“What should I write in my journal?”

One of the major reasons people quit keeping a journal is fear. “I have to be neat,” they think, or, “I better write profound thoughts.” Not at all. Many of my journal pages are a way of thinking out loud–and often not in words. Sketches, collage, ephemera are vital elements that create journal pages.

jrnl pageOne important act is to date the pages. That way, you will know where your thoughts were on any specific day.

You don’t have to keep one journal in order, either. I have several journals–a small one that I take with me when I travel, a bigger one made of lokta paper,and one with a hard cover, is bound with a big spiral and is filled with heavy watercolor paper. I don’t write in them in order; instead, I use the journal right for the job.

jrnl page 2The three examples shown here show typical journal pages. There are two collages–but not styled or finished ones–simply a “first draft” that does not need to be complete or perfect. It needs to speak to me. I don’t show these collages as artwork, they are meditations in paper.

One has a photograph of my grandfather, a man I never met, but about whom many stories have been passed down. He was a doctor in the last century, and his secret was his curiosity. So there are things on the page that represent not knowing, exploring and discovering.

On the bottom left is an illustration with the saying “Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress.” There is a quote from Rumi, the Sufi mystic, that says, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” I didn’t write a long essay on the importance of not knowing, but the collage says it all, and reminds me of the value of curiosity.

jrnl page 3Another one is a collection of papers, illustrations and a few words that illustrate, for me, how the whole is made up of many parts, all important. It was the result of my trying to describe my idea of the force of the universe–that all of us are one, and that struggling separately is what causes misery. It’s a study that helped me think through my philosophy, part of my interior journey.

The final piece was a page of doodling. My favorite markers of the moment are two fat gray markers–they have a point on one end and a chisel tip on the other. One is 50 percent gray, the other 20 percent. I was playing around with values and hue. This isn’t a composition, it’s doodling. I noticed I was drawing plants, which are green, but using two shades of gray. Then I thought of ee cummings poem that starts, “I thank you god for most this amazing day,” and wrote down the first verse in the doodling. I found a phrase in a poem that says “Green is a solace,” so I added that, too.

These three pages are just as important and valid as if I had written down elaborate descriptions and carefully formed logical thoughts. As I put down the pictures, or doodled with the pens, my mind was free to roam and think. It was soothing and helped me sort out thoughts. And that’s the reason for keeping a journal.

–You might also enjoy the difference between a diary and a journal.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a certified creativity coach. She will be teaching “Wabi-Sabi journaling” starting September 16, 2007. For more information, contact Quinn at QuinnCreative[at]yahoo[dot]com. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

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Journal Prompts (what’s next?)

The alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. The ride to the airport would leave in an hour, so I struggled out of sleep and into the shower. On the ride to Chicago’s airport the sky shifted from black to dark blue, moving silhouettes to three-dimensional forms.

The sky is not yet light when we get on the plane. A truck pushes the plane back from the gate, and the plane begins to roll forward, gathering momentum. Then, as the pilot checks her controls, she brakes and checks the flaps. We roll forward and the plan makes a Haloween-moaning sound. As the pilot hits the brakes, the plane slews and squeals. My stomach lurches. That’s not supposed to happen. The pilot’s voice comes on the intercom, “We seem to have a problem in the auto-brake, and while we can take off without using it, we can’t land again at National without it. And the runway at National isn’t forgiving, so we’re returning to the gate to have someone look at it.”

I’m grateful for a cautious pilot. But I begin to wonder, and I write down a few questions. They are not meant to be morbid or stir the fear in you. They are questions that we need to answer sooner rather than later. And, of course, they make good journal prompts.

–To live a complete life, one without regret, there are things I must do. Sure, I’d love to travel extensively, but let’s say I have one week left to live. What should I do in that week?

–What important thing must I say to [my significant other, my child] that they must know while I can still say it to them in person?

— If I were on a plane, and had to leave a note that would be read to all my friends when I’m gone, it would say. . . .

–If I had a few minutes left to live on a plane, and there is no one on the plane I know, I would. . .

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal-writing. See more at QuinnCreative.com

Journal, Diary, What’s the Difference?

It’s a question I get asked all the time. “What’s the difference between a journal and a diary? A diary is a report of what happened during the day—where you ate, who you met, the details leading up to the kerfluffle in the office, and who took whose side. It’s a bit like a newspaper about you.

A journal is completely different. A journal is about examining your life. It’s a GPS system for your spirit. “I’ve made this mistake before. . . and I always make it when I rushed for time and feel panicky. But I feel panicky because I know I’m headed for the same mistake.” Journals lead to insight, growth, and sometimes, achieving a goal.hand made journal

You don’t have to set a goal to have a journal, I have a tendency to live in my head and like goals. You can just muse. You can put down the shifts in emotion, the goals you’ve achieved and how, to remember them. The shortest pencil beats the longest memory, says the proverb, and writing down your motives, successes, emotional pratfalls, helps you remember how you got there and why, not just that they happened.

