Working With What You Have

Not all creative projects work out as you thought. Not what you wanted. Still, if you translate that into everyday language,  you are practicing. We need to practice art as much as we need to practice all skills, and for the same reason: to get better.

A Neocolor experiment page. Good for using as background, or for adding something more to it.

When you were first learning to walk, you fell a lot. But you got up every time. That’s the reason you can walk so well today–you didn’t think failing defined you. It was part of learning. Somehow, we start to discount that idea as we get older. We think we “should” know how to art techniques  the first time, or much faster than others. Not true. Real experts spend lots of time doing the same thing over and over to gain skill.

After being away from art for a while, I plugged back in again. Collage and found poetry are two ideas I love to dive into, so I thought I’d combine them. After not doing them for a while, I knew the results wouldn’t be stunning. Maybe even amateurish. Who cares? It’s exercise and growth.

Collage experiment, made from an old retail catalog, Neocolor II and found poetry.

I decided to work with what I had at hand–no buying supplies, no updating what I had. In fact, I limited myself to the experimental journal, glue, an old Barney’s catalog (printed on matte paper), and a black waterproof extra fine marker.

Experimenting is freeing. I’m not developing a project for a show. I have a journal in which I work only on experiments. Only experiments. Paper is cheap. Even good watercolor paper is relatively cheap.

Found poetry always looks rustic. Found poetry it cut from print pages, so no matter how carefully you glue it down, it looks like a ransom note, except not as exotic. You can’t really work found poetry into an Old Master’s oil painting and have it work. That gives me permission to work on content, on the creativity of bringing content out with shapes and color.

Detail of the collage, showing the found poetry made only of retail advertising copy, re-assembled.

I started by using the page I’d made using Caran D’Ache Neocolors II. (It’s up there on the left side of the page.) I cut varying circles from the catalog and pasted them onto the experimental page. I then chose a page from the catalog (randomly) and began to cut out words and phrases that, disconnected from their sales background, tell a different story.  I finished by creating a brief emotion caught withing words. (Detail, above).  Satisfying. Creative work, driven by curiosity.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer who teaches both.


Dusty Studio

I’ve been out of the studio so long, it’s dusty. Easy fix. As I’m dusting, I’m thinking about what I want to do next. The pills have finally worked, and I can’t wait to get back to work.

Random phone-call doodle tree. With words.

Random phone-call doodle tree. With words.

Words. My first love. What should I do with words? Ah, found poetry. Love that SO much. Oh, found poetry on a collage background! Yes! Oh, no, on a watercolor background! And get the poem first, so the background works with it!

But, but, gelli plates! I should do that first. I’ve really forgotten half of what I learned. That great way to put down a layer then put a color over it and pull part of it off! The batik effect! And then do found poetry on it! Yes!

No, wait. Carve some stamps. I’ve always wanted to do it and never have. I keep hesitating. I have the material, and it’s not so expensive, it’s a tragedy if I mess up. In fact, if I mess up, it can become part of something else. Yes, I’ll do that first!

Oh, I still have leftover homework from the class I was taking when I got sick. I should do the homework first. Maybe something will inspire me there.

Discarded piece of gelli-plate print.

Discarded piece of gelli-plate print.

It was a drawing class, and I want to incorporate words in drawings. Oh, that idea I had about using cut-out words to shade drawings. And then move on to hand-lettering words to shade drawings. But just random letters. No, real words. Different sizes. That would be fun.

Hm. Journal is a bit small for experimenting, I should do this on bigger paper. But what about my abandoned journal? Shouldn’t I be catching up in that?

Help! I’m feeling better and don’t know where to start!

–Quinn McDonald has a well-dusted studio and needs to get started doing something delicious.


Finding Poetry on Book Spines

I’ve written a lot on found poetry. It’s a whole chapter in my book, Raw Art Journaling, and I love doing it as part of my artwork. It combines collage and creative accident, which is an irresistible combination for me.

One of my bookcases screamed for order yesterday. I have a horrible habit of storing books in the order I read them. This is not a well-thought out organization, although something that works for me in year-long segments.

After a year, the relationship of my life, the books, and creative activity begins to sift out only important ideas and I have to shelve books by topic.

So, to organizing. I picked up two books and looked at the titles and laughed. Smart books! Reading it from left to right it said, “The story of your life, solved by sunset.” My disorganization had created a type of found poetry on the spines of book. Book Spine Poetry. It was love at first read.

