Alphabet Journal with Copper Cover

For journalers, there is no such thing as too many journals. So when Lynda Abare of 5 Acre Arts taught her copper-cover journal again, I signed up again. This time I wanted to make the journal for someone else. Lynda does amazing things with repujado–metal embossing. And today’s amazing thing was a copper-covered, metal-embossed journal.

The front of the journal is embossed with an alphabet.

Lynda’s class is relaxed and chatty. She helps you when you don’t understand what to do, and her kits make you feel like an expert when you are no such thing. What makes this journal wonderful is that the complicated binding is easy-peasy. The individual signatures (groups of pages) are stitched together in a running stitch. The stitch is strong and creates holders for the ribbons that hold the signatures together with decorative paper panels. The ribbons can be adjusted so the book is either tight and designed for writing only, or looser and ready for pasting in tickets, memorabilia, and photos.

There are other choices, too. You can make the front and back the same, or you can choose a different pattern. Lynda brings in stencils and rubbing plates–enough to make everyone feel they have chosen the best design for their journal.

I chose a braided pattern for the back. It says something about the complications we face in life and how we use them to create a pattern we recognize and can use for strength or for beauty.

The back is a braided pattern that looks great aged with a torch.

Once you’ve done the embossing, there are two more choices–you can color the covers using a torch or a chemical oxidation. The oxidation is done with liver of sulfur, and I used enough of that when I made jewelry. And I love a good torch. So I torched both sides of the copper to make it look old and used. I like a book that’s wiser than I am.

If you live (or are visiting) in the Phoenix area, check Lynda’s website and see if she’s teaching. No prior experience is necessary to turn out a useful and beautiful journal.

And if you need to fill up that journal? Well, then, you can get in touch with me. I help people decide how to fill up their journals.

Signatures are sewn, then held together with ribbon.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who teaches raw-art journaling–keeping an art journal for people who can’t draw.

The Tears of Haiti

In the past two nights, I have dreamed that there were shadows hovering over my pool. They are thirsty. Amidst the death in Haiti, the mothers crying for their children, the fear, the pain, I keep thinking of the thirst. The same thirst that stalked New Orleans after Katrina. There is no clean water, the water stopped running when the earthquake ruptured the pipes. In a few days the stores will be empty of juice and soft drinks, bottled water, purchased or taken. I can’t get rid of the thought of the thirst. . .for water, for help, for comfort.

I can’t do anything to slake that thirst with my own hands. Oh, wait, I can. I can spread the word of organizations that are helping. Five dollars is not too little. No amount is too small.

The Episcopal Church Visual Arts organization is asking artists for help. Donate here:

The Huffington Post has a list of more than 100 organizations of every nationality, ethnicity, and stripe. Choose a way to help from that list.

The musician Wyclef Jean has an organization that is so easy to donate to: you text to a number and your phone account is billed $5.00

CERF, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, sent me a note saying, “Our friends at Artist Trust in Seattle have put together this list of aid organizations helping in the relief efforts and this link to a New York Times article lists organizations providing aid.

We are all part of the same world. We all share the same breath. You can help. You can save a life. The Talmud says, “He who saves a single life, saves the world entire.” Save the world right now. You can.

Recovering Perfectionist’s Journal Pages

Somewhere in your head is the vision of the perfect journal. Maybe it’s an art journal, with ink-and-watercolor wash pages, which instantly recall a vacation or a romantic getaway.  Or maybe it’s all written in fountain pen, in a lovely Palmer penmanship. It’s a nice thought, but it’s unlikely.

Even Gwen Diehn, who creates breathtaking journals, admits to mistakes.

Life is messy. Your journal will be, too.  In fact, it should be. I teach journaling classes, so I meet people who are shocked when they page through my journals. “This isn’t beautiful!” they will accuse. Or, “I thought you would have only lovely pages!” Whatever gave them that idea? Why would I want only lovely pages? How would I know they were lovely if they aren’t interspersed with unlovely pages for comparison?

Unless you create a neat stack of wonderful pages and then bind them into a book, there are going to be imperfect pages in your journal.

Journals are for experimenting, not documenting perfection. While I love pen-and-ink drawings, I have  lot more then that in my journal–everything from collage to pencil sketches, and ideas for raw art. I’ll admit I’m biased–I don’t like journals that look like they were made from a kit. I like journals that look like real life on real pages—some inspired, some desperate, some with incomplete ideas, drawings, snippets of words. A real journal looks like a real life. And real life, at least mine, isn’t neat or tidy or all wrapped up with an elastic closure.

As a recovering perfectionsist, I’ve come to grips with a journal I use daily. That means pages written on with various pens, idea-generators torn from magazines, ideas that didn’t work out and a few magnificent pages.

It’s a much more realistic approach to journaling. There are people who tell me that they are waiting for their lives to “quiet down” before they start coaching, go back to school, get married, or have a baby. They never get around to any of those things. Life doesn’t settle down.  Coaching,  journaling and marriages takes place in the middle of messes, tears, joy, and confusion, generally of your own making.  That’s how life is.

Occasionally, if I really messed up a page, I’ll cut it out or cover it with gesso, but largely, I leave it in as a reminder that I’m a recovering perfectionist, and today was another day in recovery.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a messy journal. Several of them, in fact. She is also a life coach and creativity coach.

