Sand Castle Journal Page

Now that it’s summer, wouldn’t it be great to build a sand castle? Don’t want to get gritty? Build a castle in your journal instead, with ink and a stencil. Use it as a background, or work it into a dramatic foreground image. This one is almost 3 feet wide, but you’ll see that you can use the same idea on a variety of journal pages, from small to medium to big.

I purchased a chipboard “book”–one that had a number of  chipboard pages–shaped like a sand castle. Instead of

stencils of castles decorate a journal page.

attaching the pages with binder rings, I coated the pages with gesso to protect them. I then put three pieces high on the page, covered the rest of the page with a blank piece of paper to protect it, and sprayed ink on the page, using the book pages as a stencil.

To create spray ink, I used Adirondack re-inkers, bottles of concentrated ink used to refill stamp pads. This brand is from Ranger, the company most people associate with Tim Holtz. I used two drops of denim and one drop of eggplant in a Mini-Mister,  added 10 drops of water, and sprayed across the top. You can mix re-inker colors quite nicely. (These aren’t alcohol inks). If you do this, use distilled water to dilute so the mini-mister doesn’t clog. You can also use the ink you create in dip pens and brush calligraphy. I load technical drawing pens with the ink, too.

After waiting about a minute for the ink to dry, I carefully picked up the first layer and rearranged a second layer, using some of the pages I used before as well as some new ones. This time I sprayed the left side with the color pesto and the right side with mushroom. For the final layer I sprayed mushroom mixed with ginger and one drop of butterscotch. You can see the piece with two towers and the gate on the right repeated again on the far left. Repositioning the pieces makes the piece more interesting without looking repetitive.  What please me was the places of most coverage are white, which

Close up of a page showing the definition of color and white space.

will let me write on the page and make the most of the white space as well.

The really great part is that I can continue to create different backgrounds on different journals. The gesso can always be reapplied if I want to start over and create a sandcastle book. I could also paint a solid, very dark blue background, then trace around the edge of the chipboard in white china marker (grease pencil)  and create mid-dark  first line (with Payne’s Gary) and a medium-dark second line of castle images (Payne’s mixed in with a tiny bit of white) and put in yellow windows, to create a somber collage background. If you are fussy about the ring-holes showing, you can cover them with tape. I plan on turning them into windows–round on top, flat on the bottom, when I work on the page.

You can use any interesting stencil to do this. I love the castle because there is a lot of potential to write about vacations, or travel, or dreams, or even sandcastle ideas–ones that you use quickly and that are washed away over time.

Leave a comment if you have ideas about using this or other stencils in your art journal.

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler, who works at the intersection of words and images. She teaches one-sentence journaling, journaling for perfectionists and raw-art journaling, which includes found poetry.

Collage Background

Backgrounds for your collages are all around–you can use ripped up magazines, paints, books, or. . .your own photographs printed on unusual papers or exaggerated in size. Train your eyes to see backgrounds, photograph them, and the world will fill up your journal.

rock wall with vineTake photographs to save the idea, and then print them on a variety of papers–photographic papers will give you a stiff, glossy surface.

Printing them on copy paper will give you a softer look, but be careful–ink jet ink will run with glue. Spray it with several light layers of fixative first.

Print them on Lazertran or transparency paper. Print them on heavier paper and paint ink over them.letter

Or just leave them alone and use them as the beautiful backgrounds they are.

From top to bottom, the images are:

1. Rock wall with a dried vine, taken at the Washington Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

2. Close up of a letter stained with tea and printed on Lazertran.

shadow on sidewalk

3. Close up of a sidewalk stained by grass fertilizer and very hard water, Mesa, AZ.

4. Close up of salt-stained staircase in Washington, D.C.salt-stained wall





Quinn McDonald is a collage artist and a certified creativity coach who teaches collage art and visual journaling. See her work at

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.

