Boosting Creativity

Some days I can’t wait to run into the studio and work. Then there are days when I drag myself into the studio, slap my to-do list on the wall, and force myself to get to work. What makes the creative urge dry up? After the usual suspects–stress, too much to do, not enough sleep—comes the lurking fear, “I’ve finally used up all my ideas. There isn’t anything else.” It can feel stale, or it can bring real terror.

If you find yourself sitting in your studio, sweating and not working, it’s time for a break.

The creativity dry-up seems to be seasonal, related to the major changes in weather. Many feel it crushing down on them in March, with Spring close at hand. No matter what the reason for creative shrivel, here are a few simple ways to climb out of it. First, grab your calendar and give yourself a day off. Even if you are busy. Particularly if you are busy.

1. Indulge in the creativity of other’s genius. Relieve yourself of the burden of creating. Listen to music without doing anything else. Sink into the melody, focus on the rhythm, write down the lyrics and wonder what the artist experienced to write those words. The further the music is from your comfort zone, the better.

2. Re-live an art activity you loved as a child. Fingerpainting. Collage. Coloring. All wonderful and tactile. Fingerpaint is still available and it still feels great to squish it through your hands and mix colors. No art medium smells as wonderful as a new box of crayons. Buy a new box and use only the colors you like to fill blank pages. Or buy a coloring book and color the way you never allowed yourself to color. This isn’t art, this is downtime.

3. Do something all wrong. The punitive, self-critical voice we carry in our heads may be at the heart of your creative dry spell. Deliberately do something wrong. Paint a purposefully ugly picture using only a sponge and sock. Go to the secondhand store, buy cheap, ugly plates, break them, and make a bad mosaic. And while you are there, buy some big clothing in outlandish colors and wear them while you are making bad art. Venting bad work lets the light in for good work.

4. Fire your inner critic. During your day off, your inner critic will let you know how bad it is to be wasting a day. Take a walk to expend some energy. When you get back, sit down and write a scathing letter firing your inner critic.

5. Be your own shaman. Walk through your house and pick up three objects that are beautiful to you at this moment. Look at them closely. Feel their texture. Inhale their smell. Do something that temporarily changes one of them—for example, if you picked up a stone, cover it in foil and see if you recognize it from that perspective. Embue these three objects with the power to change your life. Take them to your studio and give them a special place. Ask them to call forth creativity. Then leave your studio and let them work.

6. Invite over a friend. Call a friend who has an hour or so to visit. Sit down and take turns—each of you will bring a piece of your work that you love. Do ‘show and tell’ with your friend. Talk about what you loved about the piece, what made it special, what worked for you or the client. If you sold the piece, talk about that experience, too. During your friend’s turn, listen to the excitement, the joy, and nod. Ask for details. Smile and encourage. Get excited again.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. See her work at

Forgiveness as Freedom

None of us has arrived at adulthood undamaged. We can be hurt in any number of ways–abandoned, beaten, ridiculed, shamed, verbally abused. It’s no wonder we develop negative self-talk and think we are unworthy of having a good life. We derail ourselves because we continue out past into the present. It’s all we know.

Psychologists say that the children of alcoholics  often grow up to be alcoholics; children who are abused often grow up to be child abusers. It’s all they know. It’s how they learned about behavior. In a strange way, they learned that it works.

The ugly past has become the ugly present.200pxcandles

I’m in a class right now, one that tries different forms of meditations. This week, I was using “I am free of the past,” as the mantra. The first time I used it, a lot of thoughts came with it. It started with the thought that I am free of my past mistakes, the wrong turns, the bad ideas. That was freeing. But then I began to wonder–how about the hurts of the past that I had no hand in? Childhood hurts, the mistakes parents make thinking they are doing their job, the ones that bend the twig into a new direction of growth. Not always in the best direction.
What if I became free of that, too? Not agreeing to it, not saying “it was a long time ago, who cares?”  Not saying, “I overcame that, I moved on.” Simply saying, ” I am free of the past.”

It’s a form of forgiveness. Not forgetting, not thinking it was my fault. Simply saying, “Those things done to me will not hold me down, will not hold me back.”  It also frees me from spending time reliving the past, moving in circles. In a wonderful way, by saying “I am free of the past,” I can put down the baggage, stretch, and acknowledge that it has formed me the way I am–stronger, more determined.

I’m free of trying to explain how I’m damaged and how I survived. Instead, I can use those tools to move ahead. I have choices ahead of me. I am free of the past.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. She teaches classes in using journals to heal and grow. See her work at Image from Wikipedia.

Directions Lost. . .and Found

User’s manuals–who reads ’em? I do. And I keep them. Except, of course, when I need them. Tonight, facing a deadline of a show, I needed to complete 12 notecards. One of my ideas is to sew together handmade paper and use it on notecards. Sewcard

The first one worked fine, and then I needed to change the thread on the sewing machine. It’s a small machine, how hard can it be? Plenty. I removed the thread, and can’t figure out how the thread pattern works. I thought I had it, but no, the thread snapped and the bobbin jumped.

