The Artist’s Space

No matter how or when you do your art, you create a special space to work. An artist often has to create in temporary spaces: on an airplane, in a hotel room, in a field. Artists can make a space their own quickly and efficiently.

In Phoenix, The Fine Art Expo runs from January to March. For three months, artists work in an exhibition space–a large tent. They work in cold or heat, with people watcing or completely alone.

Karen Cooper's travelin pastels

Karen Cooper's traveling pastels

Karen Cooper works in pastels and keeps her tools precisely around her. Scroll down on the page provided in the link till you find the incredibly illuminated table. It’s amazing how she coaxed that warm light out of those blue lights. Karen’s pastels are shown in their portable drawers.

Daniel Long’s workspace was a piece of art in itself.

Daniel Long's palette

Daniel Long's palette

Several sketches were scattered around, a palette loaded with paint, and the ever-important brushes, in a recycled Cutty Sark container. Did he used the contents to clean brushes or celebrate? I didn’t ask.

Long's brushes

Long's brushes

Welcoming Fear and Uncertainty

When you own your business, you have freedom to set your schedule and choose your clients. You also have freedom from a regular paycheck, reduced healthcare costs, and shoving the blame for bad decisions somewhere else. Not all freedoms are equal.

Where are my tools?

Where are my tools?

In a down-turning economy, you would think that many companies would offer training to help their reduced workforce do the work of more people. You would think, but that is not happening. So this morning, I decided to have a meeting with my fear and uncertainty.

Looking at my schedule, I see it’s not as full as last month’s. I immediately feel fear, financial stress, and worry. That’s how I face most problems. Trouble is, those emotions doesn’t solve problems. So I sit down to a meeting with my fear and stress. This is actually a great form of meditation. Instead of pushing all thoughts out of my head, as many ways of meditation instruct, I invite fear, uncertainty, and stress in. I sit with them, and ask them what they have to contribute.

“If you don’t get work soon, you will lose the house,” Fear said, getting right to the bottom line.

“But you only know training and writing and journaling, and that isn’t being used in this economy,” said Uncertainty, “and you don’t know anything about wielding a shovel for all those shovel-ready projects,” Uncertainty added.

“You are too old to get back to school, and that would take too long to retrain you, so you better stop eating or driving, because you are in bad trouble,” Stress said.

“Thanks for letting me know, ” I said, “but once we’ve established all that, what comes next? You’ve told me what isn’t working, but what can I do that will work?”

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. Fear spoke up first. “Well, if you don’t do something, you will be in big trouble.”

“OK,” I said, “But that’s the same thing you already said. I want to hear something I can do, undertake, think about.” Again, Fear, Uncertainty and Stress were quiet. They had not been quiet for a long time. Every time I sat down to meditate, they would clamor so loudly that I could not meditate. I spent all my time chasing them out of my head.

By inviting them in, listening to them, and asking for specifics, they had exhausted their efforts in the shortest of time. So we sat there, in silence, until I said, “Well, I teach several courses on journaling. I could write a workbook on one of them, and that would reach a bigger audience. And my friend Helen has some really good ideas, maybe we could put a class together that neither one of us could teach separately.

Fear, Uncertainty and Stress immediately began to talk over each other, bringing up reasons why neither of those ideas would work. And I argued with them, facing each objection, thinking it through, and answering it.

At the end of the hour of meditation, I had a plan. I would spend a portion of the next month writing the workbook, another part looking for training clients, and another part working with Helen to see if we could develop an interesting, fun class.

I felt happy and hopeful. Because I sat down with Fear, Uncertainty, and Stress and listened to them, I saw that they didn’t really have good ideas. They were disruptive and bothersome, but the more I chased them out of my meditation space, the more time and effort they used. Inviting them in and facing them reduced their importance and gave me enough space to come up with ideas that might work. Arguing with them allowed me to overcome objections and refine the plan, to put a time limit on my efforts, and to create time to do it.

Meditation is not sitting in perfect inspiration. It’s work, and it doesn’t always demand an empty mind. Just a clear one.