Tutorial: Collage Background (3)

The background of a collage is held together visually by a pattern, a color, a texture, or a mixture of all three. I’ve come across a background technique that is easy to learn, but complicated to master.

linesblack.jpgIt can be done with pencil, colored pencil, ink, crayon, or anything that draws a fine line. The examples below show the technique on handmade paper, and the spots are petal inclusions.

Prepare a sheet of collage background paper by painting or using handmade paper. Using a pen, colored pencil, or other instrument that will draw a fine line, draw a line across the paper, as straight as you can. The trick here is not to be perfect, but to let your imperfections make this a beautiful background.

Draw another line, as close to the first as possible. As the shapes take place, vary one line a bit, then follow that outline for a while. At the bottom of the page, you will have a background of interest, texture and shape that you can then fade by blending or painting over with transparent washes. I found that using color defined the area and that coloring in the space between the line created a drawing in itself that required little else.

You can also try this with pencils of varying hardness and watercolors. If you blend watercolor pencils (aquarells), you will get a much different elinescolor2.jpgffect.

Have fun!

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2008. All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches journal writing and collage at the Mesa Art Center.

Collage Background 2 (Tutorial)

Not all collage backgrounds have to be smooth, even, or one color. Here are some techniques to try to get a variety of backgrounds.

(No pictures because my paints are packed.)

Common sense warning: wear an apron, cover the floor and work surface with newspapers before you start. This can get messy. Don’t let children try this unsupervised. This tutorial is not meant to be used as instructions for children.

1. Cover your collage base (canvas, watercolor paper), with gesso. Then use a glaze on it. A glaze is a transparent color rather than an opaque one. You can get a glaze by mixing Golden Glazing Liquid with your acrylic paint. You want a thin consistency. Go light on covering areas. It’s a glaze, after all. Don’t paint the whole background one color. Layer glazes on and get amazing color combinations and luminous results.

2. Layer glazes carefully. The only rule that you need to remember is to let each layer of glaze dry before applying the next. Experiment with different colors in different areas to create waves of shades across your background.
3. Some of your acrylics may be more opaque than others. You can see just how opaque by making your own test grid. Once you know more about your colors, try using lights at the top and darks at the bottom of the background. Or move from right to left.

4. Once the glaze is down, but before it dries, you can texture the wet glaze in any layer using cheesecloth, paper towels, old pantyhose, or any other cloth with a distinct texture.

5. Twist a T-Shirt or pantyhose into a long rope. Drip paint onto the coiled fabric. Roll the fabric over the surface of the paper to create a background.

6. Use a sea sponge or kitchen sponge that you have cut into to create craters. Dip it in warm water and wring out as hard as you can. Create a pool of glazed acrylic, dip the sponge in and dot it over your paper. Use light colors first, then darker colors. Top with another color glaze.

7. Use a 1-inch brush (bristle) from the hardware store. Dip it in paint, tap it on the edge of the paint so that it isn’t dripping wet. Hold the brush in your dominant hand and flick your wrist downward so a spray of paint splashes on your collage.

8. Cut out a paper shape (oval, triangle, square, circle, tree, wings) and put it on your collage, then repeat Step 7. Pick up the paper; the space beneath will be free of the color you just used. If you leave the paper on during the entire paint application step, you’ll have a focal point.

9. Use a 1″ foam brush, dip just the leading edge in paint and touch it carefully to the paper to create a vertical line. Repeat right next to it, almost touching. Then turn the brush, and using the same color paint, make a horizontal line on the same level as the top of the two vertical lines, but next to them on the right. Put another line underneath it. Keep making horizontal lines until you have a rectangle of lines–two vertical and enough horizontal to fill the same space. Repeat two vertical lines on the right of the horizontal ones. You are creating a basket-weave pattern. It’s busy, but when done in a glaze, it can add interesting visual texture.

