you have to do is leave a comment that you want the book. I’ll draw the winner Friday night and put the announcement at the top of this post as well as on Saturday’s post.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who is writing a book on the inner critic.

Art Journaling, No Words

Working away from the usual is always interesting for me. Stretches creative muscles and brightens up the studio. Today’s challenge (I made this up) was to create a journal (lots of discretion about what a journal is) using no traditional art supplies. And, just to make it harder, no words.

I’ve always had trouble understanding art journals without words. I’m a word person. A writer. So the challenge was . . . well, tough.

I started by gathering materials at a hardware store. One of these days, I’m going to teach an art class using only materials from a hardware store. Today I used:

  • six paint color samples
  • one feather
  • one piece of glittery wrapping paper
  • one button from a sweater
  • some twine
  • a piece of discarded, painted watercolor paper

I’d been spending time watching Pete’s Pond–a watering hole in Southeast Botswana, Africa.  The site isn’t perfect–the lights go out at night, sometimes the whole site goes down, which, when you remember it’s on a game preserve far from the nearest decent-size town, isn’t that unusual. I was chatting with the other viewers, and heard people discussing how autumn was coming, the weather was turning chillier, and how it made them sad. Birds were beginning migration.

Here, of course, summer’s passing is what we celebrate. Days get bearable, and we enter the season we came here for–from now until the beginning of May, the weather is wonderful. Clear skies, sun, breezes, and warm days followed by crisp nights. The birds that leave other areas come here.

And here’s what I made, called “Migration.” I won’t explain it, because I’m hoping that each person who sees it will have a story about it. While the pages lift up, the have no words. They are ready for your story about the next season–what is that story for you?

Migration, feather, button, twine on paint samples and watercolor paper.

-Quinn McDonald builds art journals and is a creativity coach.

Art Journal Pages: Loose Leaf

Sure, I have spiral art journals, bound art journals, handmade art journals. I’ve been avoiding loose leaf art journals–there is something about a binding that makes you plan and think before you commit. And keep track of your pages over time, in that time-narrative way we like.

After spending 20 minutes flipping through journals to find the color swatches I’d made (in three journals) I realized that it would be practical to have all color swatches in one journal.

Nothing against books that are stuffed with ephemera, but if you are going to work on a series of pages with pockets, fold-outs and attachments, a loose-leaf book has advantages:

  • Pockets, fold outs and cut-outs are easier to work on if you can rotate the page while working.
  • You can create several different backgrounds, and choose the one that matches your mood or plans for the page.
  • You have the whole page to work on, without wondering what to do with the gutter.
  • Want to use an iron? No problem, the page is flat.
  • You can work on different page sizes.
  • Love to invent bindings? You can do that with loose pages, too.

A partial set of Biblical Matriarch cards--love the black-and-white illustrations and the not-always flattering stories. A pocket holds the cards while I decide what to do with them.

And yes, perfectionists can learn to love loose leaf pages, too. Make a page you hate? No one will know if you don’t include it. I’m working on some alternatives to punching holes, but so far, the idea of finding lists, collections, and color swatches in one place works for me.

The three-ring binder has chipboard dividers, so you can divide your pages by date, by size, by content, by location.

chipboard binders and tabs--or you can make your own.

I found this binder (about 6 x 9 closed) ready for painting. You can also find great cook-book binders, home-repair binders and other pre-printed binders you can re-purpose at thrift stores like Goodwill.

Quinn McDonald is working on loose-leaf pages for a number of binders in progress.

Review: Strathmore Marker Paper

Strathmore Marker pad. Cover art by Katherine Cantrell.

Strathmore paper company came  out with a marker paper in 2010. Advertised as good for layout and graphic design and made with 100 percent cotton, the paper has a smooth, white finish and a great hand. Part of the 500 Series, the formal name is Strathmore Marker smooth surface.

The paper, according to the cover sheet,  is “100 percent cotton, acid free, semi- transparent, white smooth surface.” Because of its translucence and light weight,  I was doubtful that a marker wouldn’t bleed. There is a difference between bleed and bleedthrough. If a paper bleeds, it allows ink to spread on the surface.  If it leaks through to the other side of the paper, it’s bleed through. If it bleeds through and stains the next sheet, it is called epic fail.

Markers don’t bleed on this paper. I used both Pitt Pens and Copic markers to test the paper. Pitt Pens go down smooth and even, dry quickly and look great. Copic markers (alcohol-based) don’t dry quite as fast, allowing for blending and dragging color with the blender. The blending is seamless, smooth and has the finish that’s finer than watercolor, but not as velvet as colored pencil. The paper stands up to multiple layers of colors, even without waiting for the marker to dry. I prefer to give each layer some drying time, it adds to the depth of color and doesn’t muddy the final result.

