Shipping Tag Journal

Traveling makes taking a journal a bit harder. You don’t want to take a wire-bound journal in your bag, because the wires will get crushed. A hard-bound book takes up a lot of space. So I’ve been experimenting with loose-leaf journal pages.

Take a few loose-leaf pages on a trip, fill them up, bind them in some way in the future. With a date on them, you won’t lose the order, if that’s important.

Book1Most recently, I’ve used shipping tags. They are just under 5 inches x 3 inches, so they are great for one-sentence journaling, capturing a quick thoughts and impressions.

After I filled up some manila tags, I decided to color some of them. What a fun idea! Using only a brayer and a credit card to apply paint, I colored a dozen or so tags. Once they were dry, I put a bolt and wing nut through the hole to bind them.

BookpageThe poem fragment by Mary Oliver caught my attention, so I copied it down. Using a dark Sharpie on the light part and a white pen on the dark, the quote fills the page in an interesting way. The circles (done with the corner of a credit card) look like portholes. It says “Now, of all voyagers remember, who among them did not board ship with grief among their maps? ”

Practical, easy to take along, you can always keep the next blank one on top to work on.

Book2The only thing that made this project hard is that the fluorescent bulbs we all have to use make the colors look harsher and more gray than they are. There is a good amount of gold in the pages, and it doesn’t show. That will teach me to photograph the blog images late at night.

–Quinn McDonald thinks there are no limits to what constitutes a journal.

Journal: Lines or No Lines?


These lined ledger journals are available at Staples.

People who keep journals have a strong preference for using a journal with lines or one without lines. There are even journals with alternating lined and unlined pages.

For years, I’ve been a no-line journaler. No matter what the journal was for (and I keep more than one), it had to be unlined. I’m changing my mind. Maybe.

Here are the journals I keep:

1. Client notes, telephone numbers, deadlines, to-do list journal. Unlined. I use Moleskine soft-covers with vibrant cover colors. When they are full, I write the dates started and ended on the cover and keep them. They help me remember where I was and what I did when. Good for taxes and how long a past project took.

2. Sketch journal. Unlined watercolor paper. I use ink and watercolors to do sketches,  small collages and other design work. This unlined journal keeps me from having to fight perspective.

3. Capture journal. This is the one I just switched to a lined journal. I write down brain dumps, ideas, emotions, class ideas, problems with solutions, in this one. I write only on the right side for the first pass. Every now and then I go through the journal and “distill” it. I find insights or ideas and write them on the left page. Sometimes I highlight or add another thought on the left side as well. This distilled material winds up on the free-standing pages.

A selection of my journals.

A selection of my journals.

4. Free-standing pages. These journal pages have art on one side and writing on the other. I’ve been making them for years and they are all the same size. They are the result of a combination of the  distill pages’ lessons and the artwork it inspires.

5. Commonplace Book. I didn’t know this type of book had a name till Kaisa from Vakloinenponi mentioned it. This is the book I use for quotes, well-written sentences, poems, titles and authors of books I want to remember, even articles I’ve cut out of a magazine. The history of Commonplace Books deserves a whole blog post on its own.

6. Nature journal. This is an unlined journal. I am finishing up a big, bulky book with rough pages. I keep notes on the weather, when  my fruit trees bloom or set fruit, or unusual events like this year’s killing freeze. I keep notes about trimming and fertilizing trees, birds I see, and general nature notes. I’d like to switch to a journal I can also sketch in. That’s the next one.

Using a lined journal helps the lines stay even, which helps me write faster and concentrate on the words and meaning-making instead of what the page looks like. The even lines also help me keep my handwriting the same size, which makes it easier to find a word or a specific idea when I hunt through the pages to distill the information.

It’s a new idea for me, but I’m warming to it. I will keep a mix of journals always, and it’s good to switch to a new size or type to see if it changes your journaling habits.

How many journals do you keep and do you prefer lines or no lines?

—Quinn McDonald may have to take a 12-step program to reduce the number of journals she keeps. If she does, she’ll probably keep notes in a journal. Oh, wait. . .

Many Journals, One Author

A skeletonized prickly pear pad. They can dry out and crumble and they can be pressed and preserved.

Last Saturday, when I joined a group of other artists I’d never met, we brought items for show and tell. There was an art quilt pillow, and a banner, and jewelry made of polymer clay and cactus webbing. I brought two of my journals–an experimental one and a sketchbook and passed them around. One of the women asked if I kept more than one journal at a time.

“Yes,” I said, “I do different things in different journals.”

“Isn’t that confusing?” she asked.

