Art Takes Different Eyes

It seemed like a good idea when I signed up for two art classes this semester. I work at the Mesa Art Center and want to get to know the other instructors. My spouse is 2,500 miles away, and I am setting up a new business–having a built-in art break sounded like a stroke of genius.

watercolor brushesI signed up for watercolor and basic drawing. While I’m an artist, I’m not an illustrator, and wanted to learn some illustration skills for the visual journaling class I teach. There were two different equipments lists, and I ran around two different art supply stores getting what I needed. At least both classes has a drawing board and pencils in common.

That was the last thing they had in common. Drawing is all about seeing the detail and proportion and getting it exactly right. Watercolor is about seeing the heart of the idea and capturing it in the fewest possible lines. My drawing teacher walked past, and showed me how to use a pencil to get the angle between two pieces right. My watercolor instructor walked past, looked at my attempt to get the colors exactly right and said, “So, who’s winning?” Sadly, the answer was “nobody.”images-3.jpeg

Drawing is about watching carefully, seeing exactly so you can get the same thing on paper. Watercolor is about watching carefully, seeing exactly, so you don’t put it on paper, but give the viewer enough hints to get your meaning.

Impossible, I thought. If only things were more like writing, I’d bet better at being an illustrator. But, in fact, drawing is exactly like writing. If you don’t get the dialog down precisely, your story will sound flat and uninteresting.

images-12.jpegIf you spell out every detail you will bore the reader.  Skip an important detail and you will lose the reader. Like a watercolor artist, a good writer will know the bones of the story and get them down. The rest is up to the reader’s imagination. A right balance of imagination and good writing makes a book come alive and echo through the decades as powerful writing.

So I swing back and forth, being exact, being clear, painting, drawing and writing down life to make it come alive for others. And to make some meaning for myself.

–Quinn McDonald is an exhausted art student, writer, and certified creativity coach. She also runs seminars in journal writing, business writing, and presentations. In her spare time, she prays that the mattress for her bed shows up soon, as sleeping on the bed slats does nothing for her sense of perspective. (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Image: writing sample:

Competitive What?

Competition can keep quality high and people engaged in their work, but too much competition can kill creativity. When the goal of competition is winning, and when one party not only has to win, but enjoy the other side’s loss, competition becomes bullying.

I’ve seen some ugly competition in my life. Managers pitting employees against each other for a raise, a better office, or an emotional boost. What started as a friendly game ends up as a cut-throat attack, ending with anger, bitterness, or a new job.

yoga poseYesterday, I saw the ultimate irony–competitive yoga. No kidding. The competition involved the difficulty of poses and how long you could hold them. Yoga, or at least the yoga I take, is diametrically opposed to competition. It is a way to bring energy into yourself, to release stress, to challenge only yourself to achieve small victories that also feel physically good.

What’s next–taking steroids to win the yoga competition? I think the whole competitive sports push has gone too far. And I’m saying it right before the Super Bowl, too. Here’s an idea–divide sports into two competitions–those for people who take drugs and steroids and a competition for those who don’t. That will let the pumped up, champing at the bit players have their day, and the lower-key athletes who want to pit their challenges largely around their own skills and drills have a place to compete against others like them.

And for heaven’s sake, if you are interested in competitive yoga, stay away from my mat. I’m meditating, and that, at least for now, is not yet competitive.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved. Image:

Tutorial: Collage Background (3)

The background of a collage is held together visually by a pattern, a color, a texture, or a mixture of all three. I’ve come across a background technique that is easy to learn, but complicated to master.

linesblack.jpgIt can be done with pencil, colored pencil, ink, crayon, or anything that draws a fine line. The examples below show the technique on handmade paper, and the spots are petal inclusions.

Prepare a sheet of collage background paper by painting or using handmade paper. Using a pen, colored pencil, or other instrument that will draw a fine line, draw a line across the paper, as straight as you can. The trick here is not to be perfect, but to let your imperfections make this a beautiful background.