I also tried colored pencil on the marker paper with wonderful results. Blending is smooth and easy. The paper doesn’t love a heavy hand or rubbing, but it works well with colored pencil. Colors are brilliant and clear.

Watercolor pencils don’t work well on this paper. I keep thinking of alcohol markers as wet media, but they really aren’t. I tried watercolor pencils, and when I wet the paper, it buckled. Once it was dry, it still showed stretch marks. But the color blending is beautiful.

If you are going to use this paper in a journal, you’ll want to tip the paper into your journal after you’ve worked it. Don’t use glue, it will show on the paper. Use tape–a decorative art tape is a great idea for this. I love to use washi-paper tape, also called kawaii tape. It’s repositionable and comes in so many colors, it’s an addiction on its own. You can find sources for the tape (and lots of colorful examples) at Kelly Kilmer’s site.

I love the Strathmore marker paper. I will admit to a strong bias for Strathmore; when I lived in New England, I would cadge visits and tours to the company near West Springfield, Mass.

FTC-required disclosure: I received the paper as a gift from a friend. No expectations of a review were expressed.

–Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler who uses markers, watercolor pencils, inks and Pitt Pens in her journals.

Product Review: Liquid Pencil

Reductive drawing, graphite on paper, imaged made with eraser. © QuinnCreative, 2008

Maybe you have a journal that looks like a picture book; mine doesn’t. OK, I’ve made a few for classes that are all tidy, but my real journals are about my life–and that means messy pages where I try things out, take notes, demo products.

Powdered graphite has been around forever, it’s messy but wonderful. My favorite work with these is to do reductive drawings–you start by dusting the powder over paper, then draw by using an eraser to remove the graphite. Remove too much and you sprinkle on some more. I drew the dove in flight, above, using that technique.

Now there is a liquid graphite, called Liquid Pencil, made by Derivan. Less messy, but it has its own control issues. It comes in a small jar and goes on with a paintbrush. It comes in six colors, each in a choice of permanent or rewettable. I purchased Grey 3 in rewettable and Sepia in permanent.

Liquid pencil is great for backgrounds and painting in subtle shades.

You can see the different effects in the sample page. Grey is on top, and the three streaks are made with an eraser after the liquid pencil has dried. Sepia is on the bottom, and it was much harder to get the eraser to pick up any of the permanent kind.

Out of the jar, it is quite thick. It can be thinned with water or acrylic medium. Using medium makes it permanent, so you can buy the rewettable and make it permanent yourself.Because the shading goes from dark to light, you can also use liqud pencil to paint or write with a brush, and create shadings of great subtlety.

The rewettable stays down nicely. After it dried, I rubbed my fingers over it and very little picked up. About as much as powdered graphite with one light coating of fixative.

In the Phoenix area, Derivan liquid pencil is carried at Jerry’s Artarama in Tempe. On May 3 they will switch to summer hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., so check the website before you go.

If you look at the journal page, above, right,  you’ll see a line of pencil writing with a wash of turquoise blue behind it. This fun pencil is worth owning. It’s called NoBlot 705, Bottle of Ink in a Pencil. It combines a smooth graphite with aniline dye, so it writes in a non-fading, tough-to-erase black, like a pencil, but if you wet it with a brush, it dissolves into a beautiful turquoise permanent ink. If you are old enough, you may remember the grocer or bank clerk, licking a pencil and writing in a ledger. He (it was rarely a she) licked the pencil to activate the aniline ink, and make the ledger permanent.

The pencils are discontinued. Sanford is offering a permanent pencil, but it won’t have the cool turquoise dye in it. You can get it in Phoenix at Arizona Art Supply in Tempe. There are several others in the area, but not all of them have the NoBlot705.

Keep color samples of pens, pencils, inks in your journal. It shows how the product looks on your journal pages.

I’m working on some new ideas, using Gelly Roll gel pens. I’m not much of a glitter-lover, but gel pens have some interesting uses. (I’ll share more when I have decent samples).  Each pen carries a tiny color code. Because neither the cap nor the ink-filled barrel show the real color, I create rectangles in my journal, and write the pen ID number in the rectangle. The image on the left doesn’t show the amazing amount of glittery goodness in the pen, so don’t judge by the scan. I put color samples in all my journals to see how pens or pencils work in the specific journal I’m using.

You are now armed with enough new products to create at least a week’s worth of journal pages–have a wonderful time trying them out!

Quinn McDonald is a writer and journal artist. She is writing a book for art journalers who don’t know how to draw but want to keep a meaningful journal. The book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be released by North Light Books in June of 2011.

