Collage Journal Pages

Say “collage” to people and they reach for a magazine to tear up. No problem with using photos and type from a magazine, but there is so much more to collage than magazines.

Collage is my go-to technique when I’m working on art journal pages. Now that I’m working both on journal pages and on iHanna’s annual postcard challenge, I’m using a lot of collage.

Three photos into one image.

The first one is a photo collage. I started by printing an old hand-written journal page on a piece of ivory card-stock. Using three of Bo Mackison’s photos (with permission), I cut them into strips and mixed the images. I wanted to show both part of a full-bloom and a seed-head, because this page was about seeing only part of the whole and imagining the rest. It’s how we see the world–we don’t understand it all, so we arrange it the way we believe works.

This could also have been about time passing, the beauty of every stage of life, or the inevitable continuation of seasons. What any collage means to you is personal, and changeable. That’s one of the glories of art.

The next collage is about stark opposites–black and white. It’s about seeing and not seeing (this seems to be a theme for my journal pages.) The white paper is a Braille magazine. Thanks to Sylvia Perez from the Lighthouse, who offered to send me a no-longer usable magazine, headed to the shredder. (No worries that I snatched away a valuable resource.)

Braille paper on black Art Again paper from Strathmore.

I added hand-drawn designs, in white, to give the page another dimension–a visible one and a tactile one. There will be another page–white on white.  To those who read with their hands, there would be no difference in the page. To those who get information visually, the pages will have completely different meanings. Different people get different information from the same page.

I wrestle with a variety of communication problems every day, and it’s good to work them out through art.

Quinn McDonald is creating journal pages with art on one side and words on the other. Because for her, they can’t be separated.

Butterfly Journal Page

When you aren’t an illustrator, you develop workarounds to show figurative work. I have a strong sense of narrative, and that comes first. Ummm, that means if you can’t draw, you better have a good story to tell with color, design and texture.

I’m working on a series of loose-leaf journal pages. The idea for this one is about the ability to change–opinions, colors, emotions–any kind of change. The butterfly, a figure I like very much, represents change. Colors, shapes, number of legs. From something that crawls to something that flies. From something that chomps to something that sips. A huge change.

Two fine, see-through, jersey-like fabrics.

I found a swatch of blue and greeny butterfly-print fabric. Perfect. I found another swatch in a sort of paisley in a darker blue and green. Both were very lightweight and elusive.

Cut-out butterfly

First, I cut out a piece containing a butterfly. Using fusible webbing, I ironed the butterfly onto a soft, firm paper. This gave it enough body to cut out the shape without worrying about the silky fabric crawling away under my scissors. I discarded the antennae–I’ll add those back in later.

Butterfly on paisley background.

Using more fusible webbing, I iron the silky blue-green sheer fabric to a journal page, in this case, Strathmore pre-cut watercolor paper. I attach the butterfly with another patch of fusible webbing. Since I’m going to sew the butterfly, I just need to hold the butterfly in place, so there are just four spots of adhesive.

Glue would pucker the fabric, bleed through to the watercolor paper, or stain.

Using a sewing machine, I zig-zag stitch around the postcard using an intense blue.This finishes the edge and gives the piece a frame. I also sew the edge of the butterfly with a variegated thread to add textural interest. The antennae get put back on with glitter glue. I also edge the wings in glue to create a big separation from the background, and yes, to hide a few wobbly stitches.

The butterfly doesn’t quite read “change” yet. I want to show that this butterfly had ambition–so she stole her colors, not from her background, but from another winged creature–a peacock.

Butterfly takes wing--from peacock.

Using Misty-Fuse (thanks Rosaland, for showing me that trick!), I attach a peacock feather to the journal page. The Misty-Fuse creates hold without glue-marks.

The other side will carry the story. And that’s another blog post.

Quinn McDonald is completely enchanted with the idea of loose journal pages and the covers that will hold them.

Exploring Ink

Ink is weird. When I started playing with it, I thought ink was made to put in fountain pens and stored in bottles. Well, it does come in bottles, but there is acrylic ink, watercolor inks, shellac inks,  alcohol inks, and sparkly inks. There are inks you can put in airbrushes but not in a technical pen, and inks you can put in a dip pen but not a fountain pen. It’s amazing, and my head is spinning. There are inks you thin with water and those made with shellac that don’t like water.

Because I’m experimenting with inks for a new class, I’m making a wonderful mess in the studio–different papers, gel medium, water, alcohol–and blends. Which ink likes what? I take notes and eventually I will create the Frankenstein monster in ink and every time I say “Frau Blücher!” a horse will snort ink over my desk.

