Favorite Tool: Eraser

Pen and ink is a great medium. I love the precision of fine lines, of cross-hatching for shading. In a journal, pen and ink looks both artistic and scholarly. Pen and ink with watercolor pencil washes make me happy.

When I draw with pen and ink, I start with pencil.  Because I need to erase a lot.

My favorite eraser--clean, neat, won't shred your paper.

My favorite eraser–clean, neat, won’t shred your paper.

Most pen and ink classes I’ve taken talk about blending in your mistakes, or keeping the drawing “loose.” With a pencil, you can move from rough sketch to inking by using a pencil and eraser first, learning as you go along.  Try something, erase it, fix it, change it, re-do it. My must-have, go-to tool is an eraser.

When I teach, I see people frown and say, “I made a mistake,” which baffles me. Of course you make mistakes, you are experimenting,  trying ideas until you get to what you want. That’s not a mistake, it’s working toward an goal. It’s creation. And that works if you are writing, dancing, or singing. I might add that there is so far no eraser for dancing or singing.

Old school eraser looks like modern delete key. Same function.

Old school eraser looks like modern delete key. Same function.

An eraser is handy when drawing packages with twine, vines, or anything with perspectives or that overlaps. Erasers are a tool that help you get to the final image. Stop thinking in terms of “mistake.”  Erasers help us complete the work we start, to capture the image we want.

Knowing about erasers means choosing the one that works for your art.

I’m a fan of white plastic erasers that don’t chew up the page and erase cleanly.

I love kneaded erasers because they keep my hands busy and pick up large areas of graphite really well. I also hate them because you can’t put them near anything plastic, or the eraser will melt the plastic. No idea why.

I love electric erasers that work on detail and are charming for fast work in

A house brush helps clean up without smearing.

A house brush helps clean up without smearing.

reductive drawings.

Eraser get round and you need an edge? Slice the round part off with a craft knife and you have a new edge. They are inexpensive.

Tired of eraser dust? Buy a big paintbrush–housepainting size, and sweep the dust away. Don’t blow on your artwork, particularly not if you have been eating chocolate or drinking coffee. A stray spray of spit can mark the page.

Best of all, you can also carve up an eraser and make your own rubber stamps. So indulge in that extra eraser. You won’t regret it.

—Quinn McDonald loves erasers and the freedom of creative work they encourage.

One Drop of Water

You don’t need to look at the drop of water on your car roof, you’ve seen it a million times. But if you had to draw it, at least without looking at it, you’d have a hard time. We know what things look like in a general way, but the specifics will do us in.  That’s what makes being an artist fun. We look at things in different ways. As artists we have certain expectations of water drops–we assume the light comes from above, so the highlights in a drop are around the curved part on top. So far, so good.

Except the image I chose to draw from was a second generation photocopy of a drop of water on metal. No color, just values and they had been distorted by the photocopy machine. The highlight was on one side, and the drop was probably not originally water, as it had a sharper profile than water. I struggled with making the drop look round. It looked flat and lifeless.

Drawing was made more difficult not just because I didn’t have what I needed, but because to recognize a drop of water, I have to include certain things that make it recognizable–shape, reflection, color.

” The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” Marcel Proust wrote. And new eyes consist mostly of observation. How does this thing look in this light. What, exactly is it that makes the eye think it is round and wet.

And after a while, it emerged, looking as it should. Not because I was born talented. I was not. But because I used my eyes in new ways to see a new perspective.

–Image: “Drip,”  © Quinn McDonald, colored pencil on110-lb.  Bristol Board. All rights reserved.

-Quinn McDonald is writing a book on the inner critic and the inner heroes we develop to confront it.

Book Review: Imaginary Animals (and a giveaway)

Book Winner: Carla Sonheim generously donated a book to the winner of today’s drawing so I could keep the book–I was so pleased! But there were so many comments, I decided to give away my copy, too, so there are TWO winners!   Joy Moore and  Leah Boulet–Congratulations!