I dug through three bookshelves and can’t find the manual. Surely I can figure out how it works. No, I can not. I’ve lost an hour looking for the manual. One of the cats runs over the fine, handmade garlic paper, leaving tears in it. I’m on the edge of tears myself, here.

[In the original post, I asked for help–either by fax or by jpg or pdf. I received offers of help–people who said I could phone them, who sent me scans, who sent written directions. From Arizona, Florida, Luxembourg, and more.

In the next week, I got requests from people who had lost their manuals, too. A great use of the internet, if you ask me.]

–Quinn McDonald is a frustrated artist and writer. She may be lucky enough to put some of her new work on her website, someday soon.

Journal Pages, Feb.27, 2007

Keeping a journal doesn’t mean writing 300 perfect words a day. Instead, keep a journal to track what’s going on in your life. In this case, I took a walk in the early evening and discovered
Journalpage_1the late winter moon with Venus directly below. It looked like Venus had slipped out of the tiny moon cup.

A haiku seemed to be the best way to describe this seasonal vignette. I’d forgotten the format of a haiku, but remembered it had a kigo, or seasonal word within the three lines. There are three lines, of 5, 7, 5 syllables. I scribbled that down.

Then I played with watercolor on paper and discovered that if you just wet one side, the paint runs. You can see the darker paint on the left side. Answer? Wet both side of the paper.

I tried out several different pen thicknesses and colors, painted some silver paint on the card for the cut-out moon, added a dot of gold paint for Venus, and wrote the haiku on the card.

It’s a good way to remember the evening, but also a nice exercise in writing a structured poem.

The pencil writing on the right describes the steps, so I’ll remember the process to compare to other writing experiments. Is the card perfect? No. Does that matter? No, again. But I learned a good deal from the exercise. The haiku reads:
“The winter sun sinks–
New moon’s cup of light can’t hold
Venus, she spills into night.”

–(c)2007 Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved. Quinn is a writer, artist and creativity coach. See her work at

Collage Background 1

Collage artists are forever on the hunt for backgrounds. The right color balance, the right texture will make a collage perfect. This technique also makes great abstract cards.

One of my favorite techniques is one I call Rorschach, after the inkblots used in psychology tests.
There are several ways to make this work. Here, I’m using the easiest with the most likely to give good results.

You’ll need some heavy watercolor paper (I use Strathmore 400-lb, hot-pressed watercolor paper) in a size twice that of the needed background. If your collage is going to be 4 x 6 inches, the piece of paper you will use should be at least 8 x 6 inches. You’ll also need several different colors of heavy acrylic paints, clean water and a big brush. First, cover your work space with newspaper to protect the surface. This technique gets messy. Rohrschach_1

Fold the piece of paper in half. Press the crease with a bone folder so it is crisp. The finished size should be at least the size of your collage if you are using it for a background. Open the paper. Using the big brush, wet both halves of the paper, but only on the side facing up.

Drip several big drops of paint onto one half of the paper. Repeat with at least three colors. You’ll want to make one color the dominant one, using the most drips. The second color will have fewer drips, and the last color will have just a few. On a small piece of paper, a good color drip combination is dominant color, 7 drops, second color 5 drops, final color 3 drops.

Refold the paper so that all the paint is on the inside. Using your fingers, rub them over the closed card in the shape of a spiral, circle, or lines. Don’t waste time. Then using the side of your fist, rub it over the closed card from closed side to open side, in arcs. You can use a brayer for this part. Do not press down hard, it will push all the paint out of the card. Some paint may ooze out of the sides. This is OK.

Now you are almost done. Starting at one corner, slowly pull the card open. Slowly is important to get good pattern distribution. A sample is shown above. Plan to do several at a time, not all of them work perfectly.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and creativity coach. See her work at
(c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Handmade Paper

In the dark days of Winter, I am beating fiber. The fiber is from last Spring’s narcissus, tulips, iris. When the leaves and stems were still green, I cut them down. Papermakers are not interested in blossoms.
We want the fiber-laden stems.

It’s a good activity for winter. It reminds you that plants, even when beaten into fiber, are still beautiful. Even more interesting is that papermaking transforms plants that will die and rot into paper that is archival, that will last for hundreds of years.
After the fiber is beaten, it is floated in a large tub of water. With a movement that feels both ancient and filled with renewal, I stir the pulp-laden paper and while it is still moving, dip my mould and deckle into the water and pull out a frail waterleaf sheet of handmade paper.

In time the sheets will be turned into notecards and bowls. But for now, my studio is filled with the smell of wet paper, and I am deeply moved my messy, wet, and satisfying acts of creation.

