Tag Archives: Creativity

Starting Your Gratitude Journal

When I first wrote about gratitude journals, it was about my own experience, from grumpy doubter to believer. There’s considerable proof that saying “thank you,” and finding things to be grateful for reduces blood pressure, makes you feel better and actually can improve your mood.

Now that we are close to Thanksgiving, a time when people who are alone orCHR75reg2__06130_zoom overwhelmed may not feel so thankful, I thought it might be useful to spell out how to keep a gratitude journal. Of course, you can keep it any way that works, but working with a lot of coaching clients, I’ve found a few tips that really work well.

1. Keep it small and keep it with you. A small spiral-bound notebook is inexpensive and easy to carry with you. That makes it more likely you will have it with you when you need it. I like a 4-inch by 6-inch size.

2. Leave the first page blank. That way, you won’t feel so pressured to make it perfect. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be there for you.

3. Write it down when it happens. In the beginning, when you feel more exhausted, angry or hurt than grateful, write down the slightest thing you feel grateful for. Write it down as soon as it happens. Noting your gratitude will help sharpen your senses to things that make you grateful, and make more events available to you.

4. Write every day. Look for anything that makes you feel better or grateful. Some days you may have to search really hard, and that’s OK. Comfortable shoes, someone holding a door open for you, a smile from a stranger can be a big event in a life gone awry. Look for them so you will experience them more often.

5. Look back over what you are grateful for. Many people find that they start out small, then realize there is more and more. If that happens, it’s, well, something to be grateful for.

6. Be the stranger to smile at someone. Wouldn’t it be nice to wind up in someone’s gratitude journal?

If you have good results, let me know. It can be a boost to others. We’re in some tough times right now, not through any fault of our own. It takes a little more effort to be cheerful and grateful, but it’s worth it.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who has learned to be grateful


Splatter as Art

Ever dropped paint on the floor and gasped at the mess? Hua Tunan splatters deliberately and does a great job of it. As an artist, he combines traditional Chinese art with graffiti.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-3The combination are magical. The splatters combine to form realistic art that has depth and power.

splatter-ink-animal-portraits-by-hua-tunan-10He calls his street art “noncommissioned art,” a way of keeping his own artistic integrity and still making his art public.

I have (still) a deep appreciation of artists who are true to their own vision.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.

Getting Water into the Ground

Not long ago, New River (Arizona) got hit with a horrible Monsoon storm. The area got five inches of rain in six hours. Five inches of rain is 40 percent of the desert’s annual rainfall.

rainOur ground is so baked by the sun, that a hard rain cannot be absorbed. The water rolls off the ground, downhill. Our landscape is crisscrossed with arroyos–dry river beds–and they fill up quickly, often racing across roadways.

On my way to a teaching assignment, the intersection that I normally use to get on the freeway was flooded. A car was submerged up to the driver’s window. The woman was being winched to safety by a police officer and a tow truck driver.

When I know rain that hard is bearing down on us, I go out and water the xeriscaping (gravel). Watering the front and back helps soften the hardpack and it absorbs water better. I get less gravel sluicing down the road that way.

Nature has a way of showing me lessons. I finally figured out that those idea

Jake Bacon, for the Arizona Sun: http://bit.ly/1lIZbd3

Jake Bacon, for the Arizona Sun: http://bit.ly/1lIZbd3

storms I get, where a whole bunch of ideas show up at the same time, often too many to sort and write down, aren’t that much different. A regular practice of creative work–writing, drawing, painting, dancing, singing–keeps you ready to absorb a sudden rush of ideas that come pouring down on you.

A regular creative practice keeps your mind ready to handle bigger creative experiments and explorations. Makes you less fearful, more nimble and a bit more ready to believe in your capacity to handle the big, powerful moments in your life. So, keep your dry imagination watered and your creative projects in use. You never know when the Monsoon of all ideas will arrive.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer with a creative life. It’s not always the one she planned, though.

Remembering Paper Bowls

Way back in the last century (really!), I made paper bowls. Most of them were made from paper I also handmade. In those years, I had a big garden and grew vegetables and after picking the summer’s bounty, I’d cook the stems down, beat the fiber into usable paper fiber and make handmade bowls.

Yesterday, a reader asked me if she could find instructions for how I made the bowls. Surprisingly, I’d never posted it. High time to help more people make handmade paper bowls! Here’s how I did it way back then:

Lotus bowl, layered.

Lotus bowl, layered. © Quinn McDonald

You can make or buy handmade paper. Some machine made papers will work, but nothing with a distinct print on it.  Rice paper, the kind with visible threads is very thin. You’ll need lots of layers to make it work, but it is beautiful.

Don’t use the really thick bark papers as you will have to soak them and the bowl will warp. It’s best to use the same kind of paper to make the whole bowl.

