Saint Paraphernalia

The woman across the table looked at me. We each had piles of collage papers around us. I had just remarked that the line of art pieces each person in the class had done, looked sacred and regal.

A possible Saint Paraphernalia looking for a small, dropped thread.

A possible Saint Paraphernalia looking for a small, dropped thread.

Her face lit up. “I love saint paraphernalia,” she said.

“I’m not Catholic,” I answered, unsure of what she meant.

“Oh, I’m not either, I just love the beautifully illustrated lives of the saints, and the candles, and gilt-edge books,” she added.

I smiled, having misunderstood her to say that she loved Saint Paraphernalia, and assuming I misunderstood one of the names in the panoply of Catholic saints.

Now I’m thinking that Saint Paraphernalia needs to be the patron saint of multi-media and collage artists.

"Wisdom," by Jane DeRosier. I love the collage presentation; and wisdom is needed for a Saint Paraphernalia.  Image link below.

“Wisdom,” by Jane DeRosier. I love the collage presentation; and wisdom is needed for a Saint Paraphernalia. Image link below.

We pray to her to help us sort through the boxes to find that little corner with that color or design that fits right here, that we need now, that can’t be found. Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things really isn’t what we need. We need someone who loves color and texture, little found pieces of art. She values order but knows that order isn’t the answer to storage problems. Remembering what the order we chose to use is the important thing.

And then there is remembering what we finally threw out last week and need now. Followed by leading us out of despair. A perfect saint for those who deal in small, treasured objects.

—Quinn McDonald thinks she needs all the divine help, of any kind, she can get.

Image link to Jane DeRosier’s original artwork on Juxtapost.

 

 

Adam, Fear, and Problem-Solving

When the training client told me that I’d have to bring my own computer to show the Powerpoint, I said “of course.” But I didn’t want to bring my laptop. It’s heavy and it’s the only computer I have. Yes, it’s backed up, but still, dragging it around wasn’t appealing to me.

Luckily, I have an iPad with Keynote on it. (Apple’s version of Powerpoint). But how to get the file from the computer to the iPad, I asked at the store. “It’s simple on iTunes,” the genius-bar employee said, and gave me some steps. I wrote them down. Now, I hate to admit it, but I’m not a big music fan, so I don’t know iTunes very well. My playlists are all books. Yes, I have music on my iPhone, but I really don’t use iTunes.

Blocked as surely as if a boulder falls in front of me.

Blocked as surely as if a boulder falls in front of me.

So I struggled with the instructions, which didn’t work. As any good Inner Critic knows, this is the clarion call to show up and make sure the stuck person knows that she is stupid, probably terminally so, and the client will laugh at her for not knowing simple procedures. Time to make a fast appointment for a one-on-one lesson. None available till I come back.

Fear shows up as anger first. Stupid store and their 10-day wait to get a simple lesson. Then, anger muddles thinking. I came up with the idea of using Dropbox, but I still couldn’t get the presentation itself moved to Keynote.

Notice what’s happening here? Fear blocks all problem-solving ability. I wasn’t thinking through anything. I was stuck in a place in which I would be humiliated for being slow, old, dumb, and not prepared in front of the client. That shame loop circled through my brain while I added more dramatic color and a sound track. [Cue "Chain of Fools."] No problem-solving whatsoever. Finally, I made another genius bar appointment, sure the Apple employees would mock me, too.

Not so. Adam came up, and I explained the problem with iTunes. Adam looked at me and smiled. “You can send it from one machine to another via email, then just open it in Keynote.” Of course. It couldn’t have been simpler. But while I was filled with fear and imagining a catastrophic scenario, my brain was too busy adding details, color and sound to the catastrophe to see the simple answer.

iphone_5s_6_months_later_heroAnd then, Adam did something amazing. He showed me how to use my iPhone as the remote to control the Keynote presentation. Let me practice it to make sure I got the steps in the right order. And within 10 minutes I wasn’t an idiot, I was a tech-savvy professional, with an iPad and a remote, ready to go.

In those 10 minutes, I didn’t change a bit. I weighed the same, I had the same hair and eye color, wore the same clothing. The only thing that changed was fear. It was gone. Adam had solved the problem I could not because I was concentrating on the fear. Anger is the answer to fear, and anger blocks both logic and creativity.

I’ll probably make the mistake again. It’s a big problem and so not resolved by one experience. Or six, ten or a hundred. It’s a lesson I will repeat until I understand it, myself and the power of problem solving with a clear, creative mind and heart.

