2014 Summer Reading Suggestions from the MCBA Visual Journal Collective

July 14, 2014

See the full list for details.

On Monday, June 16, about 20 members and visitors (whom we hope will continue to attend) met to discuss their picks for summer reading—art and journal related books, or books which inspired the work they were doing in their journals.

My original plan of video taping the members sharing their work didn't happen. Instead I asked people to send in their recommendations so I could compile this post with photos I took at the meeting. Sadly many of the photos didn't turn out, and some of the recommendations have not come in to me so I'm working from a list of first names only (since I didn't write down visitor's last names) and a few random notes about thoughts people shared. 

I hope the shots I was able to include will give you an idea of what people are up to. 

While my documentation of the evening is poor I can assure you the company was fun, the artwork was inspiring, and I hope that the visitors return for future meetings because we enjoyed meeting them. Group member and photographer Briana Goetzen took fabulous photos of the attendees and the books they shared at the meeting. I encourage you to stop by her blog post.

The following list is what I could patch together: An image followed by recommendations from that person; sometimes just recommendations because there were no useable photos. 

If you weren't able to attend (whether you are a member or not) and would like to pitch your recommendations to the group, please place a comment at the end of this post. Include the name of 3 books, list the title, author, publisher; then write 3 sentences or so about the book—what you liked about it, how it was organized, how you found it useful, that sort of thing; finally if you have a blog or Flickr page and have posted artwork from your journal that was inspired by one of the books please provide a link to that artwork. It will be almost as if you were with us! 

Click on any of the photos to view an enlargement.


Above: Barb shows pages from her nature journal, a book she bound herself and in which she keeps notes, sketches, pamphlets, and other nature related ephemera.


Barb started us off by sharing the following three books and showing pages from her nature journal inspired by what she'd read in all three books.

The Artist's Journal Workshop by Cathy Johnson (copyright 2011)
It encouraged me to try new images, and not to worry about making mistakes, and to do what inspires me. The mistakes can always be covered up,, and made into new images.  It has little tips throughout to encourage you and help along the way

Create Your Own Artist's Journal by Erin O'Toole (copyright 2002)
This book gives information on how to get started, and how to refine and share your journals. It also has instructions on how to make a simple book with one sheet of paper. This book inspired me to create a journal on a trip to Georgia.  I sketched at least one new thing each day.

Creating Art from Nature by John Doughty and Sonja Larson (copyright 2008)
It has instructions on how to make beautiful botanicals from nature.  It has a section for kids to create simple designs, and a section for adults.  It also has a brief history on the art of nature printing.


Above: Jess showed us a page in her journal where she was documenting her process.


Jess explained to the group that she loved books about structure and process and showed us her copy of Keith Smith's Structure of the Visual Book. It had inspired her when she encountered it as a textbook in a college book arts class and she was revisiting the book. She also had a book about a Japanese island with delightful illustrations, but I don't have its title. 


Cyndie_ContourHerworkAbove: Cyndie showed us a page in her journal where she was working with techniques and exercises inspired by her reading of The Ultimate Watercolor Course (listed below). She is using the book like an art class, working through the exercises.


Andrews, Don, Interpreting the Figure in Watercolor, 1988 Watson-Guptill Publications
I appreciate this book for the way it illustrates the process of painting. It offers suggestions for experimentation as well as many photos that demonstrate techniques for using negative space and tone effectively; how to consider light and dark and the edges between them; and how to layer and mix color. The artwork itself is engaging and inspiring.  

Reader’s Digest, The Ultimate Watercolor Course: Simple Techniques to Paint Like the Pros, 2003 Eaglemoss Publications
I found this book at Half Priced Books and am using it like an art class. Read a chapter, do the exercises. This is the goal anyway. Again, this is a book of suggestions and instruction, with illustrations to get me started on improving my observational and technical skills. I am striving to create more structure in my schedule to not only create more time for doing art, but also a curriculum that will keep me on track with what I hope to learn.

Mankoff, Bob How About Never? Is Never Good For You? My Life in Cartoons, 2014 Henry Holt and Co.
This book is one long reminder that if you want to be good at something, you need to practice it ALL THE TIME and if you want to be recognized for what you do, you need to practice it even more. Mankoff describes how ideas become cartoons for the New Yorker Magazine cartoon artists (himself included): some start with an image, some start with a caption; all start with a blank page. He also makes it clear how difficult it is to be a paid cartoonist. My own cartooning includes a shared cartoon journal with a friend in Chicago that we mail back-and-forth. (All of my photos of this shared journal were too blurry to post.)


