Tag Archives: creativity coach

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.

Let The Inner Hero Do the Talking

I was just so damn clever. Fitting in a coaching between a client meeting and a busy afternoon,  I researched and found a peaceful park where the conversation could be undisturbed– a perfect mix of privacy and outdoor beauty.

Park1My hand fished into my purse for the phone and headset and out came the headset. No phone. The hand went back in, a bit more frantically. Still no phone. The phone was charging peacefully on the desk in my office, 35 miles from the park, silent and hidden, filled with unusable power.

I went frantic. A beloved client would phone and not get a reply. How careless could I be? How stupid was I to forget the phone, when it was the most important thing? I shouldn’t be a coach. Maybe this is senility creeping in. Alzheimers!  I’m an idiot! An embarrassment to the entire coaching profession! Maybe I should stop coaching, if I can’t remember the phone.

Park2If you are smiling in recognition or shaking your head that I’m not seeing my own inner critic, you are smart. The inner critic uses the spiral of guilt and embarrassment to twist emotions to crisis level. The inner critic manipulates a useful emotion (slight anxiety, which makes me alert) into global statements and crises (which is non-productive). I even wrote about it two weeks ago–our best characteristics, turned up too loud, are our worst faults.  I had traded attention to detail  (timing the drive from client to park and choosing a non-bark part) for missing the big picture (taking the fully-charged phone).

There was nothing to do but drive home and phone the client and apologize, but the feeling of guilt and stupidity stayed. This is exactly why I wrote the Inner Hero Art Journal–it’s fine to feel every emotion from joy to anger to frustration and self-flagellation–but it is not useful to hang on to them past the productive portion, which was long over. I knew what I did wrong, and knew also I was likely to meet it again. We do repeat our mistakes. Often.

Here’s how I got in touch with the Inner Hero I needed: I went to the studio and using a small piece of monoprinted paper, I folded an accordion book.

Book1The whole point of working with inner heroes is not to create images of them, but rather call forth the healing spirit, the wisdom that’s needed at the moment. In this case, it was recognizing my care for the client in arranging a quiet place to do deep work as well as recognizing my attention to detail.

Also worth recognizing is the fragility of planning. And idea can be well-thought out, but without all the steps, it can fall apart.

I thought of all the feathers I see when I walk. They help a bird soar, escape from danger, keep warm, keep cool, keep dry. But they are fragile and easily torn apart. I called on the Protector of Flight Feathers, an inner hero made up on the spot.

Book8Inner Heroes don’t have to be grand, or easily understood by the world. Compassion, Generosity, Kindness, Happiness are all great, but what was needed at that moment was the Protector of Flight Feathers. So I would not be stuck on the ground, easy prey for spiritual raptors.

-Quinn McDonald knows her Inner Critics, but she depends on her Inner Heroes.

Last Page of Your Journal

You already know what to put on the  first page of that new journal. No more staring at blank pages for you!  Once you get past the middle, you can decide how to end your journal.

How do you  end a journal so you don’t have to continue a thought, a project, or a story into another journal?

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Create a table of contents of favorite pages.  I like to come to the end of a project or idea flow in my journals. I don’t mind having a few blank pages in the back. Over time, I’ll fill those blank pages with dates of pages I keep looking up or those with favorite quotes or poems.  I don’t number my journal pages, but I date each page, so sometimes I write the start and end date at the end of the journal. It becomes a useful index to the contents.

Decorate the end pages. If there are a few blank pages left, I also cut steps into them. I trim the last page about an inch from the end, the next one two inches, and the third one three or four inches in from the book edge. Using a craft knife, I cut a wavy line and create a three-page landscape. Remember to put a cutting mat under the page you are cutting.

Tinting the page edges gives it a nice finish. I use a water color wash to keep the color pale. You could tear the pages straight down or give them a deckled-edge look. I like the curved look better.

dont-throwmeUse stickers or postcards. Daniel Smith, the art supply house, puts a sticker on small or lightweight packages in larger deliveries. The sticker is bright orange, about 4 x 6 inches and says “Don’t throw me away.” It strikes a chord, so I often use one on the final page of a journal. It seems about right. You might be done with it, but there is lots of meaning to be made.

Add a photo of yourself, your children, your pets.  That way, when you look back over them in the years to come, you’ll have an evolving view of what you looked like. Adding a photo of your house shows how it changes over the years. A photo of the kitchen is always fun with advancing technologies changing what our appliances look like.

The last page of a journal doesn’t have to be an ending. For a powerful last page, flip back to the beginning, and read the first post or two. End the book with a recognition of how far you’ve come.