-Quinn McDonald wishes a Happy Passover to all who tell the story of the Exodus tonight. And wishes strength and peace to all who live in fear and slavery of any kind, mental or physical, or their own doing or other’s.

The Bent Frame

Not even clear how it happened, but my glasses frames got bent. They are very light frames, so the damage was total. No way they could be worn. While my distance vision is fine, my near vision needs to be corrected with glasses. To make matters just a bit more tense, on Monday I’m leaving on a business trip to teach, so I need to see clearly.

These aren't my glasses. Mine look a lot worse. But you can get the idea.

These aren’t my glasses. Mine look a lot worse. But you can get the idea.

My first impulse was to grab a pair of pliers and bend the glasses back into shape. But I don’t have jeweler’s tools anymore.

My second realization was that the place I bought the glasses is closed on Sunday.

My third thought was . . . to think of a simple solution, one not connected to panic. That was not quite as easy, because the impulse was to use my fingers to straighten the glasses. The frames are so light. But I know about metal fatigue–and that overeager “fixing” can cause more damage than leaving it alone. I’ve done a lot of home repairs that way–first I “saved money by doing the job myself,” and then I paid a lot more to a professional to fix what I made worse and then do the repair correctly.

These aren't mine, either, but they don't look much worse than mine.

These aren’t mine, either, but they don’t look much worse than mine.

After all that, the answer is pretty simple–I take the glasses to a shop in the mall tomorrow and have them fix it with professional tools. It meant no reading tonight. That was a big departure.

What I found interesting was the problem-solving process. It followed so many other problem-solving steps: first, astonishment at how the damage got so serious. Second, disbelief and anger. Even a flash of “why does this kind of thing have to happen to me when I am about to teach at an important out-of-town client?”  This was starting to look like a personality test more than a decision what to do with broken glasses.

Finally, a solution based on mistakes made in the past. Don’t try things without the tools you need if you don’t have the time or replacement pieces yourself. Leave the delicate work to the people with trained, specialized small-muscle control.

It’s how I approach creative problems, too. First a bit of panic, anger, and crankiness that I ruined a piece. Maybe a flash of inner critic telling me that other artists don’t make these mistakes. Then the recognition that I have the tools and the ability, but I have to use past mistakes to make the current piece I’m working on come to a satisfying conclusion.

That means admitting to past mistakes, figuring out what worked well and what did not, and repeat the thinking that brings out a simple, elegant solution. A creative lesson in a pair of bent glasses frames. Not such a bad price to pay.

-Quinn McDonald is glad she learned touch-typing at an early age, as she can’t see what she’s typing.

 

Saturday Creative Clip (Apr.12.14)

This Saturday, we are taking a look at paper artists who do precise and interesting work. Meg Hitchock creates collages that capture sacred texts by cutting up other sacred texts.

meg-1-600x766“Art is the true religion,” Meg said in an interview on the Daily Art Muse.  The piece above is made of individual letters cut out of the Bible, Koran, and Kabbalah.

Detail of the above piece.

Detail of the above piece.

Details of the winding type that makes up the page. The Brooklyn artists says, (via the bio on her website):

“In my series Mantras & Meditations, I examine and deconstruct the word of God as interpreted through the world religions. I select passages from holy books and cut the letters from one passage to form the text of another. For example, I may cut up a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible and reassemble it as a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, or I may use type from the Torah to recreate an ancient Tantric text. A continuous line of text forms the words and sentences in a run-on manner, without spaces or punctuation, creating a visual mantra of devotion.”

The patience it must take to create these pieces is astonishing. So are the results.

Rogan Brown cuts images from paper. Another work of patience and precision. His work comes from the natural world. Below is the 2013 work, “Kernel.”

1400x720-C9IsgKestrjw8sFNBrown is fascinated with both repetitive patterns and scales that vary,  “from the microscopic to the macroscopic, from individual cells to large scale geological formations.”

"Swirl" © Rogan Brown

“Swirl” © Rogan Brown

His individual works take months to creative.

Annie Vought cuts paper letters. Not one at a time, but she cuts epistolary art–whole letters, written in the fast-vanishing penmanship, and cut out.

I believe handwritten records are fragments of individual histories… A letter is physical confirmation of who we were at the moment it was written, or all we have left of a person or a period of time. –Annie Vought. She also uses texts, letters, and emails she has received to make her art.

