The Pigeon and the Peregrine

Phoenix has peregrine falcons. They have adapted, using our high-rises as aeries and our pigeons as food. There is no shortage of pigeons in Phoenix.

Peregrine falcon, audubon website free download.

Peregrines are compact and fast. A stooping (diving for attack) peregrine can reach speeds of 200 mph. Females are considerably larger than males.

Yesterday, I was driving from one place to another, stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light rail to pass. There was a blur above me and I saw a pigeon working hard and above it, a stooping peregrine. The pigeon didn’t stand a chance, I thought.

But the pigeon was not ready to be dinner. He flew directly in front of the light rail. I flinched, certain he was crushed. Then my eyes jerked up to watch the peregrine. He had vanished. Had he hit the light rail? Nope. The pigeon was safe in a nearby palo verde tree. The peregrine pulled up in a move that must have filled his imaginary Pilates teacher with core pride, and flew along the light rail, and then up toward a tall building. Both birds were safe. Both had survived another day in the city without being killed by the Machine in the Garden.

The car behind me honked. The light was green. I moved on, part of the machine in the city garden.

Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist, a writer and creativity coach who helps people heal from trauma through writing.

 

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Letters and Visuals

Combining words and images is the idea I’ve been chasing for about two years. I didn’t want to be middling-good with calligraphy. Hand-lettering is a better idea for me. Quotes from others are wonderful, but many other artists have done that, and done it better.

While scrolling through the images on my phone, I came across the photos I take of graffiti and marks put on the street by utility workers. Those interesting hieroglyphics make me think of alien alphabets. Alphabets that can be written, but not read. Suddenly, it came together. How we struggle to say what we mean and be understood. How we long to be heard and understood.

Here are the first three works in progress.

The abstract landscape is easy enough to understand, but what do the three lines at the top mean? It’s not a code; it is deliberately not explained. Just like much of what we say and write.

This night landscape can be calm or eerie, depending on what you interpret the letters to be. Meaning-making, the purpose of creativity, is always up to the viewer.

Is this an explanation for the abstract? Is that a waterfall? Is the sun rising over the left part of the landscape, or is it burning? All up to the viewer. All left to your imagination. Because I believe we all are imaginative beings.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach.

The Black-and-White Photo Challenge

If you’ve been on Facebook anytime in the last two months, you’ve seen the black-and-white photo challenge. The rules are simple: once a day, post a black-and-white photo, no people and no explanation.  I got tagged, but wanted to do something different. (To those who know me–no surprise, right?)

I’m a writer, so the idea of not making any comment on the image seemed like too much constriction for me. As a fan of black-and-white imagery, I wanted to join, but not bore people, who have seen enough desaturated images to last a while. Here they all are, with the thoughts I had when I took the photo.

Melrose bridge. ©Quinn McDonald, 2017

Here’s an image of a portion of the Melrose (Phoenix) welcome sign. It is carved, rusted, and reaches from one side of  7th Ave. (just north of Indian School Road) to the other. It’s bold and daring and makes a commentary on the Melrose Curve.

Most streets in Phoenix are on a grid. Occasionally, there is a curve, which becomes noteworthy. On the front side of this portal (not shown here) is a bright pink line with a curve in it.

I walk about five miles every morning about dawn. (It’s a kind of walking meditation combined with Robert Moss’s idea of setting up a day with Sidewalk Oracles.) Here are some items from my walk through Melrose.

Metal fence in Melrose, PHX. © Quinn McDonald, 2017

Phoenix still has alleys. They contain big trash barrels and yes, odd and weird views into the neighborhood. I encounter homeless people finding refuge from the busy dawn world, dogs, cats, an occasional coyote, and what I think was a bobcat. It was too fast for me.

One person put up a metal fence. On the side facing the house are attachments. I don’t know what they are, but they are held in place by things that are almost wing nuts on the alley side. No one unscrews them, which I find particularly interesting. In fact, it’s the entire reason I took the photo.

Tar Leaf. ©Quinn McDonald 2017

Further down the street, I saw an imprint of a leaf. But wait, it wasn’t an imprint after all. It was a glob of tar. I had to work to continue to see it as beautiful.

Right there was what I wanted to learn. We see something and label it, and it becomes that.  Which, in turn, reminds me of the beginning of a poem by Walt Whitman: “There was a child went forth every day, / And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became, / And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Plants, not the beautiful, arching, graceful ones, but the ratty, street-level ones,

Going to seed. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

fascinate me. They are graceful and wonderful. At this time of year (end of October), some are going to seed. That’s an even more graceful time. How I wish this were true for humans. Sadly, we never look at old people. They are closer to death, and we are afraid. So we don’t look. And miss the story of creation and destruction.

Coming out of Melrose, I stop by my favorite coffee shop. Urban Beans is not in Melrose, it’s in Mid-Town, at 7th Street (not Avenue) north of Osborn. I order coffee and watch the forks cast shadows.

