Journal Ideas on the Run

The last year has seen a steep increase in my travel time. Which means I fly a lot and stay in a lot of hotels. Traveling can be lonely, and eating out every night is not the luxury it might seem. I don’t have a fat expense account, my diet is pretty rigid, and after a while, the idea of another Cesar salad makes me scowl. But this post is not about traveling, it’s about journal ideas when I’m traveling.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

A muted wallpaper with several shades of blue and gray.

Hotels have a practical purpose to their carpets–they have to hide dirt and look trendy. Wallpaper has to be background to art and doorways and bedspreads are vanishing in favor of the bedroom equivalent of a table runner–a piece of fabric placed across the foot of the bed to remind you that there used to be bedspreads.

I photograph the patterns and then copy the idea into my journal. I may use different colors, sometimes I alter the scale, and sometimes I print out the photo and simply transfer it into my journal for color and shape use in a future project.

hotel2No matter how tired I am or how reluctant my brain is to write, the colors and patterns of walls, bedcovers, and floors provide endless design interest. Sometimes the design seems to emerge from the way-back machine (when, exactly, did that carpet above debut?).

hotel4On the other hand, from a design standpoint, the carpet above is interesting. I like the circles within circles, and the lines in the background gives depth to the whole thing. It was, in fact, the beginning of an idea for a Gelli Plate pattern I worked on. With different colors, it had an updated look.

hotel6Sometimes the wallpaper is simply interesting. This one was pleated, but irregularly. I loved the effect, which was limited to the elevator area. A whole hallways of orange and gold would have been too much–this wasn’t Vegas, it was Washington, D.C.

hotel1This coverlet detail above reminds me of my favorite “I can’t cut straight lines” solution. The fact that it is not symmetrical makes it even more appealing.

hotel5Oranges and earthtones seem to be having their heyday. Again. Which is why I liked this neutral-with-red striped bed covering in Dallas. The rest of the room picked up colors from this palette and made it effective for a small room. Another palette I’m saving for later use. I would not have mixed the pale gray-green into this mix, and the bit of pale apricot really works.

hotel7Bold works, too. I wouldn’t want this carpet in my home, but it was the inspiration for a collage I did that wound up in Joan Bess’s book, Gelli Plate Printing. The pattern-within-a-pattern was appealing.

Pg124Bessbk(p. 124 of Joan Bess’s book with my poppy collage, above). Inspiration is just that–an idea that you like, reworked in some other way. Because the poppy-carpet photo-transfer was in my journal, I began to play with the idea of poppies in collage. You never know where it will lead you.

Who would have thought that wallpaper and carpeting would be such an interesting addition to a journal? These walls did talk, after all!

-Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer. She teaches writing all over the U.S. and Canada. She is a certified creativity coach.


Monoprinting Experiments

imagesA few weeks ago, I was given two Gelli Arts Plates. My creative life hasn’t been the same since. Gelli Plates are gelatin-like consistency printing surface  that you can use to make gelatin prints without the hassle of making gelatin. I have a big weakness for monoprints. But the monoprints I learned to make are very exacting and precise, and we all know by now, I admire those characteristics–in others. Wabi-sabi and rustic echoes out of my soul.

Gelli plates are used most often in creating backgrounds for multi-media uses. And they are fun to use for that purpose. You put acrylic paint on them then roll out the paint with a brayer. To put designs in the paint, use stencils, homemade tools, or just your fingers. Then put a piece of paper on the paint, smooth the surface with your hands, then pull the print off the plate.

©Quinn McDonald, 2013

©Quinn McDonald, 2013

Quinadricone Azo Gold and Quin. Burnt Orange are desert colors that blend well with Payne’s Gray and metallic gold. I used a small tile to make the imprint.

© Quinn McDonald, 2013

© Quinn McDonald, 2013

You can layer the prints, which is super popular in the layer-on-layer art journaling pages. This was fun. But I wanted a little more experimentation. So I made a custom rubber stamp out of foam sheets. That’s a separate tutorial, but it is well worth the time. No carving. You cut out foam and put it on a piece of foam as big as the plate.


© Quinn McDonald, 2013

Here’s a foam stamp, showing both positive and negative use. This is fun. There will be more of this experimenting. But I wanted to make real monoprints. Not for backgrounds, for a print. So I started with a simple one.

© Quinn McDonanld 2013

© Quinn McDonanld 2013

Three squares, layered, but translucent colors. The middle one is stamped with a gold antique clock. The piece represents past, present and future, each affecting the next. Interesting, but not quite what I wanted–something more graphic and still abstract.

After the Fire, © Quinn McDonald, 2013. Acrylic monoprint.

After the Fire, © Quinn McDonald, 2013. Acrylic monoprint.

