Category Archives: Creativity

Ideas, thoughts, ‘Aha!’ moments

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.

 

 

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.

Reading and the Clean Plate Club

If you had parents who grew up in the Depression, or went through other hardships, you remember the “Clean Plate Club.” You cleaned up your plate at every meal.  Hungry or not, you ate. You finished your meal. old-fashioned-thanksgivingSomehow, I translated that to reading books.

I find it almost impossible to abandon a book I’ve started, no matter how unsatisfactory.  I keep reading, even when the plot is weak, the characters uninteresting, or the premise vague. There is no good reason I do this. But I do.

I just finished an audiobook, and when the female protagonist (a flighty, timid, weak soul who is always “rooted to the spot in fear,” “numb with indecision,” or  “quavering  with hesitant hope”)  gets into yet another scrape, I begin to root for the villain to do her in. When the writing is weak, I keep hoping for a change.

Maybe the next chapter will pick up. At some point, I should know better. It’s not patience, it’s not tolerance. It is a good lesson in the difference between patience and endurance.

There comes a time in every situation when the excuses are used up, the reasons for staying the course unclear. That’s the time to stop listening, stop eating, and look for another source of  satisfaction. If satisfaction is not found in what you are dealing with, it time to stack the plate, put the CD back in the case, and start the search for more satisfaction.

–Quinn Mcdonald has moved on to another book. A far better one.

Reading Isn’t Believing

As a blog omnivore, I read a lot of advice, thoughts, and beliefs of other writers and artists. It’s a big world, populated by writers of every emotional and spiritual stripe (and rant).

Smart-is-when-you-believe-half-of-what-you-hearThe last two days, I’ve been reading about other people’s success stories about blogging and book promoting. (I have a tendency to read about what’s on my plate). Interesting what happens in my brain (maybe yours, too) when we read something new that we don’t agree with. The other person must be smarter. Particularly if we don’t know them. Because no matter what our experience is, surely the other person is smarter, richer, wiser, and a better all-around human being. (Inner critic alert).

I’m amazed at my own gullibility. “Content is no longer king,” says one blogger, and I gobble up his article, afraid that one of my basic truths has vanished. “The reader is king!” he proudly proclaims, “content doesn’t really matter.” Oh. And what is King Reader reading? Content. And why will King Reader read the content? Because it is interesting to King Reader. So, finish the circle, content is still king.

“If you are still doing book signings, you are over 60 and a dinosaur,” says another blogger. Her idea is that everything is virtual, and social networking is the only action that sells books.

I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure people buy books for lots of reasons, and a good reason is to meet the person who wrote it and talk to them if they are available. And that means I want to make myself available. Because people who are satisfied tell others. (Not as many as people who are unsatisfied, which is motivation enough.) But can’t I do both? The Inner Hero book had two launches (one in California and one locally in Phoenix) and is having a fun run on several people’s blogs.

Before you believe everything you read (I call this “the last person I talked to is an expert” syndrome) run it through your value-meter. I’ve been writing for a long time, and content matters. If an article is cheap starchy filler, I leave faster than a barefoot pedestrian crosses a freshly-tarred street.

imagesMy value-meter knows that meeting people face to face and hearing their stories is what made me write my book in the first place. I heard so many people say, “I’m not really good at anything” while hungering to make meaning in life,  it was impossible for me not to write the book.

Of course, I also learn a lot from reading blogs.  I’m happy to explore new ideas, and I’m a big fan of change. But change for change’s sake rarely sticks. Change is fueled by current failure, pain, or general misery.  What makes change possible is that the current plan isn’t working.

What works for someone else might not work for me. And if it doesn’t match what I know to be true from my own life, it’s probably not true for me. My life is a big circle, and I invite a lot of people in. But it doesn’t mean I have to follow them around in circles.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach whose coaching practice is based on working with deeply-held values and, well, change.

Ice Bridge to Magic

Jenna Erickson is the program director of the Madeline Island School of Arts. Madeline Island is in Lake Superior, which at the moment, is largely frozen. Jenna’s commute includes the ice road between Bayfield, WI and Madeline Island. It looks like this:

ar123446568432946In a few weeks, when the ice road gets melty, slushy and more suitable for a Margarita than transportation,  Jenna will go to work on the wind sled. It’s a boat that can travel on ice or water and looks like this:

ar120491287446552That must take a lot of dedication. It must also give Jenna a lot of time to think about things other than if the ice road will hold up until she gets to work. One of the ideas that Jenna came up with is to give the people who are registering for my class a discount.

