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


Tutorial: Sumi Ink Marbling

Marbling paper is a complicated process. Marbling paper with sumi  inks and colored pencils is fun and unpredictable–you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s always fun. Raw art is meaningful art you make with a minimum of equipment and without kits. It’s art that is uniquely yours and art that makes meaning for you. All the expensive equipment in the world won’t make you an artist. But making something meaningful does.

This simple, unpredictable technique  of marbling paper uses only a black ink. The project that allows for quiet meditation and a lot of fun with colored pencils, aquarelles, regular pencils, ink pens, or whatever else you have. You will need some equipment:

  • Toothpick
  • Soup plate or baking dish (8-inch square)
  • Paper towels
  • Paper to work on (I used 4 X 6 Arches Wove Text, but any  good paper will do.)
  • Sumi ink (available at most art supply houses. Walnut ink or regular fountain pen ink won’t work.)
  • Tap water (Don’t use distilled or treated. Regular tap water is perfect.)

sumigraphtintGather everything on a place you can clean up easily. Stack up two or three paper towels. Make sure the bowl you use will hold the entire sheet of paper. Fill the soup plate or baking dish with cool tap water.

Dip the toothpick in the sumi ink, so you get the toothpick wet. Touch the tip of the toothpick to the surface of the water. The ink should immediately flow onto the surface of the water. Use the tootpick to gently spread the ink on the water’s surface.

Pick up the paper by holding it at opposite corners–one on the bottom, one on top. Curve the paper slightly, so the bottom will touch the water first. Roll the paper smoothly over the surface of the water. If you want both sides of the paper inked, wait till the entire piece of paper is floating on the surface of the water, then gently push the piece under water, pull it out by one edge, so water and ink rolls down the length.

Hold the paper by one corner, allowing it to drip dry. When the paper is no longer dripping, put it on the paper towel to dry. You can use a hair dryer to finish the drying process.

When the paper is dry, use pencils, pens, or colored pencils to pick out and emphasize patterns that the sumi ink made. In the example I made, I use my favorite subtle-color pencils–watercolor graphite pencils, which can be used wet or dry. Derwent Graphtint are wonderful for subtle work, but you don’t need anything more than a regular pencil. OK, you can also use Derwent’s InkTense for their transparent color. Use a light touch, because gentle color works best with the mysterious swirls of sumi ink.

FTC Required Disclosure: I purchased all materials in this tutorial. No one paid me or donated the tools I mentioned by brand name. Links to products are not paid, simply practical ones I find useful.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who believes that everyone can keep an art journal, even those who can’t draw. See her work at

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.

Traveling Journals: Changing the Rules

When I decided to create four traveling journals, I kept the idea pretty close to the 1000 Journals Project because that was a good model. As the journal entries unfolded, several interesting events took place:

Red traveling journals

Red traveling journals

1. Creative Insecurity. The person who started one of the journals has a great deal of art talent. In a class, one of the participants said, “I’m glad I’m not following her.” I didn’t understand, so she explained, “Well, if I saw this great art, I’d feel bad. What could I do that would be as great?” I had never thought of the journaling experience as being competitive, I had thought of each person contributing something new and different, a new perspective. But I’m sure that competitive perspective is not unique.

2. Not enough journals. With four journals, I can’t have a class work on them. If a class has a dozen people, no one will have enough time, and keeping the ones not working on the journal busy will short-change the one who is working on it.

3. Time constraints. Each person keeps the journal about 10 days. Mailing takes about three days. I have people from Australia, Bosnia, the Phillipeans and other countries signed up. The waiting list for one journal is already four months. A long waiting list was one of the problems that people told me about with the plan.

4. Lack of meaning-making in the concept. Circulating the journals is an administrative task that I don’t find compelling or packed with meaning-making.  I have to ask people not to create pages that are too thick to keep the book from closing comfortably. I hate restricting imagination and creativity.

What to do? I asked participants in the creativity incubator, I thought it over, and came up with some great alternatives. If I circulated loose pages, most of the above problems would be solved. If I circulated loose pages to create on while people were waiting for the books, and encouraged people to do both, the resulting creative rush could be exciting and fulfilling.

If I gathered the loose pages and created inventive ways to bind them, well, then, I could also have a creative experience. This sounded like a workable idea. It also changed the art experience to a completely different journaling experience than the one created by Someguy, the person who ran the 1000 Journal project as an art experiment.

Solution that re-tooled the project:

  • You can still sign up for the red traveling journals. You sign up for them, and I
    Re-purposed book

    Re-purposed book

    manage them, scanning and posting the pages as they come in and sending them out again to the next person on the list. You can see the list of where the books are, and who will have it next here. You can sign up for more than one journal.

