Category Archives: Creativity

Ideas, thoughts, ‘Aha!’ moments

Plan B is Not Negative Thinking

“If you plan for success, you’ll succeed, if you plan for failure, you will fail.” I’m a big believer in thinking positively, planning for success, and not feeding the inner critic.

I also believe that having a Plan B–what to do in the worst-case scenario–is an excellent idea. Those thoughts, which seem to be opposite, can be held at the same time quite successfully.

Aren’t they opposites? And if I have a Plan B, am I not planning for failure? I used to think that, too, until I had a really clear understanding of planning.

Plan B is a way of looking ahead, of seeing where the obstacles might be. This is exactly what I do when I’m on the motorcycle–I keep an eye out for an escape route. Can I stop if that car cuts in front of me? What will I do if that one brakes or swerves? It’s a moment-to-moment adjustment that has saved my life more than once. It’s not negative thinking. It’s planning a way through and then out.

mapBy thinking ahead, I am solving problems to avoid them. I am also making myself aware that I can face problems. And because I believe in learning by making mistakes, even by failing, planning the next step becomes a positive action. Studying what went wrong and figuring out how to fix it increases not only knowledge, but problem-solving skills.

And once I have a Plan B, I can turn toward the goal. Looking ahead to the goal is the best way to make steps to get there. If you constantly have to fight back the fear and refuse to face it, you aren’t being positive, you are wasting time chasing fear. Plan B is the realization that you are past the fear block, and are moving ahead to the goal.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote:

“The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.”

Fear prevents you from leaping. And not leaping prevents you from the full adventure that is your life. Planning and training for leaps keeps you prepared for whatever shows up.

--Quinn McDonald is re-thinking some of the tropes she’s lived with for a long time. It keeps her ready to leap.

Taking a Compliment

“What a nice blouse!”

“This old rag? I just wear it to clean house.”
screen-shot-2014-02-27-at-10-13-14If you are a woman, you are familiar with this. (Men take compliments more easily). But for women, a compliment has to be denied, shoved back, or minimized.

At an art show, I complimented an artist on her work. “It’s really easy,” she replied, “I just threw some paint on the canvas.” I’ll bet she didn’t, and once she diminished her own work, I found the price a bit high. After all, if she really “just threw paint” on the canvas, it took no planning or thought.

Of course she worked hard on the canvas. Of course she worried about it. But the 3632-What-Happens-When-A-Girl-Refuses-A-Compliment-Funny-SMS-Conversation-Picturesecond a compliment floats her way, she had to pretend to be someone with no talent, who happens to make a living painting. Why? Because it hurts to admit one has talent, skills, beauty, intelligence, or even good taste. If you own your attributes, you are responsible for them. All the time.

All that may seem like too much work. So we bat away compliments. We don’t want to own them. Most women have also been trained to be humble–particularly older women. We don’t want to seem “full of ourselves,” or risk a “swelled head.” So we deny, deny, deny.

Eventually we believe that we are talentless shlubs who can barely breathe and cross the street at the same time. That doesn’t serve anyone.

First, when you get a compliment, all you need to do is smile, and say, “Thank you!” It’s not hard to do this is you immediately think that you are making the person who paid you the complement happy.

Then, there’s a bit of work to do on yourself. Why don’t you want to be talented, smart, loving, or whatever you got a compliment for? What meaning do you attach to a compliment that makes you shrink from it? Pretend, for the next hour, the compliment is true. Just for an hour. Then you can give it up. If you still want to.

P.S. It helps to give a compliment if you make it about you instead.  “Seeing you in that blouse will make me happy all day,” is a compliment that’s hard to turn down.

I read a great quote  the other day. It wasn’t attributed, so I can’t send a compliment to anyone for writing it: “It took me a long time to discover who I was not, only then did I discover who I was.”

P.S. For language lovers. “Compliment” (with an i) means a kind expression or praise. You can remember that it’s spelled with an “i” because it’s nice to receive one and nice also has an i in it.

Complement (with an e) is something that fills up or completes something else. “The book cover art was a perfect complement to the chilling story inside.” It means to complete.

--Quinn McDonald has some problems with complements herself. That’s why she writes about it.

Daily Practice

Practice is necessary to learn anything. Practicing art is another word for getting better.

Practice can take a lot of different shapes. Right now, I’m working on minimalist collage. I was finding it difficult to be as minimal as I wanted to be, so I gave myself permission to do a very busy, color-jammed collage.