You can keep a journal in anything that feels comfortable and that’s portable–a spiral notebook, a rollabind book you’ve put together with lokta paper, index cards held together with a rubber band. You can use a computer, keep a blog, although that doesn’t work as well for me. I believe things on the internet are simply not private, password protected or not. And I like the feeling of flipping through pages.

To keep a journal on paper, pick a time of day to write. Keep it regularly. It makes it easier. I never stuck to an exercise program because I never nailed it into my schedule at a certain time. Writing works the same way. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, while eating lunch at your desk. Write with a good pen that feels good and whose color you like.

In the beginning, you may have to set a time limit. Three minutes is good. Just write whatever comes into your head. No editing, no crossing out, no reading it in your mind in front of the committee who lives in your head and judges your writing.

Journal prompts are ideas or thoughts to get you started writing. They help you focus on a topic. You can use one over and over for a week, to see your different answers, or you can use a different one every day.

That’s it. It’s not complicated and it doesn’t take a lot of time. And yes, I teach journal writing courses. That’s how I learned about the GPS of the spirit idea. From my own journal. My website contains a schedule of classes and events on the tab at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, some prompts to get you started:
I couldn’t start my day right unless. . . .
If I could change one thing about my job, I would. . .
Before I get too old, I’d like to . . .

You can also read about Commonplace Journals, 10 Ideas for a Commonplace Journal, or Five Things You Can Put on the First Page of Your Journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Note to Clients: Multitasking is a Myth

You think you can, but you can’t. I’m a freelance writer and I can tell from your phone conversations when you are also reading yourguy on cellphone and computer email. How do I know? You stop making sense. You do OK with yes/no questions, but if you need to think, I can hear crickets chirping in the background while I wait for you. And then you always ask me to repeat the question.

Sure, you can talk on the phone and drive at the same time. But you can’t do both effectively. Studies have shown that people who are yakking on the phone are as effective driving as someone who is legally drunk. Ninety-five percent of the near-accidents I’ve had on the bike involve people on the phone.

You need your brain to sort things out, divide them into categories, make choices and think. You are already doing this when driving or reading emails. Adding another task to it slows you down more than dial-up.

And you really aren’t paying attention to the emails, either. This week, I had to contact client X to confirm a seminar I am supposed to lead. I asked the client if we were still on for [name of seminar] on [date]. I got an answer that said, “I’m not on that committee anymore.”

Not only doesn’t that answer my question, it makes me write another email asking X for a new contact. Back comes the reply, with the name of the new committee head, Y.

Another email, asking the new committee head the same question, “X told me to contact you to confirm that I will be running [name of seminar] on [date]. ”

Back comes an email from new committee head Y. “This year’s seminar topic was set many months ago. If you’d like, you can pitch your idea to the head of the education committee.”

Y is normally a bright person. But I will bet Y was on the phone when she read my email. Because Y wasn’t paying attention, she didn’t answer the question. Not even close. And, while I’m complaining, the head of the education committee’s name wasn’t included.

Sigh. Off goes another email from me. “I’m confused. I’m not pitching a seminar, I’m checking the schedule to see if I’m running your seminar on [date].”

The answer? You’ll cringe. “I wasn’t the head of that committee. X was. You can contact her.”

yellow foam shoesPlease tell me we are not a nation of multitasking yakkers, schlumping around in big, poorly-fitting, brightly-colored foam shoes, on the phone and PDAs, not paying attention, and leaving a trail of destruction in our wake. Please tell me that you won’t multitask anymore, that you will stay in the moment and pay attention to your phone calls and then pay attention to your emails. Write your answers carefully. Check to make sure you answered ALL the questions in the email.

Still think you can multitask? OK. Sit down. Pick up your right foot about 6 inches from the ground. Rotate it clockwise. Comfy? Great. Now, using your right hand (even if you are left-handed), draw the number “6” in the air. Your foot turned the other way, didn’t it?  Hah! One thing at a time, please. It works better that way.

–Quinn McDonald has known the truth about multitasking for a long time. She speaks in complete sentences while on the phone because she isn’t doing anything else. If you call her and she doesn’t answer the phone, it’s because she’s in the car. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Images: shoes, usoutdoorstore.com Computer/phone guy, Comstock.com (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Collage Tutorial (Conclusion)

A few days ago, we created a collage background with magazine strips torn vertically. Today, we are going to cover them up. Why create a background at all? Because a collage depends on depth, layers hidden and revealed. The background ties it all together.

The next step is to soften the background so the important items will stand out. This collage will feature a powerful poem by Edith ONuallain, one of the writers in Lemuria. (The complete poem appears at the bottom of the page.)

All of my collages use words, but this one will be almost covered in them. I like the effect of words, images, textures, each strengthening the other.

collage 2First, I painted over the entire image with gel medium. It’s acrylic paint with no pigment. I added a few drops of brown acrylic to soften and darken the piece. Using gel medium gave more transparency to the color, so it doesn’t look like a painted background.

