New bowls, new shape

With a show coming up next weekend, I’ve been in the studio again. The bowls got a new, bigger addition (the large blue and black one in the background). The apricot paper adds a rich, deep note, too. the outside of the apricot bowl is covered with a silk-thread paper–charcoal gray with apricot threads. The bowl in the foreground, with the cream lining containing gold flecks is large and deep. It turned out nicely, too.paper bowls

–(c) Quinn McDonald 2007 All rights reserved. See more of Quinn’s work at

Technique: Collage Background

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.

Rethinking Praise

The evaluation form is my chance to find out if I’ve met the expectations of the class. Over the years I’ve been running training programs, a lot of interesting information has come my way. I’ve changed classes, added suggested topics, and, occasionally, wondered what would possess someone to write a comment on the eval. form.

Adults learn differently from kids. Adults need to hear information more often, in different ways, in order to remember it longer. The word “educate” comes from the Latin “educare’ and it means ‘to pull out of,’ not ‘to stuff into.” Most people in the training sessions learn a lot from sharing information with people who work in similar business environments. Maybe even more than from me.

From me, they need to hear a practical application, examples that resonate with their experience, and reinforcement. If I tell a participant they are “wrong” or their writing “isn’t up to standards” in a training class, they won’t hear anything else I say.

My classes are short–one or two days. I can’t teach someone how to write in that time, or how to do presentations. But I can give them tools to use that will make them a better writer or presenter over time. And one way I do it is to find something to praise in every piece the participant reads or demonstrates in a presentation. By praising them for something they are doing well, it is more likely they will continue to do it. That alone will make them a better writer or presenter, and that’s my goal. I’m not a magician, just a trainer.

But every now and then, I get a comment on the evaluation form that baffles me. “You should be harsher in your criticism” said one. A few months later I got the more enigmatic,”You did not criticize other people’s work strongly enough.” I’m still not sure if they thought other’s work needed to be critiqued or if I had said something they interpreted as harsh. A few weeks ago I found this on an evaluation, “This isn’t a New Age training center, I expect some criticism that stings so I can improve.” What was that person’s childhood like? Is s/he a manager? Do they sting their co-workers with their remarks?

I’ll take being marked down because I’m New Age. I’d like to see a whole New Age of kindness and encouragement. I think we need it.

—Quinn McDonald is a trainer and certified creativity coach who teaches business writing, writing for the web, writing the everything journal, putting power back in powerpoint, and other classes. See them all at Image by Quinn. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Crow Roost

Crows are not favored birds. They aren’t brightly colored like cardinals, they aren’t cute like nuthatches, but crows are clever, tool users and adaptable.

Crows used to live in the country and eat the farmers’ crops. Hence, the scarecrow. As cities grew, crows adapted. They serve a purpose–they eat garbage, road kill, and insects. They mate for life. Males and females build nests together and males bring both the female and the young birds food.
Even more interesting, crows will stay together as a family unit for up to six generations. The older birds will help feed their younger siblings, rare behavior in any animal grouping. Birdflock2_1

Crows make tools to reach food, they are persistent, as anyone who doesn’t tie the trash bags shut knows. I’ve seen them invent games–a pair of crows in our yard used to play tug-of-war with a grass stem. The first one to make the other flap his wings got to go to the birdbath first.

Now I’m seeing something new. About an hour before sunset, crows begin to fly over the house in groups. Now, in early February, the groups are large, but sporadic. In the summer, the roosting group is almost continuous for an hour.
It seems that they like to forage in family or small groups during the day, but like to sleep in large protective groups at night. They fill the trees of the roosting area and return to the same group of trees for years.

Tonight, they were flying lower than usual. It’s cold, about 18 degrees F, and they seem to be quieter and more of them fly in the same direction. When it’s warmer, they fly around more and make more noise.  When it gets warmer, I’m going to see if I can find the roosting area. Right now, it  doesn’t seem to be near. We live in a city, and I’d have to scout parks and runs (creek areas) to find enough trees to create a roosting area.

–Quinn McDonald is a city naturalist, who believes that there is a lot to be learned by paying attention to nature. She is an artist and writer, and a certified creativity coach.
Photographs of crows by Quinn McDonald. Images and article, (c) 2007. All rights reserved.