Not Writing in Your Journal?

There are as many reasons to not write in your journal as there are journals. I’ve heard thousands of reasons. If you don’t want to write, don’t. It’s that simple. I’m starting a new journal that I don’t plan on filling with writing. I plan on filling it with designs and interesting paper and raw art. And I won’t write every day. I never have. So what’s your excuse? Do you want to hug it to you? Great. But if you want to try something new—

1. I’ve started so many, why start another?
You don’t have to keep one journal. Keep as many as you like. One for good news, one for bad news. Or one for artwork and one for writing. Or one for ideas and one for dreams. You can keep many journals, all at the same time. Date each page as you write on it, and you will know when you had that dream or idea.

3 journals for different topics

3 journals for different topics

2. I’ve never finished a journal, why start another?
Do you know why you didn’t finish it? Did you get bored with writing or drawing? Did the journal format not suit you anymore? Try a number of journals–small, large, spiral bound, book bound, lined, unlined. You might even feel comfortable with more than one. Don’t give up until you’ve tried several formats.

3. I have no idea what to write.
In the beginning, keep it simple. Make lists instead of writing stories. Make a list of things that made you happy today. Short list? Write another list of things that made you cranky. Make a chart of how much time you spent on Facebook, Twitter, compared to reading and TV. If you went out to eat, write down the name and address of the restaurant, what you ate and what you thought of the food, service and wall art. Write notes about the weather or your mood. After a while, you will be able to make some connections–you get happy when it rains, for example.

4. It takes too long.
You don’t have to write 1,000 words a day. I teach a course called “One Sentence Journaling” in which one sentence a day is all you need to write. Two, if you are ambitious It’s not the amount, it’s the word choice. Write with all your senses.

Double-sided journal

Double-sided journal

5. I’ll mess it up.
Who cares if you mess up a page? Or six pages? Your journal is about your life, and life gets messy. If you absolutely hate messing up, I teach a course called “Journal Writing for Perfectionists,” that helps you get over the need to keep it perfect. In the meantime, paste over pages that aren’t perfect. Or:

  • Turn the page sideways and write with a different colored ink for an interesting effect.
  • paste a map or nice photo over the page you want to get rid off.
  • Paint it over with gesso, and paint on that page.
  • Collage it. Leave about an inch from the spine and cut the page out and tack in a new page, using the margin you left.

A journal is a way to remember the steps you took on the journey. It’s personal and is part of you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you can keep different journals of different papers, sizes, and styles. Keeping a journal is an important way to watch yourself grow. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach who keeps journals in many colors and styles.  She made the journals shown on this page and teaches journal making and writing. Her book, Raw Art Jouraling, Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light books in 2011.



Paper Journal, Computer Mind: Art Journaling as Art

When I teach art journaling classes, I am often asked, “Aren’t pen and paper obsolete?” That opens the door to an interesting discussion of journaling by handwriting, keyboarding, painting, singing and using a computer.

This video is a wonderful addition to that discussion. It’s not only well done, but the artist, Evelien Lohbeck  , has a wry sense of humor, an incredible imagination, and the persistence to draw it all out.  Lobeck’s website tells you about her as an artist, (many of the links no longer work) but her Youtube channel all well-worth watching.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Noteboek on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod


I loved the toast sequence best. Or maybe the photocopy sequence. No, no, the mirror was great. Well, OK, the entire idea of journal as part of all five senses is the whole idea of journaling in one great vision.

–QQuinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches business writing, journal-keeping and raw-art-journaling.

Different Journals, Different Jobs

Keeping a journal is not a formal work for me. I have several journals, some larger than others, some with handmade paper. As long as I date the work, it doesn’t matter which journal I work in.

yhst-71326348041790_1977_1622103.gif As most people who juggle different projects, I have to keep track of voice mails, make lists, and jot down notes to find directions. I tried keeping the information on 3×5 notes, but discovered I often needed information on notes I discarded. So I began keeping the information on rollabind-punched 3x5s.

Warning:  I can no longer recommend Rollabind after reading the horror stories about non-delivery and non-communication. Even the BBB rates them with an F and has an alert out about them. The Ripoff report has a steady stream of complaints that go back several years and are added too almost weekly.

Then I noticed that I have a hand-brain memory. I would remember on which side of the page certain information appeared, and about where in the book. So removing pages confused me and threw the whole book into disarray.

Another fact floated to the top of my brain: these notes, phone numbers, movie names, books someone recommended–all form a weird map of my life. They are as much journal information as the stories, artwork and posts in my more formal journals. I refer to them to find out when I saw which movie, or to draw a map to get me from the bookstore to the art class.  These pages form the real pieces of my life, the daily patchwork that makes life interesting, gives it colorSolstice and texture.