You can visit Briana at her blog Orange Spiral Arts. She takes fabulous photos and I recommend you check out her blog to see her art.

Art Journal Freedom:  How to Journal Creatively with Color & Composition by Dina Wakley, North Light Books © 2013.
If you love stencils and spray ink, and want to learn a little about color and composition, this is a great book.  It is full of technique photos and composition suggestions.

Carve Stamp Play:  Designing and Creating Custom Stamps by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, Interweave © 2013
Julie Fei-Fan Balzer never ceases to inspire me.  She is a self-taught artist who has a marvelous eye for design.  My favorite part of this book are the ideas for creating repeating patterns from one stamp. Julie is brilliant with ideas!

Journal It!:  Perspectives in Creative Journaling by Jenny Doh, Lark Crafts © 2012
This inspiring book usually can be found by my bedside.  It has such an array of inspiring art journals by various artists with a wealth of suggestions and insights on how to keep an art journal. I highly recommend this book if you want to see a variety of journaling styles and the list of supplies used to create their pages.

Corey_JournalPageAbove: Corey visited us from Houston, Texas. (She lived in Minneapolis a while back and was visiting for a portion of the summer. Here is one of her richly layered journal pages.


Corey, our visitor from Texas shared her delight in the work of author Diana Trout: text as art, text creating a texture on the page. Corey finds this sort of evolution of the page, beginning with text and layering and layering creates a natural page and she is freed from concerns about pretty pages. Now she is interested in pulling meaning from the layered pages and has begun a riff on circles which can be seen on many other pages.

Mary_FabricAbove: Mary showed us a large selection of altered fabrics, all using techniques which she hopes to try on paper as she transitions into keeping a journal on paper.


Selected by Cooper Edens, The Glorious ABC, ATHENEUM – Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990
From the dust cover—"each letter of the alphabet is brought to life by a different luminary figure in the world of children's book illustration." This is a high quality publication in beautiful color which shows the variety of styles of 26+ illustrators. The book includes biographical information about the artists and a list of sources of the illustrations. It would be a great addition to any "child's" collection. 

Carl Larsson,  A Home, (text for children by Lennart Rudstrom), G.P Putnam's Sons, 1974, originally published in Sweden in 1899. This book includes 15 highly detailed illustrations by Carl Larsson of his family's summer home in Little Hyttnas—Sundborn, Sweden. In addition to the story, Lennart Rudstrom has included text about Carl Larsson's life and work style. Each illustration is a treasure trove of details of life in Sweden during the time period.

Susan Stein, farbic art workshop -Exploring Techniques & Materials for Fabric Artists and Quilters, Creative Publishing International 2007
Susan Stein is a local author and the former owner of Colorful Quilts and Textiles shop in St Paul. It was a wonderful shop and I hated to see it close. The book contains 27 different techniques, many of which could be adapted to paper rather than fabric. Stein uses many illustrations to present each technique. 


Marsha shared one book with the group and the work it inspired. My photo of her journal fish page with a stunning fish rendered in stipple (which is Marsha's preferred drawing method) was too blurry to present here. I'll see if I can't get another and add it later.

The Great Minnesota Fish Book, by Tom Dickson, Illustrated by Joseph R. Tomelleri. University of Minnesota Press, ©2008 I picked it not only because it has wonderful illustrations, but because Tomelleri is so generous with his description of his process. 

LisaMarie_PhoneAbove: LIsaMarie gave the group a short primer on how she is using her smart phone as a "library" and keeping what she carries along on her day to a minimum.


Hey, Lisa-Marie here.  My Facebook page can be found at this link. I'm the one who's using my phone for a reference book. [I have a Samsung Note2.]

My main focus is mobility, I need to travel light for reading and sketching on the go, at a moment's notice on public transit or standing in line waiting.

The apps that I read from are "Kindle" and "FB reader." Both are good for my needs.

One of the sites I get free books to read while I'm in transit is  

For inspiration, have read 'Wizard of Oz', 'Grimm's Fairy Tales', and random things from Mark Twain and others.  With so many more titles to choose from, I encourage everyone to browse their library from their electronic device.

Also, I download PDFs from online to the phone to assist my life-sketching. 

The one I showed at our meeting was: "Drawing People In Motion, by Marc Taro Holmes" from his site Citizen Sketcher

I've used many PDFs to jump start my creative process when I'm "out and about."

I also created a PDF from the SketchBook Skool class that was just offered which included all the notes from the different presenters. I periodically refer back to these reference notes when I'm trying to remember what one of the presenters said about a particular technique.

