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.


Multi-Media With Mad-Science Products

Multi-media usually means inks, paints, fabric, fiber and encaustic in various combinations. I wanted to try some things that were mad-science incredible, or, in this case, inventable.

The website Inventables, is a place that sells interesting scientific equipment, like aluminum foam bricks. Six inches by 10 inches, half an inch thick, under $30 each.

Aluminum foam bricks–look spongry, but are metal bricks.

There are lots of fascinating “what can I use this for?” ideas, so I began to comb the site for unusual journaling material.  Here’s what I found:

Radiant light film. Looks like chrome film, reflects light like a butterfly’s wings. Comes with adhesive backing, so it can be a journal cover or journal pages. Sheet measures 12 inches by 28 inches and costs $17.50.

Radiant light film.

It can be die-cut, embossed, cut and printed. Use adhesive to attach it to a substrate. It’s used in car decorations and interior decoration, but I’m thinking it would make a great journal cover.

If you don’t like shiny, and want more dimensional effects, you an go for multi-directional, shape-retaining plastic sheets.  Already used for casts that are lighter than plaster and visors you can bend into any shape, I think it would make an amazing journal page that looks crumpled but holds its shape.

Shape-retaining plastic sheet.

You can cut it with plastic-cutting devices.  Approximately 10 inches x 10 inches for $20.

There are also light-defusing sheets that are translucent white that break up light from behind and distribute it evenly. No photo, they look just like sheets of paper. An 8.5 x 11 sheet is about $23, and I could see it being used in an open-frame journal standing in front of a light, or as a shade for a strong LED.

Self-illuminating ribbon in green

Journaling at night? Sew this self-illuminating ribbon onto the cover and you’ll find your journal, even in the dark. Comes in both blue and bright green. A piece thats 10 feet by 2.75 inches is about $90, but a foot (still 2.75 inches wide) is about $10.00

You “charge” it by exposing it to sun for about 10 minutes and it glows for 8 hours. It can be machine washed and sewn on.  I can see it layered over folios as stubs (short pages) or, even better, edged onto the outside edge of a page for a book that won’t get lost at night. I’d probably add it to dog collars, back packs, hiking or biking jackets, too.

Temperature-sensitive sheets would let you hide your journal writing till your hands warmed up the page. Would also make a great postcard with a secret message. Made from a more sophisticated

Change the color of your journal page with your warm hands.

materials than mood rings, these  6″ x 6″ sheets would be a wonderful surprise in cards or as journal pages. About $28 each.

Make a slipcase for your journal or CDs and DVDs or even use these paper-thin sheets of wood veneer as journal pages. an 8″ x 12″page is about $5.00 and has interesting possibilities, from wood burning to painting to leaving it the way it is.

You can also find fabric that is woven from cotton and steel, which can be washed and dried like regular fabric. There is a silicone rubber that looks like glass and crumbles like glass, and makes great faux-ice and cracked glass. $44 for about four pounds.

Real copper fabric for garments.

Make your next project (quilt? journal?) out of copper fabric that won’t tarnish. You can cut it and sew it and expect it to get warm when the sun shines on it–it’s a great conductor of heat. It’s real copper, after all. One yard, 42.5 inches wide, is $32.85.

There is much more on this website to encourage you to experiment, putting “multi” back in multi-media in the best of all ways.  What I admire about this site, and encourage more websites to do, is that it puts the price right on the index page of photos. Each page has several items, or variations of items and each item has a photograph, a short description and a price. You click for details. No deceiving words, like “investment” and “wait, there’s more!”–just honest copy and a price.

Disclosure:  Inventables are not paying me in any way to mention them. I have just ordered some of the copper fabric, glow-in-the-dark ribbon and tape, and wood-veneer flexible sheeting.  Prices will vary over time, and products come and go.

–Quinn McDonald is a secret science geek, has always loved the combining of science and art, and is writing a book on conversations with the inner critic.