–Quinn McDonald keeps journals. She’s also the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, and keeps loose leaf journals.

Another Book Launch

Tonight and 7 p.m., for the second time in three years, I’ll launch a book at Changing Hands independent book store. Yes, I did a book signing at CHA in Anaheim. But doing the first signing in your own town is the real launching of any book.  Two of the contributors, Traci Paxton Johnson and Rosaland Hannibal with be with me to help people find their inner hero and to sign the books.

HeroBookThe Inner Hero Creative Art Journal is ready to go out in the world and stand on its own. I’m proud of it, and proud that I finished it. Several times while writing it, I didn’t think I had the courage to say the things I wanted to say.

Tomorrow night, I might feel that same fear. Just because you write about the inner critic doesn’t mean you got over your own. I just got to know him better.

But here is what I do know: without the encouraging, brave, funny, and imaginative group of people who read this blog, leave encouraging comments and help me solve problems, there wouldn’t have been a book. So to all of you who stop by here–thank you so very much for supporting my inner heroes.

If you live in the Phoenix area, stop by Changing Hands at 7 p.m. tonight. There will be chocolate chip cookies for snack lovers and seedy bars for diabetics and gluten-free patrons, fruit spears for vegans, too. Changing Hands is on the Northwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock in Tempe.

We’re going to do fun exercises to call out our inner heroes. Original art from the book will be there, too. I’m so happy I finished the book. Because it’s a whole new beginning for outsider art and courage.

—Quinn McDonald never imagined there would be people stopping by to chat every day. She’s glad for the company. Writing can be lonely.

Leading With the Left Hand

A comment on the last blog reminded me of something and that led to another jump and. . .a blog post.

I’m left-handed. Born that way. In a time when being left-handed was not acceptable. As was quite common in the years when I was growing up, my mother took the pen from my left hand and put it in my right hand. There were some shaming words that accompanied it. In seventh grade, it became Sister Michael Augustine’s goal to turn me into a right-hander. Skip forward several decades.

left_handedI’m still left-handed. But I write right-handed. Except when I write on a flip chart of white board–a task I took up as an adult. And I write on flip charts and white boards left-handed. Unapologetically.

Part of what I learned as a left-handed person is that I was not good enough, and that I was flawed. To prove to others (and, of course, myself) that I was good enough, I fell into the habit of overwork. Now that I own my own business, it looks great to work hard. A 70-hour week is one in which I’m coasting.

Today, when I came home from teaching a fun class, I was exhausted. It was warm out, and instead of sitting down for a few minutes, I assessed the yard work that had to be done and began to fret about the DVD project which has to be planned. Samples made. Projects half-made to save time on the set.

The only one who can slow me down is . . . me. Taking a break feels exactly like being lazy. So I sat down with my Inner Hero called “Left-Hand” (I’m not one for fancy names) and did some artwork. Listened to what she had to say. Did not talk back. Here’s what she said:

“There will never be less work. When there is too much work, you worry. When there is not enough work, you make more work and worry more. So just for tonight, close the computer, grab those art books you want to read, and put your feet up. No one will do the work for you. It will still be there tomorrow. But you will be rested. And bolder. And begin to think with your left-hand first. Because that is the sign of bravery for you.”

Good idea. How will you free yourself from destructive noodling and step into a healthier mindset today?

Quinn McDonald has nut bread in the oven and a DVD ready to run.

Creality, Revisited

What separates success from disappointment (not failure, which is not as bad as being disappointed in yourself) is the ability to be OK with “not yet.” The sense of being an experimenter comes out as the strength to be satisfied with your creative output while knowing, at the same time, that you will do another round, and it will be different, and maybe even better.

Caption at the metro station in Victoria Station, London.

Caption at the metro station in Victoria Station, London.

I’ve covered creality several times, but this is the step after creality hits. (Creality is the term that T.J. Goerlitz introduced me to. It’s the gap between what is in your head and what you produce. )

This quote by Ira Glass  (host of This American Life) jumped out at me today, and it was perfect for my state of mind. Maybe yours, too.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”   ― Ira Glass

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler. She’s still fighting.

Outsider Artist

Outsider art is often shrugged off as the creative work of people with a mental illness. And yes, some art brut (the French word for outsider art) is done by a human being who happens to have a mental illness. But not all. And the idea that we need to separate art into a definition of the creator bothers me.

"Alchemy" © by Quinn McDonald. Ink on watercolor paper.

“Alchemy” © by Quinn McDonald. Ink on watercolor paper.