Walnut ink crystals didn't dissolve on gel medium, and brown Higgins ink won't dry.

In this project, I was trying to eliminate warping in the paper substrate. The usual way to do that is to spray both sides of the paper with water before working on it. What would happen if I painted over an inked sheet with gel medium and continue to ink it. Would it quit warping? It does quit warping, but other odd things happen. I let the gel medium layer dry and sprinkled walnut ink crystals over two spots. The crystals can’t be scraped off the sheet once they dry.

Brown Higgins ink, which I thought was water-based, must be shellac based because it won’t dry on the gel medium. At least not in 12 hours. I stood the paper upright and left it alone, and the ink continued to spread. The red-orange dried in about 8 hours. When I went back to re-work it, I could see a figure in a red dress in the ink.

I began to work with the figure, but watercolor pencils and Pitt Pens both picked up the tacky brown ink. I finally used India Ink to get the effect. The piece may never dry, but it taught me some interesting facts:

–you can spray or drop ink on watercolor paper and get interesting effects.

India ink can be used on damp gel medium and shellac ink, but it's very difficult to work on wet ink.

—If you let the ink dry, you can add more ink without blurring the first coat.

–If you spray alcohol on ink, you get interesting effects, but it also doesn’t evaporate completely from the paper, and subsequent layers will behave differently, even if you let the paper dry.

–Spritzing on Tattered Angels Glimmer Mist on the first layer acts as a mild fixative. When you re-spray with water, the tiny mica particles shift and flow, even if the page was completely dry.

These experiments are teaching me a lot. It won’t be long till I’m ready to teach painting backgrounds with ink–if it turns out to be a bit more predictable.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting in the studio. Both her hands are now heavily inked in brown and red. The checker at the grocery store asked her if she had been in an accident. “No,” she replied, “this was an on-purpose.”

Hand Lettering for Your Journals

Of course there is nothing wrong with your handwriting. In fact, if you know cursive, you may have a valuable and rare skill in a few years. Many schools aren’t teaching cursive anymore.

Lynn did the artwork on the shoes–and she’s adding purple laces, too.

But just like you don’t want to wear the same shoes everyday, you may want to switch up your handwriting–using a different stye adds a different vibe to your art journal. Lynn Trochelman is a hand-letterer after my own heart. (Those are her shoes over on the left). She is funny, easy, generous, and invited me over to get over my non-calligrapher status. She let me use her parallel pens and we explored different papers.

Finally, I settled on using a sheet of super shiny and polished cast coated stock. I tried my Copic markers and discovered the perfect combination–the Copic markers glided over the stock, creating interesting marks.

The lettering in Marci Donley’s and DeAnnSingh’s book, Hand-Lettering was tempting. There are a large variety of hand lettering exemplars in the book.

There are standard calligraphy hands, but there was also a set of letters made with plant stems. As a naturalist, I couldn’t resist trying it out.

A series makes a good border or page divider.

I warmed up by drawing the big blue agave we see around us in the desert. These are simply lines, drawn from the center of the plant to the top in a pulling motion, using the brush-end tip of the Copic marker.

Next, a few Palo Verde leaf stems–in pink and orange instead of green. They make nice corner decorations, or a substitute for a drop cap. Draw the center stem first. Then, using the brush tip of the Copic, turn the pen so the brush tip points away from you. Push down, rolling from the wide end to tip of the brush tip, in one smooth motion. You can see the ink is heavier at the tip than at the base. That’s what you want.

Now it was time to try out the letters. Each letter is formed by making smooth, swooping motions for part of the letter and making stems and leaves for the rest of the letter.

That’s just the beginning. Once you’ve worked with one color, you can add a flower top (now it look like an ocotillo), and some shading as well as some decorative marks around the letters.

Lynn suggested I try Pitt Pens to add yellow shading. Pitts won’t smear or blend with the Copic, so you get good color separation. For these leaves, I turned the pen so the point went down first, creating rounded-end leaves.

Finally, I worked the whole alphabet in a monochromatic scheme–blues, blue-grays, purples. Here is a sample:

I also used a fine-point Pitt pen to add a few lines, as the book had shown. I was pleased for the result, considering this was my first try. With some practice and repetition, I should be able to use these comfortably in my journal as well as on a handmade card.

Go ahead and try these–they are fun!

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and raw-art journaler. Please join her for a webinar on October 20, 2011, hosted by her publisher, F+W Media. If you look at the right hand column, you’ll see the sign-up notice. It’s free, but you do have to reserve a space. Details when you click on the announcement. Or here.