Forks in tines. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

Then it’s time to get on an airplane for a business trip. The brand name “Airbus” describes exactly what flying is like today. It’s a crowded bus and it’s hard to keep my equanimity.

Not your father’s airline seat, but wait, maybe it is! © Quinn McDonald, 2017

But then again, if I am lucky, I get to hear someone’s story. Those stories are tiny windows into someone else’s life. I am witness to them and am grateful.

This sign makes me believe the seats are recycled from a much older plane. I haven’t seen a “no smoking” on the back of a seat in a long time. Although we are still told not to smoke or vape in the emergency instruction portion of the bus trip.

Changing planes in Charlotte, N.C. has some surprises. If you have time, and have to change concourses, make sure you sit in one of the big rocking chairs–if there is one free. It’s a nice touch.

Ceiling, unfinished in Concourse B in Charlotte.© Quinn McDonald, 2017.

So is the layout of the airport. It’s easy to find food, which is in a central location in addition to in each concourse. The airport is under construction. You walk from a beautiful, bright, naturally-lit concourse into an area that has a rough, unfinished floor, creating a roaring sound of roll-aboards, and hollow announcements. There is no finished ceiling. Lighting is hanging down, air ducts are unfinished, but the gates are labeled, and the TV screens lit. Use it till it’s built. It will all change again later.  If you think this looks like a grate, you are right. I turned the photo upside down. We assume the light source is always from the top of an image, and changing that, changes what we think we are seeing.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a collage artist who combines letters and papers to make meaning.

 

Ballpoint for Travel and Office

Maybe you don’t care what you write with–anything at all will do. Chewed wood pencil, give-away ballpoint. If you aren’t fussy, you probably always have a pen with you. I’m fussy.  Fountain pen? Perfect for note-taking and some sketching, but not always good on airplanes. (Yes, I have a ballpoint with a valve for air travel.)

Ballpoint? Reliable and easy. Except I’m not a gel pen fan, want a fine point that doesn’t skid across the page, can cross-hatch without creating a mess, and doesn’t glob and smear.

What I was looking for (this time; I am a pen hoarder collector.) What I really wanted was one pen that worked in the office, and can be tossed in my bag and travel with me. It needs to be light, dependable, easy to use and have refills. Because I am a collector, it also needs to be aesthetically pleasing and feel good while writing.

On Jetpens (an addictive site I will choose over Pinterest any day), I found a Midori ballpoint.

It has a brass cover, a stainless steel end that allows you to post the top of the pen, and a place for a keyring or a lanyard, if you like to wear your pen.

On the aesthetic side, the pen itself is wood, which will darken with age. It’s small, but light, which makes it comfortable to write with. And yes, it is refillable. The refill comes in fine (only, so far) and in black (only, so far.)

The clip holds it in my Travelers Notebook, so it doesn’t get lost in my bag, and the quality of both the pen and the ink is wonderful. No smearing, no globbing.

It’s an inexpensive pen ($19.90) with an inexpensive refill ($1.60). How does it write?

It puts down a smooth, even line and can be used for cross-hatching and tiny lettering. It’s a crisp ink and holds up well. You can see the sample that shows other pens and a pencil for comparison.

Are you a Travelers’ Notebook fan? So are millions of others. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, writing program developer, and creativity coach

Neocolor II Backgrounds

Simple book. Monsoon Paper cover, neocolor II surface decoration on the inside pages. © Quinn McDonald 2017.

For years, I made books in acceptable ways. Cut the paper, fold it, carefully stitch it into the cover. There you are–a nice blank book. But I didn’t like blank books. And I wasn’t into slathering paint or color onto a page and then coming back and writing on it. But it was the “right” way to create a book.

So I stopped making books. In fact, I stopped doing any kind of art. It stopped being fun.

Recently, I’ve decided to just experiment. Play. I want to make a book that has poems in it that I like. Something to take with me on a trip to read if I wake up at 3 a.m. (You can read more about my dreaming the lives of others here.) Something that isn’t for anyone else, something that is easy to tuck in a carry on.  The cover paper (above) was a piece of Monsoon Paper. (A surface decoration technique I created about 10 years ago.)

What if I completed all the pages first, then chose the ones I liked best and bound those into a  book? No pages I didn’t like, none that didn’t work out. Much more freedom.

My first step was to create a background in the book, something with color. I decided to use neocolor II crayons, because acrylic paint, which is plastic, is hard to write on without special tools. I wanted something that didn’t stiffen the paper.

First, I scribbled some Neocolor II onto a vinyl file folder. It has a slight texture and is waterproof.

Next, I sprayed the surface of the folder with distilled water. (The water in Arizona contains a lot of minerals, and I didn’t want them to discolor the paper.)

Using Arches Text Wove (also called Arches Velin), a 100-percent cotton paper, I pressed it onto the wet surface. Without moving the paper, I rubbed the facing-up side with my hands. Then I slowly peeled the paper off the folder. The wetter areas blended, the dryer ones were more textural.