I'll store the PDFs that I'm not currently using on the website [also accessible from my laptop and phone] so I only need to carry what I'm presently reading.  With Dropbox, I have easy access, via my phone, to my rather large library.

You can see the sketchbook I am currently using at this Facebook link.

Any questions, let me know via Facebook or at

Above: LisaMarie showed the group her latest latest version of her 'air plein'/mobile studio. The base is clipboard covered by dollar-store hair binders (not shown in this photo); the sketchbook is made of watercolor papers assortment pack [purchased at Wet Paint, **Highly recommended**}, and bound with Circa Notebook system [found at Levenger  or Ebay]; the watercolor pallet is a cigar case from ebay filled with DanielSmith watercolor 'dots' and 1/2 inch watercolor pencil leads (on the right of the palette). My pens are the Pilot G-Tec c4, the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, the Carbon Fountain pen, and a water brush.



Above: Manida shared several pop-up cards she makes and sells at the Walker Art Center's Gift Shop.


Paul Jackson, The Pop-Up Book, Owl Books, 1993 
From the basics of making pop-ups like how to score and fold a sheet of paper to more complex techniques like making pop-ups consisting of multiple pieces, this book has it all. I find it to be a great resource in my pop-up card designing. (See the above photo for an example of Manida's work.)  I'd recommend it to anyone who has a love for pop-ups!

Aranzi Aronzo, The Cuter Book, Vertical Inc., 2010
The title of this book aptly describes its contents, for it provides instructions on how to hand-sew adorable felt dolls.  It was translated from Japanese and the format is similar to that of a comic book where each of the steps in creating a doll is illustrated in detail.  It makes sewing seem less intimidating for the novice and is entertaining for just flipping through as well. (See the next photo for an example of Manida's work.) 

Kari Hansen, The Scrapbook Designer's Workbook – Unlocking the Secret to Great Page Design, Memory Makers Book, 2007 
This book is great for taking your scrapbooking to the next level. The author describes basic design theory and provides examples on applying the theory to sound scrapbook page design. It's been quite useful to me in my scrapbooking. 


Above: Minada shared a Kindle case she had her mother sew for her, and which she then added felted monkeys inspired by her reading of "The Cuter Book" listed above.


Jill wasn't aware of the meeting's topic, but jumped right in to suggest her four favorite inspirational books.

(Editor's note from Roz: I don't have notes about Jill's comments but you can read my reviews at the links provided. And while I know I've written a review on Creative LIcense I couldn't find a link for you. It's an engaging and inspiring book so go check it out too.) 

Danny Gregory,
An Illustrated Life;
An Illustrated Journey;
and Creative License.

Tommy Kane, No Excuses.


Above: Gwen showed us several of the pieces she's been creating while playing with patterns.


The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, Written and illustrated by John Muir Laws, published by Heydey, Berkeley Ca, 2012
I saw a review of this book in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of Audubon. I was impressed by the review and the sample illustrations and so ordered the book myself through Amazon. There is a foreword by David Allen Sibley. And although Sibley's illustrations are indeed superb, I prefer the looser more alive style shown in the Laws examples in this book. I admit I have not read much of the book because for me pictures are more useful. What I have read is good, simple, direct guidance. So if you are wanting to draw better birds, I strongly recommend this book.

The Designers Guide to Japanese Patterns by Jeanne Allen (original book concept by Takashi Katano), published by Chronicle Books, 1989
There is a series of these books, 1, 2, and 3. Each book covers a different period of design. I believe they are out of print so any book you find will be used. 

I use these books for reference for ideas for my many pattern works I make. They are a treasure trove! 

Authentic Chinese Cut-Paper Designs, Edited and Arrranged by Carol Belanger Grafton, published by Dover, 1988
One of many copyright-free books published by Dover, this one caught my fancy at Half Price Books for $3.49. Since I have been working in cut paper for a while, I was inspired by the designs, especially the arrangement of parts in circles. 


I presented last and with all this time intervening I can't remember which books I recommended with any certainty except for Sketchnotes, by MIke Rohde (at that link you can read my review of the book and see a piece I was inspired to make), and 1000 Dog Portraits, curated by Robynne Raye—in which I have 13 dog portraits.

