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.


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.

Tutorial: Sumi Ink Marbling

Marbling paper is a complicated process. Marbling paper with sumi  inks and colored pencils is fun and unpredictable–you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s always fun. Raw art is meaningful art you make with a minimum of equipment and without kits. It’s art that is uniquely yours and art that makes meaning for you. All the expensive equipment in the world won’t make you an artist. But making something meaningful does.

This simple, unpredictable technique  of marbling paper uses only a black ink. The project that allows for quiet meditation and a lot of fun with colored pencils, aquarelles, regular pencils, ink pens, or whatever else you have. You will need some equipment:

  • Toothpick
  • Soup plate or baking dish (8-inch square)
  • Paper towels
  • Paper to work on (I used 4 X 6 Arches Wove Text, but any  good paper will do.)
  • Sumi ink (available at most art supply houses. Walnut ink or regular fountain pen ink won’t work.)
  • Tap water (Don’t use distilled or treated. Regular tap water is perfect.)

sumigraphtintGather everything on a place you can clean up easily. Stack up two or three paper towels. Make sure the bowl you use will hold the entire sheet of paper. Fill the soup plate or baking dish with cool tap water.

Dip the toothpick in the sumi ink, so you get the toothpick wet. Touch the tip of the toothpick to the surface of the water. The ink should immediately flow onto the surface of the water. Use the tootpick to gently spread the ink on the water’s surface.

Pick up the paper by holding it at opposite corners–one on the bottom, one on top. Curve the paper slightly, so the bottom will touch the water first. Roll the paper smoothly over the surface of the water. If you want both sides of the paper inked, wait till the entire piece of paper is floating on the surface of the water, then gently push the piece under water, pull it out by one edge, so water and ink rolls down the length.

Hold the paper by one corner, allowing it to drip dry. When the paper is no longer dripping, put it on the paper towel to dry. You can use a hair dryer to finish the drying process.

When the paper is dry, use pencils, pens, or colored pencils to pick out and emphasize patterns that the sumi ink made. In the example I made, I use my favorite subtle-color pencils–watercolor graphite pencils, which can be used wet or dry. Derwent Graphtint are wonderful for subtle work, but you don’t need anything more than a regular pencil. OK, you can also use Derwent’s InkTense for their transparent color. Use a light touch, because gentle color works best with the mysterious swirls of sumi ink.

FTC Required Disclosure: I purchased all materials in this tutorial. No one paid me or donated the tools I mentioned by brand name. Links to products are not paid, simply practical ones I find useful.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who believes that everyone can keep an art journal, even those who can’t draw. See her work at

Big Journal, Small Journal?

AquaBee 80-lb. Co-Mo sketch with watercolor pencil tests

What is the perfect size for a journal? For years, i worked small–4 x 6 was a format that was just right for me. It was the Twitter of page sizes–with a small format, I chose my words carefully. Kept my images tight and small. But mixed media was limited. No envelopes, photographs, even some postage stamps took up too much space. The advantage is portability– always room for a small journal in my bag.

Then I fell under the spell of Moleskine.  What writer wouldn’t be tempted by the journal of Hemingway and Picasso? The paper was heavy enough, but the slightly slick surface of the paper made using watercolor pencil a scrubbing experience.  But the 5 x 8 size still fit in my bag. My bags are big—prescription sunglasses, car and house keys, all those loyalty cards from the stores, a hairbrush, lip balm and a cell phone add up.

Then a friend made me a huge journal, with heavy, thick watercolor paper. It was 16 x 12–filling pages that big takes a lot of gesso!   I came to love the page size–it was room enough to develop a pattern, a color scheme, tell a story. But no, it didn’t fit in my bag.

The next few months were torture. I was conflicted. I wanted a journal with watercolor paper that was absorbent enough to

Three journals: big Moleskine in the back, medium journal open in middle, 6 x 6 Aquabee in front.

hold up to collage but not so thirsty that I couldn’t use markers.  The pages had to be unlined and sewn, not glued, into the book. The journal needed a closure to hold it shut in my purse, but not a magnetic closure. The cover had to be comfortable. It had to be larger than 4 x 6 but smaller than 6 x 8. My choices grew smaller and fewer.

I made journals, I deconstructed journals, I created journals in books. It became more of a chore than a process. In the end, the answer became obvious and easy, and it happened because of Bee papers. I loved the thickness of the Bee sheets–not as fat as watercolor paper, but substantial and crackly. I loved the way watercolor pencils would spread and the color would extends and look like pan watercolors. I loved the 6 x 6 pads that went in my bag. But alas, they were spiral-bound, and kept me to one page at a time. Turns out, I didn’t hate that. It was fine with me. A Co-Mo Sketch book travels with me for sketches, ideas, notes.

The folio-sized Moleskine was also perfect. 8.25 x 11.5 is manageable, great for collage and painting. Heavy watercolor paper is great for everything. But. . .doesn’t fit in my bag. It stays at home for multi-media. I can use the sketchbook to start and the Moleskine to finish. I can tear out the sketchbook pages and collage them into the sketchbook. Time might go by one day at a time, but I can have as many journals as I want.

Quinn McDonald is a journal keeper and collector. She is writing a book about art journaling for people who can’t draw. Raw-Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be available in the summer of 2011 from North Light Books.

