Category Archives: Links, resources, idea boosts

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Writing Sympathy Notes

Sooner than we want, we need to write sympathy cards. Not all cards available at the drug store work well. It’s far kinder to write your own note. Nothing is more comforting than a hand-written note to a friend in mourning.

Knee-jerk reaction reaches for “I am sorry for your loss,” and while there is nothing wrong with the thought, it’s been overused so much that it’s a threadbare hand-me-down from your heart.

Other things not to put in a sympathy card:

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

Not a good sympathy card to comfort a mourner.

“I know exactly how you feel, my _______ died last year.” Even worse is when you are comforting someone who is mourning the death of  a human and your pet died.

“Your loved one is with God now.” You don’t know what happens after death, and if you don’t know what the other person’s religious beliefs are (or aren’t), leave predictions out of it.

“You can be happy their suffering is over now.” The word “happy” or “glad” or “relieved” should not appear in a condolence card. Ever.

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe that’s what you believe, but it cheats the other person out of mourning and demands that they cheer up.

“It could be worse. This friend of mine. . .” This is not the time to share drama in your life. It will not make your friend feel better about their loss.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Again, this makes a person in mourning feel that they should handle their grief better. Everyone mourns in their own way.

Things you can say:

“May your memories comfort you.”

“Our thoughts [or prayers] are with you and your family.”

sympathy-card-sage“With thoughts of comfort and peace for you.”

“Our hearts go out to you in this sad time.”

“We remember [the person who died] with loving memories.”

“May you be surrounded by the love and comfort of friends and family.”

Use a soft-color stationery–cream, gray, blue. No pink or  yellow, and nothing with a bright floral theme. No typing and printing it in a handwriting font. Use a pen and hand write the words as if you were speaking to your friend. It’s more comforting.

And your friend will stay your friends and be there to comfort you when you need it.

-Quinn McDonald is comforting a friend at the sudden death of her husband. Some of what she hears said is odd, bordering on strange.



The DVDs Are Here!

monsoon2Last March, I filmed two DVDs to go with my books. One of the DVDs shows how to make Monsoon Papers, and the other shows several different projects that show how to store and carry your unbound journal pages.

Cloth, Paper, Scissors, the mixed-media magazine covered a Monsoon Paper project in their online magazine. It ran last week while I was in Houston teaching business writing, and I was surprised to see the link in my mailbox as I headed off to class. It took all my strength not to tell the participants to check out the DVD!

Here’s a preview:

You can purchase the Monsoon Paper  DVD here.

T3492You can see a preview of the projects in the second DVD, Art Journals Unbound on the Cloth, Paper, Scissors website. And you can purchase the Art Journals Unbound DVD here.

I am not super willing to be photographed, much less video’d, but I knew that it would be good to support the book. And to bring projects to people who can’t come to classes. It took a lot of discussing the project with my inner hero to get me to decide to do these projects. But one of my most vibrant inner heroes, The Risk Taker, finally broke down my barriers. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who encourages others to take ambitious steps for creativity’s sake. She could hardly do less.


Saturday Creative Hop: 07.05.14

Note: The winner of Jen Osborn’s book, Mixed and Stitched is Lynn Davis! Congratulations, Lynn. Just contact me and I’ll get the book to you.

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New York artist Richard Clarkson gives a whole new meaning to “the cloud.” His cloud is a lamp and speaker system that mimics a thundercloud.

Richard Clarkson's cloud.

Richard Clarkson’s cloud.

The cloud is motion activated and can play the music of the owner’s choice, while, of course, mimicking thunder and lightning. The tag line for Clarkson’s art is “harmonious contradictions and unapologetic curiosity.”

 British artist Jamie Poole loves poetry. He loves it so much that he paints with it. Yep, he shreds verses from poetry and builds portraits with it.
© Jamie Poole

© Jamie Poole

This finished portrait looks like a black and white charcoal drawing. But it’s made of thousands of verses of poetry.

poole-5Here you can see Jamie at work. The pieces are several feet tall so he can give them the incredible detail and shading.
© Jamie Poole

© Jamie Poole

And here’s a close up of one of his pieces.  His work is a fascinating bled of portraiture, typography and collage.

This kind of collage intrigues me, so I also looked up Erika Iris, who uses sheet music as the beginning of her collages.
© Erika Iris

© Erika Iris

The blend of portraiture and music adds an additional element of interest.

© Erika Iris

© Erika Iris

Iris’s work includes collages done with old audio tapes, too. You can see them on her site.

Have a creative weekend!
–Quinn McDonald is a non-fiction writer and an outsider artist.

Making Acrylic Skins

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Acrylic skins are made with acrylic paint and gel medium. Why not just mix the paint and gel medium on your journal page? Because creating a skin is more versatile. The skin can be cut, stamped, printed, or stenciled. It … Continue reading

Mixed and Stitched: A Giveaway

Time for a giveaway! This time it is Jen Osborn’s wonderful book, Mixed and Stitched: Fabric Inspiration and How-to’s for the Mixed Media Artist.

mixed___stitched1You have to love a book that starts with a whole chapter on forgetting the rules. It starts with tips for the beginner on setting up your space, fabric, stove-top dying, and using bleach to remove color (but not all the way) from fabric.