Chose a small bowl, about 3 inches in diameter and about 3-4 inches high.
Coat is lightly with Vaseline on the inside only. Lightly is the key word. Rub it on so there is a sheen of it on the bowl.
You will build your bowl on the inside of the bowl.

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Tear the handmade paper into small, round-ish pieces. Not strips. The pieces should be about 1.5 inches in diameter. You can use squarish pieces, too, but you don’t want any distinct corners.

Pour a tablespoon of white glue (I like PVA glue, bookbinders glue) into a container (like a clean, small yogurt dish) and add a teaspoon or two of filtered water. Mix so the resulting mixture is as thick as light cream.

Using a flat paintbrush (like you would use for painting acrylic paint) about 0.5 inch broad, dip the brush into glue, put a piece of paper at the bottom of the bowl, and paint over it with the glue. Overlap other pieces of paper over the first, working in a circle around the bottom, then up the sides. When you have one layer in the bowl, stop and let it dry completely. Add at least a total of three layers to form a substantial bowl. Tear the top edge so it appears to be deckled, but keep it even around the edge.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl. © Quinn McDonald

When the last layer is completely dry, slip a palette knife in between the bowl and paper and slide the knife around the edge like you do to release a cake from the cake form.

Gently remove the paper bowl from the ceramic bowl and put the paper bowl on the bottom, outside of the ceramic bowl. The paper bowl is now outside and the ceramic bowl inside. In most shape, it won’t be a tight fit, but you are looking to keep the rim stable. Now add another layer of paper and glue to the outside. Allow to dry completely.

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

You can coat the bowl with polyurethane, but bowls should not be used to hold wet or damp items. I don’t use them for food, either. They can hold soap, paper clips, and other small items. I like them empty, with the sun coming through them. When I still made them and people asked what they would hold, I’d say, “They hold your attention, not liquids or food.”

-–Quinn McDonald has wondered about Monsoon Papers and bowls. But she really doesn’t make bowls anymore. Lately.

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.

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.

Left-Hand, Right Brain

George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and  Barak Obama have something in common. And they share the trait with Alexander the Great, Helen Keller, Napoleon Bonaparte, Paul Klee and Whoopie Goldberg. All are left-handed.  About 10 percent of the general population is, give or take 3 percent, depending on the study you check.

Most of us left-handers have some degree of ambidexterity, and some people (full disclosure: I’m one of these) write right-handed. Our group is generally a bit older, and would have been left-handed writers, but were changed in school.

Two custom-made left-hand pendants Here’s a tip to tell if you are classified as left-handed: what hand do you brush your teeth with? How about comb your hair? (That was for men, for women, the question is more often, “What hand holds the hair dryer?) Other, more private functions, can also determine if you are left- or right-handed.

What made you left handed? It happened in the womb. LRRTM1 is the gene thought to be responsible, but there is even more involved. According to neurologist Norman Geschwind (for whom the theory is named), some women have higher testosterone levels in the womb, whether or not they have girls or boys. (Want to check if your mom did? Look at your second toe, the one next to the big toe. If it is equal in length (or longer) than the big toe, your mom had higher testosterone levels while she was pregnant, and you are probably left-handed.

How does that work? According to Geschwind’s research, the testosterone levels suppress the growth of the left side of the brain, and the ambitious neurons go over to the right brain and do their growing over there. The more developed right side of the brain, which controls language skills, also controls hand-preference.

The dominant right side can also make you susceptible to dyslexia, stuttering, and some auto-immune diseases. Before I go on, please note that not all of these will happen to you, and you can be firmly right-handed and have that longer toe. These are based on huge samples across demographic lines.

Left-handers are generally more adaptable, because they have to get used to living in a right-handed world. Problem-solving skills are higher among creative people than the general population, and it might come from trying to figure things out.

A few companies have created tools for left-handers. For years, scissors that violinclaimed to be for left-handers, simply reversed the grips, making left-handers “cut blind”, in other words, the part of the scissors that did the work was still on the original side, and you couldn’t see the part you were cutting. Friskars actually reverses the blade, and I’m grateful to them for thinking this through. Here’s the link for purchasing the scissors.

If you are left-handed, there are resources for you. If you are a right-handed parent of a left-handed child, there are also resources for you.

–Quinn McDonald is left-handed and writes right-handed. Determined nuns were stronger than her persistence. However, she writes left-handed when she uses a whiteboard or a flip chart.

Creative Hop (Saturday, May 10)

Note: Congratulations to Kaisa Mäki-Petäjä, who won Writing Wild. I love her blog, here’s the link to the boulders she draws in her journal. Send me your mailing address to QuinnCreative AT yahoo DOT com. The publisher sent me two books, and I’m giving away the second one as well. Congratulations to Diane Becka, new owner of the second book!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment!

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Kaisa has a wonderful nature journal that I have to introduce here. She draws a lot of scenes, but the ones with boulders in them really are special.

From the website Valkoinen Poni.

From the website Valkoinen Poni.