Much more of what I was trying to get. Landscape feel, contrasting color, and some interesting detail on the lower right corner. (Above) And then I figured out how to draw on the plate and use the accidental arc of Azo Gold. (Below)

Night Pines © Quinn McDonald 2013, acrylic monoprint

Night Pines © Quinn McDonald 2013, acrylic monoprint

I worked the dried monoprint with Pitt Pens to add more detail and to make it look a little more like a woodblock. Then I added Derwent Inktense details to create the final piece. This is what I’d like to do more of. My original intent was to write over it. Now I’m rethinking that, at least for this piece.

And now, it’s the week of Patti Digh’s Design Your Life camp, and I’ll be prepping for that as well as teaching my new Persuasive Writing course. But it was a creatively satisfying weekend.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting with monoprints.

Journal Page: Inventing an Alphabet

OK, I’m a writer, so I like different alphabets and codes. They also make great additions to a journal page. A new alphabet, a code–it’s a clever journaling piece that adds an easy design element through writing.

Could be someone cheering.

This morning on my walk, I saw interesting writing on the street. My mind went to an interesting story line–what if visitors from another planet came down and took notes on the street on what they saw and learned? What I saw on the street would be a kind of alien journal, written in code. That idea appealed to me, and I took some photos of the “writing.”

Looks like it could be a back-to-back letter.

That idea led to another one: why just use the regular alphabet in your journal? Why not add some new ones? New letter shapes, new designs are all around you. You can use alchemy symbols,  the Greek alphabet, numerical symbols.

A really interesting one is the Mormon Deseret alphabet (below). When you use shapes from an alphabet, you can invent what they mean to you–what the letter shapes are going to mean in your world. You can translate interesting letters into whole words if you like.


My favorite of the street was the one below–this is definitely the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything:

I made a journal page with a new alphabet. First I collaged various shades of white and cream on the page, then I used a brush and wrote quickly, without hesitation, inventing as I went along. And here is what the journal page looks like with a new alphabet:


And if you want to check out a few more different alphabets, this page should get you started.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, and artist who makes things up as she goes along.

Saturday Creative Roll

Giveaway: The three people who won Dina’s book from the March 27 blog post are Shannon Ganshorn, Annettte Geistfeld, and Ann M. Philli. Congratulations to all of you!

6a00d8341c766153ef017ee9cbb131970d-500wiJulie Fei-Fan Balzer is a multi-talented multi-media artist. I love her lettering and the design of her journal pages. I never draw faces–not in my journal, not in anything. So it’s time I gave you a link to someone who does.  Sharon Evans is doing a guest post about faces. The whole idea is interesting, 29 days of face drawing, on Ayala’s blog post. Whew, three amazing artists in one paragraph.  A good beginning, for sure.

Joanne Sharpe is a Journal Artist and knows how to produce a huge variety of lettering. Here’s some eye candy of Joanne’s lettering on Pinterest. And here is Joanne’s blog.

Donna Downey fills journal pages with bright, easy colors. Her busy website has a great inspirational blog and video to enjoy.

Pocket magnifier as art, the joy of an MP3 player

Pocket magnifier as art, the joy of an MP3 player

One of my favorite art journaling blogs is John a-Lookin’ Around. John P. is an engineer who lives in Kansas, and he doesn’t post as often as he used to, but the archives are just sitting there, waiting to be drooled over. I love his elegantly simple page design.

Have a great creative Saturday!

Quinn McDonald just got a delivery from JetPens. She also has to do her taxes. This is harder than she thought.

Journal Pages Unbound

Today, I was working on free-standing journal pages. I love the idea of combining fabric and drawing. A drawing of a cactus with a sheer fabric seemed intriguing.

Fabric journal pages open up a whole new genre of writing and drawing in your art journal. I’m creating free-standing or unbound pages–experimenting with creating unsequenced book pages. So far, I’m liking it a lot.

Yellow, orange and red polyester fabric.

My idea was to use fabric as a background. The way it turns out, it’s sewn on as a foreground and takes just a bit of planning.

The fabric is a sheer polyester in yellow, orange and red. I thought of sunsets and desert evenings when I purchased it. The woman behind the cutting counter looked at the sheer, bright fabric and at my request for a quarter yard and asked, politely but with great wariness, what I might be making with this. I’m sure she was terrified at what piece of clothing I might have in mind. “Art project,” I smiled. She broke into a big, relieved smile and then said, “It’s so much fun to play crafty games with the grandchildren for Easter isn’t it?” I smiled back. No sense to disturb her fantasy of happy Easter projects.

Layers, top to bottom: fabric, fusible webbing, watercolor paper. Cover with parchment before ironing.