Memory of 9/11

When TV shows us images of September 11, 2001, we see New York. It’s where 3,000 people died. It’s where the iconic towers of American commerce were attacked. But there were two more places that figured in the 9/11 attacks–Washington, D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania where, for the bravery of airplane passengers, the third plane did not reach its target.

I lived in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and I remember that rare and brilliant blue day. I can’t forget the people scattered across the lawn of the Pentagon, I can’t forget the images on TV, or people jumping from the towers because choosing their death was better than burning to death.

And I remember papers. Papers floating down from the sky. Important papers. Unimportant papers. Papers that the day before had held contracts, employment records, financial records. In a second, they were not important anymore. There was no one to need them, no one to ask about them.

Papers, light and dark. © Quinn McDonald 2011

That day changed our country forever. We began to make decisions based on fear. We became suspicious and frightened, We were happy to give up freedoms for safety, but no one could make us safe from our own fear. Our President told us to go back to shopping.  Shopping. It was a defining moment. For a few weeks after 9/11, people cared more, came together more, believed more. And then we changed back to consumers. Frightened consumers. I can’t bear to talk about it much, but I spent a day in the studio working on art. It’s better than shopping for me.

I keep seeing those drifting paper in my nightmares. So I cut out hundreds of squares of paper. I piled them up and stacks and stitched them to watercolor paper. There are two pieces–two contrasts.

Hand-stitched gampi, text block, washi and handmade papers.

One is made of pieces of white paper, stitched with ivory waxed linen. I chose different shades of white to represent the passing of time, the aging of paper.

Dark papers: mulberry paper, text, book pages, washi papers stitched with black pearl cotton.

The second piece is dark. It represents the people who will never come back for their papers, those who will never need the loan, the passport. It represents everything in a life we can lose so easily. It represents who we are and who we can be.

–Quinn McDonald still believes in the innate goodness of people. She won’t give it up, no matter how many papers fall from the sky. She became a life coach after 9/11 and finds the work far more rewarding than shopping.

Tutorial: Fabric Postcard Box

Friend Rosaland came over yesterday to help me figure out how to make a fabric postcard box. I know how to make fabric postcards, but a box–sure, I can figure it out, but Rosaland knows sewing tips that are vital for a sewing machine newbie like me. We are both practicers–we make things to figure out how to do it, and figure that ripping stitches, making mistakes, and starting over is part of a successful project. I admire (but don’t understand) people who think that the first time they try something, it better be good enough to give as a gift or display. I don’t think that has ever happened to me.

Rosaland had done the part I’m weak in–measured out the box pieces. She started by ironing muslin onto Peltex (a sturdy double-sided fusible interfacing. This is the stiff stuff.

Tip: Ten minutes of planning saves an hour of frustration. Then she outlined the box pieces– four pieces that are 4 x 6 inches  (two of them will need to be trimmed, but this was about laying out an easy-to-cut pattern) and one 1.5 inch and two 1.5 x 4 inch pieces. these pieces will make the part that makes the lid a fitted lid.

In this close up, you can see that she not only outlined the pieces, but labeled them for use. This is great when you are in box construction mode, and many pieces look alike. The writing also helps you figure out which side goes on the inside, if you are not decorating the box until after construction.

Tip–while you are learning construction, keep your bobbin thread a different color from your top thread. This helps you know which side is which, and it helps you troubleshoot tension issues. Loops on the yellow side would mean bobbin trouble. Luckily, tension was not a problem, but had we used decorative thread, it would have been. In this sample, you can see that the side attachment is sewn on in yellow thread–which means I attached it backwards. Good to know early, for convenient ripping open.

We had originally made all the pieces show here the same size, for easy pattern cutting–best done with a rotary cutter in long, smooth cuts. The sides, however, are not 6 inches tall, they are 4 inches tall, so a rotary cutter trimmed them smoothly to the right size.

Once the sides were trimmed, you can see the basic box shape. Next step: add the lid flap, then sew the sides together. I thought this would be art hell, but fabric (and Peltex) is wonderfully flexible, and you can bend and fold for easy attachment.

Tip: Use a starter scrap for sewing. I didn’t understand this till this box. If there is anyplace where the stitching will be uneven, it’s at the beginning. The bobbin thread may bunch just a bit, you may adjust the fabric, causing a slight swerve. All that happens on the scrap, which is about two inches long. When you get to the edge of the scrap, stop. Put the project fabric under the foot, leaving a slight gap between the scrap and your piece. Remember to put the foot down (it’s my favorite dumb move). Continue sewing. All your pieces will be sewn right to the corner, and with an even stitch. You can tell the corners that I didn’t use this tip by the messy stitching.