Pimp my Moleskine

Note: Quinn McDonald is teaching at the GASC Convention in Arlington, TX. This is a blog post from 2010. A new blog post will appear on Saturday.

Moleskine makes a variety of journals and notebooks: different sizes, uses, colors, and page designs–lined, plain, grid. They have a soft notebook sold in a double pack–two coordinated colors–that I use as a to-do list and to take notes

To-do list Moleskine in acid green and melon orange.

on when I’m on the phone or online. The 5″ x 8″cover is coated cardboard in a variety of bright colors, the inside paper is cream-colored and there is no ribbon marker or inside back pocket.

I use them because they are clever and useful for remembering what you did when. Sure, I could check my electronic calendar, but my notebook had additional information—as a to-do list with a date on each page it shows activities, phone numbers, shortcuts or alternative routes. There are interesting quotes from blogs and books and floor plans of grocery stores so I know where favorite products are. You get the idea.

In four to five months, I fill up the 60-page notebook and store it. Great for tax-time and memory jogs. If I’m ever asked “Where were you on the night of October 19, 2007?” I can pull out the to-do list notebook and  give the correct answer.

But the problem with the soft cover Moleskine is it doesn’t have a back pocket.

Index card, taped into place, on inside back cover of the Moleskine.

Where to put the receipts, business cards and gift cards?

The pimp is incredibly easy. Take a 4 x 6-inch index cards (I’ve loved index cards since the second grade and keep finding more uses for them), turn it the long way and and cut it diagonally. (See the image).

Tape it to the inside back cover, so the shorter side of the cut faces toward the inside of the book. If anything should slip out, it will be held in place by the rest of the pages.

Tape is more useful than glue because you get the full use of the index card size and the tape allows the card to bend slightly, giving you more flexibility.

That’s all there is to it. You now have a pocket in the back of your moleskine. Total time: under three minutes. That includes finding the 4 x 6 inch index cards.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and ultimate practical person who helps other people adjust to change through creativity coaching.

PostCrossing Postcards

One of the people leaving a comment mentioned Postcrossing–the postcard swap site. It’s a work of genius–simple but lots of fun. You register, and are allowed to send five postcards. PostCrossing gives you the names and addresses and a registration number for each card. You send the cards.

This postcard from India has doodling on it--but doodling varies by culture! Who knew? And I love the quote, too.

When the cards arrive, the recipient registers it, and it counts for the sender–and the sender’s name is put into the “receive a postcard” list.

You can have five postcards traveling at any one time.

So you don’t swap postcards, you simply send them to someone and receive postcards from others. I’ve belonged a bit over a month and have sent 17 postcards, 12 of which were received. It took the one to Russia 43 days to arrive. I was afraid it wouldn’t for a while. I’ve also received seven postcards, the closest from Lake George, NY and the furthest away from Xi’an, China.

This delightful card from Finland came from a woman who sent it because she thought I might never have seen autumn leaves. I loved the sentiment, there is no way she knew about my life in Connecticut and D.C.

You can make your PostCrossing interesting by requesting direct exchanges or sending handmade cards. Your profile indicates if you’d like to do either one.

This cheery Czech sun wishes a warm and sunny soul.

I’m having a lot of fun with this–There is no pressure to send, but you should register the card as soon as you get it.

It’s a great way to connect around the world.

–Quinn McDonald is having fun seeing the world through other people’s eyes.

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.

Walking in Skunk Creek

Skunk Creek starts well North of Phoenix, somewhere Northeast of Black Canyon and then carves its way through Glendale, Peoria and South to Phoenix, joining other dry riverbeds along the way. These riverbeds show up as blue rivers on maps, but when you go there, they are dry. Arroyos. They can fill fast, even on a sunny day. If it’s raining upstream, the water will come.

No clouds, just puffy blossoms.

