Walking in Water

Yes, “in water,” not “on water.” I have doggedly tried going to the gym to exercise, and I cannot make myself like it. I spend all winter walking three to five miles a day, in morning meditation, under a blue sky and lacy mesquite trees. A gym just does not replicate that. The inside of the gym feels competitive, emotionally heated and high-pitched in a cheat-death kind of way. I can’t make myself meditate there, not even on the treadmill.

moonWalking in the summer is draining.  Monsoon brings humidity, and I can’t bring myself to walk three miles, sweating before I get to the end of the block, the sun already cooking my skin in 90-degree dawn.

The answer is, as a smart friend pointed out, the pool. The moon slides a sheen across the surface of the pool and I step into the undisturbed water. Some mornings, the Huntsman spider jumps across the surface of the water ahead of me, dimpling the surface but not breaking it. She spends the night hunting mosquitoes and heads back to the filter for safety.

First come the meditation laps. The water is dark and comfortable. Unhook thoughts and drift, on my back. Planes head for Sky Harbor, turning on their lights as they head for the airport 30 miles away. Birds begin to stir in the trees, rattling the palms and chirping. The constellations fade and a chalcedony blue sky takes shape. We are closing in on dawn.

dawnAs the sky begins to glow like a furnace the day will become, I start my serious laps. Leg and arm exercises, using water for resistance. Walking, running in the water. Concentrating on form, pushing thoughts out of my mind. Just the water and muscles flexing through it. The sky turns orange and the top layer of the water begins to warm.

Forty-five minutes later, I pull out of the pool. The breeze dries and chills me, the sun dries and warms me. Opposites, pulling at me before 6 a.m. The day starts.

-Quinn McDonald swims through life.

Books for a Creative Life

wimd-34If you want to live a creative life, you’re going to need some help. Books are my first place to start. Here are some books I’m reading now that are a great help for your creativity.

Writing is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor. Simon and Schuster, 2013. Love this book that helps you discover who you are through writing. A good story by a woman who knew she was a writer, but just couldn’t write. Till she took some risks.  Each chapter has writing suggestions at the end.

Become a Life Change Artist by Fred Mandell, Ph.D. and Kathleen Jordan, bookPh.D. Penguin Group, 2010. These two Ph.D.s teach you seven creative skills to reinvent yourself at any stage in life. And they do it by breaking down how creative people do their work and then applying it to your life. The seven skills are:

  • Peparation
  • Seeing
  • Using Context
  • Embracing Uncertainty
  • Risk Taking
  • Collaboration
  • Discipline

Building Your Business the Right-Brain Way, by Jennifer Lee, New World Library, 2014.  OK, I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my desk. I love the idea that right-brain strengths can be applied to a traditionally left-brain activity–building a business.  Again, business is considered an art (good idea if you are an entrepreneur), and you need some of the same skills to be successful as left-brained people. You’ll learn about taking a stand and making an impact and attracting clients–the right ones.

The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee, New World Library, 2011. art-books-highlight-261x199This was Lee’s first book, and it shares a lot of design elements with the second book: tips, success stories, worksheets, and a friendly, approachable format.

I bought all these books in the paper-book format. I do love ebooks, but when I’m reading for research (and all of these books are for becoming a better coach), I like to take notes on paper. In this case, I’ve put those convenient #8 shipping tags in the books as bookmarks. I take notes on the tags, keep them together with colorful binder rings, and can flip through them to find the notes I need. And yes, I do color-code them.

Now, here’s a question for you: If you were to take a week-long creativity course, one that focuses on writing, but not on one style or genre of writing, what would you want included? List as many items as you want. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Comments can include topics you want covered (memoir, poetry, fiction, non-fiction)
  • How you want to spend the day (traditional teaching lessons, writing and reading your work, critique,)
  • How important it is to write in class and get personal feedback
  • How much you want to read your own work or hear the work of others
  • Special topics you want covered (why write a book? Collaborative writing)

And yeah, I’m creating a class. Might as well get feedback from the smartest people I know. My idea right now is that the class will have an online component and an in-person component. You can form community and start working on a project online, then meet for the in-person class. You can also experience each part separately. Don’t ask me how I will do this yet. I’m just thinking.