And now I’ve decided to start keeping those scribble journals.  Instead of loose cards, I’ve moved the whole thing to Moleskine Cahier bound-books, the 5×8 size. They are thin and flat and fit into my paper calendar that keeps my appointments straight. (Yes, I have an iPhone, and it keeps many things, but I need a paper calendar to show me what I’m not doing as well as what I am.)

This is a whole new direction, and piques my interest in mapping a life through journals. It may be a whole new kind of journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved. Cahier notebooks by   Image: “Solstice” by Quinn McDonald. Watercolor, pencil, on handmade paper.

The “Perfect” Journal May Be A Mess

“What does your journal look like?” one of my class participants asked. She was putting away her own carefully crafted art journal filled with delightful patterns and colors that she had copied from magazines.

“What do you think it would look like?” I asked, knowing where this conversation would lead.

Thinking in circles © Q. McDonald

Thinking in circles © Q. McDonald

“Your journal would have exquisite artwork on every page, with beautiful handwriting in lovely colors. And the whole book would be perfect–no mistakes. You’ve been journaling a long time,” the participant said with the joy that comes right before the bubble pops.

Silently, I handed her my journal. It has a water-stained front cover and the elastic is over-stretched. She opened it, and gasped, involuntarily. She had opened it on a page in pencil, with an ugly sketch of a thing that might be a butterfly followed by several swashes in pencil. She looked at me in real doubt. I was the teacher here? She flipped to another page. A drawing done diagonally across two pages, with a not particularly good illustration of a hand reaching up to find a pen on a table.

The participant looked at me with pity. “This is yours? Is it recent?” She was horrified. How could the instructor in a class have a journal that was so. . . ugly?

The class had gathered and I held up the ugly butterfly page. “When I saw this butterfly done in repoussé  and chased on a pendant, I loved the Asian feel it had. When I drew it, as an illustration, it was flat, missing the raised element of the repoussé and the deep outlining of chasing. The Asian influence came from the technique, not the illustration, and I didn’t understand that until I did the drawing. Had I added shading and definition, added a framed,  it would have looked like the pendant.

“Why didn’t you?” Another participant asked.

“I learned all I need to learn from what I had drawn,” I said. “Having learned it, I noted it on the page and then could move on.”

“And the . . .hand?” another participant asked.

“Hands are hard to draw, but this was not about the hand. This was about breaking the page–creating an artificial edge with a diagonal line across the page. Elizabeth Perry is an expert at it. I was not, so I practiced, and gave myself a chance to copy my own hand at the same time.”

My journals are not little artworks ready for framing. My journals are explorations on translating what I see into a flat surface. My journal is about experimenting and failing, and knowing why I failed. My journals are about experimenting and succeeding and knowing why it worked this time. Some pages have instructions for an idea, some a diagram that makes sense only to me. Some pages are beautiful, some are not. My journals are my work, my thoughts, my ideas, and they are not perfect. They can be a mess on the way to pretty good. And that’s why my journals make me indescribably happy.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and recovering perfectionist.  Quinn is also a life- and creativity coach who helps people through change. She teaches people who can’t draw how to keep art journals.

No More Art/Craft Kits

Many artists may have started with art or craft kits, but the more I see them, the more I get grumpy about the expectations they raise and don’t complete. And I think the same kind of thinking that went into the real estate bubble (consumerism, greed, and the idea that if you don’t have the latest gadget, you are nobody) is hitting the art market.

Survival kit in a sardine can, courtesy

Survival kit in a sardine can, courtesy

For a long time I believed that kits and assembly-projects were art portals. People would understand art, get the fun and creativity, and strike out on their own. But I don’t see that happening. Instead, I see people demanding perfect, gift-ready products at the end of a two-hour class.

The very field that encourages thinking, creative problem solving, experimentation, delightful mistakes that lead to interesting discoveries is now fraught with kits that assemble in under an hour and guarantee “perfect” results.

No creativity here. No problem solving, either. No

A can of worms. (

A can of worms. (

experimentation. You might as well be assembling a bookcase from Ikea. The last time I did that, I didn’t claim to be a carpenter or a woodworker. I did learn how to use an Allen Wrench, though.

The problem with kits is that they don’t encourage artistic exploration, they encourage consumerism. You often have to purchase that special tool, which comes in three sizes, so you’ll need the container to put it in, and the book with other projects that require six more specialized tools.

There may have been a reason for kit creation. I could also be lining my hat with aluminum foil and designing conspiracy theories. Here’s the logical thread: artists who spent time and effort developing a useful technique would teach it. The class participants took the class and promptly began to teach the same thing with less experience. The original designer began to create shortcuts to blur the process but produce uniform results, which pleased art retreat promoters who could teach more classes in a day. It pleased the participants, too, who began to walk out with “can’t fail” projects.

