Monthly Archives: November 2007

Creative Plant Life

When you are new to a place, everything seems different. After a year, you don’t notice the very things that startled you so much in the beginning. Here are some things I may not notice in a year, but this year, I thought, “You’d never see anything like this in the East.”

bouganvillaThe bougainvillea are so saturated in color that when you see them against a blue sky, it seems that somebody is messing with Photoshop. But it’s not. The plants and sky are exactly this color.

Then there are trees covered in glossy green leaves and studded with bright oranges. There are also lemons and grapefruit, named because they hang in clusters, like giant grapes. But the contrast between the green shiny leaves and orange fruit is wonderful to trees



*Palm trees are a great source of wonder for the newcomer. They need to be trimmed , and this must be the season to do it. After a trim, they look like they all have the palm-tree version of a faux-hawk.

faux hawk palms

But they do get bushy again. And when they are full and bushy, and it gets to be time to decorate the trees for the holidays, they put lights in them.

No confusing them with “O Tannenbaum!” but they are a sight to behold. At first I thought the lights were on stands, but nope, these are the real trees with palm lights. Not only are the trunks wrapped palm tree lights
in two shades of lights, but the center vein of each palm frond is striped in green lights.

Luminarias are favorites of mine. Originally, they were paper bags with a sovelful of sand in the bottom. A candle is stuck in the sand and lit, creating a warm glow. Now many of them are plastic instead of paper, or at least fire-retardant paper. In this case, almost two miles of them are placed and lit in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I was lucky enough to see how they extinguish them at the end of the evening. Volunteers holding 4-foot long devices that look like turkey basters come along, put luminariasthe pointy end in the bag and squeeze the bulb on top. It blows out the candle.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and speaker. See her work at (c) All images and words, Quinn McDonald, 2007. All rights reserved. All photos taken with an iPhone.

A Christmas Alone

For the last several years, I’ve tried to persuade my husband not to buy me anything for the winter holidays. But he has fond childhood memories, and how could I deny him a decorated tree piled with presents. But I don’t want to own anymore stuff. I don’t want to dust it, pack it, move it, unpack it and figure out where to put it and then dust it again.

This year, I’m finally getting what I wanted, but it comes with a price. The house hasn’t sold yet, so I will be in Arizona for the holidays and he will be in Virginia. It doesn’t make a bit of sense to send packages back and forth, so in a grown-up, sensible way, we are not going to exchange gifts for the holidays. Or be with each other. There will be no stuff.

images5.jpegHaving said that, going against custom is a big thing. We’ve never been apart for the holidays. But many other people are. Families who have a member in the military. People with relatives in hospitals or schools who simply can’t afford to pay the air fare. And instead of indulging, I can do things that will make others feel good.

So, another deep breath, and I’m on my way to try this new thing. I refuse to think of it as a sad day, or to feel sorry for myself. Let’s see if I can find the true meaning of the holidays. Without wrapping it in paper and putting a bow on it.

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

Creativity: Like Riding a Bike. . .

Note: Another in an occasional series on the link between riding a motorcycle and creativity.

Suzie Lighting is back in Virginia. The Suze is my motorcycle, named for the Warren Zevon song. There’s a line that says, “Suzie Lightning takes no prisoners. . .she lights up the sky and then she’s gone.” The first time I got on the bike, I was in heavy traffic on a new bike, driving carefully, watching out for the big SUVs that, combined with a driver on a cell phone, are deadly.

honda shadowWaiting for a light to turn, I noticed the driver next to me texting on a cell phone. When the light turned, I checked the intersection and accelerated. The larger bike’s clutch caught quickly and earlier than the older one and I shot away from the cars on my left and right. By the next intersection, the bike had a name. . . Suzie Lightning.

But the Suze is back in Virginia, and I’m in Arizona. I’ll be heading back to Virginia this weekend to run some business communication classes. It will be December when I arrive, and I may not be able to ride. There are limits to what I will do to ride. Then again, at this moment, it’s 10 degrees colder here than back East.

Here’s something that’s true about riding a bike: even if you haven’t been on it for a while, by the time it warms up and I back it out of the driveway, it’ll feel comfortable.  I’ll stay in the neighborhood until I turn a few corners, and then I’ll feel comfortable.

While I’m waiting for the house to sell, I’m also without full art equipment. I bought $50 worth of supplies last week, and began to play around. And just like riding the bike, I had to stay in the familiar for a bit, and then I could take off and go new places.

Your creativity won’t desert you. The muse might go shopping, or take a nap, but your creativity won’t dry up. If you’ve been away from it for a while, you’ll let it idle and listen to the engine warm up, but you’ll feel comfortable and familiar again. In fact, after that first warm up, you might decide to go down a different road and see some new scenery.