Information on stitching is covered in the next section–from sewing machine to sketching with stitches to embroidery and faux felting.

If you aren’t excited by now, consider the projects done by painting on fabric–an inspiration board, a sketchbook, bunting, trinket box, and jelly picnic blanket. There are a lot more projects, too.

It’s published by North Light (who is the publisher of two of my books, too), so

"Out and About Purse"  © Jen Osborn

“Out and About Purse” © Jen Osborn

there are plenty of how-to photographs, tips, templates and an inspiration gallery.

Whether you love machine stitching or hand stitching, embroidery or just love fabric, this is a wonderful book to keep you busy and inspired.

Leave a comment if you want to win the book. I’ll choose a winner and announce it on Saturday, July 5th. Check in then to see if you’ve won!

Note: I purchased the book and an giving it away to make someone happy.

-Quinn McDonald can’t sew, but loves playing with fabric.


Creative Hop: June 27, 2014

The best street art uses the existing environment and light to enhance the art. Oakoak, a French artist, makes the most of the environment in which he places his art.

Street art © by Oakoak

Street art © by Oakoak

In “Heart Art” Oakoak used the existing art and paint smear to create context for his golfer.

Cyclops © by Oakoak

Cyclops © by Oakoak

In this piece, the super-hero depends on the time of day and time of year. When the sun slants through the gap between two houses, the super-hero shows his power by beaming a ray of light across the street.

German street artist 1010 creates two-dimensional art that looks like 3D portals into space.

Portal © 1010

Portal © 1010

The painting above is on a wall. It’s painted to look as if it had depth.

Beyond Binary © by 1010

Beyond Binary © by 1010

In this article, the portal is in a brick wall. The magazine is VNA’s  (Very Nearly Art) street art issue.

© Agustina Woodgate, rug.

© Agustina Woodgate, rug.

Agustina Woodgate, originally from Buenos Aires (Argentina) now lives in Miami. She  believes in the non-Western cultural idea that handmade rugs depict the dream world or spiritual world in hand-woven art.

As raw material, Woodgate  uses the “skins” of abandoned stuffed animals, specifically teddy bears. She explains:

It was simply an object. But I also didn’t want to throw it away. That’s when I decided wanted to do something with the bear. In the beginning of the process, I had no idea what was going to happen. I went to a thrift store, got another bear, and started playing around. I looked at all the components that make up a stuffed animal: the stuffing, the fabric, the stitching. I wanted to approach an everyday object in the hopes of making something new.

Enjoy these artistic explorations and have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald is a writer who is involved in collage this weekend.

The Power of String

My brother writes from Switzerland, where he lives. Occasionally, he writes of amazingly elegant and simple solutions that I think of as typically Swiss. It’s a wonderful awareness of different problem-solving adaptations in different cultures. Here is the story:

“I was coming home [riding a bicycle] on a paved, two-lane-wide road without lane markers, common around here. I saw a road sign that signaled ‘cow crossing,’ but it was in an odd place and beat-up looking. I mistakenly assumed it had been left there by accident until I came upon the cows blocking the road and coming toward me.

I’ve mentioned before that the Swiss stake out fields that have been turned into pastures by putting frail poles strung with a single thread of electrified fence. The cows could easily walk through, but because
of the shock, won’t. Thus, when farmers herd them down a street, they block of side streets with string, and the cows, mistaking it for electric fence, respect that.

valais_fightingcows_4_060508Well, this herd was being herded down the street with string. The shoulder of the road was lined with electric fence. The farmer and his wife carried some string perpendicular to the road and to the fence
lining it. The farmer formed the corner, and his children and a farm worker brought up the rear, shaping the line of string into a rectangle. The cows carefully stayed within it as the group walked down the street toward the barn.

As they saw me coming, they narrowed the rectangle, freeing one lane for traffic, and I, and then one or two cars, passed through. The cows carefully stayed within the string.”

A perfect example of elegant problem solving!

Quinn McDonald loves innovation and ingenuity.

Creative Boost #623: Re-Think the Old Rules

Rules usually come from pretty good experiences and reasons. But as good as the reasons are, life changes and shifts. It’s good to consider change from time to time. Oh, sure, you’ll be met with “We’ve always done it this way,” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”

sunriseHere’s a real-life example. I have three different walking routes: a winter one, a summer one, and a really long one (reserved for cooler days when I have enough time.) I’ve been walking the winter route, even though it’s June. I’ve gotten used to it, and a few times I wonder why I’m not walking the “summer” route. But I’m so used to the winter one, I just kept on walking.

The other day, my walk started just at dawn. For half the walk, I was facing into the sun. On the part that has me walking North, my face cooked on my right side. (Yes I wear sunscreen. It’s still hot, and the hat is not big enough to provide shade). On the second half, which is unshaded, the sun cooked my back. In 0622002041winter, on that same route, when the sun rises later, I don’t get the sun in my face, but it warms my back.