Tear our images that help create the mood of the writing. In this case, I tore out a map, dark blue horizons, a color-saturated dancing couple, (to emphasize the dream quality of happiness), an empty silhouette of a person. I tore out other images, but these were put down first, moved around, then glued into place. I overlapped them so they don’t drift visually. I added a page torn out of an old poetry book and painted over it, so it looked like a newspaper report, but blurred so no one would be tempted to read it through the paint.

The poem is about loss, so I wanted the piece to appear distraught, just as the writer feels torn and alone. Small words, “I woke this morning” over a shadowed heart, and “speak to us” convey the searching aspect, as does the word “lost” on the right side. I added a picture of a sailing ship and a fish. On the bottom are three words, “Eat, Pray, Love” a sort of summary of the poem.

I tore the poem into pieces that made sense emotionally and then distressed the paper with ink, which I smeared. It could have been tears or simply time that aged the page. I could have tea-stained it, but I chose the color to keep the focus on the words.

On the bottom left I added a lotus, a flower that thrives in dark, stagnant water, to give some hope to the life described in the poem. Watercolor scraps added to the top give it an unfinished look, life the life in the poem.collage3

Is it perfect? Of course not. I will leave it for a few days, then decide if it conveyed the poem’s power in a satisfying way. My concern is that it may lack unity, although the poem is most of the page. It doesn’t matter; I can start over, even paint over what I have. Collage is an exploration, not a destination. Honoring the words was my intent here.

Here is the original poem:

WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?
What was she thinking
as she peered at the
triangle of Brie cheese
turning it in her
arthritic hand?

Was it the price she needed
just to be sure
she could afford it?

Or did she have a yearning to taste something from long ago,
to bring back on her tongue
memories of shared meals and
dead acquaintances?

Perhaps a lover who always
insisted on just this cheese with a
brioche loaf and a bottle of beaujolais on a
summer’s afternoon near a lake, and a
boat that later went out and
never came back,
although they told her they had
searched for hours and
done all they could.
They were sorry.
What was she thinking
when she put the cheese back and
walked away, slowly?

–Edith O Nuallain © 2007. All rights reserved
–Quinn McDonald asked Edith ONuallain for permission before she used the poem. Please always honor copyright in your artwork. You can see more of Quinn’s work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Collage Background Page (Part I)

Here’s another simple way to make a background for a collage. Take a magazine you like, and flip through it, looking for colors you like. Avoid detailed photographs or words. Big patterns are fine, but keep them in small amounts.

collage backgroundRip out long strips of color, keeping them vertical. Stripes and patterns should run up and down. You can tear or cut. I like a mix of both.

You don’t have to stick with one color, but keep the values the same. In the example, the values are all medium to dark, and the colors are all in the gold-brown/ gold-green range.

Many people work “intuitively,” placing pieces as they pick them up. I prefer to shuffle the papers till I see what works, then glue. That way, I can focus on the gluing technique rather than look out for color placement, size and glue technique all at the same time.

Start from the middle and work out. Keep the color uniform, it’s a background and you can soften it later. You are looking for an even overlap, mixing torn and cut edges, and adjusting the pieces so that not all overlap in one direction.

I used matte gel medium, in a heavier consistency, and I take an extra step: I apply gel medium to the back of the paper first, then let it dry. When I work on the front, it doesn’t warp or buckle.

Next step: Creating the collage. We’ll do that as soon as the collage is completely dry.

Note: Another collage background to try.

–Quinn McDonald is a collage artist who focuses on words in her art. She creates journal pages in collage fashion, and is working on an art book as well. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Freeway Art

The original blog (posted on Aug. 12) disappeared while I was editing it. Here is the re-write.

The 17 freeway in Phoenix is an art gallery of sorts. We actually drove longer than we intended to, just to see the art on the exit ramps, around bridge abutments, and on the sound barriers along long, otherwise empty stretches.

cicle wallSome of the overpasses are encased in fencing, and the top is jagged, to match the mountains in the distance.

There are murals of big cactus plants, complete with red tile squares for flowers on the exit at Frank Lloyd Wright Road. There is a topographical gecko–green stucco with attached layers that give it a three dimensional look.prickly pear phoenix

There are geometric, repeating patterns on the walls–simple circles and lines, repeating incised patterns, triangles, wavy lines.

Why art on the freeway? Because art is public and meant to be enjoyed everywhere. Art inspires, calms, and often challenges. I’m sure there were a few council members who grumped at the cost. But it makes for a good impression of a Kollasch muralsprawling city, and it speeds up the time of the drive.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist, who recently returned from vacation in Phoenix. She recommends the freeway, particularly from 7th St. to the 101 South as good viewing. See her work at QuinnCreative.com. (c) 2007 All rights reserved. Images: circle on entrance ramp, Quinn McDonald. Mural: Kristine Kollasch, I-17 and 7th St., Phoenix. Cactus Mural: members. virtualtourist.com