You have to use a dollop of imagination, because the titles don’t often start with words that tie sentences together. No matter. I scooped up another handful and shuffled them into another order. Mixing non-fiction and fiction creates even more interest, and before I knew it, an hour had flown by. No regret. Some books get used more than others. Some books have the names spelled out vertically on their spines. No matter. It’s still words.

Clearly this works best if you have a huge collection of books, but it also works fine in the library (a librarian will ask you what you are doing photographing books, make sure you have the answer prepared).

Here is some Book Spine Poetry, with the poem written out beneath each photo, each title starting with a capital letter, so you don’t have to squint.

“I could do anything: Distant healing, Beyond words. Shamans of the world.”

“The story of your life. Art from intuition, The 1,000 journal project.
Places left unfinished at the time of creation.”

“The Zen of seeing Signs of life. The desert smells like rain. Wabi-sabi simple.”

The dry grass of August, After the fire. The brief history of the dead? Saint Maybe.”

The odd woman, Wild mind. Resonate: Creating time, Courageous dreaming.

Want to play along? Photograph the books, put them on your website or blog, link to this blog, and send me the link in the comment section. Please don’t send titles you’ve made up, or ones without photos. The photo makes it come to life.  The fun is in using what is at hand. Have a big CD collection? Use those instead.

Oh, and even without checking,  I’m sure I’m not the first to discover this. So please, send links to other sites only if they show clever book spine poetry. Deflating proof that I’m not first or school-marmish declarations that you used this idea with your kids 30 years ago are acknowledged and not disputed, but will be deleted.  I’m looking for more book spine poetry, that’s the fun.

Final note that no one will notice:  The photograph that delights me the most (multiple delights will create a random choosing) will receive a copy of my book, Raw Art Journaling, but the link has to be your site. Links to someone else’s site gets too complicated. I’ll splurge for shipping to the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America, UK, and Europe if it’s necessary.

WINNER! There were too many that delighted me–so I wrote the names of 10 wonderful entries on index cards and let my cat walk across them. The first and last ones he stepped on were the winners–Andria of DrawingNear blogspot and Paula in Buenos Aires, you won a copy of my book Raw Art Journaling! Books will ship when I get back from  teaching at Valley Ridge, the week of May 7.

–Quinn McDonald is easily delighted with found poetry of any kind. It makes being awake more interesting, more alive, more aware.

Art Tutorial: Found Poetry Collage

If you like found poetry, you can take it one step further and create a collage with it. A few days ago, I used raw-art techniques for found poetry. Today, I’m using a different method. It’s the journaling version of NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month.

While the “rules” of found poetry say you underline the words, then copy them, I like the idea of cutting out the words and pasting them down. This can get a little tricky if you are using catalogs or magazines. It gives it a visual and textural feel, as well as a heightened realism in the cut-out words.

Here is my most recent venture into found-poetry journaling, a two-page piece, including cut-out. Directions are below the photos. Words of the poem:


In a seaside town
two minutes from the beach,
you grow up with nothing–
Winters hold razor-sharp edges.
Pearl moon makes the most of its small space
Still big and empty enough for
human-scaled dimensions.


Overleaf (page 1) with moon cutout backed with parchment. You can see part of the poem through the parchment.


Next page. Moon repeats--this is the piece from the previouis page. The letter "M" is large to emphasise the word "moon".


Materials: Several magazines, catalogs, old books and. . .

  • Scissors, craft knife (small box cutter or X-acto knife)
  • glue
  • tweezers
  • parchment paper, cut into 5″ x 8″ pieces.

Method: Read through catalogs, magazines, or an old book that you don’t mind cutting up. When you find a phrase you like, cut it out carefully. Leave a margin around the words you want. It makes it easier to change tenses or capital letters if the new piece overlaps, rather than butts up against, the cut-out piece.

Don’t worry too much if you don’t have perfect sentences. Right now you are gathering. It’s also a good idea to cut out a few extra words. You don’t know yet where this is going, and that’s part of the fun.

In this case, I had drawn a fancy bottle on the page, intending to make the poem about memories–the bottle was a perfume bottle, the idea that scents evoke memories. That was my idea. Poetry’s idea ran away in another direction. That necessitated the cut out page and re-thinking of the design. Leave yourself open till you have the poem. It’s much easier.

Put the strips of paper together, using lines to create phrases.