So, tomorrow, it’s the return to the summer route. My back will be to the sun for the first half, a tall line of trees for the cross section, and the sun high enough so a slightly tilted brim shields my face on the home stretch.

Here is how we make and use rules:

1. We study the problem with the way things are now.

2. We make rules to solve the problem.

3. Time happens, things change, we still use the old rules.

Every now and then, when you are used to the rules, think about why they were made. It’s good to question them, and just as good to change them when they need changing.

This is particularly true about ideas we have about success, goals, careers, and the definition of happiness.

–Quinn McDonald loves change, but not for change’s sake.



Creative Hop, June 14, 2014

Mexican artist Octavio Ocampo’s paintings need a second glance. You may have missed the visual trick of the eye, as well as the two meanings that flip back and forth.

Family of birds © Octavio Ocampo

Family of birds © Octavio Ocampo

Our visual systems focus on objects we recognize easily first. You may not have noticed the young woman in this scene. Or you may have seen the woman first and had to wait for the birds to come into focus.

Sunlight's Kiss ©Octavio Ocampo

Sunlight’s Kiss ©Octavio Ocampo

According to his biography, “He works primarily in the metamorphic style – using a technique of superimposing and juxtaposing realistic and figurative details within the images that he creates.


Ecstacy of the Lillies © Octavio Ocampo

Ocampo lives and works in Tepoztlan, north of Mexico City. Tepoztlan is the equivalent of Sedona–considered by many to be magical. 

Marc Thomasset is a designer and a journaler. He got tired of the rigidity of a lined journal and created one of his own so he could. . . draw outside the lines.

the-inspiration-pad-by-tm-marc-thomasset-7It’s called the Inspiration Pad. And if the one above is too tame for you, you can always write in one that looks like a topographic map:


Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald would have loved to hear the marketing pitch for the journal above.

Bullied into a Sense of Humor (Part I)

Back in grade school, I denied my parents were immigrants. I hungered to be
“all-American.” At the time, being all-American meant having peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches instead of my embarrassing homemade bread and sliced brisket. Wearing white blouses with circle pins on the Peter-Pan collars instead of a handmade gingham dress. I didn’t want to stand out. Standing out meant being teased.

1I was born in America, but was called names because I didn’t speak English well, because I wore funny clothes, and not long after, because I could read (accent and all) before others and because I knew my multiplication tables early and could figure out long division. Being smart didn’t earn respect, it earned ridicule.  I learned to tone it down.

But not enough. One day in second grade a boy behind me on the slide pushed me from the top. My head banged against the stairs and again on the ground and I was out cold for 10 minutes.


Mercer Street (NYC) playground, with the same slide I remember. This one was from:

I was sent home, the teacher telling my mother that “he was only playing” and “your daughter must have said something he didn’t understand.” It was a small town in Texas and kids of immigrants weren’t welcomed then anymore than they are in Arizona today.

By the time second grade was over I had formed these beliefs:

1. Being smart is not a good thing unless you can do someone else’s homework and keep quiet about it. There will be no thanks, just retribution if you tell.

2. You do other people’s homework in the girl’s room or stay in from recess and do it in the coat room. If you don’t finish it, you will be tripped on your way to the blackboard. Or stabbed with a pencil in the lunch line.

3. When the teacher notices that a lot of kids seem to suddenly cross their sevens and catches on, you will be blamed by both the teacher and the kid whose homework you did. Avoiding notice is better than being found out as smart.

As I went on through school, many of the things other kids thought were hilarious were strange to me. I never understood physical humor. Cartoon figures slipping on a banana peel always made me worry that they were hurt. Pie-in-the-face didn’t look funny, it looked scary and I thought of food waste and clothes washing, not humor.

The phrase I came to associate with bullying (which I truly thought was my fault because I wasn’t American enough) was “you don’t have a sense of humor.” I believed it;  in  my America, other people made the rules I didn’t understand.

Over time, although I grew up in America, I came to realize that your DNA decides your humor, your esthetics and your taste in art. I tried hard to love early-American furniture, pine paneling and the desirability of going to college to find a husband while having a “safe” backup-career.

Still, every time I tried to fake it, I made a big mistake that created a tendency toward casual self-destruction.

inwiththeoldil_430xN.154208439It took years to trust myself, to realize that getting tripped while going to the blackboard or stabbed with a pencil in the lunch line was a punishment I could survive, but denying who I was simply left me trying to be something I could not sustain. It took years to figure out who I was, make some changes to heal, and become who I was: overly sensitive to the idea of fairness, committed to social justice, and an outsider artist.

And my sense of humor reflects that. I still don’t laugh at other people’s misfortune, fiction or not. I love word humor, clever endings, the underdog doing something surprising and winning.

But every time someone says, “You don’t have a sense of humor,” I smell the whiff of intolerance cloaking the heart of a bully. There is no one sense of humor that is OK, but anything that belittles, shames, or hurts others isn’t funny. Not to me.

Tomorrow: Part II, Saturday’s incident that triggered a lot of thinking.

-Quinn McDonald is still trying to balance her own sense of humor with a big sense of fairness. She is, not surprisingly, the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.