—Quinn McDonald is creating a new kind of class.



Do It Again

When you were little, you found something you liked and you did it over and over again, often yelling, “Watch me! Watch me!” If you needed help, you’d finish one round and cheerfully yell “Do it again!” Whether it was jumping into the pool, or pedaling down the block, you loved the work that made you better at what you did. If someone was watching you, it made you even more proud.

Children are great at practicing to get better. Somehow, as we grow up, we want to be able to do things perfectly the first time. OK, we’re patient till the third time. Then, it needs to be just right.

Pear © Quinn McDonald, 2014

Pear © Quinn McDonald, 2014

This weekend, I’m enjoying practicing both the letter collages and the minimalist collage. I love the practice. I love the different effects. I love seeing the result and knowing that some other approach will change the outcome. Are they perfect? Not even on the radar.

High Desert Mesa © Quinn McDonald, 2014

High Desert Mesa © Quinn McDonald, 2014

It’s practice. Practice with the paper and colors and shapes. Practice with larger and more complex subjects, practice with shading and shadows. And mostly, it’s fun to keep experimenting.

Quinn McDonald is practicing collage. Still.

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.

*    *    *    *   *

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.

Phoenix Summer Stories for July 4

SPARKLERS_-_sparklers_5-9-09_white_bursting_LARGEJuly 4th is the mid-summer holiday. When I lived in New England, I’d sigh softly, knowing that I’d be wearing a sweater at night in a month. Now I sigh, knowing that for another 10 weeks it will be over 100 degrees every day. June was over 100 degrees every day, too. And July is the hottest month, so we have the 115- to 118-degree days to go yet.

*     *     *    *

At the bank today, I pulled into the parking lot. I parked farther away so I could position the car’s back to the sun. The windshield is big, and I didn’t want the car to be unbearable by the time I got back.

IMG_0777.JPGI grabbed my water bottle for a drink. As I poured the icy water into my mouth, a chunk of ice pulled loose and pushed a flood of water down my shirt. From neckline to bellybutton, I was drenched. Did I scream? Nope. Did I fear going into the bank? Of course not. It felt good.

I got out of the car and walked. . . slowly, as we do when we walk into the sun, to the bank. I felt the heat of the pavement underneath my sandals. It was 108 degrees. I pulled open the bank door, felt the rush of cool air, and looked down. Yep, just as I thought. The water spill was gone, evaporated by the blazing hot sun in the walk across the parking lot.

*     *    *    *   *

The first time I saw someone driving a dark car in Phoenix’s summer heat and noticed they were wearing oven mitts, I thought they were crazy. Now I think they are brilliant. Tossing a towel over the steering wheel just doesn’t keep it cool enough. Driving while wearing oven mitts makes a lot of sense.

*   *   *   *   *   *

In the winter, I can carry a small purse. But in the heat of the summer, I need a larger one. It needs to hold my water bottle, sure, but more than that, it needs to hold the CDs and CD case, phone charger and anything plastic in the car. Even a short run to the grocery store will warp a CD left in the player, and melt plastic sunglasses or cups.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Dust storm moving into Phoenix.

Dust storm moving into Phoenix.

After the evening swim, I spray water on the patio, the block walls, and the roof. The evaporation happens so fast, that it cools off the brick and cement heat island. Enough to notice it in my electricity bill.

*  *  *   *   *  *

Now that it’s Monsoon, we have to deal with humidity, too. Don’t tell anyone from Phoenix that “it’s a dry heat.” But I don’t complain because there is January and February to look forward to.

Quinn McDonald lives in Phoenix all year round.

In the Middle of Turmoil

My coaching client sighs. “I think I need to take a break from coaching. I’m so stressed at work and at home, I feel like I’m swimming in a riptide. Once I’m back safely on shore, I can have more ground under my feet and continue.”