Call for Art for Gallery in My Book

Background: I’m writing a book, on Raw Art Journaling–a way for people who don’t know how to draw to keep an art journal. The book has a strong focus on making meaning from the journey you are on,  not drawing pretty pictures.  I’m asking for volunteers for one of the Example Galleries in my book–the one after Found Poetry, Chapter 3.

The Book: The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. The book  answers the question “How can you make art with no skills?” Ah. That’s raw art. We are all born to create. We are all born creative. It’s not a skill, it’s a right. We have to reclaim it. The book shows how.

Who: Anyone who is sparked by the idea of Found Poetry. (A link to example is just below). You do not have to be a poet, an artist, or a writer to contribute. The entire purpose of my book is to show that people who have never considered themselves artists can enjoy doing meaningful art.

What: Your task (should you decide to play along) is to create a Found Poetry Collage. There is an example and a how-to at this blog post. There are two methods shown, you can use either one.

When: Before May 1, 2010.

1. The entry can be any length between 3-12 lines. You can use either method shown in the link. This means you don’t have to draw or decorate the page unless you want to. If you want to, you can do that, too, but keep it flat, please. Mixed media comes later in the book. The finished piece should fit comfortably in an 8 inch (20 cm) X  10 inch (25 cm) space. (You can make it smaller in any direction, just not larger).

2. There is a deadline for sending a photo or scan to me, and a separate one for the editor to make her choice for the book. I need a photo or scan before May 1, 2010. The editor makes the final choices, but not for a while–based on the number of choices she has.

Until the final choice is made, you cannot publish your entry anywhere–not your blog, not on Facebook or Twitter, not in a magazine. If you are chosen, you cannot publish it until the book comes out in July of 2011.

3. Send in a scan, or a pretty good photo (72 bpi is fine) to  Put “found poetry” in the Subject line. Do NOT send me the original–I will lose it. If your piece is chosen, you will be asked to send the original to the editor for professional photography at the publisher’s, so please create it on a flat sheet of paper, not in a journal.

4. If your found poetry gets into the Gallery, your name will appear next to the photograph, and that can be a good thing for your resume or just for bragging rights. There will be two or three Galleries in the book, so I can’t pay real money, much as I’d like to heap cash in your lap.

5. Participating in this Found Poetry Gallery doesn’t keep you from being in the other Galleries in the book. You can get in more than once.

5. The deadline to get your found poetry scan or photo to me is before May 1, 2010.

Questions? Stuff I didn’t mention? Write me at

Have fun making meaning!

Quinn McDonald’s book,  The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. will be published by North Light books in the summer of 2011.

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.

Singer Sewing Machine 401A

Singer 401A Sewing Machine

My new toy: a 50-year-old Singer Sewing machine. I found it on a shelf of a vac-n-sew. (Best name for a Vac-n-Sew is Belmont, New Hampshire’s Vacman and Bobbin.) The vac ‘n’ sew that held this treasure is in Tempe, AZ. Two years ago, when The Cookin’ Man was left back in D.C. selling our house and I was in a small, dark apartment thinking it would be for just a month or so, I found a cheap vacuum. It turned out to be a good, cheap vacuum that lasted for two years. Last week it was overwhelmed by cat hair, so I went back to the vac ‘n’ sew. Found another good, cheap vacuum cleaner and there, on the shelf, was the sewing machine, reconditioned and ready to sew. The price was unbeatable. I’ve been looking for a 401 Singer sewing machine under a $200 for a year with no luck. This workhorse is tested and not all that easy to find!

The Singer 401A was produced around 1960. It’s an all-metal machine, not a bit of plastic on it, and a workhorse capable of years of  studio work. The foot pedal has two bumps on it. The one on the right is solid, the one on the left runs the machine. You put the ball of your foot on both and then rock your foot to the left to make it run. Google helped me find SewClassic, who specializes in old Singers and SewUSA , who has free threading diagrams and bobbin winding instructions.

Footpedal for Singer 401A

It might be important to add I don’t know how to sew. Like all heavy equipment in my studio, I gave the machine a name: Betsy—years ago Betsy McCall was a paper doll line for McCall’s magazine. Each month there was a story and a new set of outfits for Betsy. (That link will take you to printable downloads for the paperdolls, 1960-version. The same year the machine was made.)

What’s a sewing machine doing in a paper studio? Working. I want to put it to work creating raw art. I love the idea of sewing on paper, it’s another attachment method. But I think it may be the solution to the “free sheet v. book” dilemma. When I’m working on raw-art part of raw-art journaling, I like to work on flat, individual sheets. I also like to work on different kinds of paper–crackly, translucent cooking parchment for alcohol markers, Strathmore’s super-smooth, blendable surface for ink and alcohol markers, Arches Wove Text for almost everything else.  On the other hand, I also like to keep the work together by date.

First, sew and fill signatures, then gather them into one book.

My idea is to sew signatures of different papers together, give them a sturdy paper cover and use them as my instant journals. The one that always is in the bag. Another signature can stay in the studio for wetter, messier work. When I have enough signatures made, I bind them all together and voilá! a raw-art journal with different papers and projects, all in one place.

I’ll report back when I learn how to thread and wind bobbins and sew on Betsy, my 50-year-old, all-metal collaborator.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, workshop leader and raw-art-journaler. © QuinnCreative 2010. All rights reserved.