And as you dive into your creativity, my wish for you is that you light up the sky with your own light. Take no prisoners. Warren would be proud of you.

–Quinn McDonald writes and teaches communication seminars. She rides a Honda Shadow, 750 cc, shaft drive. See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald 2007. All rights reserved.

Adapting to the desert

There don’t seem to be a lot of birds in the desert. There are pigeons and ravens, crows and grackles. Grackles are much like crows, but leaner, and the females are brown. They are successful because they adapt quickly. Now that summer is over, there are very few insects around. And crackles are insect eaters. One of their adaptations is to develop a taste for other foods. They hang around dumpsters, much like sea gulls on the East Coast.

grackle.jpgBut they have learned to let cars catch insects for them. Drive into a parking lot, and a raven lands on your hood. If the hood isn’t warm, you haven’t driven far enough to warm up their feet. They leave. A warm engine means you’ve driven far enough to catch bugs.

After they land on the hood and decide you’ve got insects in your wipers, they hop up to your windshield wipers and clean up any fresh bugs that haven’t dried up yet.

The first few times this happened, it was a little too Tippy Hedren for me. Then I saw what they were doing and I was amazed. Adaptation is a form of intelligence that keeps a species alive. You don’t see grackles complaining that the insects have left. Nope. They scare the bejeezus out of you and fend for themselves.

–Quinn McDonald watches nature and learns her own lessons. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved. Image: Quinn McDonald.


Art on a Budget (tutorial)

This gallery contains 3 photos.

A few days ago, I spent $50 on art supplies so I could get back to making art. I discovered that the only paper I had was my journal, so that meant small format art. I also discovered that I … Continue reading

Art Challenge at Thanksgiving

It sounds like a recipe for a Thanksgiving tear-jerker: My spouse is in Virginia, waiting for our house to sell; the people I’m staying with are in the Caribbean, watching the UConn Lady Huskies play; I’m alone in Arizona without a Thanksgiving invitation.

The instant I knew this would happen, I began to plan for it. No turkey, nothing that makes me feel alone and sad. No need. I chose this way of moving to another state, and knew it could happen. Dinner will be a favorite chicken recipe, and I will go over all the things I have to be grateful for. It’s a long list.

art suppliesOne of the things I miss the most is not having my art supplies here with me. Today I came up with an idea–if I spent $50 on art supplies, what would I chose? How much art could I make? Off I went to Utrecht Art Supply in Tempe to find out. I had a few things with me–my journal would serve as paper, I have a few pencils and pens, I can borrow masking tape and some cheap, hardware store 1-inch brushes for gel medium. Here’s what I purchased:

— An 8-0z. jar of gel medium in semi-gloss Golden gel medium. Can’t live without it. It’s glue, it’s paper prep, it makes colors more transparent.

— Five small bottles of Golden acrylics in Titan Buff, Naples Yellow, Raw Umber, Interference Gold, and Cobalt Turquoise. Can’t resist that gold shimmer. I stuck to one color palette and added a contrast.

–A set of inexpensive brushes for paint, blending and gel medium application.

–A box of 15 Caran D’Ache water soluble neocolor crayons. I’ve never used them before, but I love crayons and the idea that these can be used with water is exciting. And it extends my color range.

–A kneaded eraser, a 6-inch ruler, a hardware store version of an X-acto Knife.

That’s it. Tomorrow I’ll start to see what I can create with that supply list and whatever I can use for art in the house. This morning I noticed that the dining room chairs have some interesting carved designs. A rubbing might be nice.

I’ll publish the pieces as I go along. And if you, too, are alone at Thanksgiving, join in and make some art. Send along a photo to Quinncreative [at] yahoo [dot] com, and I’ll post the best ones.

I also stopped at the library and picked up three great books, two world music CDs, and a DVD of a classic movie–Now, Voyager with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid. What a great weekend–chick flick, art and no bickering relatives!

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

Book Art and Color Thesaurus

There is so much information on the Web, it’s amazing we can sort out the useful from the dregs. I depend on others who find wonderful things to send them to me; I post them so you can add them to your bookmarks. Pete Harbeson and Paul Lagasse are major sources of wonderful and obscure links. Today, it’s Pete’s turn.

He knows I’m an artist, so he sends me art links. He sent me this great thesaurus for color names. After all, who knows the difference between bluebell and azure? The Color Thesaurus does!

And if all that color needs to go into a sketchbook, here is one that is both horizontal and vertical.

Brian Dettmer’s workYou may be familiar with the work of Brian Dettmer, particularly if you are attracted to altered books. (That’s an example of his work on the left.) This site shows Brian’s work, but it is not Brian’s site. However, this site, Centripital Notion, will also treat you to a film of a sphere being turned inside out.