I never force anyone to continue coaching, but when I hear this, I am hearing a need for coaching, not a break from it. I feel like saying, “There is no shore; your whole life is a river.” (I realize I shifted the metaphor from ocean to river.)

rapids_mountain_river__images_desktop_wallpaper-widePart of the need to “feel ground under your feet” is the word we use to describe someone stable and balanced: grounded.

We associate balance with control. With knowing what will happen next. But that’s largely an illusion driven by hope. We are always in the middle of something–a project, a crisis, a celebration, a decision, a career, an identity. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan, but it does mean that plans change, shift and become impossible without much warning.

Life is a river, and we are always floating, swimming, paddling. There is not a time when everything is suddenly perfect and the world stops so we can enjoy floating blissfully.

whirlpool-1-300x224Grabbing enjoyment when you recognize it is a skill that coaching teaches you. So is adapting to a fast-paced life and dealing with change without falling apart.

Coaching works in the middle of turmoil–because it mixes support with accountability, and courage with action. Coaching works best when the client is open to life and change, but it can help people adjust when the world is not stable under their feet. If it’s stable now, don’t expect it to stay that way. You won’t be surprised when change shoots under your feet.

-Quinn McDonald has had her share of change.



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.


Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

When it comes down to teaching your art, you find yourself in one of two worlds: the kind where you protect your copyright avidly, not handing out how-to sheets for fear of having them stolen or shrugging it off and saying, “everything is derivative anyway. I got my ideas from someplace else, too.”

Those ideas lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I’d like to introduce a third idea, maybe a fourth.

First, let me admit I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I was not happy when a fellow artist came into my booth, years ago, took photos of my work, claiming it was because she “loved my display,” then rolled out a line of stunningly similar artwork the next season, priced just below mine.

Nor was I happy when I was in a class on a topic I’d taught often, and was hoping to get out of a rut, and was handed a how-to sheet that looked stunningly familiar. It was familiar, in fact, it was my handout, complete with copyright on the bottom line, photocopied for the entire class.

At some point I decided that everything I taught, every article I published should be something I had already taught to exhaustion, or I was ready to give up. But part of the fun of teaching is getting inspired by students. Would I have to give it up?

Now, I am careful to copyright my work. I send it to the copyright office once a quarter, with payment. That allows me to sue for damages for violators. But I also don’t want to be the copyright police. And I want to promote innovation and creativity. If I do not want anyone to know what I’m working on, I don’t post it anyplace. Or talk about it.

People will always explore, and people will always use what they find. Gracious people ask, kind people give credit. But if you teach, no one can teach the way you do. Your personality combined with your skill and talent make your class. And people will come to your class because you are welcoming and a good teacher. No one can take that from you.

-Quinn McDonald teaches what she knows.


Work in Progress–Acacia Tree

In the Australian desert, in a climate like the one around Phoenix, the Acacia tree is called a wattle. The leaves form a distinctive flat, triangular shape, and the branches are often twisted and multi-branched.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAcacias give us gum arabic,  used as a stabilizer in food and as a binder in watercolor paint.

Acacias don’t live long–15 to 30 years, but they grow fast. There are many varieties, all with different colored flowers–red, white, yellow. In the desert, trees form their seed pods in June and July, rather than fall. July and August are a kind of stasis–just hanging on to stay alive till it gets cooler in fall.

The acacia is the subject of my latest letter collage.

treeIn this one, I added a sun to give another dimension to the tree. While the sun itself is orange and red, all the light surrounding it is cut into triangle shapes. I used pages from a children’s book for the printed color.

acaciadetailIn the detail, you can see that there are sentences about trees that create the trunk and branches. My intention is to get people to see the whole tree, then stay a while longer and look for the detail.

-Quinn McDonald is working on minimalist collage. She’ll be teaching Monsoon Papers (useful as a base for collage) at Blue Twig studio in Colorado Spring on July 19.