When you give yourself permission, your inner critic will show up and tell you that you’ll never sell this “trial and error” pieces. That’s right. You won’t. But I’m not experimenting to sell, I’m experimenting to get better. And unless I try one thing, I won’t know if it works, if I want to do more, or where I need to do some more work.

Here’s the busy piece I did, using a lot of color and largely rectangular or square shapes. Of course, there was a piece of map that didn’t “belong.”

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And here’s the piece I did after that. I found three pieces of paper buried at the bottom of my stash–a highly textured blue and green and a sheet printed with stars. I decided to add a fourth color–the orange Monsoon Paper piece. The moon is cut out of the same Monsoon Paper piece, but flipped over, so the color blending on the back shows up.

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Both pieces are very different. And because I gave myself permission to play with the first piece and was very strict with myself that I had to “get some minimal work done” with the second piece, it turns out that I like the first piece better.

Sometimes, in our need for perfection, we forget to play. When we allow ourselves to play, our creative work is better, looser, and more free than the one we put all the constrictions on.

Play is a part of getting better at what you do. Don’t push it out of your life.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who loves collage.

Begging The Question: Getting it Right

Ahem.

[tap, tap, tap].

Can everyone hear me? Thank you.

Today’s aggrieved English phrase is “begging the question.” First, what this phrase does not mean. Begging the question isn’t the same as “raising the question,” “asking the question,” or “brings up the question.” No. It is completely different.

“Begging the question” is an example of faulty logic. It actually has nothing to do

with asking a question. Another name for it is “begging the claim,” which makes the working parts easier to understand.

When someone begs the question, the speaker draws a conclusion, not from facts, but from something else stated in the sentence. For example:  Mean and ignorant people like John should never become department heads.

While “mean and ignorant people should not become department heads” is  logical, the very thing that needs to be proven—why John is not good leadership material—is assumed in the sentence.

log4p6Another example: She is a slob because she is unattractive.  Maybe the woman is unattractive, but that does not immediately make her a slob. More proof is needed. The sentence relies on proof that is assumed and not proven.

One more: Pollution-spouting monster trucks should be banned. The very conclusion that needs to be proven–that monster trucks create a lot of pollution—is missing. It’s just assumed.

Saturday bonus: Confusing words explained

Staunch means loyal or committed in support. “She was a staunch supporter of civil rights.” (It rhymes with paunch.)

Stanch means to stop or restrict, like a flow of blood. (It rhymes with blanch.)

Both words come from the same Old English (via Old French) word meaning “watertight.” While there is a strong trend to let both words mean both things, part of the beauty of the language is in the subtle differences in words that give specific, shaded and nuanced meanings to sentences.

Thank you.

Have a nice day.

—Quinn McDonald loves the English language in all it’s maddening confusion.

 

 

Time Travel

Time moves on whether we use it or not. We can’t speed it up or slow it down, but we are experts at ignoring it.

It's not time, it's a tattoo.

It’s not time, it’s a tattoo.

Reading through Facebook this morning, I had no desire to post anything. Some days Facebook is like a statue and we are pigeons–swoop in, deposit something, and fly off.  I was not connecting to anything.  Cute videos, tragic abandoned dogs and car accidents . . .I forget them as soon as they move off the screen. Really, it was just floating in a half-world of unreal experience, none of it memorable.

I got up early this morning to get work done. But first, check Facebook and emails and Pinterest and stop by Twitter. Because, no kidding, I feel guilty if I don’t check in on my. . . what, exactly? My displaced feeling of connection is what. Bumper-sticker philosophy passing as thoughtfulness. Beautiful photographs, funny cartoons. This is not connection.  This is not friendship. This is also not doing nothing. It is fueling a low-grade irritation about ideas I have already considered.   Still, I can do this because on the internet you can do nothing and rationalize it as social networking, and call it working.

By 7 a.m. when I’d been up for ovr two hours, I has spent the entire time sitting at my desk, staring at my laptop.

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

Who knows if you are wasting time with the Un-Time clock from randomization.com

I was not relaxing. I was not doing anything, either. I was in some sort of half-awake world of semi-attention, hoping that something would inspire me.

What would really inspire me was rest. It came up like a huge bubble from under a deep pool–if I wanted to rest, I should rest. Stop fooling myself. So I got up, closed the computer, and went back to bed.

I lay on my back, wondering if I should be working. No, I was tired, so I closed my eyes. It felt. . .good. I fell asleep quickly. Slept for two hours. Woke up rested.