Would we say “the artist who dyes her hair”? or “the left-handed collage artist? Nope. But we sure would add the elements that create a frisson of fear–and that includes mental illness, a checkered past, and other facts that divide “us” from “them.”  I am an outsider artist. I don’t consider myself weird or worthy of being cast out. I just consider  myself dedicated to creativity.

Jean Dubuffet, the French artist who came up with the name art brut (rough or raw art) defined it as art created outside the mainstream of the established art scene. This includes artists who have not gone to art school, who do not have gallery representation, and whose art illustrates fantasy scenes, unconventional ideas and approaches.

The magazine Raw Vision, which focuses on outsider art, includes several other definitions, including Intuitive Art. My favorite is Visionary Art, which is what the museum of outsider art in Baltimore, Maryland, calls it.

Outsider art is the creative work of people who work on the edges of the existing, acceptable art scene, and often do not make a living from their art.

Nine years ago, I made a conscious decision not to have my art be my main income. For about 15 years before that, selling my artwork paid the mortgage and bought groceries. One afternoon, I had a great idea for a piece, followed by the idea that I couldn’t create it because it was not going to be popular. And at that second I also knew I didn’t want to make creative decisions through a profit/loss spreadsheet.

Now I make a living being a creativity coach. I also design and teach business writing and business creativity workshops. And I teach art and writing workshops and retreats. And I write books. All of those things contribute to an income. When one of them threatens to drain my creativity, I shift to working on another. It keeps me fresh and takes away the onus of income producer from any one of my niches.

Most of all, it frees me to do the art I love. Several times in the past year, I’ve sighed and wished I were one of the cool artists–the ones you see all the time on Facebook, with Etsy shops and classes and lots and lots of connections. Then I realize that, since childhood, I have always wanted to be on the inside, but rarely am.

And finally, I realized the power of being an outsider. You can see what’s happening inside, but not be ruled by it. (A space at the cool kids’ table wasn’t free in seventh grade, and it’s not free now.) You can frequently be more daring, create right-on-the-edge art, and speak your truth more freely as an outsider. You can, in fact, live your creativity. Your real expression. Out loud.

Yes, sometimes it’s lonely. But other times the wonder and glory of following your vision and creating directly from your soul is worth the loneliness which feeds you.

-Quinn McDonald is an outsider artist. She will be at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association) in Anaheim this weekend, signing her book at North Light books and demo-ing at the Niji booth.

In Progress. . .

Note: Shirley Levine from Paper and Threads won the Inner Hero book from the Endings and Beginnings blog post (January 1, 2014). Congratulations, Shirley! I hope you make many Inner Hero pages!

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Still having fun with monoprinting with my Gelli Plate. I’m not going for fancy designs. I’m going for great color. Then I use one piece for a background and cut up another for collage.


Sometimes it’s more realistic. On this one, I sprayed the plate with background once I had the paint on it, and took the print that way, giving the snowing effect.


Sometimes it’s more abstract. Beach Storm. Love the background colors. Am so grateful I can see them accurately (well, with one eye.)

Either way, it’s a lot of fun.

Have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald is in the studio this weekend, practicing for her classes as the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts and Madeline Island School of Design.

Niji Design Team

It was a lot of fun to demonstrate Splash Inks in all five locations of Arizona Art Supply. Doing demos gives you direct exposure to the audience that wants to know about the product. And I was thrilled beyond belief when I was chosen to be on the first-ever design team for Niji–the company that makes Splash Inks.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

The box with contents hidden. You can tell I live in the desert by the xeriscaping.

And the box of goodies arrived this week! Inks, watercolor paints, papers. The paints are Asian formulations, so they are not the transparent watercolor, they are more opaque, like gouache. I can’t wait to start up and experiment. The Splash Inks are a lot of fun all on their own.

I rarely post my artwork here–as any more than side illustrations. But now, those ideas for Niji will appear on the Niji blog as well as here. Of course, the second I think that, the Inner Critic shows up with a truck full of relatives and unpacks the picnic lunch of worms and crow. Sigh.

But I’ll be sharing them here. It’s time to show that, as a creativity coach , I work on creative projects steadily: journals, art journals, collage, alternative journals. You’ll be seeing more tutorials, too.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

Surface decorated papers that will be re-worked into the cover of this recycled book.

I’ve developed some new in-person art classes and will be showing results and class photos. My proudest recent moment is that Madeline Island School of Arts has invited me back–for June, 2014. I hope to see some of you there this coming summer. We’re going to. . . well, that’s for another post. With photos of  art sample art work that each class participant will create their own version of. It’s starting to be an exciting New Year!

–Quinn McDonald loves surface design and is including letterforms and colors into art journal pages.