In some cases, you may want big or fancy letters for the initial capital. You could write them in, or use rubber stamps, but I find the search and cutting method to be more satisfying for this collage.

Trim the larger pieces you have to make just the words you want visible. Now use tweezers to place them as you would collage pieces, to see where you want them.

The glue choice is important. I tried a glue stick, but it doesn’t deposit enough glue and often the paper rips. Thin glue makes the paper too fragile. I like to use a PVA glue and a thin paintbrush. Put the strip face down on the parchment paper, use the tweezers to hold the paper in place, and stroke the glue over in a thin coat. This keeps the glue from oozing out underneath the paper and leaving marks on the page.

Use the tweezers to place the piece of paper, face up, in place. Pat over the entire surface, including corners, with the tweezers. You can use the paintbrush, too. I use plastic instead of painted wood paintbrushes. The paint flakes off the painted wood when you are working with glue and gets in your artwork.

First, circle the words.

Method II: Finding hidden poetry in book pages

Here’s another way to create found poetry. It’s easier in that there is no cutting and more challenging in that you are using words in the order they appear in a book.  Don’t use a book of poetry, this is your own found poetry.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Utility cutter to remove page from book
  • Pages removed from a book. (Novels are better than textbooks or non-fiction books).
  • HB pencil
  • Eraser
  • Acrylic paint
  • Newsprint or other paper to protect your desk
  • Small paintbrush
  • Colored pencils, markers, or crayons

Read through a few pages of the book until you find some interesting phrases that catch your attention. Then carefully cut the page out of the book. Start at the top of the page and start looking for phrases that tell a story. This is not related to the plot of the book, so you can use a book you haven’t read. Find a phrase that appeals to you and circle it.

The poem you find is not in one line–you might find it scattered word by word over the whole page. If you are lucky, you will find a few words grouped together. Use a pencil that’s easy to erase, the first stage is where you change your mind about what the poem is about. Erasing extra circled words is a normal thing to expect.

If you need to add an –ed or –ing, look for them after the main word. If you have words you won’t need, use an eraser to remove them, leaving just the words you want for now. When you are finished, read the poem aloud to feel the full force of it.

Paint over the words you don't want.

When you’ve circled all the words in your poem, you are ready to paint out all the words you aren’t going to use. Paint slowly, using small strokes. You want to surround each phrase completely. Words that are divided at the end or beginning of a line should be free of paint at the end of the line and have the hyphen visible. The words you want are easily visible, the ones you aren’t using should be covered with paint. It’s great if they are faintly visible, so you can see it was a book.

I used Titan Buff, you can use any color you want. You can also paint designs on the page.

Most book pages are thin, and will curl. If you paint the back side of the page when the front is completely dry, the page will stop curling.

Keep your journal open until the page is completely dry.

––Quinn McDonald is a writer who stands in the middle ground between words and illustrations, believing they both make meaning and create art. © Quinn McDonald, 2009 All rights reserved

Tutorial: Found Poetry, Raw Art

Found poetry is the discovery of hidden words and phrases in text that was written for another purpose entirely–a catalog or magazine article, for example. The poem is not found all together, you’ll find a word here, a few more six lines down.

I find this accidental discovery a perfect match for raw art--which is drawing abstract patterns that are pleasing, exciting, soothing, or engaging. Both are a discovery and both result in the creation of something new.

You can make up a variety of rules to make found poetry more challenging–mine are simple: You choose a set number of pages from a catalog, book, or magazine and find words or phrases that, when cut out and placed next to each other, make poetry. No fair using song lyrics or pieces that are already poetry.

Be careful to cut out words that are grammatically correct in the place you want to use them. That might mean cutting out extra letters. Because you are creating a collage  the words can be different typefaces, sizes or colors.

Then you add raw art–in this case a repetitive topographical pattern, with a suggestion of plant life, to match the seasonal theme of the poetry and to emphasize the word “freedom” and the tribal feel.

Horizon Dust

Time around us moves faster.
The seed that was sown 20 years ago
sweeps into the season raw-edged and tribal.
New growth, striped in rich autumnal hues,
moving to a new feeling and a new freedom
blossoming forth.

Found poetry with raw-art © Quinn McDonald 2009 All rights reserved

All the words in “Horizon Dust” comes from a variety of clothing descriptions in two pages of the Sundance fall catalog.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who stands in the middle ground between words and illustrations, believing they both make meaning and create art. © Quinn McDonald, 2009 All rights reserved