Quinn McDonald owns QuinnCreative, a business that offers training in communications, including writing, public speaking, and turning horrible PowerPoint presentations into interesting, informative communication tools. She is writing a book on One-Sentence Journaling.  (c) All rights reserved. 2009.

Hiking with Trekking Poles

One of the joys of owning your business is that you can adjust your schedule to accommodate things you want to do. True, most of my adjustments are working till midnight, but today I went on a hike. It was one of those big-blue-bowl-of-a-sky days, just right for hiking.

Trekking poles

Trekking poles

In the middle of the city sits Thunderbird Mountain. It has great trails, wonderful views, and it’s convenient to my home office. Last time I was there, I slipped on some loose gravel and twisted my knee. I just bought a pair of trekking poles, and now the mountain is possible.

Thunderbird Mountain, looking East.

Thunderbird Mountain, looking East.

Trekking poles look sort of like ski poles. They have three adjustable segments, a carbon steel pointed end which can be covered with rubber stoppers for street walking. Using poles ease the weight on knees and hips, and help keep your balance crossing rivers. Trekking poles also help you manage steep drops and climbs.

For me, mountain hiking is now possible. I used the poles and hiked the trail that went steeply up the mountain, around the smaller hill next to it, and back on the other side. There are some steep climbs and some short, rough drops. I might have lost my breath, but I didn’t lose my footing. I enjoyed some great views.  And when I got home, my knees weren’t killing me.


Thunderbird Mountain, looking South.

Trekking poles are great for stability and balance. Who knew George Orwell was a trekking pole user? It’s right there in Animal Farm: “Two legs bad. Four legs, good.”

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She owns QuinnCreative, runs training programs in writing and journal writing courses.

The 1000 Journals Project

The Phoenix Art Museum was host to the 1,000 Journals Project. Today, the museum ran a documentary about the project, with commentary afterward by the documentary filmmaker, Andrea Kreuzhage.

the 1000 journal project is a book and a DVD

the 1000 journal project is a book and a DVD

Here’s the story: In June of 2000, a graphic designer, known in this project as Someguy, had an idea for a collaborative art project. He would distribute 1,000 blank journals, allow people to fill them in any way they wanted to, and return them to him. Read the rest of the review of the book and documentary.

Read about the 1000 journal project.

See if the film will be shown at a location near you.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach and journal keeper.

Products Pumped Up With Air

Early in life, I learned my family was different. Of course they were, they were immigrants to this country. I alone was born here, and my parents would point me out to strangers and say, “She is our Native American.” They did not understand the odd looks that scrutinized the curly-blond hair and green eyes on a little fair-skinned toddler.

I missed a lot growing up: fried pies, Hostess Snowballs, Barbie dolls, popsicles, baloney, fluffernutter sandwiches. My parents were frugal. My mom baked bread and planted a garden. We ate from the garden. The sandwiches I took to school were an embarrassment: homemade bread filled with our own lettuce and tomatoes, with sliced chicken from last night’s dinner. I traded them eagerly with schoolmates for mashed bean tortillas. Much better.

As much as I tried, I was always different. I never fit in with the “in” girls. So it was no surprise when I grew up that my kitchen didn’t look like my neighbors: no Cool Whip, no crock pot, no flavored coffees. I did have a container of whipping cream, a pressure cooker and an espresso pot. Not the fancy one, the one that worked on the stove top.

foamy stuffTwo more modern conveniences are missing from my kitchen: almost butter that has nothing to do with butter and air-injected soap. We are a foaming nation. We love stuff that is pumped up with air to make it look fluffy and like more. (I will not, no, not, go for the metaphor.)

But I had to try them. Unlike my parents, who banned the strange new fads in favor of the solid known, I tried whipped margarine and pouffy soap. How in the world does anyone cook with this stuff? I was trying to fry eggs this morning. Over easy.whipped butter

This takes just enough butter to coat the bottom of a pan. Depending on the size of a pan, you can use a teaspoon or so. I kept having to add more of the tub stuff because it kept disappearing. It vanished. It left little grease spots on the bottom of the pan. No wonder. The first ingredient in this fake butter is water.