Draw another line, as close to the first as possible. As the shapes take place, vary one line a bit, then follow that outline for a while. At the bottom of the page, you will have a background of interest, texture and shape that you can then fade by blending or painting over with transparent washes. I found that using color defined the area and that coloring in the space between the line created a drawing in itself that required little else.

You can also try this with pencils of varying hardness and watercolors. If you blend watercolor pencils (aquarells), you will get a much different elinescolor2.jpgffect.

Have fun!

(c) Quinn McDonald, 2008. All rights reserved. Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches journal writing and collage at the Mesa Art Center.

Tutorial: Envelope Journal

The journals I like to make best are ones with just a few pages. That way, I can fill them up quickly, and make another one. Like most people who make things, I often enjoy the design and creation more than using the actual finished piece. So I always leave room for the possibility of altering my work some more.

Envelope journal, centerMaterials: This tutorial uses simple things you already have: cardboard for the cover (I used mat board), number 10 size envelopes, masking tape, bookbinding tape (it’s expensive, you can substitute gaffers tape), cotton thread, a pointy awl and watercolors.

Purpose: This envelope journal has room to write in and room to keep a note, a concert ticket, or a photo along with the memory.

Envelope journal coverAssembly: 1. Cut black (or another solid color of mat board) into rectangles slightly larger (about one-fourth inch all the way around) than the envelope you will use. Put them next to each other, long sides together, but about one-quarter inch apart. Cut a piece of gaffers tape about 2 inches longer than the covers. Center the tape over the covers and place it down gently. Lift the covers, turn them over and smooth down the piece of tape at the top and bottom. Cut another piece of tape to cover the space in between the top and bottom overlaps. Cut it long enough so you have all the sticky part of the tape completely covered.

2. Lay two envelopes, flap side down, in front of you, side by side. They should be about one-eighth inch apart. Tape them together, the long way, using masking tape. Create three sets of these. If you want to have the envelopes face in different directions, take into account that these pairs of envelopes will nest.

3. Nest the pairs of envelopes and line up the top and bottom. Place them in the centerEnvelope Journal, open of the open book covers.

4. Using the awl, or a self-centering screw punch (you get them from a hardware store) punch four evenly spaced holes in the tape between the envelopes and book covers.

5. Thread a tapestry needle with cotton thread. It should be thick enough not to tear. Starting from the back of the book, come up through the top hole. Go down into the next hole, come up through the third hole, and down through the fourth. If you want to make your book sturdier, come back up through the third and work your way to the top. The needle should exit out of hole # 1. Tie the thread off and trim the ends.

6. Decorate the cover. Paint geometric figures on the plain side of the envelopes. Leave enough space for writing.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches art classes throughout Arizona. Images: Quinn McDonald. (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

Fighting to Change

Even when you want to change, it isn’t easy. What makes change hard? Two major factors: yourself and others. The rest is easy. When you decide to change, you have your past to wrestle with. You choose the path to change and suddenly your inner voice pipes up. “What’s so wrong with who you are now?” “Love yourself the way you are, change is a sign of self-hatred.” “Can you really keep up this behavior?”

images4.jpegIf you want to change a habit, you’ll have to substitute the new behavior for about two month. That’s as long as it will take you to establish the new habit in place of the old. No doubt about it, they will be the longest two months of your life. You will invent a thousand reasons to go back to the old behavior–it’s your birthday, you just started a diet, you are stressed, now is not a good time. But like having a baby, there is never a perfect time, you have to gear up, crank up your determination and get busy.

Just when you do, your friends will start chipping away at your resolve. They will give you excuses to fail. They will tell you they like you the way you are. They will whine that you don’t need to change. Why are your friends so focused on sabotage? Because if you change, they will have to change. They will have to get to know the new you, they will have to change the way they treat you . And your friends don’t want to change. It’s too much work. It is a lot less work to complain until you quit changing.