It’s hard to draw a rock that doesn’t look like it might be ice cream or a cow pie (to stay on the theme), and she does a wonderful job of introducing us to her native Finland.

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I found this on Facebook via thiscolossal.com: Seventeenth-century artist A. Boogert mixed colors and kept track of them in a journal. What an amazing piece of work.

colors-1There are almost 800 pages of colors, hues and tints–the most comprehensive book of color for its time. There is only one copy of this book, although it was meant for educational use. In my view, a perfect Commonplace Journal.

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Kintsugi is a Japanese method of repairing broken plates, sculpture, teapots with lacquer mixed with gold, silver and platinum.

bowl-1The process honors the history of an object without hiding damage. The visible repair makes the item more beautiful than it was when it was whole and perfect. And as so many philosophers have noted, “There is a crack in everything; that’s where the light comes in.” (That particular version is from Leonard Cohen.)

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In Tokyo and other urban areas where there aren’t many trees and birds have to scramble to find nesting material, the clever crows have once more adapted to their surroundings.

crowhangers2Crows steal wire clothes hangers and use them in their nests. They interlock the wires, add a lot less nesting materials, and create long-lasting homes for their broods.  You can see more photos on the Beautiful Decay website.

Quinn McDonald is delighted to live in a creative world.

You Are Never “Done”

Right before I slide into “overwhelm” I realize how much I still have to do. It’s now just after 10 p.m and I’ve been up since 5:30 a.m., working. I’m trying to get to a point where I’m “done” and can go to bed. What a mistake. There is no

“done.” When I’ve finished paying the bills, I have to send invoices, and then I have to create the Powerpoint and do the outline and book my flight and remember what is left to do for the trip to Yuma and the one to Houston and. . . there is no end.

Which is a good thing, as steady work means money to pay the bills. But I have to decide how much to work each day. Sometimes a small machine in my head acts as if I will hit a magic end to the work, a big trumpet will sound and satisfaction will pour into my heart as money pours into my hands.

Instead, there is satisfaction in getting work done well, and a bit of panic in the work left undone, and when the whole thing balances out, it’s been a very good day.

Quinn McDonald has to buy cat food tomorrow, or the day will not end well. And she is teaching Tiny Journals at Arizona Art Supply on January 26.

A New Way to Journal

Journaling is more than an art; it’s a habit. A practice. A way to process whatever happens in life; a way to become more self-aware. Art journaling is a wonderful way to add the visual to the words, and because I’m a writer, it i satisfying to add sketches, collages, paint to the written page. I’ve done it for years, and now it’s time for me to move on to a different way to journal.

Background in progress. Monoprint on watercolor paper.

Background in progress. Monoprint on watercolor paper.

The new way of journaling is immensely satisfying. It started as a solution to a teaching problem. When I teach, I like to show samples of my journals, but much of my journaling is private, not to be passed around in class. So I had to make samples to show. Some of the books I passed around had only a few pages of samples.

Landscape, in progress.

Landscape, in progress.

I began to work in different books at once–watercolor for wet media and collage, lighter-weight pages for pencil sketching. My life would jump around several journals. It made journaling while traveling hard. Which one to take?

I cut back on journaling to create samples.  That was unsatisfying, but it brought me to the answer.  Through years of practice, I can type fast–about 100 words a minute. Because I work at the laptop for many hours a day, I began to type a journal at odd moments, often in the middle of a project. Five minutes of typing makes an interesting break and makes returning to work easier.

For years, I’ve explained that handwriting is a different process and necessary for right-brain journaling. And I still believe that. But I also believe that typing a journal is better than not keeping one at all.

I print out what I type, and keep it in a small (9″ x 7″) three-ring binder. I also re-purpose binders that were once cookbooks or home-improvement how-to books, but that’s another post.

Collage from monoprints. The chameleon can hide from predators using protective coloring. It can also miss out on opportunities by blending in too thoroughly.

Collage from monoprints. The chameleon can hide from predators using protective coloring. It can also miss out on opportunities by blending in too thoroughly.

The binders are grist for studio work. I’ll read through what I’ve written, distill it, and polish out the thought or idea that is a handhold in the upheavals of life. Or an open window into a great insight. Sometimes what I come up with was better said by others. Then I write down the quote in my quote folder to use later.

My studio work is looseleaf journaling. Usually collage of some sort, combined with illustration and words. Always words and letterforms. Usually there is writing on the back–either a deeper explanation, or the rest of the quote.

Creating looseleaf pages allows me to work on several pages at once, have pages in different stages, and, because they are not connected, take some pages to class and leave others at home. I’ve created several ways to bind different size pages. Each page is dated, so I can always put them in narrative order to check on progress or problems that show up (again) or just what color seemed to be my favorite in 2007 (sepia).

This new way gives me freedom to write, process, make meaning, create, share and keep private, as is necessary. It’s satisfying.

—Quinn McDonald teaches journaling and writing.