Tag Archives: Creativity

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.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 2

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

ColoringInsideTheLinesAround age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Graduation-CeremonyA Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” We compete, and our inner critic  steps up to tell us that we are not good enough, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement. And we are almost completely unequipped to do it.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. Over-discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
There is a new discipline–and it is exactly the right word for what we need to nourish.

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is Lowering-the-bar-300x193possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we need to call on a new discipline rather than the critic of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, satisfaction and accomplishment. Even if the project is not perfect.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate less than perfect results. The perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early by coloring in the lines.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will feel relieved. You will feel the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today.  It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. She has just completed a book on developing inner heroes that take on our inner critics.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 1

Anne is a writer. She hit upon a great idea for an article. It would require a lot of interviews, but the idea was brilliant. She posted a segment of the work on her blog and was contacted in four hours by a publisher. Anne could turn the idea into several spin-offs, so there was a great future ahead.


Changing time won’t change deadline

If you are a perfectionist, you know the next part of the story. Anne missed the first deadline. And the next. And the project is still not complete.

Anne is a perfectionist, too. She does excellent work and doesn’t want to turn in anything less than the best.

If Anne follows the road of perfectionism most writers and artists (and office workers, moms, employees, and supervisors) take, she will start a dozen projects and finish none of them, because they are not “finished.” Or “quite right,” or “done editing.”

She will have another great idea, and start it, and never finish it, either. Over her lifetime, she will start a thousand projects, ideas, articles, books, blogs, and relationships. None of them will end satisfactorily; many of them will never be finished at all.

Perfectionism sounds like something everyone would aspire to, but in real life, it is a pitfall to satisfaction. Perfectionism is the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.”

Don’t confuse “excellent” with “perfect.” Perfectionists are not satisfied with excellent, because there may be an  invisible flaw that someone will find. And expose the perfectionist as a fraud.

And being exposed as a fraud takes the identity from a perfectionist. And the images-1power they hold over others. As long as they don’t hand in the project or complete the work, they hang onto their identity.

Perfectionists are driven by fear of inadequacy–and sooner or later, often sooner, they will fail. Perfectionists fear this failure so much, that they begin to control their lives, their work, their employees, their family and friends in an ever-widening circle of perfectionism. By judging other people severely,  perfectionists point to the flaws of others as a distraction from faults growing in their own lives.

They are never happy, always striving, forever hearing the threat of “fraud,” “unworthy” and “failure.”

Continue reading Part 2 of  Perfectionist and Procrastinator on Sunday, Dec. 22. Discover a common cause of perfectionism and a new perspective. The Inner Critic takes the form of perfectionist to make sure you never are satisfied, and don’t get your creative work completed.

--Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps others open the door to being great, if not perfect. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

A New Kind of Class

This past Saturday, I stepped into a new kind of class–one I’ve wanted to teach for a long time. Immediate disclaimer: you may not want to teach this kind of class or take it. That’s fine. I’m not trying to persuade anyone; I’m just happy I found the way I want to teach.

monotreeConcept:    I want to teach explorers and experimenters. People who want to try, discover, mess up and learn, without needing to walk away with a finished project.

Instead of:  Many classes today are based on the American business model of “follow an example, do it just like the sample, and do it before close of business.” in other words, emphasis on perfection and speed.

There are advantages to doing this–the instructor brings in a kit or pieces already cut out and bagged. Participants follow instructions and walk away with a piece they can give as a gift.

The problem with this is that it has nothing to do with creativity. It has to do with following instructions and small motor control in assembly. The other problem, of course, is that when the confused student, thinking the project is original art, submits it to a show. The instructor is angry. After all, it’s the instructor’s design, concept, and “all the student did was put it together.” I’ve seen that complaint on many instructors’ websites.

Nothing of that is interesting to me. And I know most classes today are taught that way. And many people enjoy it.

Advantage of Experimental Classes: Participants have permission to play, to create (in the best sense of the world) and to really learn. Because I’m there to demo techniques, make suggestions, and help on the discovery step when something goes wrong, the participants learns a skill, along with problem solving and self-confidence. The resulting curiosity and joy in discovery is the basis of a living a creative life.

Disadvantages of Experimental Classes: Participants don’t walk away with a completed project. Participants have to ask for help; I don’t pace the classroom looking to give advice.

Why It’s Important: I believe in creativity and living a creative life. I don’t believe in fixing people or giving advice. I think the joy of discovery is a vital part of creativity, and the accidental discovery is magical. I want to create a classroom where that is possible. And probable.