This is Carla Sonheim’s second book. The first, Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists covered drawing many different subjects in both realistic and stylized ways. This one concentrates on Carla’s fun, stylized way of working–from her imagination and with humor. The giveaway is at the bottom of this blog.

Book cover

Title: Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals: A Mixed-Media Workshop with Carla Sondheim.

Author: Carla Sonheim

Details: Quarry Books, softcover, 144 pages, $24.99


  • Just Messing Around (Blobs and Sidewalk Cracks, Photos and Life, Memory and Imagination.
  • Mixed-Media Projects (Oaxacan Dotted Elephant, Imaginary Animals, Junk Mail Creatures Book, Watercolor Transfer Animals, Doggone It!, Animals in Tape, Creatures on Wood, Go Fish!, Wrapped and Tied.
  • Artist’s Gallery of Inspiration with Featured Artists.

What I Like: I’ve taken classes from Carla and I like her casual, easy style. The book follows that non-anxiety-producing style. When you read the book, you can hear Carla talking to you. With 250 illustrations, you can follow what Carla does, step by step. You can also strike out on your own, if you prefer.

There are a number of international contributors and the examples make the book more interesting. There are also 3-D animals and instructions how to make them. There’s a lot going on in the book, all of it fun.

Not all the animals she draws are real. They may have real elements, but because they are imaginary they are easier to create, more mistake-proof, and more vivid.

The book shows you how to use a scanner/printer to make duplicates of beginning sketches on art paper, then turn them into a variety of different animals. You’ll learn  clever and interesting techniques that are achievable—big plus! You’ll be guided through a variety of shading, cleaning up and adding color to get artistic results.

What I Don’t Like: Not much. Again, the first lines of the chapter are in gray, not black, ink. The instructions are in sans-serif type, and when the tips are printed on a shaded block, I find it hard to read. If you don’t use glasses or just reading glasses, you’ll adjust. If, like me, you hold books a bit farther away to get them into focus, the type is a bit small. It’s a minor thing.

Disclosures: I received the book from a publicist for free. I enjoy Carla’s style and her classes.

Giveaway: I’m giving away the book. Leave a comment and I’ll have a random drawing on Thursday afternoon, September 27, 2012, at 5 p.m. Phoenix time. The book will ship October 6.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach. She reads a lot. She is working on her second book.

Art Lesson from Life

Note: I was looking for an older post and ran across this one. It ran in March of 2008, but seems just as applicable now as then. I’m posting it today because I don’t expect people to read my blog every day and memorize it. Really. So enjoy, or enjoy again!

It was my first night in colored pencil class. This sounds a bit like coloring class for grown-ups. The lesson was drawing an apple. As I looked at the apple in front of me, I noticed it was irregular and had an interesting stem–and that made for a great outline drawing.

The lesson was to apply color from light to dark, so the first step was to cover the inside of the drawing with a nicely applied layer of cream. You dont’ want a lot of white spots on the paper. A layer of a light color modifies the image nicely.

red appleAs I applied layer after layer, it occurred to me how complicated the outside of an apple is. And how easy it is to make the apple look three -dimensional with the addition of a darker color. And how the highlight, where the ceiling light shines off the peel, is not really white, but reflective.

While I sat an applied color, I learned that a wash of yellow over the curve in the front brightens the entire image. That using the opposite of the red color of the apple–green–makes the shadows look deeper. That another layer of color can change the color entirely.

And I smiled because this sounded more like a life lesson than an art lesson. That steadily applying a cheerful face to life makes you more cheerful. That knowing the opposites in life–happiness and sorrow, failure and success, patience and impetuousness–adds richness to the texture of life. And that adding another perspective can change your outlook. Not only that, but that a lot of work and a willingness to keep layering color makes for a better depth of experience.

When I was done, I had used 15 colors on the apple. It had taken two hours. And I know that if I show it to someone, they’ll shrug and say, “Well, what will you DO with that? Can you sell it?” And I’ll smile and say, “It’s art,” and think, “Just like life.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at raw-art-journals.com  Apple drawing by Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008-9 All rights reservd.