Go get inspired!

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a writer. See her work at Image: Brian Dettmer’s work on Centripital Notion.

Sleeping in the Desert

The usual picture we have of any desert is the cartoon image of the big cactus with “arms” and people crawling across the sand, leaving a trail by the skull of a long-dead animal. But many deserts are teeming with life. The Sonoran desert in Arizona is no exception.

lizardThe saguaro cactus is the one with “arms” and a full-grown one will hold about 600 gallons of water inside. Birds drink by  poking small holes in the cactus, and owls build nests in them. The cactus itself is held up by a skeleton of tubes. When a saguaro dies, it leaves a skeleton of these tubes, and even they are useful. They keep smaller animals off the ground so they can rest from their prey. The large lizard here is an example.

The mountain lion is another animal that lives in the desert. This one has had a nice meal and is napping in a crevice of rock. They are dangerous animals, despite his peaceful look. There was also a foot of glass between us, and I was grateful.mountain lion

Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, desert squirrels, mice, shrews and a host of insects and birds thrive in the desert. They have adapted to the heat and scarce water. Now it’s our turn.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and naturalist recently transplanted from Washington, D.C. See her work at Images and text, (c) 2007, Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

Desert Rain

It’s been about a week, and my life has changed enormously. Yesterday, I was driving down the street, sipping from a can of coconut water. It’s a wonderful drink, made from green coconut slivers and the water a green coconut holds. It’s not the caloric coconut milk, it’s the stuff you hear sloshing inside a coconut when you shake it. When the coconut is still in a husk. I’ve never drunk it before, and it’s wonderful. Slightly sweet and very mild.

Tucson skylineThen the sky turned dark, there was thunder, lightning and. . .rain. Like a shower, but for a very short time. The air smelled wonderful, of wet sand and ozone. Another few drizzles, and it was over. Enough for desert plants to store up some water. Enough for desert rats to drink up.

A mile later, my car was covered with dust puddles. Before the rain evaporated completely, dust had settled in the water, and the water evaporated. Leaving a speckled car. Couldn’t resist taking a picture, which reminded me strongly of East Coast water in the first hard freeze. What looks like chunks of ice to the East Coast transplant looks like dust to the West Coast native.roof rain

Life is good here. I’m starting to breathe more and worry less. Life is a bit slower here, and when you turn on your turn signal, people let you move over in the lane. Yes, life is good here.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach, who will shortly start up her art again. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

Marketing When You Don’t Have Time

Whether you are an artist, freelance writer, or any small business owner, you know you have to market yourself and your work.  And as soon as this crush slows down a bit, you plan on doing just that.

Now it’s too late. The time to do marketing is when you don’t need to because you are busy, when you don’t have free time. Once you have free time, it takes weeks for the marketing to work and money isn’t coming in. I hate hearing it; I hate saying it, and it’s true. So I devised a way to get around the roadblocks and market.

One of the ways I market my work is to publish articles in magazines and ezines. Published work not only displays your talent and expertise, but the clips also help you market your work to others. There is a certain amount of drudgery involved in pitching your work,  getting rejections, finding another magazine, re-writing and then re-pitching your work.

I write an article–just getting down the ideas. What Ann Lamott calls a “zero draft”–not even a first draft. If the article is longer than a page, I staple it together and stick it in the yellow folder in my bag. When I’m in line at the post office, the grocery store, or waiting at the dentist, I pull out the folder and read through the articles. Sometimes I circle a paragraph and mark it for deletion, other times I’ll write notes in the margin. I don’t line edit it. I’m not ready for that, I’m still working on the idea stage.

When I’m waiting for a client to call back, when I can’t read another email, when I have a few minutes of time, but no more, I pull out the zero draft and review the notes. Sometimes the zero draft is really two different articles. Sometimes the zero draft is not worth keeping. If the article has promise, I’ll write the first draft, and toss it back into the folder. Over time, creativity wins out. The articles get written, re-written, edited and polished.

When I send them out, I am no longer attached to them. Rejections don’t crush my spirit. And because there are more of them in the folder, if one is rejected, another one can go out. Or the rejected one can be rewritten.

The marketing benefit comes from producing publishable articles without setting aside weeks of time to do it. The emotional benefit is that staying objective about the articles helps you pitch and rewrite more efficiently. There is the added benefit of not buying candy while you are in the supermarket line and not being as anxious when the dentist calls your name.

It’s a slow process that makes the most of how creativity works. Your brain keeps working on the writing, even if you are not focusing on it directly, and the process moves forward in small, but definite steps. When you get an article accepted, it seems like a bonus. Over time, I’ve noticed that I get more and more accepted, and the checks are an incentive to keep working.

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