–images of sheets of handmade paper by Quinn McDonald.
You can see her work at

One Reaches. . .

Title: “One reaches, another drifts, two soar.”
Double-sided collage: ink, cut paper, paste paper technique.

Collage is an art form that hold endless joy and satisfaction. Without the skills of an illustrator, you can explore emotions.

How the words and the image connect is left to the observer. There is more in the image than meets the eye. The leaves are different kinds of paper, some are cut from books, some from marbled paper.

While the figure reaches up toward the flying butterfly, a sprite on the right upper side hurries out of the image.

This one is a double-sided collage. The words to describe it are on the back of the same piece. How the words and image fit together is up to each person to interpret.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist who makes notecards, journals and bowls out of handmade paper.


One Reaches. . .

Honey in the Great “Out There”

Bloggers write because we have to. We don’t get paid, but at least some of us are writers and have no choice. There is so much in life to put to paper–even if the paper is ether and the thoughts float out into the great “Out There.”

A few days ago I wrote about fear and the potential for growth it brings along with it. This morning I opened my email and found:

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
——-Antonio Machado

And then I understood why writers write. Because other writers write us back. Because it helps us understand the shifting ground under out feet. Because it helps us understand, when we have been to two funerals in one week, that death flows back into life; that mistakes help us grow, and that sometimes, even when we have not screamed first., an echo rolls back to our feet.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach and artist. See her work at

Light In New Orleans

New Orleans was in full bloom when I was there last. We’d eaten at Acme Oyster, the briny mollusks cracked open by a dark man with a white scar running down his face. I didn’t ask how he got it. He didn’t tell. Afterwards, we wound through the twilight-blue streets, the weight of the moisture in the air rich with the smell of ocean, mud,  trees in bloom, perfume and laughter.

In the hotel, a frantic message for my husband. He had to attend to business 1,00 miles away. Right away. Plane ticket waiting downstairs. I decided to stay.  He raced to catch a plane. I wasn’t sleepy. I went back into the evening, walking aimlessly.

The French Quarter is laid out in a grid, so I didn’t need to pay attention.  I could always use the Fibonacci escape. (Using the Fibonacci sequence, make a right turn at every number in the sequence. You walk a large spiral—gets you out of any grid-pattern neighborhood.) Music spilled from a bar, laughter tumbled down from a second-story railing, high heels tapped to an assignation.

I turned by a big urn of Black-Eyed-Susans and walked along a high barn-wood fence. There was an open gate.  The street was dark, but at the end of a narrow walk a fountain,  blood-red cannas in bloom, and a porch, bright and warm in yellow light. Sassafras and spice wafted up the walk. Without another thought, I strolled toward the porch. The front door opened; an old man stepped out.
“Been waiting for you,” he said.
“I’m here now,” I replied, not frightened, interested in the game.
“You come to have your cards read,” he said reaching into the corner of a porch swing, picking up a deck of Tarot-size cards.
“Yes,” I said, figuring that he must do a lot of card readings by leaving the gate open.
“Money first, so we don’t get no distraction.” He named a reasonable price. I paid him.Over the next hour, he flipped through the homemade cards, intricate collages of words and images. They were worn but clean. He was amazingly accurate about details I carefully kept hidden; often from myself. He pointed to an ability I had to know people, of the colors I see around them, of things from the recent and deep past, of a few things from the future.
Finally, he put the cards down.
“You know what you gotta do. You don’t, your heart die. Won’t be easy, but there will be a light to guide you. You won’t always want to follow it, but it’s true.”
“What light?” I asked. “You’ll find it within a year of doing the right thing,” he said, patted me on the shoulder and went inside the house, leaving me alone on the porch.
I got up and walked through the French Quarter, knowing what I had to do, not wanting to do it.
My husband was back the next day, leaving a lazy day for us.
“Want your cards read?” I asked, knowing he was up for things I believed in, even if he didn’t.
“Sure,” he said.
I knew the way. I have a good sense of direction. We walked with determination for over an hour, but there was no urn, no flowers, no fence, no gate. I’ve been there five times since, and have never found it again.
We returned home, and three months later, I went to coaching school, quit my soul-searing day job, followed my vision to be an artist and creativity coach. The tag line for my coaching business? “Stand in your own light.”

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a certified creativity coach. Learn more at Quinn Creative
Illustration: Stand in Your Own Light, note card by Quinn McDonald

Note from Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac  (1922-1969) was French-Canadian; he learned English as a second language. Yet he wrote On The Road with a sure eye and ear to the American language and our culture.
He also left a legacy for writers: in his life, in his prose, and in this clip from  “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose.”

Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr. own joy.
Submissive to everything, open, listening
Be in love with yr life
Something that you feel will find its own form
Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
Accept loss forever

–Quinn McDonald is grateful to have been born with the gift for writing and the soul of a creativity coach. The rest is damn hard practice. She is also an artist. See her work at