The risk: It’s not for everyone. It’s for people who are curious about living a creative life as a soul growing processes. My classes may not make, I may teach a lot of small classes. And discovery classes are harder to prepare for. I have to bring a lot more equipment, tools, and paper to share. It is easier to bring a sample and kits, which is why so many people default to a project class.

As a creativity coach, I believe that everything in life is connected in some way, and that a big part of creativity is pattern recognition that helps us change our life and re-invent ourselves. Through creative exploration. In order to be authentically me–coach, writer, instructor, creative soul–I’m best suited to teach the way I live.

The class I taught this past weekend really fueled my delight in this way of teaching. Experiments were inventive, a few mistakes taught something more important (paper is cheap!), and anyone who asked a question got an answer. A participant was also a teacher and artist, and did an inventive demo I described. Everyone learned as much as they wanted. I think everyone left excited to try out more.

My wish is that the creative soul and exploration movement is just beginning. I’m ready for it. Want to join in?

Quinn McDonald is teaching experimental classes in Tucson (November 17), at the Minnealpolis Book Arts Center (April 2014) and at Madeline Island (June, 2014) Her book comes out in December. It’s going to be a busy 2014!





Peaceful Warrior Author’s New Book

Dan Millman is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and several other books on the theme of spiritual awareness. His latest book, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, is different. First of all, he wrote the book with Sierra Prasada, his daughter.

BookThe book is for anyone who is creative and wants to take their work from the imagination out to the world. Because I’m a writer, I saw it more clearly as a book for writers, but it works in a broader sense as well.

The five stages of creative work, according to Millman and his daughter are Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine and Share.

Dream includes getting to know yourself and then developing your “stickiest” idea–the idea that gathers attention and interest and asking (my favorite question) “What if. . .?” The chapter ends with the interesting Dreaming on Deadline.

Draft tackles some hard topics–how to listen, how to read writing books, writing as a solitary act. The chapter is compelling and the father-daughter take on the topics are really useful.

Develop has some good, strong practical advice: sweat trumps talent, never surrender, allegiance to your story and the layers of learning.

Refine covers the ancient skill of trusting your gut, word choice and word order, working with an editor and knowing when that draft is final.

Share helps you understand how to move your readers, summarize your plot, handle rejection  and marketing your book. It also covers self-publishing pros and cons.

Normally, I give away books, but I am not finished taking notes on this one yet. It’s a good book, and if you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this book is worth paying for.

Millman takes a sacred approach to creativity. It’s an appealing way to think of the hard work of book writing and meaning-making. Prasada doesn’t always agree, but they work together to bring a book better than either one of them could have written alone.

Quinn McDonald has an irrational love of books that make the task of writing seem sacred and worldly. Because it is. She just found out that her book will be available in mid-December–two full months ahead of schedule!

Credibility: No Walled Garden

When company websites were new, the idea of the “Walled Garden” was very popular–all the links were internal. Why would you send your readers / clients / prospects away?  Keep them on your blog and they will be loyal, was the thinking. Clearly these people never had children they tried to keep in a playpen. It doesn’t work with adults any better than with toddlers.

walledgardenThen the idea faded, and now it’s back in some places. Too bad.

I’ve never been a fan of the Walled Garden theory of the internet. I don’t know all the answers to my readers’ questions.  Linking to other sites helps them find what they want, and that adds credibility to what I have to offer. (Seems that Google’s algorithms aren’t a fan of walled gardens, either.)

Liz Crain's rusted oil containers--in ceramic.

Liz Crain’s rusted oil containers–in ceramic.

The most popular sites I know link to a lot of other sites, either in small quantities in individual blog posts, or through swaps and blog tours. The result is more information, more creativity, and more interesting sharing. I would never have met Michelle Ward (one of the book contributors) or her amazing Street Team challenges (play in the archives while she’s on Sabbatical). For that matter, I would never have met Liz Crain, or T.J. Goerlitz  [both book contributors] whose explanation of Creality made me laugh and cringe in recognition. Open gardens that allow you to explore lead to more creativity. (Or being a contributor to a book).

On Saturdays, I post links to interesting artists, it always causes a boost in the artists’ sites, as readers go to find more. Often the artists send an email thanking me for sending traffic to their site. How boring would it be if I simply linked to old posts of mine? We’d never scratch our heads over Pete’s new blog.

The internet is a big place. Credibility is a good thing. And in my experiencing, linking to answers, ideas, shortcuts, or tips makes my site more interesting, too. It shows trusts in your readers and confidence in the content you have on your site.  Creating meaningful links, tagging your blog (or website) with meaningful descriptions and, of course, great content still is the best way to get loyal readers.

-Quinn McDonald can’t imagine an internet of solely walled gardens. She has claustrophobia.