Have a creative weekend!
–Quinn McDonald admires  thepatience and vision of paper artists

Being Yourself

We want to work like a CEO, delegate like the managing partner of a law firm, produce wonderful art like whoever is popular right now and smile like a Orbits chewing gum commercial.

Become-who-you-areWe rarely want to be just like ourselves. Flawed, working hard, trying to be better is wonderful. It keeps us busy and mindful of change. But when we always aspire to be better, smarter, cooler, and other-than-us, we don’t get to be ourselves very much.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself,” Miles Davis said.

It takes time to discover all the parts of you, sort them out, and make something of them. The best way to do that is to focus on the parts of you, instead of comparing the parts to someone else and falling short. Focusing on the you that exists already helps you discover who you are, what you like, what you want to do with your talent. Comparing yourself to others shows you what you are not, what you lack.

And lack is the home of the inner critic. Bring out The Assembler of the Pieces of You as an inner hero and celebrate all the parts of you that are marvelous.

Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She’s happy she wrote the book. It’s not a fast-riser on the New York Times best-seller list, but the reviews on amazon.com are amazingly thoughtful. People are being themselves when they comment. Nothing could be better.

 

The (Almost) Lost Art of Polite

Leaving the bank, I sensed someone behind me. I walked through the heavy door, then held it open for an elderly man who was slowly making his way toward the door. “I’m not helpless,” he groused. “Of course not,” I replied, “I’m just being polite.”

rude_polite_rankingPolite isn’t popular anymore. A friend who observed by husband opening the car door for me, as he has for decades, sniffed, “Are you so weak you can’t open that door yourself?” If my husband didn’t have the keylock, I would have reached across and unlocked his door for him, too.

It’s kind to help people who have mobility issues, but the small acts that make up being polite are truly an art that makes the world a bit shinier and easier to manage.

Polite is hard to explain to small children. They stare at the handicapped, ask intrusive questions, and are sticklers for the “truth” as they see it. If we are lucky, they get socialized and develop the habit of being polite. But it’s slipping away, faster and faster.

When I bump into anything–even inanimate objects, I say, “Excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” as a force of habit. A teen looked at me in the grocery store when I apologized to a grocery cart and muttered, “Dude, it’s like a thing! It can’t hear you.” True. But it might have been a person.

I let pregnant women ahead of me in line because I remember what it felt like to stand on swollen feet. When I was in D.C. two weeks ago, no one looked up from the seats clearly marked “for Senior Citizens and the handicapped,” and I did not have the nerve to pull out their headphones so I could ask for the seat. Why not? Because I didn’t think they would move.

Being polite means saying that an ugly baby is adorable, sending thank-you cards, and attending funerals of people you don’t know well. It’s saying “thank you” to a cashier who isn’t polite.  Not walking three abreast down a sidewalk and forcing other people to step into the street. If you are a bicyclist, it’s stopping at signs and lights instead of blowing through them or yelling “on your left” when someone is using the sidewalk for walking, then passing them at top speed, just nipping their elbow.

Polite is not throwing your co-working under the bus just because you can and no one will stand up to you. Bring back polite, and the whole concept of bullying shrinks and vanishes. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing and takes little effort.

-–Quinn McDonald still says “you’re welcome” when someone says, “thank you.” She doesn’t want them to think for a minute that they might have been a problem.

Image: LAmag.com

You Do Have a Choice–and it’s Yours

“I didn’t have a choice.” It’s something I hear all the time, particularly in TV shows and on Facebook, as a shrug to the inevitable. Yet the person then makes some sort of choice.

Image from Favething.com

Image from Favething.com

We all have choices all the time. Good choices, not-so-good choices, really bad choices. All ours to own. All ours to make, evaluate and love. Or correct. Even if you think, “the other thing isn’t really a choice,” the other choice is a thing to reject, and that makes choosing easier. Without a bad choice, there can’t be a good choice.

Owning your choice is another important step. For the past week, I haven’t walked. Walking conflicted with early-morning classes, and my stalling in getting out of the house. Big mistake. If I don’t walk early, I don’t walk. Life begins to whiz by, calls need to be answered, and walking gets pushed later and later until it’s the time of day where I’m too tired to walk. That’s a choice I make.

Choice is based on priority–what is important, what is on deadline, what needs to be done. The choice you make today may not be the same one as tomorrow. That’s fine. Situations change. But even between a rock and a hard place, there is a choice. Don’t hand your choice over with a shrug and a helpless feeling. Even a bad choice is a learning experience worth living through.