Craft tool manufacturers loved it because instructors could demand more specialized tools.

The whole thing has gotten out of hand. In a recent class, I passed out samples of some of the explorations of the technique I was teaching and one woman immediately began to make sketches of the pieces I was passing around and write down notes I’d put on some of the pages.

There was no doubt that she was copying, word for word, my copyrighted material. What’s interesting is that by the time class was over, she had learned the technique but had not recognized it because she was busy copying information, not experimenting with a technique.

As a culture, we’ve over-scheduled our kids and ourselves to the point where free time has to be productive, result in a gift or something “creative.” We don’t feel joy or pride when we complete a kit, we feel relief at duplicating the picture on the cover in the time allotted.

We haven’t learned a thing, and certainly not made meaning or art. No wonder people don’t “get” art, they’ve never experienced the joy of creation.

There is a legitimate place for kits, and it’s the equivalent of the Ikea bookcase. If you want to assemble something in a short time with little hassle, a kit is just perfect.

But I’m submitting a new analogy for the SATs. Kits are to art like reality shows are to real life. You can participate in a passive way and be glad it’s not all your idea.

It took me a while to figure out why I am so enthusiasitc about raw art journals. I finally figured it out–it’s all technique. I can’t tell you if you are doing it right. You’ll know. You’ll sit down and time will fly and you will like the result or know how to change it to love it next time. It’s meaning making. And for me, that’s life being art.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw-art journaler. She gives workshops in writing and raw art for businesses and  people who can’t draw.   © Quinn McDonald, 2009. All rights reserved.

Raw Art Journaling (Online) Starts April 22

Raw art journaling (an online class) is for everyone who can’t draw and wants to keep an art journal. You’ll learn to express yourself in ways that include framing your words, creating a focal point on the page, and using abstract designs to express emotion.

I’m starting an online class on April 22. It’s a 3-session class and will continue on April 24 and 29. Once you sign up, I’ll send you a Yahoo Group address (different from the creativity incubator I moderate).

Raw-art-journal page © Quinn McDonald 2009

Raw-art-journal page © Quinn McDonald 2009

The class will be held on the Yahoo Group. I’ll post a lesson and example on each of the 3 lesson days. The lesson will be a visual and a prompt. You’ll practice and post your results, comment on other people’s posts and see what develops.

Raw art doesn’t require any special tools–a journal you don’t mind experimenting in and a pencil or pen. That’s it. You can get much more complicated, but you don’t need to.

Please join us for this exciting, fun class and learn how to keep a Raw Art Journal! More details and registration on the raw-art-journals site.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She runs workshops in person and online on writing, presentations, and raw-art-journaling.

April is Fake Journal Month

The instant I saw this idea on Roz’s blog, I loved it. Roz is Roz Stendahl, a graphic designer and illustrator in Minnesota, and she created Fake Journal Month in 2001. Why keep a fake journal? Here’s what Roz said in her blog post on March 23,:

If you have to ask why then maybe it isn’t for you. Maybe you haven’t ever wondered what your life would have been if you had entered the Peace Corps or become White House Press Secretary like you planned? Maybe you don’t want to explore the day to day thoughts of the inventor of Never-fade Flavor-packed Chewing Resin (patent pending).

But if like me you are always wondering, “what if?” then it makes perfect sense.

Where else can you have so much fun for only the cost of a journal and a few art supplies? (Well OK, you can have that much fun simply keeping your regular journal, but this is different!)

Fake Journal Month is the brainchild of Roz Stendahl

Fake Journal Month is the brainchild of Roz Stendahl

At first, the idea of a “fake” journal startled me, until I caught on that it was a fiction journal, an alternate universe/time/personality–a way to try on someone else’s life and explore. Like Roz, I love the idea of  “what if?”

I also love it because it is a perfect example of raw art–something that is meaningful and pushes you deeper into your art–that place you make meaning without a lot of fancy equipment, kits, or brand-name purchases. Any pencil, paper, pen, eraser will do.

Over at Pentamento’s blog, work as already begun.  She was poking  around a book store and, in addition to finding a new pencil, found an old book. “I will turn the clock back and take the persona of Kate Haggerty, nearly 16 years old, student of Latin, Greek, fashion and boys.” It’s not that hard to leap into another’s life, particularly if you’ve secretly wanted to do it. The results are imagination on the run, and you should take a peek.

It’s a great idea, and April is a good time for an escape anyway. Disappear into another journal for a month. Discover who you aren’t.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She keeps a raw art journal, and is considering keeping a fake journal.