Saturday Creative Links

OK, I need to admit I am a science geek. My first job out of college was teaching biology. And I still love the connection between science and creativity. I’m a sucker for the Fibonacci sequence, Phi, and Golden Geometry.

Vivian Hart, known as ViHart on You Tube, has a way of combining math and creativity in ingenious ways. Here’s a video with her explaining the Fibonacci sequence and how to draw a spiral while being photo-bombed by an artichoke.

Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen are collaborating in Brooklyn, New York and they are making trees out of paper. Big trees. People are dwarfed under

Tree by Kavanaugh and Nguyen

Tree by Kavanaugh and Nguyen

the structures, which can also look like veins and arteries in paper and wood.

It’s the scale that is surprising, although we are not surprised by big forests. But this combination of art and nature is stunning.

You’ve seen the white buckets at construction sites and at the side of the road. The white bucket holds paint, cement, and eventually, holds garbage and becomes garbage. Except to Jason Peters. He gathered them up and turned them into giant, winding installations. The buckets are lit from within, either in color or with natural light, striped and sinuous.

Jason Peters installation

Jason Peters installation

The images are fascinating and airy. One man’s art is another man’s garbage. The difference is creative vision.

Kirsten Hassenfeld creates gems in Brooklyn.  Seen in soft light, these gems seem to be fragile and detailed. Once you see that these gems are made of paper–light and translucent–you fall in love with them.

KH-2The spatial relationship of a group of these gems is both intricate and intense.The images look drawn in shadow and light.

Have a wonderfully creative weekend.

—Quinn McDonald is doing a demo at the Scottsdale location of Arizona Art Supply on Saturday. She loves involving people in creative joy.

Bark Paper

The sycamores are losing their bark. Arizona Sycamores, which grow in the Sky Island area South of Tucson, will grow in Phoenix if they get enough water. And the stand I walk through every morning is well watered and cared for.

sycamore3In the early summer, the bark of the sycamore splits and the tree looks old and damaged for a few weeks.

The bark of the tree lifts up, and the young bark underneath hardens. Once the bark underneath is ready to act as the tree’s skin, the top bark flakes off.

For someone from the East Coast, who is used to Birch trees, the sycamore shedding is very different. The bark is stiff and thicker than birch bark, and much more likely to split.

The newer bark is smooth and very pale, and the trees suddenly look taller and more elegant.


You can see both kinds of bark on one tree.

sycamore2The bark was lying around on the lawn, so I picked some up and took it home.

sycamore6I soaked one piece to make it pliable, then, once I could bend it and flatten it out, it went under the iron to heat, dry and flatten it. Then into the book press to keep it flat. It came out of the book press flat and smooth enough to write on.

Barkflat1You can see the difference in flatness and smoothness between the treated piece on top and the bark the way it was on the ground, bottom.

Barkwriting“What we are never changes, but who we are never stops changing. –Gil Grissom. The bark is smooth enough to write on, but it’s brittle. I tried to pierce holes in it to see if it could be stitched, but it’s too brittle.

Birch bark, peeled into layers.

Birch bark, peeled into layers.

Birch bark, on the other hand, is pliable and thin, and can be stitched. Birch bark also has the dark lines on it. Birch trees aren’t native to Arizona, they need a lot more water than even Northern Arizona has. Birch bark can be used as paper without any more treatment and has been used as paper in both India and Russia.

sycamore1For now, the sycamore bark will have to do as thick and inflexible writing slabs. Not as nice as Birch, but with rustic appeal.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and a journalist. No surprise she’s writing on tree bark.

Saturday Surprises

The winners of the free creativity coaching have been notified. Because of my confidentiality rules, the names won’t appear here. Thanks to all of you for participating!

Skywhale, being inflated.

Skywhale, being inflated.

What’s new for Saturday? For a whole new way of thinking about creativity, visit Patricia Piccinini’s site, and read about her amazing hot-air balloon sculpture. Part pre-historic fish, part breast, it was commissioned for a Canberra Centennial. The photos are amazing, beautiful and funny. Of course, I think flying breasts are funny.

Geraldo Feldstein is an absurd super-realist whose work is both familiar and reminiscent of outsider art. His installation work is startling and humorous, and his paintings are spare but rich in color.

Yep, a record. Of wood.

Yep, a record. Of wood.

Amanda Ghassael combines science and art. In this project, she laser cuts a record. It’s entirely playable, but instead of vinyl, it’s made of wood. She also has one of paper.

The world of creativity is large and interesting and not always about painting or mixed media. Enjoy the weekend and  wherever your creative explorations take you!

Quinn McDonald is looking through books for a project. Uh-oh.