First I drew a cactus on a piece of Strathmore pre-cut, cold-press watercolor paper. I added a scrap of landscape to anchor the image and explain the sunset colors. To give the cactus and landscape colors, I used Derwent Inktense and Caran D’Ache watercolor pencils.

Next, I cut a piece of lightweight fusible webbing the size of the page, and a piece of the fabric just a bit bigger. I covered the entire work with a piece of cooking parchment, to prevent the iron from sticking to the melted webbing.

Edges finished with zig zag stitching.

After ironing the fabric to the postcard, I trimmed the fabric and using a sewing machine set on zig-zag, finished the edges of the page.

By placing the fabric carefully, you can create different lighting effects.

Different lighting effects using different areas of the fabric.

The back of the page is for writing. I don’t show those parts here because the writing is personal. Eventually, I’ll do some samples and show those, too.

Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling. She will teach these techniques in a class called Postcards from the Other Side of Your Brain at Valley Ridge Art Center on May 5-6, 2012. There are still places left if you’d like to join.

Tutorial: Strip Weaving Paper

Weaving paper strips makes a great trim on a page,  an elegant edge or letterhead-type top, or even a page itself. You probably learned to weave paper in kindergarten, and you probably learned the hard way–holding down vertical   strips with one hand while chanting “over, under, over, under” with a strip you pushed in horizontally (landscape orientation), while trying to keep everything lined up. There is a much easier way.

First step: tape all strips down to desk.

1. Let’s say you are going to weave a piece seven strips of paper wide. It’s best to use an uneven number for the strips you set up to weave through. In the illustration there are seven strips. Place the strips on your desk so the tops are even. Tape the tops of the strips to the desk using a removable masking tape. Make sure the strips are spaced evenly.

2. With your non-dominant hand, pick up the bottom of strips 1, 3, 5, 7 and hold them just off the desk. You can use a small ruler or strip of index card if you like to hold them up if you used very wide strips.  Your hand is fine, too.

3. Using your dominant hand, pick up one of the strips you are weaving with. Slip it under the lifted bottom of the strips, keeping it over the remaining strips (2, 4, 6). Slide the strip to the top, close to the tape.

Snug the woven strip so it is straight.

4. Lift strips 2, 4, 6 with one hand and slide a weaving strip from the bottom to the top, keeping it over strips 1, 3, 5, 7.  Continue this until the weaving is complete.

5. Leave the tape in place. Using glue on a thin brush, pick up the papers on the edge–only the ones on top of a strip of paper, and put a glue dot on the strip it is on. Glue only the top strips on the right and left side. When the glue is dry, remove the tape, turn over the paper, and glue this side as you did the other.

Do not glue the top and bottom, the weaving needs flexibility to work as a kinetic piece. That also means you won’t get good results if you glue it across the gutter in your journal–the page shifts and is bigger when the book is open and smaller when closed. The piece will eventually tear is you glue it across the

Weave from the bottom, lifting alternate strips.


Alternatives: Use one color for the long strips and another for the cross-weaving strips.

Your strips don’t have to be straight. They can be wavy or wiggly, as long as the overall shape is not sharply curved.

White strips make a lovely texture. Glue the weaving down on one page of the journal, cover with a thin coat of ivory paint. Dry. Write over the whole thing.

Weave the piece using white strips, then mark areas you want to color. Dissassemble, color, re-assemble.

Weave loosely, remove the tape, pull the corners to create a diagonal weave. Glue to keep the shape.

–Quinn McDonaldis an art instigator.  She wants people to play with art and stumble across meaningful results. That’s what her book, Raw Art Journaling encourages.

Weaving glued to right side, unglued on left.

Journal Page: Pear

Before I’ve unpacked my bag to teach journaling, the participants say, “I never know what to write in my journal. I’d like to keep a journal, but it would be blank. I don’t know what to say.” Let’s start with something easy. Here’s a recipe clipped from the newspaper. (A cultural artifact dating from the 17th to the early 21st century, printed on cheap paper and containing a condensed version of news, advertising and comics and angry letters to the editor delivered to your door for a reasonable price every day.)

Keep special or often-used recipes in your journal.

It’s Maya Angelou’s recipe for poached pears and is blissfully delicious. My recipe box is full. If I put this recipe on an index card and stick it in a recipe book, I’ll wind up paging through all 400 cookbooks looking for it. Yes, we have 400 cookbooks.

So I turned it into a journal page. I drew some brightly colored pears, so I can find the recipe when I flip through the journal, and left space for notes, ideas of recipes to serve it with, or notes of who shared this dish at my dinner table.

A journal is the GPS of your journey. Eat well along the way.

Quinn McDonald is a raw-art journaler. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art, comes out in July, 2011, published by North Light Books.