This is my second year teaching at Madeline Island. I’m teaching a 5-day mixed media workshop on June 2-6, 2014.  By that time, the view out the classroom window will look like this:

MISAYard

It looks like a painting, but I took this photo and it feels as good to be there as this looks.

So, I wanted to let you know about the special Jenna came up with for my blog readers called “The Red Barn Special.” This is specifically for my workshop at MISA. It’s simple. Save $85 on your on-site lodging reservation when you register for my workshop by April 15, 2014.

It’s called the Red Barn Special because the classroom I taught in last year looks like this:

IMG_3910That balcony was the place I stood to take the photo of the prairie and trees.

The class is going to be an incredible exploration of writing and mixed media techniques, and each participant will leave with a journal stuffed with work you didn’t know you could create.

Now is your chance to get first pick at the cozy on-campus rooms in their Mission Cottages. The great thing about spending a week on Madeline Island is that the time there is magic. You can work in the classroom any time, day or night. You will get a free session of creativity coaching with me. The breakfast is delicious and gives you lots of choices. You will be surprised at your intuitive writing and art skills. And you will have plenty of time on our own, for journaling or exploring.

A 25 percent deposit is all you need to hold your place in my workshop. Check out the class details of my class, and then call the Registrar, Anne Leafblad, at 715.747.2054, or email misa@cheqnet.net.

You’ll want to see the moon rise over Lake Superior one night:

night

Madeline Island is an amazing get-away that keeps out the world so you can  find yourself and your creativity all over again. Please join me in this very special place. Oh, and Jenna? She looks like this:

0But you never see her at Madeline Island. She’s always a step ahead of you, making sure everything is working and taken care of so you can dedicate your time to exploring your creativity, your energy, and the island.

-Quinn McDonald is planning some special surprises for her class at Madeline Island. She hopes she gets to stay in the farmhouse again.

Geli-Plate Fun

Experimenting with my Gelli-Plate, I discovered two new ways (well, at least to me) to use this monoprinting technique. As a collage artist, I always need interesting papers, in every color or texture I can imagine.

Mono_StencilOne of my favorite techniques is to cut out shapes (heavy paper or overhead projector film) and use them as masks (to block paint printing) or as a stencil (to create a pattern with the paint.

The resulting pieces pick up paint and become quite interesting in themselves. After they have served as masks or stencils several times, they can be used as collage elements.

Another technique is to prepare the plate with a background, lay the elements on the plate, and photograph the plate before you print.

Mono_HouseThis gives you an image to print that looks quite different from the print itself, but can also give you more detail and color. You can then choose to create the collage by gluing the elements down over the printed piece or add color with a brush.

This also works for fabric–chose a fabric background, then attach the paper pieces on top of the background using fusible webbing.

Mono_PlantThe final experiment was to enhance a ghost print. Once the first print is lifted, remove all the masks from the plate. Then lay another piece of paper (in this case a piece of multi-media paper) over the plate and use a brayer to roll over the monoprint plate to pick up a ghost image of the paint the masks had protected. The plant and sun are clear, but the background picked up only partially.

I used Tombow Dual Brush markers to enhance some of the color. These markers are watercolors, so let the paper dry first. After the color is put down, I used a brush dipped in water to blend colors and create an abstract landscape.

On Tuesday, April 1, I’ll be demoing these techniques at the monthly meeting of the Scottsdale Art League. We’re going to have a busy night because I’m going to do an Inner Hero exercise, and everyone will leave with a hand-made Inner Hero Postcard. And two lucky people will win the prizes: a copy of the Inner Hero Art Journal and a Gelli plate donated by Arizona Art Supply.

Upcoming classes using Gelli-Plate techniques: I’ll also be teaching Gelli-Plate techniques on April 26-27 at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts and the week of June 2 at the Madeline Island School of Arts, where you will make a whole book of different art and writing techniques. Come join me in exploring!

-Quinn McDonald is typing this with paint-colored fingers, and an ink-stained heart.