I’ve heard this question before, and I know it is difficult for someone to look at the linear idea of a journal–one page a day, perhaps, and see the effort scattered over a number of journals.

From the sketch journal: ink, sparkling H2)s on Arches Text Wove.

It’s hard for me to grasp the idea that everything fits in one book. I have a nature journal so I can check when the figs were ready last year, when the oranges bloomed, when the migrating birds first arrived in my yard.

Then there is the writing journal, the morning pages journal. Private and focused, it’s for my stream-of-consciousness thoughts, and long descriptions of ideas, dreams, and working through the problems that return and need to be processed and re-preprocessed. It’s one I’d never pass around.

There used to be a dream journal, but it burned in the roof-fire and collapse of 2003. There is a sketch journal and an experimental journal with mistakes and triumphs in it. Mostly mistakes. It’s important for me to remember not only the mistakes, but how I fixed them, or what the idea grew into.

Then there is my daily notebook, in which I keep business call notes, to0do lists and addresses so I can remember where I taught, what I taught and when. And names of people I meet in class, people who stay or fade, and may eventually work their way into the phone list.

None of them really belong to others, the contents seem to be happier separate. There was a time when all the information was in one book, with dividers, color coded. I gave it up when I let go trying to control my life. It worked well, both the separate journals and control.

Do you keep separate journals, ideas books? Do you keep different projects separate? Do you work in more than one medium? At the same time?

Quinn McDonald keeps many journals for many reasons. She’s writing a book to keep her inner critic out of the rest of her life.

Journaling With Words

Shocking, isn’t it? That you can use words to journal? Way back when the earth was cooling, we all journaled in words, but art journaling brought a rush of color and a frisson of texture, and we drifted away from words. Let’s go back. It’s more intuitive than you might think, I promise.

Grid, started.

1. Open your journal, smooth down a page you want to write on. Take a deep breath.

2. Freehand two vertical lines to divide the page into 3 columns. Use a pencil or pen, do not use a ruler or try to make it perfect. Make it roughly even.

3. Draw two horizontal lines to divide the page into 3 rows. Your page will now have 9 spaces.

4. In each space, write a word about yourself. A trait, a way you are. You can write it anywhere, you can use any handwriting. All the words must be true, and they must all be kind. No sniping at yourself in this exercise.

5. Color choice: Use a color that you think is perfect for that trait or description, and color in the space. It doesn’t matter if the colors match or blend. Just see what happens.

6. Writing choice: In the box, write a sentence or two about why this characteristic serves your creativity. See what you think of. If you run out of space, turn your journal sideways and create the same grid on the adjacent page. Continue writing in the same grid on the other page.

When the page is full, look at it and see how much truth you have discovered about yourself. Small exercise, big result. Are you surprised at who you are?

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. Join her at Barnes + Noble at Desert Ridge (Tatum and the 101, Phoenix, AZ) October 6, 2011 (Thursday) at 7 p.m. to try a different technique–and to get your book signed!

Books as Art

When a plumber or electrician comes into my house, they often stop in their tracks in the living room. They stare at the 20-year-old TV that takes up the center portion of a big book case. The book case has deep shelves, and on each shelf is two rows of books. The former dining area is my office. My desk is surrounded by a row of book cases. Almost always the repair person asks, “Are you, a librarian?” or “Have you read all of these?” No, and yes.

I love books. I decorate with them, I make them, I use old ones and re-purpose them. Books are so much more than reading material to me. They are art.

(c) Vladimir Kush's Atlas of Wander

(c) Vladimir Kush's Atlas of Wander

Vadimir Kush is a painter. His remarkable transformation of a tree into a book is Atlas of Wander. (Shown small, at left). It represents both the power of books, as well as the tree from which most of their paper comes from. To say nothing of the transformative nature of reading.

At the Website Dark Roasted Blend, there’s a two-parter about altered books. Part I was interesting; I was especially interested in the code-like writing in one of the books. In Part II, she shares some amazing images of cut-up, re-shaped books. If you cringe at altering books, this site will amaze you. Jacqueline Rush Lee is turning books back into magical apparations, I swear!

Cara Barer poses books to look like new life, then photograph them so we can enjoy that new life. These airy, curvey, sculptures make you glad you own books.

Because, quite frankly, there are times I feel like the last person on earth to love books for their own sake.

Georgia Russel is an artist who uses a scalpel the way most artists wield a brush or pencil. Her constructions take books, photographs

Le Voleur de Souffle, (c) Georgia Russell

Le Voleur de Souffle, (c) Georgia Russell

and musical scores, as well as maps and currency, and makes them into something so different, so structurally aesthetic, it takes your breath away. To the right is Le Voleur de Souffle, (Translation: The Thief of Breath), a cut book jacket in an acrylic case, 14 x 9 x 4 inches.