  • You can also sign up for loose pages. You won’t have to wait for them, because I have them pre-cut and ready to go. You can create FAT pages (layer papers, add photographs, use multi-media techniques) or FLAT pages (writing, drawing, watercolor, thin collage) depending on your style, art, ideas, and imagination. You can use one of the themes from the red traveling journals (travel, dreams,  or Summer in the Sonoran) or make up your own.
  • There is only one rule: Because I will use different binding methods, some of which I haven’t invented yet, you will need to leave a half-inch margin all around the edge of each page. You can run color or collage up to the edge, just keep words and important image parts one-half inch aways from the edge.
  • The re-purposed book. One idea I have is to re-purpose books. I’ve snagged some books from a future in the landfill. I’ll cut out the pages, leaving a margin. I’ll send you a few pages along with some art paper. You can choose to use some, all, or none of the existing book pages. When you send it back, I’ll re-attach it to the pages I cut out. A re-purposed book!
  • Re-inventing the book. Another idea is that I will choose pages that relate to each other and find inventive ways to bind, stitch, rivet, or otherwise attach them to each other. This gives you the joy of creation and it gives me the chance to explore the meaning of “book” and play with the form. Everyone is happy.

I’m excited and eager to see how this adventure unfolds! I plan to continue this program as my main creative work for the foreseeable future, so if you are reading this and wonder if I’m still running the program, ask.

Sign up. You do not have to be able to draw to participate. The only requirement is a hunger to communicate with people from around the world in a culturally interesting project. You can read more about raw art journaling on my website.

You can sign up for the red journals, fat or flat pages, or both by sending me an email: rawartjournals [at] gmail [dot] com. Or use the link at the bottom of the left column or top of the right column on this page.

—Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. She is managing this project our of her own funds and hopes to take the completed books on tour to museums and libraries. You can contribute to the project by using the button at the bottom of the page, here.

Traveling Journals Update

The Travel-themed Journal has just gone out again. These are the latest additions to the journal pages, done by Helen R, in Mesa, AZ.

NOTE: On October 12, 2009, the Traveling Journal Project has entered a new phase. The new project is called The PostScript project. Have you left something unsaid? Wish you’d said something different? Now you can.

Read more about the PostScript project.

Travel journal, pages 2-3

Travel journal, pages 2-3

Travel Journals, page 4-5

Travel Journals, page 4-5

Travel Journal, pages 6-7

Travel Journal, pages 6-7

Theme Thursday #3: 5/21/09

Here’s how it works–On Thursdays, you pick a topic you love and know a lot about. Share the information-find at least three links that are great. Post them to your site and let us know about them in the comments. You can also put them on Twitter (#Theme Thursday) or Facebook.

This week is about clever ideas:

I cringe at making a video, but I like to watch them. Here’s a really well-done, sharply-edited video on cat yodeling. Don’t have coffee in your mouth while watching. Use as an excuse to learn skills on video-learning.

Your business card is what people use to remember you. Advertising leave-behinds need to be useful to your audience.  Make it memorable.

Krista is a photographer. She took a lot of pictures of objects shaped like letters. Her home page lets you  spell out our favorite word, name or message using her photos.  You can purchase it as a framed piece of art or greeting card.

If you’ve seen (or read) Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, you know about ambigrams–words written in such a way as to be readable both right-side up and upside down. John Langdon created them for the movie and on his website. He gives you tips on how to create ambigrams, too.

Previous Theme Thursdays:

Creative Play 5/14/09,

Creative Play 5/7/09

Page from a Raw-Art Journal

One of my favorite quotes is from Dogen, about enlightenment being like the moon reflected in water. The moon and sky can be reflected in a tiny drop of water and hold the whole reflection, without getting the moon wet and without disturbing the reflection.
If I were a calligrapher, I would spend hours playing with this quote.
But I’m not a calligrapher, so I created several pages in my journal of how I see and feel the quote.
That’s the joy of a raw-art journal–you don’t have to be an illustrator. You simply let the quote move onto the page in its own way.

Dogen enlightenment In the first page, the words are important, and the image adds movement, although it doesn’t illustrate what the words say. Nor does it need to. The curvature of the path of the moon and the increasing size stir memories of seeing big pale moons rise into the sky on a fragile spring night.
In the next one, the quote is not used at all, only the words “enlightenment” and “satori” (Japanese for ‘englightenment’) are used. One is bold and graphic, the other is a reflection of enlightenment in it’s absence of form. It shows the power of the quote, without ever referring to it specifically.Satori

A raw-art journal can let you explore your intellect and emotions without entangling either one.



–Images: journal pages by Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008-9 All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. She teaches workshops on raw-art journal writing. For more information, see her website,