Raw Art Journaling with Poetry

Raw-art journaling is the combination of abstract art and words. It’s an art form for everyone, from writers to artists who aren’t illustrators. For those who love the written word in content, but aren’t calligraphers, raw art is a deeply satisfying journaling experience. You can work on it for minutes or hours, add color or leave it in black-and-white.

Here are two recent journal pages from my raw-art journal. The one below is a quote from

The quote is from Anthony Machado, about the road you create and can look back on.

The quote says, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, nothing more, there is no road. the road is made by walking. On glancing behind, one sees the path that will never be trod again.”

The second one is a quote from Lorna Crozier. Also about walking, but in a completely different way. The vertical orange lines are the book binding stitches holding the signature in place.

Poem by Lorna Crozier. Art by Quinn McDonald. Pitt Pen, watercolor pencils on paper.

The poem is called “Plato’s Angel” and is from her book, “Inventing the Hawk.”
It thinks the world
into being
with its huge mind
its pure intelligence
On the curve of its crystal
you see yourself,
you see your shadow
One of you will put on shoes,
will walk into the world.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book to be called Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. It will be published in 2011 by North Light Books.

Spiral-Bound Book by Bee Paper

Art journalers are a fickle bunch. We want it all—acid free, sized surface, suitable for scrubbing erasers, watercolor pencils, acrylics, pens, markers. We use them all. Bee Paper Company makes two spiral pads that are wonderful for all these media–and works well with pencil and charcoal, too.

This pad also comes in 6-inch x 12-inch size, 80-lb microperfed sheet.

I saw the Co-Mo pad (on the left) first, and liked the versatility of the 80-lb. paper. The one I purchased was 6 inches x 12 inches—a convenient horizontal format for watercolor. For me, it was a perfect size for both accordion journal folding, and in creating a small journal with gatefolds.

And then I saw the Super Deluxe Sketch Book in a 6-inch x 9-inch size with 93-lb paper. It’s a bit larger than I usually work, but the roomier size is comfortable and portable.

Bee Paper in Oregon sizes both sides of the sheet, which means that you can use watercolor on both sides without buckling.  I like a rattly sheet, and this is just that—a crisp, white, rattly sheet with a mild tooth that helps hold color.

The cover of this 11 x 14 sketchbook looks like the 6 x 9 book I love.

The issue of wire binding always comes up for art journalers. It’s true that the spiral is visually distracting if you want to use a full spread. The larger size sheet satisfies my art, though.

It’s also true that if you use paint and get it on the spiral, you’ll have trouble turning the pages.  While the yellow pad is microperfed, the Sketch Book is not.

The cover is heavy enough to fold over and use as a support. I love that both sides of the 93-pound sheet is sized, which makes it bleed-proof. Copic alcohol markers and Sharpie permanent markers don’t bleed through as long as you don’t scrub them in or apply them too thickly. Fountain pen, Pitt pens and brushes, and watercolor pencils neither feather nor bleed. Because of the spiral, art journalers who love gluing in extra pages and collaging will have enough room to do so. I happen to like the look of a stuffed journal.

The acrylic painted strip at the bottom is folded over to show no bleed.

I’ve been using the paper for the heavy work of the illustrations for my book. While I do love Arches Text Wove, the paper is too soft for the scrubbing I’ve been doing, so I switched to the Bee Paper, and haven’t been disappointed.

On the page on the right, the watercolor pencils blended beautifully, the color is transparent and carries beyond the pencil marks and holds the color. The watercolor pencils here are Derwent Inktense, which are designed to be transparent watercolor pencils rather than opaque ones.

The brown streaks are Copic markers. They don’t blend well on this paper because of the sizing. I wouldn’t expect them to. But it’s easy enough to work on marker paper and attach it to a page, allowing for a depth of color.

The cover of the book is brown leather-like print. I will probably have to cover it or gesso over it and collage something onto the cover. I can’t help myself.

The book comes in five sizes, from 4 x 6 to 14 x 17, in prices from about $7.50 to about $32.00. Books are available from Dick Blick and Cheap Joe’s. In the Phoenix area, you can buy them at Arizona Art Supply.

FTC disclosure: I purchased all the Bee paper products in this review with my own money.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book on raw-art journaling. She is a writer, life- and certified creativity coach. © Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved. 2010.

Review: 3 Journals

Three journals covered in this review.

Every time I fill up one journal, I consider before reaching for the same journal over again. It takes a while to get used to a journal. Starting a new one doesn’t always seem like a good idea. I’ve used Moleksine Sketch, and it’s a good journal. Ink doesn’t bleed, it is needle stitched to the binding, and I learned from Molkesine, that’s an important part of a tough, long-lasting journal.