The completed box. Trim the back portion of the flaps at an angle to make the lid open and close smoothly. You can still surface decorate the box, if you want. I will use these practice pieces to practice surface decoration.

Tip: If you are making a box, you would also finish all the edges of the box that will not be sewn together.

Tip: You can sew the front edges together with matching thread, then use embroidery floss to “lace up” stitch decoratively across the front.

Tip: You can add a fancy closure if you like.

–Quinn McDonaldis a journaling freak who will make this box out of themed postcards and fill it with small journals on that theme. It would be a great travel-journal box, with colorful cloth postcards made after you come back from your trip with ephemera from the trip, filled with printed out photos.

-Rosaland Hannibal is a generous art quilter who never laughs at my mistakes.

More Mixed-Media Postcards

The last batch of mixed-media postcards were a good beginning. Having fixed the concept, I began to work on details. Still exploring, still making mistakes, but getting better at identifying them.

After making the pink/yellow/orange one:

I decided it needed more. I added quotes from Plutarch (“Nature and wisdom never are at strife”) and one from Toni Morrison (“If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it”) and one from J. Petit Senn (“Happiness is whwere we fine it, but rarely where we seek it.”) After that, I added design in gel pen and then framed it in copper tape. I think that was one step too far, but it was good practice in framing with copper tape, the kind stained glass artists use. I love the effect, even it was a little too much here. It can add a spark of color or a bit of steampunk, depending on the postcard.

Moving on to other unlikely materials,

this postcard is made on a tag base, uses book pages, black paper and cheesecloth. I love the effect. It’s not done yet, but so far, the stitching works well. Thanks, Rosaland of Soulful Creating,  for telling me about stitching over the edge.

I had some handmade paper with flower inclusions left from paper-making days,

so that became grist for the mill. Derwent Inktense pencils for the circles, and washi tape for the edging. I’m starting to pay attention to the finishing details now. In fact, the other side of this card is a different paper,

and uses a different tape for finishing. All of these cards will eventually have writing on the back that relates to the front. And my rule is that they must all be sent to make them real postcards.

I had some embossed foil in plain silver. Using Copic markers (alcohol markers) I colored the floral embossing, attached the foil to a card-stock backing with fusible webbing, and added a copper foil edge.

The edge doesn’t photograph well, (there are no black marks along the top, I think it’s a ceiling fan reflection) but it looks appropriate. It’s difficult to get right, as I have a well-known inability to get things perfect straight. I’m not sure all four sides need to be exactly even, but edging the postcards is almost always a must, so I will also try edging them in marker and bias tape.

This one is the beginning of a frame. I don’t know what’s going to go into the middle yet, but the hem tape and decorative touches make it look almost Victorian.  It’s 4 inches  6 inches, so I’ll have to watch the proportion.

Remember I said I had a postcard that needed a zipper? Here it is. “I’itoi unzips the sky at morning.”

There are other zipper cards coming. I want to attach two cards using a zipper that separates. But first I’m enjoying this one.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer whose art combines words and images. Her book, “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art” will be published by North Light Books in July of 2011.

35mm Slide Accorion Journal

When you make your own journal, you have an endless sense of possibility–you can work in different sizes, one palette or many, write a story or use quotes. That’s the joy of journaling–it’s definitely not the diary you kept in middle school.

Accordion folder made from 35 mm slide casing. © Quinn McDonald, 2010.

For “Zen Garden,”  this small accordion journal, I used cardboard 35 mm slide mounts. They are charmingly old-school, from a time you used a bulky camera, exposed slide film, then sent your film to be processed at a camera store. The developed film was inserted into cardboard mounts and sealed. Later, they used plastic, and for a while, glass. But these are cardboard.

First two pages of the slide-case accorion book. © Quinn McDonald

I pried each one open, removed the old film, and cut inserts from a catalog. I added some words. The joy was that the images might have come from a linen print or a portion of something larger. I then repeated the process on the back (not shown here) and the small accordion journal pages were completed.

View of the entire folder.

I hinged them with artists’ tape to keep the rustic cardboard look complete. Depending on the content, you could use washi or bookbinding tape as well. The instructions for assembling the slide is printed on each slide. I left those in place, although you could gesso and paint each slide.

I’ve started several others made with printed transparencies, tinted vellum and foil. Some were holiday cards, some just inspiration. Each creates a remarkably different effect.

–Quinn McDonald is a journal artist who experiments with size and scale, words and images. ©2010 All rights reserved.