Theme Thursday #12 Falls on Saturday This Week

Last Thursday I was distracted by personal scheduling issues, so the Creative Play of Theme Thursday appears on Saturday this week.

The lead article today is about Linked-In–the professional equivalent of FaceBook. Neal Schaffer is a smart

Raven Coil journal by Amanobooks, listed below

Raven Coil journal by Amanobooks, listed below

marketer, good writer, and sharer of solid information. So you can ignore his uber-busy website with zillions of distracting typefaces, sizes, colors and feed links and focus on the article on how to avoid big mistakes on Linked-In, you’ll find Linked-In a useful tool.

Gabi Campanario used to live in Spain. Now he lives in Seattle and does amazing illustrations. He just started using Issuu, a website that lets you turn PDFs into books. He has an example of some sketches he turned into a video book for his son. Clever idea, well executed!

Gabriel is the one who started Urban Sketchers, which you’ve seen in Theme Thursday more than once. Urban Sketchers is an invitation-only blog of people who sketch scenes of where they live or travel. On this page is the report of a great event called “Shut Up and Write,” originally organized by Mary Ann deStefano, who runs Mad About Words. Writing with a friend is easier than writing all by yourself.

Amanobooks is amano my own heart. He makes interesting, functional journals for a variety of uses. His website opens your head to what can be created creatively and used practically.

You can join in on Theme Thursday: post three links to sites you love or blogs you follow. You can do it on your site or in comments here.

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays:  Creative Play 8/6/09 * * * Creative Play 7/30/09 ***Creative Play 7/23/09 * * *Creative Play 7/16/09 * * * Creative Play 7/2/09 * * *

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also  manages four journals that travel the world.

Theme Thursday #5: 6/11/09

This weeks theme is pen and notebook reviews, with a bit of thrift store fashion and studio-mixed ink tossed in to make it interesting.

Last week, I introduced Pen Addict. Little did I know he has another blog,

Image: ravensclaw.wordpress.com

Image: ravensclaw.wordpress.com

Notebook Addict. In today’s blog he quotes Murderface and his Reciprocral Crap Exchange on Quo Vadis notebooks, which I mentioned last week. Both of these writers have a clear, easy-to-understand manner and keep you from buying lots of stuff you don’t need and just the fine stuff you must have.

You might think a cat of an impossible color is a fashion site, but the blog’s author is writing a book and the blog contains excellent links for writers. The author does make the most of her thriftshop expertise, which makes for some great pictures. She’s a Zimbabwean living in New Zealand, so don’t skip this blog.

Unposted reviews pens he’s used, but he also mixes his own inks. The link is to the contents of his backback—pens, notebooks and notes. I’m relieved that I’m not alone in taking three or four pens with me as well as a journal or two when I leave the house.

Theme Thursday is a post I create every week for creative play. You can join, too. Simply post three (or more) links on a topic you are an expert on or one that delights you. You can post them on your blog and leave a link in the comments.

Below are previous Theme Thursdays.

Creative Play 6/4/09

CreativePlay 5/21/09

Creative Play 5/14/09,

Creative Play 5/7/09

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also  manages four journals that travel the world.

Product Review: Derwent Inktense Pencils

After reviewing the Derwent Graphitint Pencils, I had to review Derwent’s Inktense pencils. OK, I didn’t have to, but it gave me a great excuse to buy and try a new set of pencils.

The two sets are both watercolor pencils, but very different. Inktense colors are a lot brighter, which is to be expected. Graphitint’s (graphite pencils) description is that they have a “hint of color,” which they do, when put on dry. They develop considerably more when you wet them. But Graphitint are all muted graphite tones—wines, rather than reds. Barks, rather than earth browns.

Derwent Inktense color swatch

Derwent Inktense color swatch

Inktense is a different story. The pencils are a bit harder, but not scratchy. These are bright colors, but very transparent. When washed over with a wet brush, they look exactly as if they had been made with an ink wash. The transparency really surprised me. Ink washes have always been a bit tricky, they required putting ink into cups, adding water, then trying them out first. Here, they don’t. I apply the dry pencil to paper, then add the amount of water that makes the right tone for the wash.