After about a quarter cup (and it’s more expensive than butter) I had enough to crack the eggs into the pan. They burned solidly to the bottom of the pan. Whipped stuff doesn’t keep anything from sticking, so the pan is still on the stove, soaking the burned eggs off the bottom. images4.jpeg

Which brings me to the whipped soap. To get it through the tube to whip it, it has to be a liquid consistency. They add extra water so you can pay more for pouffy soap. In a country obsessed with germs, they are cutting back on how much soap you get to use to wash your hands.

I pumped some of this stuff into the pan. It floats on top of the water, not breaking the surface tension, not emulsifying the oil. Not cleaning. How can pouffy soap not clean pouffy margarine? I check the label of this supposedly healthier margarine. Not only is it’s first ingredient water, the next is . . .”palm fruit oil.” Probably not date palms. Probably coconut palms. Coconut oil and palm oil are both partially hydrogenated and not on the edible list.

At least real butter is a known substance. This stuff doesn’t have a shelf life, it has a half life. In the time it has taken me to write this, the pouffy soap is still floating on top of the water in the pan. I’m going to dump this mess down the sink, get some real soap and baking soda for grit and scrub the pan clean. And cook with butter and wash with soap. And get the whipped air out of my life.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach.  See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2007-9. All rights reserved.

Cyber Networking Introductions

New to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? In this cyberspace, where “friend” is a verb (as in “Mary is friending you,”) there are ways to make networking seem more natural.

Image (c) Elizabeth Perry. See her link below.

Image (c) Elizabeth Perry. See her link below.

When you are asking someone to join your circle (called “friending” in Facebook and “connecting” on LinkedIn, you create a list of contacts and the program sends an automatic invitation. You can add a personal message. In fact, you should.

I’ve received a number of letters that leave me confused. “John Doe wants to friend you. Before he can see your profile, please tell us you know John.” I may know John, but I’m not remembering him or placing him in context. To me, at that moment, he is a blank.

If you’ve lived long enough to be a functioning adult, you know hundreds of people in former jobs, volunteer events, high school, college, graduate school, choir, 10K runs, and charity auctions. The names and identities don’t always connect quickly.

The same people who ask to connect with me would never behave that way in person. And to make cyber networking easier, act as you would in real life. Attach a personal message with your notice. “We met at the half marathon in Santa Barbara and discussed running shoes before the event. I’d like to put you on my LinkedIn networking list.” Giving the other person a hint about your identity and how you know each other is not only polite, it makes for a more likely positive response.

If it is a business connection, add a sentence about your business connection, even if your last met socially. “I’m the non-fiction writer specializing in creativity, we met at the writer’s conference” tells the recipient a lot about you, including that you are thoughtful.

I’ve never felt comfortable with people who come up to me at an event and say, “Do you remember me?” I’m one of those unfortunate people who wouldn’t recognize my best friend if I met her out of context–at the grocery store, for example. When confronted by “Do you remember me?” I am always tempted to say, “Why should I?” But, of course, I don’t. I say, “Of course I do, but I can’t remember your name!” And hope she tells me.

The advantage of adding information to your request for cyber-networking is that you are sparing yourself a senseless additional exhchange of emails, or worse, connecting with people you don’t know.

Keep it short, give detailed information, and give the person a reason to agree to be linked to you. Cyber networking doesn’t have to be lonely.

—Image: Elizabeth Perry draws every day. See her blog here:

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who is on Facebook and is learning to Twitter. Slowly. She has had a website, QuinnCreative, for nine years.

One Sentence Journaling Online Course

Wish you could keep up with a journal but never have the energy or time? You can keep a journal in one sentence a day. Two, if you are ambitious.

Registration for the online One-Sentence journaling class is now closed. Thanks to all who signed up. I’ll announce the next class in my newsletter.

Meanwhile, read the  latest blog on One-Sentence journaling if you like.