When I returned to the computer, I did not check in on Facebook. It ran just fine without me. Instead, I wrote down what I needed to do, set the timer on a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it, and started writing. It worked. Because I was rested.

Lying down is resting. Lying down and opening your iPad is not resting.
I like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But it’s not work and it’s not research. It needs to fit into my goofing-off time. So if I don’t have time to goof-off, I will not call posting on Facebook “working,” and spend 45 minutes reading what semi-strangers are doing.

Rest when I’m tired. Work when I need to work. Goof off when i am done working. That feels better.

Quinn McDonald had a good nights sleep. Finally.

Experience the World

Every action you take sends ripples out and changes the world. That sounds pretty grandiose, particularly if we live isolated lives. But we don’t.

ContractA client who doesn’t pay on time causes me to use the experience to write up a stricter contract with a clause that charges interest. Maybe a potential client, one who pays well, avoids me because of that.

A relationship that falls apart through a breaking of trust causes the hurt person in the relationship to be more guarded in the next relationship.

The pain you experience in life gets passed on to the next, often innocent,  party. The person who has shown every reason to be trusted gets the brunt of the previous relationship–the one that broke down. Is that what experience is?

Questions I wonder about:

1. Does this happen with good experiences, too? Do I remove the interest clause when a client pays on time? (Probably not. I’ll see that as an aberration, still believe in the “norm” of the non-paying client set.)

2. How does experience change how we see the world–and does it always have to be protective or negative?

3. Is there a personal statute of limitations on a bad experience? How many people in our lives have to pay for the one who hurt us?

-–Quinn McDonald wonders about the emotional experience of how we expect the world to treat us.

Journaling Experience

Lisa Sonora is running a 30-day journaling challenge. The challenge is free and she posts about the prompts every day.  It’s been years since I journaled on someone else’s prompts. Seemed like an interesting idea. And so far (this is day nine) is has been.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge.

The tag Lisa uses for this journaling challenge. The “click here” doesn’t work in this photo. Use the link in the first line.

Something I’ve noticed–when you have a lot of life’s experiences under your belt, you see journal prompts in ways that life has shaped you. (Or that you have shaped yourself in reaction to your life).

While this journaling experience is an art journal, I’m not doing it that way. I find it too easy to slap down some color or use a stencil and then create a facile reason in my head. Because I have a big imagination, I’m also really good at rationalization, and that’s the wrong direction for this journaling trip.

This is a written journal for me. But I’m allowing myself to think and write visually, as I usually do when I take notes. So it’s part written, part sketch notes.

One of the questions this week was about our life’s purpose. I realized with a bit

My journal entry considering your life's purpose

My journal entry considering your life’s purpose

of a shock that I better have that figured out by now. I’m well past the time when I have the steak portion of my life ahead of me, ready to slice and serve.

So I drew what appeared in my head: a closely fit puzzle, in which your purpose trickles through layers and connections, changing and remaining the same. Arrows show that you move in more than one direction at once, that experience shapes decisions, and that the goal is often pushed off into a corner, forgotten for the rush of the experience. And those two empty blocks? Well, they come at the beginning and the end.  There is always room for growth and not knowing.

-–Quinn McDonald held the door open for someone at the bank yesterday. She felt the cool air rush over her as the other person slowly moved inside. And she knew it was her purpose in life. To hold the door open without expectation, and to feel the cool rush push away the stinging heat in delight.

 

It’s Not About Space

Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade. Children are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. But art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

Making art isn’t about “stuff” either.  Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

justine_ashbee1Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

ashbee_web61Justine Ashbee uses good paper along with her Sharpie. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Charlie Kratzer, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. He decorated his entire basement with a black Sharpie. OK, it was more than one. It was $10 worth. The rest was his creativity, his ideas, his desire to decorate his life.

Kratzer is a lawyer, and started with one line in the basement–a line that began a mural around his basement wall. The mural is not just furniture and columns and wainscoting, although it is all that.

The art spans literature and popular culture, Picasso and Churchill. I could list all the things on the wall, but there is a wonderful video and article that does a much better job.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. Right now there it’s popular to have artists’ studios in magazines, along with descriptions about how this big, airy, wonderful space is exactly what every artist needs. Yes, it’s nice to have lots of space and storage, but thinking you need 300 square feet with special furniture before you can create is the same as thinking you aren’t an artist until you have four bins of stuff.

Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

—Quinn McDonald is using her old stuff to create new stuff.

What to Put on the First Page of Your Travel Journal

It’s summer and vacation time. Travel journals and vacation go together. But what to put on the first page? If you make your journal ahead of time, a printed map of the location is a good beginning. If you are going to share your journal, it helps to orient your friends to where you were.

Map4For my travel journals, I favor 6″ x 6″ square watercolor journals. Even with the wire binding, they make practical sketch, writing, and storage journals.

On the cover, I placed all the suitcase identification, a name tag, and a small sticker that showed my suitcase had been opened by the TSA.  I love the contrast of those stripes as well as the starting and completion airport identifications.

You can, of course, put those on the first page of your travel journal, too. Another good start is the boarding pass (you’ll have to remember to print it out the old-fashioned way) if you are flying.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I write my contact information around the edge of the page.

I start every journal the same way: two crossed and curved arrows and a request that the finder please contact me if I lose the journal. My email address on the page, and I’ve had two lost journals returned to me.

The arrows represent different paths, interests and the constant demand to consider more than one view in my journals.

If you don’t fly, the first page can hold

  • A snapshot of everyone who went on the trip
  • The checklist of what needed to be done before you left
  • Information you found about the vacation location
  • Places you hope to visit or sights you want to see while you are on vacation.
  • And of course, there are always maps.
Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

Map: Phoenix to Las Cruces, August, 2014/

I’m a fan of drawing my own map. It’s neither to scale nor accurate in any other way, except that as I drive, I note interesting sights along the way. Once I arrive, I complete the map with the notes I take.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Trip from Denver to Colorado Springs.

You can just sketch in a few notes, and add more as you go along, too. The second part of the above map (not shown on the blog) lists places I ate, shopped, and who I met, all detailed with small sketches.

Map3If you aren’t into maps (what?!) you can add photos from flyers, postcards, notices you find in coffee shops or museums you hang out in. This photograph of sandhill cranes reminds me that I want to see their migration again this fall.

For pockets, I use placemats, menus, or other ephemera found in coffee shops or restaurants. The Corner Bakery has cute 2″ x 5″ bags for cutlery that just fit into a small journal. OK, they also have menu items for diabetics. But those cute brown bags! They wind up in the travel journal and hold movie or concert tickets or other memorabilia you pick up.

I also tuck 6″ x 4″ watercolor postcards into the journal before I leave, so I can make and send postcards to friends and to myself. It’s fun to come home, find some postcards you sent and add them to the journal. Enjoy your vacation!

—Quinn McDonald also adds trips to her Commonplace Journal.

 

Keeping Track of Colors

It’s frustrating when you go to an art supply store and buy colored pencils, paints, or pastels and buy the same colors over again–several times. And if you are like me, you keep buying the same three colors in quantity.

paintestOne smart solution is to keep the names or color swatches in your journal. Very useful. Well, except that you have to remember in which journal you put which product. And flipping through journals is fun, but you come to your senses an hour later and still haven’t found the one with the Twinkling H2Os. But browsing your journals is always interesting.

Here’s an easy, practical solution: I keep all my color swatch samples in a small three-ring binder–a 5″ x 7″ size. To keep the paper tests similar and comparable, I put the samples on Strathmore Ready-Cuts, which protects me from cutting crooked pieces of watercolor paper.

There is a section for watercolor, one for acrylics,  another for my different watercolor pencils, and a section for Caran D’Ache Neocolor II, and  Tombow watercolor pens. For each color swatch I add the color number or name or any other specific identification.

Of course, while I had all this in one easy place, I would regularly forget to take it with me to check if I have the color. Then I made it super easy. I simply photographed each page on my iPhone and stored them in one “album” on my phone. The phone is always with me. I flip through the album, and check the color number or name. If I have it, I don’t re-buy it. Not even tempted.

TestsheetI also do small experiments on the pages to see what technique works best for each color. I’m enamored with Caran D’Ache Neocolor IIs right now. Anything that travels easily and can look like watercolor is a friend of mine.

For the Neocolors, I’ve discovered that rubbing the color on a piece of wax-,  deli- or freezer paper and wetting it gives me the most intense color with smooth, easy application. And no mess, even on an airplane.

And the colors come in a flat metal box, so it is super easy to pack, even in your carry-on. And that makes waiting in the TSA line just a bit easier.

I love journaling, and while I love complicated discovery work, I also love easy art.

—Quinn McDonald keeps journals and travels. A lot.