10. Mix some Gel Medium (Golden makes matte, gloss and semi-gloss) with a little acrylic paint. Medium is acrylic paint without color in it. Put it on your collage background rather thickly. Press a piece of toweling (terry-cloth), burlap, or other rough-textured cloth into it. You’ll pick up a lot of the Medium on the cloth, leaving a texture imprint on the collage background. You can use texture plates as well, but in this case, allow the Medium to dry enough to take the imprint without smearing.

–Quinn McDonald is a writing and communication instructor and a mixed media artist. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Collage Tutorial (Conclusion)

A few days ago, we created a collage background with magazine strips torn vertically. Today, we are going to cover them up. Why create a background at all? Because a collage depends on depth, layers hidden and revealed. The background ties it all together.

The next step is to soften the background so the important items will stand out. This collage will feature a powerful poem by Edith ONuallain, one of the writers in Lemuria. (The complete poem appears at the bottom of the page.)

All of my collages use words, but this one will be almost covered in them. I like the effect of words, images, textures, each strengthening the other.

collage 2First, I painted over the entire image with gel medium. It’s acrylic paint with no pigment. I added a few drops of brown acrylic to soften and darken the piece. Using gel medium gave more transparency to the color, so it doesn’t look like a painted background.

Tear our images that help create the mood of the writing. In this case, I tore out a map, dark blue horizons, a color-saturated dancing couple, (to emphasize the dream quality of happiness), an empty silhouette of a person. I tore out other images, but these were put down first, moved around, then glued into place. I overlapped them so they don’t drift visually. I added a page torn out of an old poetry book and painted over it, so it looked like a newspaper report, but blurred so no one would be tempted to read it through the paint.

The poem is about loss, so I wanted the piece to appear distraught, just as the writer feels torn and alone. Small words, “I woke this morning” over a shadowed heart, and “speak to us” convey the searching aspect, as does the word “lost” on the right side. I added a picture of a sailing ship and a fish. On the bottom are three words, “Eat, Pray, Love” a sort of summary of the poem.

I tore the poem into pieces that made sense emotionally and then distressed the paper with ink, which I smeared. It could have been tears or simply time that aged the page. I could have tea-stained it, but I chose the color to keep the focus on the words.

On the bottom left I added a lotus, a flower that thrives in dark, stagnant water, to give some hope to the life described in the poem. Watercolor scraps added to the top give it an unfinished look, life the life in the poem.collage3

Is it perfect? Of course not. I will leave it for a few days, then decide if it conveyed the poem’s power in a satisfying way. My concern is that it may lack unity, although the poem is most of the page. It doesn’t matter; I can start over, even paint over what I have. Collage is an exploration, not a destination. Honoring the words was my intent here.

Here is the original poem:

What was she thinking
as she peered at the
triangle of Brie cheese
turning it in her
arthritic hand?

Was it the price she needed
just to be sure
she could afford it?

Or did she have a yearning to taste something from long ago,
to bring back on her tongue
memories of shared meals and
dead acquaintances?

Perhaps a lover who always
insisted on just this cheese with a
brioche loaf and a bottle of beaujolais on a
summer’s afternoon near a lake, and a
boat that later went out and
never came back,
although they told her they had
searched for hours and
done all they could.
They were sorry.
What was she thinking
when she put the cheese back and
walked away, slowly?

–Edith O Nuallain © 2007. All rights reserved
–Quinn McDonald asked Edith ONuallain for permission before she used the poem. Please always honor copyright in your artwork. You can see more of Quinn’s work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Collage Background Page (Part I)

Here’s another simple way to make a background for a collage. Take a magazine you like, and flip through it, looking for colors you like. Avoid detailed photographs or words. Big patterns are fine, but keep them in small amounts.

collage backgroundRip out long strips of color, keeping them vertical. Stripes and patterns should run up and down. You can tear or cut. I like a mix of both.

You don’t have to stick with one color, but keep the values the same. In the example, the values are all medium to dark, and the colors are all in the gold-brown/ gold-green range.

Many people work “intuitively,” placing pieces as they pick them up. I prefer to shuffle the papers till I see what works, then glue. That way, I can focus on the gluing technique rather than look out for color placement, size and glue technique all at the same time.