Money-Saving Tips in the Newspaper

In the last two weeks, both the New York Times and Arizona Republic have carried stories that make me squinch my eyes and cringe. Both articles are tips for dealing wit the economy.

The Arizona Republic ran an article on how to save money during these tough times. OK. So far, so good. But the suggestions were laughable for all but the amazingly wealthy. Arizona, at the moment, is the 5th poorest state in the union.  Here are some of the suggestions—cut your housecleaning crew down to once every other week. Have your gardener come just once a month. Go out to lunch instead of the evening meal. Consider buying your own nail polish, as it saves a bit on those regular manicures and pedicures.

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

I’m baffled by this. If you can afford a housecleaner, gardener, eating out at all and regular manicures and pedicures, you don’t have a worry in the world.

Let’s get down to the reality portion of this economy: drug and rehab budgets are being cut, so is health care for children, food prices are not coming down, and gas prices are inching up again. Once a month in our town, we have big trash pickup. People haul those bulky items that don’t fit in the standard trash can to the curb, and a special truck and frontloader scoop them away. For the last two months, I’ve watched pickup trucks cruising through neighborhoods scavenging those piles of trash.

By the time the frontloader shows up, the piles are reduced to yard trimmings. Even those are picked over for left-over citrus fruit. Anything metal or repairable has been loaded into trucks. I don’t think these people are worried about their housecleaning schedule.

This past Sunday, the New York Times ran an article on how the economy provides a handy excuse for laying off that pesky maid who dared to ask for New Year’s Eve off. Or to blow off your bourgeois in-laws’ invitation to Disney World, presumably because you can’t afford it, when in reality you prefer Europe to Florida. The article was written in a surprisingly shallow “let them eat cake” tone.

Where is the editor who should have spiked this story? Where is the managing editor, who, having seen a story written in a similar tone the week before, should be ashamed he let that one get in instead of adding  another one to the pile?

This economy is dividing us into the have and have-nots. There is no middle class. There are the working poor and the incredibly rich. The New York Times, a respectable newspaper of honored heritage is behaving in a way that shows a shocking disregard for the people who are trying to live normal lives and navigate their way through a recession without maids or pedicures. The rich will muddle through, let’s see some help for the rest of us.

Image from:

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who runs training programs on communicating with others.

No Decisions Based on Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions. How to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be honest. Be fair. Ask before you spend the client’s money. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen.

Then came the giant one: no fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired. And it was that fear that made me a lousy corporate employee. So, on my own, I decided–no fear.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of when you own your business–not making a profit, getting underbid, outperformed and over cautious. But fear was the big “Aha!” in my business life.images3.jpeg

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table, you get a different picture.

“What if my competition underbids me?” Became “How much do I need to earn to make a fair profit and do the job well?” If it costs me $10,000 to do the job, and I underbid on purpose and then get the job for $8,000, I am not getting an $8,000 job, I’m losing $2,000. That’s fear.

“I hate Client X, she’s always blaming me for her own mistakes.” I can choose
to work with Client X and be clear on responsibilities or I can pass on the job. But if I continue to let her blame me for her own mistakes, I’m letting fear make my decisions. At the end of the job, she’ll either blame me anyway or I won’t respect myself for taking on blame that isn’t mine.

Fear undermines us. It justifies bad behavior. It is the road to the collapse of self-respect. I can’t live my life without fear, but there are a million great reasons to make decisions and always one lousy one–I did it because I was scared.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. (c) 2009 All rights reserved.

The Right Card

A wonderful gift is to know someone so well that he sends you the right Valentine’s card. I’m not given to treacly sentiments; I don’t like roses unless they are wild and smell heavenly; and surely I don’t need more jewelry.

So this morning, Valentine’s Day, I found the card below at my place at the table.

Card (c) Chris Moncrieff, Persimmon Press

Card (c) Chris Moncrieff, Persimmon Press

It says, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” –Elwyn Brooks White.

I had to look him up to recognize him as E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web and the co-author (with Strunk) of Elements of Style. It made me laugh with delight. Which is perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She’s married to Kent, a personal chef. They live in the Sonoran desert.