Best of all, they can be used by brushing a wet brush directly against the pencil, then applying the brush to paper. That makes ink washes portable.

The combination of Graphitint and Inktense makes a wonderful combination set to travel with. I’ll probably add a few colors to the Inktense to give it the wider range I need for the desert, but the blending ability–and yes, they blend with each other, gives a wide range.

Note: if you blend the Graphitint with Inktense, you won’t get the beautiful transparency of Inktense alone.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach and a writer who teaches art journaling for people who can’t draw.

Use Symbols in Your Journal

Symbols are important to us–as people who want to say something, as artists, as creatives.  You already know a lot of symbols–letters and numbers for starters, but also everyday symbols–traffic lights, the signs for men’s and ladies’ rooms, interstate signs for food, gas, lodging. Until you begin to notice it, you don’t realize how many symbols you do know.

Creating symbols of your own, that are meaningful to you (and not necessarily to anyone else) is a part of  making raw art journals.  With just a few lines there are many symbols for communicating, for expressing, for creating your vision to be shared.

The clip below was originally sent to me by Andrea Kreuzhage, documentary filmmaker of The 1000 Journal Project. Andrea knows a thing or two about symbols. Below the clip is more information on Kirsten Murray, who created the clip. Music by Four Tet.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Fear of Art, or, “I CAN’T Draw”

When I begin any of my journaling classes, I explain that we will be doing more than writing. Before I explain what it is we will do, someone will say, “This better not be about drawing. I can’t draw.” There is a lot of fear about drawing. Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade.

They are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. Instead, art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

My big fear is that to be considered acceptable as a teacher, I better have a lot of “stuff.” Stamps and UTEE and templates; cutters and vinyl and foam; printed paper squares and ribbons and stamp pads in pigment and dye and chalk. But I don’t. I don’t have all that stuff. I have colored pencils and inks and some handmade papers and great drawing paper.

I believe you can make art without a lot of stuff. Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

Preternatural Breakup by Justine Ashbee, (c) 2006

Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

Justine Ashbee uses nothing except Sharpie pens and good paper. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Charlie Kratzer, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. He decorated his entire basement with a black Sharpie. OK, it was more than one. It was $10 worth. The rest was his creativity, his ideas, his desire to decorate his life.

Kratzer is a lawyer, and started with one line in the basement–a line that began a mural around his basement wall. The mural is not just furniture and columns and wainscoting, although it is all that.

The art spans literature and popular culture, Picasso and Churchill. I could list all the things on the wall, but there is a wonderful video and article that does a much better job.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. Right now there it’s popular to have artists’ studios in magazines, along with descriptions about how this big, airy, wonderful space is exactly what every artist needs. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of space and storage, but thinking you need 150 square feet with special furniture before you can create is the same as thinking you aren’t an artist until you have six shelves of stuff. Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who helps people discover they can make meaning in many ways. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Mascara Tree Sketch

There’s a clip on YouTube of a man drawing Bette Davis with mascara. It’s speeded up, and it may be edited, but the result is amazing. He uses the mascara wand as a brush and makes it work with line, shading and value.

After seeing it, I wondered if it was real. So I grabbed by two mascaras–Avon and L’Oreal Voluminous, both in brown/black, and went to work. Surprisingly, neither one had enough color to make it work well. The Avon wand was also quite flexible, great for applying mascara to eyelashes (after all, that was what it was designed for) making it hard to control.

A trip to the drug store, and I had my teen-reliable mascara–Maybelline in double black. The bottom of the container is pink, the top green. I don’t think it’s changed in 30 years. And it worked.

The trunk worked best because the uneven application makes great rough spots. The branches benefit from the the application of the brush held so the bristles create the long leaves of the willow tree.

Ink, brush, paper: cheap. Art in mascara: Not priceless, but washable.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She is a collage artist and teaches workshops, but not in mascara painting. Yet. Image: “Don’t weep, willow” Mascara on paper. (c) 2008 Quinn McDonald, All rights reserved.