Start from the middle and work out. Keep the color uniform, it’s a background and you can soften it later. You are looking for an even overlap, mixing torn and cut edges, and adjusting the pieces so that not all overlap in one direction.

I used matte gel medium, in a heavier consistency, and I take an extra step: I apply gel medium to the back of the paper first, then let it dry. When I work on the front, it doesn’t warp or buckle.

Next step: Creating the collage. We’ll do that as soon as the collage is completely dry.

Note: Another collage background to try.

–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist who focuses on words in her art. She creates journal pages in collage fashion, and is working on an art book as well. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Technique: Collage Background 2

The books were small–clearly children’s versions of classics. A closer look revealed real leather bindings and adult classics–full text, not abridged. They were just small. The leather was disintegrating, and try as I might, it would not be restored. Pages began to sift out of the small books. I’d found them at a garage sale, and I didn’t want to throw them away.collage bookcover

So I gathered them up and arranged them on a piece of heavy watercolor paper. When I had a pleasing arrangement, I put a piece of parchment over the arrangement and turned it face down, then lifted the watercolor paper. I brushed Golden’s Matte Medium on the watercolor paper, and carefully pressed it on the page-down arrangement. That gave me the exact arrangement I had before.

Using a metal ruler, I turned the entire piece over, watercolor paper, glued pages and parchment. I lifted off the parchment, made sure the pages were arranged the way I wanted them, and let the arrangement dry.

Once it was dry, I coated the back with Matte Medium to keep the page from curling. When that side was dry, I turned it over and coated the page collage with three layers of Matte Medium. I then punched the holes for the Rollabind rings.

Had I wanted the pages to be a background for a collage, I would have thinned an ivory or mushroom-colored acrylic paint with Matte Medium and painted at least one, but probably two coats to create a background.

If you prefer a busier background, use a large-toothed comb and drag is carefully across the painted surface. It will create an interesting pattern. You can also apply the thinned paint first, then lift some of it off with a damp sponge, creating a different effect that is quite appealing.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and artist. See her work at

Technique: Collage Background

Collage artists are forever on the hunt for backgrounds. The right color balance, the right texture will make a collage perfect. This technique also makes great abstract cards.

One of my favorite techniques is one I call Rorschach, after the inkblots used in psychology tests.
There are several ways to make this work. Here, I’m using the easiest with the most likely to give good results.

You’ll need some heavy watercolor paper (I use Strathmore 400-lb, hot-pressed watercolor paper) in a size twice that of the needed background. If your collage is going to be 4 x 6 inches, the piece of paper you will use should be at least 8 x 6 inches. You’ll also need several different colors of heavy acrylic paints, clean water and a big brush. First, cover your work space with newspaper to protect the surface. This technique gets messy. Rohrschach_1

Fold the piece of paper in half. Press the crease with a bone folder so it is crisp. The finished size should be at least the size of your collage if you are using it for a background. Open the paper. Using the big brush, wet both halves of the paper, but only on the side facing up.

Drip several big drops of paint onto one half of the paper. Repeat with at least three colors. You’ll want to make one color the dominant one, using the most drips. The second color will have fewer drips, and the last color will have just a few. On a small piece of paper, a good color drip combination is dominant color, 7 drops, second color 5 drops, final color 3 drops.

Refold the paper so that all the paint is on the inside. Using your fingers, rub them over the closed card in the shape of a spiral, circle, or lines. Don’t waste time. Then using the side of your fist, rub it over the closed card from closed side to open side, in arcs. You can use a brayer for this part. Do not press down hard, it will push all the paint out of the card. Some paint may ooze out of the sides. This is OK.

Now you are almost done. Starting at one corner, slowly pull the card open. Slowly is important to get good pattern distribution. A sample is shown above. Plan to do several at a time, not all of them work perfectly.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and creativity coach. See her work at
(c) 2007. All rights reserved.