This is the time of year I love to hike along arroyos. They hold interesting wildlife (including rattlesnakes, road runners, red tail hawks, and the super-cute

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail (with the little bobbing feather on their heads). Starting around the end of the calendar year,  some trees start to bloom.

You also see some things that make you wonder.

We tie down our river rocks. When an arroyo fills up, the water rushes at amazing speeds.

Close up of river rocks held in place by wire mesh.

The round river rocks begin to roll, and pile up, creating water crests, street blocks (streets here run through arroyos), and rock damage. A fast-moving flood that rolls rocks can divert part of a river into a neighborhood.

You can see the wire edge at the lower left corner, and the end at the top third of the photo.

Wire mesh holds the rocks in place, sometimes for long stretches. It helps the water run in an even stream and directs it into the center of the arroyo, to keep it from crawling up the side and eroding sidewalks and roads.

Most of the big arroyos have packed dirt or sidewalks. This section has sidewalks, and they divide them for walking and biking. The sun breaks down the striping, and for all the world it looks like someone is trying to erase it.

Erasing the guidelines.

All I needed was a huge Sharpie to practice handwriting along the lines and guidelines.

You never know what you’ll find along the creek beds, and walking at this time of year is what we go through July and August for!

-Quinn McDonald lives in Valley of the Sun. She’s a naturalist and an art journaler who brings creative thinking into businesses.

Day 19: The Work of Writing

Day 19: What’s turned up for you as you write? (or, start with the first post in the series.)

Ink and watercolor pencil on paper.

Wisdom from the comments:
From Dawn Herring: “Yes, we need to pause and pay attention to the wisdom we hear as we write in our journals. It can be rather forthright, definitely intuitive, and sometimes obvious without our realizing it.”

From Marjorie: “. . .more often than not, I go back and read one or two (or more) of my prior posts before beginning to write. It helps me orient myelf, but I also notice things I’ve written that I hadn’t noticed while writing them. Or I’ll see what I’ve written in a different light than when I wrote it.”

From Daien: “After getting off to a great start, five days in I did what I usually do, which is to stop. What was different was that I continued to read your posts and everyone’s comments, as well as continued to count myself one of the sojourners. But I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t walking.”

*     *     *     *

Like Daien, I haven’t been writing every day. I’m still trying to find the time to write without interruption. In the morning, which is really a preferred time, things need to get done. If I put it off, I lose East Coast time–the time when the East Coast is awake and starting the business day.

I’ve been walking later in the day–at lunch–because the weather is perfect, and this is the time of year I want to walk and know I’m in the desert. January is a time when Brittlebush and a few other trees bloom. I want to experience those subtle desert seasons, so I have to build in a time to walk in the dry riverbed of Skunk Creek.  I’m trading working early morning for a lunchtime walk. This won’t work if I’m teaching, but it works for when I’m not. So I’m writing when I get back from the walk. I have the most benefit of meditation then.

And I’ve made another switch. I’m writing on the computer. Shocking, I know. All that truth about having to hand write. And I still want to write in a journal. But I’m experimenting with writing on a computer. For several reasons: I type really fast, and can get more written down–process more. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10, and I simply feel very comfortable typing. So comfortable, that I type my pages with my eyes shut. It keeps me from editing, and I can do what I was doing using a pen before–ripping through words down to meaning.

I separate journaling from this kind of writing. For me, journaling is a creative act that encompasses both visual expression and writing. And I do that in heavy-paper journals. I might do some collage, I might build a journal. But the pages I write after walking help me dig down into the creative well and make sure the stream that comes up from that is a fresh spring of ideas. That work is best done, at least for me, with a keyboard, an open heart and closed eyes.

What discoveries have you made? Have you quit, but still lurked with us? Let us know how this time is working for you.  It’s not about success and failure. You are exploring the wayward path of your wandering. Where have you walked and what have you seen?

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is digging for her own creative source for 30 days in the company of some interesting people.