-–Quinn McDonald is going back to walking. Her brains seem to be connected to her feet.

 

 

Making it Mine

When I take a class, I follow the same rule that Cooking Man does when he experiments with a new recipe. First, do it exactly the way the recipe says to do it, even if  you have a better idea. Once you have tasted it, you can make changes that make sense to you. But unless you follow instructions first, you will not be sure of what went wrong. Or right.

In the collage class I took, we received clear, explicit directions. I followed them as I heard them. Then, when the class was over, I went into the studio and made the information mine and made collages using the information, but making it with my esthetic.

Here are three collages I made in class:

collagetoomuchWe were told to cut five figures. I interpreted this as figurative, although they were supposed to be random. After we pasted them down, an additional step was to add five more, using different colors. Because I had made a figurative piece, the result was quite busy.

collagetreeThis was the homework piece. We were to create a collage titled “tree” using only items found in our kitchens. This posed an interesting problem, as I was staying in a hotel. I used a paper grocery bag, a coffee filter (using the pleated seam) and a Lipton tea bag to create the leaves.  I cut the bag to size and had a large seam right through the middle. That didn’t work for me visually, so I cut two more pieces (OK, tore them with a straight edge) and placed one over the seam and another near the bottom to create balance.

collagerobertUsing the works of Robert Motherwell, we were to take the idea of the piece and create our own faux-Motherwell. I wanted to use a limited palate, and fretted a lot about the lines (and my old nemesis, the straight line). If the first piece was too busy, this one was a bit spare, but I can live with spare.

Once I got home, I wanted to explore the idea of the bird in the first image, rather than the whole, busy composition.

collage2Using a photograph of bird feathers from art quilter and book contributor Diane Becka, and a piece of Monsoon Paper, I created a different kind of collage.

collage1The original figure in the busy collage intrigued me. I wanted to explore it some more. So I created a collage using both the figure and the piece I cut out of the figure, leaving the meaning to be interpreted by the viewer.

collageshadowI can see this idea developing into a series, so I did another, also on Monsoon Paper. This is called “Shadow.” I’m liking this enough to create a serious series of figures under the Moon and Sun.

-Quinn McDonald is exploring Monsoon Papers and collage. She’s a writer, but these have, as yet, no words to go with them. Visual literacy is its own kind of vocabulary.

Taking a Collage Class from David Addix

Every artist should take art classes; every teacher should take classes, too. I did both this week by taking David Adix’s fun and interesting collage class in Tucson.

Adix shows a basket made of found pieces of wire and metal.

Adix shows a basket made of found pieces of wire and metal.

David is a collage and assemblage artist, and he brought a lot of his work for us to see. I was absolutely taken by his assemblage “Chancel,” and his sculpture of a human figure made of telephone wire. (Take a peek at his website and the process video to see more of his work.)

He started class by leading us through seven warm-up exercises, each one exploring an aspect of collage:  positive and negative space, torn and cut paper, color, and composition. I found myself wanting to follow directions more than do something that was pleasing to my aesthetic. That was a surprise. I also followed directions too strictly–David said move out of your color comfort zone and I moved so far I had no idea what to do with the colors I chose. Lesson learned: it’s fine to explore beyond your comfort zone, but if you move into a zip code with colors you loathe, you won’t make art, you’ll feel you visited cruel and unusual punishment on yourself.

Adix2A fun exercise was to create our own table name tags using only torn letters. The two “Ns” at the end of my name always leads to scrutiny when I do table tents, so I used an upper case and lower case. Doing anything with people’s names is a smart idea–people have given a lot of thought to their names and are familiar with them. Great place to start.

AdixconfettiIn this exercise, we studied deliberate and random elements. Cutting up the colored strips and letting them fall created an eye-pleasing result.

After a lot of interesting challenges and some deep work, we spent most of the second day doing design work. My favorite segment was creating a spatial design out of our initials–we could rotate them, make them upper- or lower-case, and any size relationship. The only rules were cutting them out of black paper and arranging them on an envelope we had previously glued down. We then added a color to one of the negative spaces.

From left to right, the letters are LKP, PKM, and QCM.

From left to right, the letters are LKP, PKM, and QCM.

The variety of the results was wonderful and inventive.

Adixletters2The work, lined up against a wall, looked ready for an exhibition.

This class was not only time well spent, it was challenging, interesting and a perfect break in a hectic schedule. Thanks, David!

--Quinn McDonald is returning to collage as her art medium. And she’s doing it with more information and learning.