There are days I hate the whole world of technology and all the evil things it has spawned that don’t work, disappear, have to be rebooted. Today was not one of those days. Today, technology brought the world of art books into my grasp, and I am grateful.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Her book, Raw Art Journaling will be published in July of 2011.

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.

Grounding Yourself Every Day

The clever use of a map on the cover makes it clear we need directions for grounding!

Grounding is good. Yep, ground yourself. We like our friends to be grounded. “She’s great to work with. Really grounded.” Ummm, what’s ‘grounded’ mean and how do you do it? If you are older, you may remember grounding as the sharp reprimand from one of your parents to “pull yourself together,” followed by a  DiNozzo-style dope-slap across the back of your head. Now that you are an adult, you have to do this yourself. Both the pulling yourself together and the dope-slap. Grounding is a kinder, gentler way of achieving the same result.

Grounding helps keep you steady, keeps you from becoming dramatic, frantic, and badly behaved. It’s a self-calming technique. To make it work, you have to vary the method, so it stays fresh. The point is to stay in the moment, not to let your mind fly to what you don’t have, what you are afraid of. Staying in the moment is hard, but worth the effort.

Listing favorite items or events helps you get grounded

Bo Mackison, a photographer in the Mid-West, needed some grounding recently. As she was going to be traveling, she decided to make herself a set of flash cards to remind herself of ways to stay grounded. But to make them work, she also made them small–and in a tiny journal that fits in a pocket or the palm of her hand.

Take a distracting walk, noting what nature has to teach you.

Above is a page she can use while walking. What do you see–put some detail to it–colors, textures. Seeing details helps you stay in the moment. Grounding averts melt-downs by diverting the reptilian brain to notice details that delight the senses.

Finding a memory of a safe place and visualizing it creates it in your mind.

A calming exercise helps her think of a safe place. By adding detail, she can visualize being safe and protected, reducing anxiety. Below is a reminder that all things pass. While we generally use it to hurry on the bad parts of our life, it is also good to remember that the good times pass, as well, and to savor every moment.

Bo’s grounding journal has a total of 16 pages and measures slightly bigger than a business card. Make one for yourself and discover a calm and peace through exercising your senses.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and is writing a book for journalers who don’t know how to draw.

The Secrets in Your Journal

Secrets, pen on paper.

Are you afraid that someone will read your journal, find your secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? Don’t let it stop you from writing in a journal. Reconsider, please. There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

If you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life a closed book–or an empty one–consider letting your fear go.   Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Her bright moments were short and quickly dispensed with. I only knew her rules, my transgressions, and how I disappointed her at every turn.

After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. I never found out what had shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this hopeful young bride. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her memory.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on raw-art journaling for people who want to keep an art journal, but don’t know how to draw. It will be published in June, 2011. You can also read about Raw Art Journaling at her website.

Card and Cookie Journals

Two handmade journals with unusual covers.

Moleskine is a terrific journal, I just have to scrub my watercolor brush a bit harder to get the Inktense pencils color to smooth out on the page. Other journals for writing have thin papers, and for drawing often have laid stock, so the facing pages have two different textures. Or maybe, I’m too picky. So I decided to make my own.

A client had sent a card—two, in fact, and I liked them both. I wondered it I could use the card as a cover for a small journal. I gathered up the two cards, a piece of artwork on marker paper—a very lightweight paper, a cellulose card cover, a sheet of Arches Text Wove and a Strathmore Series 400 drawing paper. After folding the signature, I used a simple stitch to create the small pamphlet journal. Success! Different papers, different sizes, but useful and handy.

Trader Joe’s has two thin, crisp cookies that delight me—lemon and ginger. I love the

You can use different size papers, and a variety of paper stock.

cheery yellow box that holds lemon cookies, so I cut off the front and back, and created another journal. The box has a view window in the front, so I first lined the inside of the covers, then drew a design and glued it to show through the window. I filled it with Strathmore 400 Series drawing paper—a creamy medium-weight stock that takes watercolor pencil and glue well.

After spending a few hours in the book press, the Cookie Bookie was sturdy, dry and pressed flat. As it was a box, it can take some wear without showing it, and it perfect for some quick sketches. It would make a great dream journal—I’d love to dream about lemon cookies!

Binding is Tyvek tape, colored with Copic Markers

My next project is a green and black cracker box that’s a bit smaller, but has great style.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, book artist and certified creativity coach. See her work at and © Quinn McDonald, 2010, all rights reserved.