My friend Linda emailed me to tell me about the dog portraits book the night before the deadline, when she found out about it. I said I didn't have any new dog paintings. She said, "Send journal images." We all know I have a lot of dog drawings in my journals. I was very pleased when the editor included all 13 images I sent in, though I was puzzled by why they removed the brown paper background of one of my portraits. It really shifts the color impact of that portrait, and there was no writing to remove. The book is full of all sorts of dog portraits—serious to silly, realistic to abstract. There are pencil, charcoal, and ink drawings; paintings of all varieties. It's fun to look through the book—it reminds me that I need to go find a dog to sketch.

I'm adding these bird drawing books as there was some interest in good books on sketching birds.

John Busby, Drawing Birds (Miss T mentioned this book at our 2011 Recommended reading meeting. It is my favorite bird drawing book. Busby is one of my favorite bird artists. I recommend you check this book out. His work has inspired me to draw birds for decades, and you can see birds everywhere on the blog so I won't give you a specific link to something his work has inspired, since I think it's basically everything.)

William T. Cooper, Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists.  Cooper is another artist who has inspired me for years, in fact almost my whole life. If you are interested in seeing him work click here to see him paint bower birds.

If you were at the meeting and remember the books I recommended, please drop me a note to remind me and I'll add them. 


Molly wasn't able to be with us for the meeting but she sent in the following recommendations.

The Confident Creative, Cat Bennett
This is a great one if you're ever feeling blocked or like you just aren't creative anymore. She makes art very approachable and provides easy and encouraging ways to get back in touch with your inner child (that fearless side that dives into projects with reckless abandon). 

Wild Surrender and Field Notes, both by Mindy Lacefield
I love her style and she includes lots of samples of her work in both of the books. In Wild Surrender she discusses some of her inspirations and in Field Notes she encourages you to go outside and be inspired by nature.  

Playing With Image Transfers, Courtney Cerruti
She provides lots of examples of different types of transfers to try and also projects in which to use them. She has great pictures and explains things in way that is simple to follow. It's filled with a ton of great ideas! 


Patty also wasn't able to join us for the meeting, but she recommends the following book:

Hand-Drying in America, Ben Katchor
Patty wrote to explain it's "a graphic novel of sorts, actually a collection of narratives, most one full page for each. His scenarios are hilarious and strange; his drawing style uses pen and ink and watercolor washes. Sort of gestural in style, not precise, but capturing the surreal in the everyday." 

What Are You Reading?

Remember, if you couldn't come to our meeting and have an art/journaling/sketching/ book to recommend please take a moment to list it in a comment—author, title, publisher and a few sentences about why you love it an how it inspires you. A link to a piece of your work would be great too.

To find previous lists (and video lists) please use this blog's search engine to look for keywords: summer reading, recommending reading, etc.

Next Meeting

On July 21, 2014 Amber Sausen will be talking to the group about her experiences as an UrbanSketcher traveling to the various UrbanSketcher Symposiums, and travel journaling. Amber is an architect active in the Twin Cities sketching groups and you will enjoy seeing her work and learn a lot from her. The meeting, as usual, starts at 7 p.m. (and runs until 9). The meeting is free and open to all adult visual journal keepers regardless of skill level. Also in July group coordinator Suzanne Hughes will be back from her travels to lead the meeting and my forgetful mind will be allowed to wander off again!

Come and see what we're up to and share your work.

Many thanks to the participants of this year's review! Thank you for sharing your favorite books and your work!

  1. Reply

    What a great resource this post is… I have some of these books, but there are a bunch I don’t have. Always looking for good books.

  2. Reply

    Capt. Elaine, I just got the Ben Katchor that Patty recommended and if you like his work it’s lovely, odd, and stunning all at the same time. It is also a very large format book.

    I’ve got a stack of books sitting near by that aren’t art related or only tangentially related to art and so I’ll have to write about those at another time.

    I wish I could just read the rest of the day! Make some headway.

  3. Reply

    I should not have asked people to volunteer more books. I don’t know this book and thought I’d better go check it out, so of course I ordered one. Since you recommended it I had to. Sigh. Thank you for sharing this title. (Really.)

  4. Reply

    HAHA! I hope you like it! It introduced me to some artists that I felt were wonderful for different reasons:
    ANDREW MACARA ( does these naive FAIRFIELD PORTERish paintings with a very accurate sense of light)

    Jacqueline Rizvi ( does watercolor and body color on toned paper with a very light touch )

    John Ward ( no relation! He has a drawn, illustrative quality to his paintings and is apparently very well-known in the UK – but he was new to me!)

  5. Reply

    ellen it hasn’t arrived yet, but fingers crossed it will soon! Thanks again for the heads up. I’m looking forward to it.

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