If you don’t throw your journal in your bag or drag it around with you, a delicate journal could do the job. If you write in your journal in pen or ink, and don’t draw, glue, paint, collage, fold, or overstuff, almost any journal will do. But I abuse my journals. I use watercolor pencils, inks, alcohol markers. Alcohol markers will bleed through anything except  granite, and it’s tough to find a granite-paged journal.

I had three journals to choose from–two wire bound and a hand-made, Coptic bound journal meant to be a wedding album.

In the photo above, the red, wire-bound journal on the left is a Holbein, Multi-Draing Book/ OF. It’s a water color and multi-media book that’s made in China, purchased at Dick Blick. It has 60 pages in a 5-3/4 inch x 7-1/4 inch format. (Size approximate.) It has a cloth tie and ivory pages that are watercolor paper. The right side are a bit rough and the left page is a bit smoother than the other page.

The journal on the right is a Barnes & Noble Kraft Sketchbook. It contains 120 pages of smooth, white paper, the same on both sides. The book is 8-1/2 inches x 5 inches. The cover is embossed with three shiny black watercolor brushes. The covers are very heavy and sturdy.

The book with the flowered cover is a journal handmade by Erica Daschbach, known as Parkside Harmony at Etsy and

Top: Kraft-paper journal. Middle: Red cover journal. Bottom: Parkside Harmony journal

Twitter. Erica uses 90-lb Stonehenge paper in ivory and hand tears the pages. She stitches them with waxed linen. This style is 6 inches x 7 inches.

Here’s how the journals performed. Double-wirebound journals are easy to use. If they have a stiff cover, they provide a place to draw or paint. Wirebound  pages can easily be ripped out without a care–I love that. But wire bindings don’t work for me anymore. My work has gotten larger and more complex, and wire bindings don’t allow double spread drawing or collage. You have to stay within the edges.

If that isn’t a problem for you, both of these journals will do well. The red journal has great watercolor paper. Because there was no demarcation for front or back, I flipped it over to use the smoother side. No watercolor-paper  journals will work well with alcohol markers. The paper soaks up the ink quickly, and there is no chance to blend. I love heavy stock, and this is heavy enough so fountain pen or markers don’t soak through.Watercolor pencils blend beautifully and there is no buckling once it dries. The tie is a nice touch.

The Kraft-paper-cover journal has a paper that allows some blending of alcohol markers, but they soak through and bleed onto the next page. The watercolor pencils blend incredibly well, and there is no buckling. I began working in this journal only to discover that the very heavy cover makes it difficult to manipulate shut. It hangs up every time. If I were more patient, I’d love this journal.

Parkside Harmony’s journal is beautifully made, with lovely Italian paper on sturdy covers. The inside front and back covers have a well-chosen green paper as lining. The waxed linen thread provides support–Coptic bindings don’t have a back, so the signatures are exposed–and the thickness of the waxed linen is also protective of the signatures. The paper is hand-torn, leaving a lovely ragged deckle. The Stonehenge paper is heavy enough to stand up to collage and paint without buckling. Alcohol markers do show on the reverse, but it doesn’t bleed through to the next page. Best of all, Erica signs each journal, which alerted me that I had tested the book upside down. No worries, because this is my next journal. It’s pretty and will hold the extras I glue in.

I’m one of those journalers whose books get fatter as they pass through time. Tickets, receipts, fold-outs–it adds up. I like fat journals. You know what they say, after a while, a journal starts to look like the journaler.

-Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler. Her second book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in 2011.

Book Discoveries: New Uses for Old Books

Books shouldn’t be judged if you buy them for purposes they weren’t intended to fill. But giving a book a new life is a wonderful thing. Jocasta Innes’s book, Paint Magic is a book reborn for me. In the 80s, I bought it to give myself some new ideas for creating interesting painted walls. I recently discovered that the same technique can be used in art projects.  Paint Magic did a great job for that alternative purpose, and I’m delighted to recommend it for book artists, which is why I purchased it.

Use Jocasta Innes's "Paint Magic" for your journal projects, too.

Looking for some new techniques to create backgrounds for my raw-art journals, I flipped through the pages and found a section on using gesso (a background that prepares a canvas or board for paint) and another on stenciling.

Each technique has a description of the effect, then includes preparation, materials, equipment, how-to and some variations. There are wonderful photos of the finished result (on walls).

Sure, the book includes rubber stamping on walls, but for journals, I recommend Graining (p. 106), marbling (p. 114) and ragging (p. 53). The techniques can be easily adapted and give delightful results.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who teaches writing and communication skills. Her second book, “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art” will be available in 2011.