Your friends can be persistent and threatening. Most people don’t like confrontation, and they do like their friends, so they cave in and go back to being “normal.” And there goes the path to success.

If you are determined to change, tell your friends you plan ahead of time and enlist their help. Ask them to support you before the chorus of complaints begins. Often asking for support not only makes friends understand that this is important to you, it helps you be clear about what you want. And talking about the change helps you be clear about what you want for your future.

That doesn’t mean your friends will always support you, but it gives you a better start. And a good start is the best way to start toward a good finish.


–Quinn McDonald is a life coach and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

How To: Write an Ad for Your Art

Ads help your clients understand your work. If the client doesn’t understand your work, they won’t  buy it.  If the client can’t understand your ad,  they won’t understand your art and you won’t make a sale.

Several years ago, there was a trend for artists to use their pets in the ad. The reason? A pet supposedly made the artist seem more appealing, interesting, human or fun. Generally the pet’s name was included as well as a title, “Chief Tester,” or “Canine of the Board.” I never understood this trend. I wasn’t selling my pet.  Why waste space showing the client my cat and not more of my art? Most ads are sold by size, and the more space you use up not showing your product and selling it, the less space you have to allow the client to fall in love with your work.

Rule #1 for art ads: Show your art. It’s what you are selling. If you do pet portraits, paintings, or other artwork, you can put your pet in the picture. Otherwise, leave your pet out of the picture.

Rule #2: Give the clients a reason to like your work. Close ups of your art is best. If your art is functional, showing it in use is also a good idea. Clothing is almost always shown on gorgeous models so you can imagine yourself looking that wonderful if you wear that item.

Rule #3: Talk to your audience. That means you have to know who your audience is. Hint–it’s not “everyone.” Use words, references, and ideas your audience knows and approves of. If your target audience is young women between the ages of 16 and 30, skip the references to Woodstock, Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy and The Beatles.

Rule #4: Keep the copy simple. The best copy includes the features of your product (characteristics that make it special) and the benefit to your client. (Benefit is how your product will make the user’s life easier). I know it might sound obvious that a waterproof purse lining will not absorb spills from your water bottle, but the reader may not be thinking about that.

Rule #5: Include your contact information. Give the reader at least one way to see more of your work (store hours, website) and one way to reach you (phone number or email.) And include the name of your business as well.

Rule #6: Show the price. This is controversial. Many artists believe hiding the price keeps clients from rejecting it before the artists speaks to them about it. I don’t believe this. If the client is shopping by price alone, and will eliminate your piece only because the price is too high, the price will always be too high. I’ve tried it both ways, and I get more sales if I show the price.

Yes, ad writing can be complicated. Yes, there are a lot more rules. But if you follow the ones above, you’ll have an ad people will understand. And that’s a big step forward.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a trainer in communicating clearly. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Hidden Costs on Websites

There is an annoying trend starting up on websites, and I’d like to nip it in the bud. All of you who sell products and services on your websites, quit hiding the cost of your memberships, classes, and products. Quit making me click on “buy now” or fill out registration forms with all my information before I find what I have to pay.

You are probably thinking that telling me the price up front will make me leave, because my buying decision is based on price, and if you can show me a few more facts, I’ll think the price is a bargain.

secret hiding placeDon’t know about everyone out there, but if I can’t find the price, I feel like I’m being scammed. I don’t like searching for things you cleverly hide. You can’t make your clients eat your vegetables on your website.

Put your price where I can see it and consider it. I’m not so dumb that if you’ve led me on a chase through your website, and I finally find the price, I’m going to think it’s worthwhile and buy.

And while I’m at it, stop calling prices “investment fees,” “opportunity cost” and other nonsense. It’s a price, and I’m willing to pay it if you give me real information and put the price up front, so I can make a decision like an adult. If you don’t, I’m finding someone who will.


–Quinn McDonald teaches Writing for the Web and other business communication classes. She is also a certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.