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.

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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 artistnetwork.com 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
skull
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.