I printed another page with a slightly less spray, so it was dryer than the first. You can see the texture in parts of this page. I also dipped a brush in the yellow section and dragged it across the page.

Putting aside the wet sheets, I went for one more really dry print. The colors are all pale enough to write over, particularly if I choose to write in the places with less color. The first result was a bit granular, so I sprayed the paper directly with a bit more water.

The experimental pages are fun, don’t come with a big burden of perfection, and are pure self-expression, rather than bound by rules. If the book turns out, I’ll show you the completed project!

Quinn McDonald is an everyday creative who writes, creates collage, and is a certified creativity coach.

 

 

Working With What You Have

Not all creative projects work out as you thought. Not what you wanted. Still, if you translate that into everyday language,  you are practicing. We need to practice art as much as we need to practice all skills, and for the same reason: to get better.

A Neocolor experiment page. Good for using as background, or for adding something more to it.

When you were first learning to walk, you fell a lot. But you got up every time. That’s the reason you can walk so well today–you didn’t think failing defined you. It was part of learning. Somehow, we start to discount that idea as we get older. We think we “should” know how to art techniques  the first time, or much faster than others. Not true. Real experts spend lots of time doing the same thing over and over to gain skill.

After being away from art for a while, I plugged back in again. Collage and found poetry are two ideas I love to dive into, so I thought I’d combine them. After not doing them for a while, I knew the results wouldn’t be stunning. Maybe even amateurish. Who cares? It’s exercise and growth.

Collage experiment, made from an old retail catalog, Neocolor II and found poetry.

I decided to work with what I had at hand–no buying supplies, no updating what I had. In fact, I limited myself to the experimental journal, glue, an old Barney’s catalog (printed on matte paper), and a black waterproof extra fine marker.

Experimenting is freeing. I’m not developing a project for a show. I have a journal in which I work only on experiments. Only experiments. Paper is cheap. Even good watercolor paper is relatively cheap.

Found poetry always looks rustic. Found poetry it cut from print pages, so no matter how carefully you glue it down, it looks like a ransom note, except not as exotic. You can’t really work found poetry into an Old Master’s oil painting and have it work. That gives me permission to work on content, on the creativity of bringing content out with shapes and color.

Detail of the collage, showing the found poetry made only of retail advertising copy, re-assembled.

I started by using the page I’d made using Caran D’Ache Neocolors II. (It’s up there on the left side of the page.) I cut varying circles from the catalog and pasted them onto the experimental page. I then chose a page from the catalog (randomly) and began to cut out words and phrases that, disconnected from their sales background, tell a different story.  I finished by creating a brief emotion caught withing words. (Detail, above).  Satisfying. Creative work, driven by curiosity.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer who teaches both.

Fun with Neocolor II

Neocolor II come in various sizes: 10, 15, 30, and more. They come in a lovely tin.

Neocolor II is a wax crayon that is water soluble and can be used like watercolor or gouache. Because I am stuck creatively, I bought a set of Caran D’Ache Neocolor II to play with. Having no expectation of outcome helps build creative curiosity. Here’s how I experimented.

(No one asked me to write about Neocolors, and I am not getting paid to write this post. )

If you wonder what a creative drought looks like, you can read about it in the post called In Search of Lost Creativity.

First, in order to see how these colors work, I used them dry in a watercolor journal. Once I scribbled some dry crayon on the page, I used a brush dipped in water to blend and pull the color down.

Neocolors used on Yupo.

The colors are beautifully transparent and they do blend quite well. I could see these being used as travel paints without the mess.

Because I work with alcohol inks, I thought it might be interesting to try out Neocolors on Yupo, the plastic substrate so perfect for alcohol inks.

The results are really interesting.  Each color wets well and can be dragged. Blending colors works well, too. More water means lighter color. But you can add color in with a wet crayon as well.

The only drawback is that Yupo is a sealed surface, and the colors will smear and pick up, even days later. But if you frame a piece, the problem is solved.

Next, I ripped a piece of deli paper into a jagged, long piece.

I scribbled color along the edge, being careful not to smear it over the edge.

The colored edge is placed in a journal page. Using a damp makeup sponge, I brushed up, from the edge of the color onto the page, creating a landscape look. This has a lot of possibilities.

Please note that this is an experiment of a product, not a finished piece of art. Before I get serious about anything, I experiment. A lot. I encourage it to avoid disappointment and predicted failure.

The sky was made by dabbing the makeup sponge, which had been used to create the mountain range, across the sky. The dots appeared because the makeup sponge was thin and I applied a lot of finger pressure.

Neocolors are rich and apply easily. I’m still awkward with them, but I already know they are going to come with me on my next trip instead of a watercolor set. I can take a few and blend colors as needed.

I could see people using them in coloring books and to make cards. There is a lot of experimenting ahead!

Quinn McDonald is a writer and collage artist.