Choosing the “No” That Works

Most people I talk to wish they could say “No” more effectively. We know we should, but the people who are asking are family or friends, people we love and don’t want to disappoint. So we say “yes” or “just this once” and the pressure mounts.

“No” is a choice you have to make for your own sanity.

What to do? I’ve tried to say “No” only to be met with various replies, from ones that generate a big load of guilt to ones that tell me how long the favor will take–and it’s always “15 minutes, max.” Of course nothing in the real world can be done in that time (well, maybe brushing your teeth), but sure enough, it makes you want to agree.

So here is a technique that works. It’s not easy, but it’s easier than saying “yes” and exhausting yourself or heaping stress on yourself. Because that’s what we are doing–when we say “yes” when we should say “no” we are the generator of our own stress.

1. Listen to the entire request. Cutting the speaker off before they are done only makes them more demanding and insistent.

2. Re-phrase what they want you to do. This is important so you can understand what is being asked of you. Frequently, people asking favors use diminishing language (words like only, just, little, quick, easy) and you hear that instead of the task.

3. Agree, but set a time limit. If you WANT do what is asked of you, and you CAN do it, agree but give yourself plenty of time. This includes setting a time you will spend on the task. For example: “So you want me to take you shopping for a used car? I can come with you from 2 to 4 on Saturday. How does that sound?” or “You want me to proofread your marketing letter? Sure, I’ll be able to get to it on Monday, the 18th, and complete it on the 21st. Does that sound OK?”

Notice that in each case you are asking if the time is agreeable. If not, you have a great excuse to turn it down. If the person wants more of your time or a faster deadline, you can decline, having offered what is possible.

4. If you don’t want to or can’t, suggest someone else. “I can’t go on Saturday, but you might want to ask Joe, he knows a lot about cars.” Suggesting some other solution helps the other person walk away and makes you helpful.

5. If you can’t suggest someone else, say no without giving a reason. And express regret. “I wish I could help you, but it’s not possible at this time.” “Oh, Mary, I sure wish I could help, but I just can’t. Please ask me again next time you need help.” It’s important not to give a reason, because the other person will brush your reason aside, because it is not important to them. Then you are left thinking up another excuse or arguing, neither of which works.

6. You will probably hear, “Why? What else are you doing?” This is hard, because we are not used to protecting our privacy anymore. We are instantly accessible by cell phone, Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and texting. Saying “No” feels naked. And a lie is almost impossible, because we’ll be found out through social networks. So the only answer is “I’m afraid I’m busy with something else.” And stick to that. When asked “Well, what is it? Why won’t you tell me?” you’ll remember that having a completely open, accessible life has drawbacks, and make some changes. But for now, you can say, “That’s not the point. I just want to be really clear I can’t help you with XYZ. I hope you find someone, though.”  Of course, this isn’t something you can say to your boss at work. We’re talking friends and family here.

There are times when you will have to choose between two “No’s” or say “No” more often than your guilt-meter wants you to, but remember that even in an airline emergency, when the yellow oxygen masks drop in front of you, you are supposed to help yourself first, then those around you. That’s a good image to keep in mind.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who teaches people how to talk to each other.

Signs of the Times

In Sedona, I saw these signs–odd signposts along the way.

It seems we are selling the first amendment. In case you didn’t know, you can buy it in Oak Creek, outside of Sedona.

Thank goodness we can park while buying the first ammendment.

You have such a nice face. Yes, it is a natural face. Take pride in your natural approach to life. Oh, yeah, you have lumpy legs.

Don't look at the legs, look at the face.

–Quinn McDonald © 2010 All rights reserved.

Sedona Magic

Sedona is Arizona’s magic town. Flagstaff is the ski town that gets a lot of snow. (Surprised? Yeah, it’s true.) Payson is the town that shows off the Mugollon Rim–the part of the state that pushed up 2,000 feet almost overnight millions of years ago, giving us the Sonoran Desert floor. Prescott is a Western Town that was the first capital. But Sedona is a town of red rocks and vortexes. The place is home to big ravens and amazing sights, big blue skies and mountains with snow tops. Sedona is at 4,000 feet, so the surrounding mountains show off snow caps in the winter.

The vortexes are areas where the veil between worlds is thin. People have different experiences there. Some feel joy, some see clearly, some feel nothing. It doesn’t matter, it’s always Sedona.

Red Rock mesas. Mesa means table in Spanish.

When you drive up to the town, you see the mesas from far away, as the limestone gives way to the iron-rich rock.

The rocks look different as the sun shifts.

There is a wonderful symmetry in the trees coming down the ridge.

The church seems to grow out of the rock.

The Church of the Cross is stark and lovely. Inside it is dark, cool, and smells of incense.

You never get tired of watching the light play across the rock face.

There is little twilight in Arizona. Once the sun sets, the earth gets dark quickly. The sky stays bright for a bit, but the earth gets shadowy. If you are lucky, the sky lights up with the same red-orange as the rocks.

–Quinn McDonald, © 2010 All rights reserved. All photos and text.

The End of the Earth in a Journal

My brother keeps a journal. Who knew? He travels a good deal, and he keeps track in his Moleskine. Ever curious, I asked him why a Moleskine–and he gave some excellent reasons. He uses a 5 x 8.5 inch lined journal. He likes it because the quality of the paper allows him to use a fountain pen to write, the paper is smooth for fast writing. The folios are stitched into the spine, not glued in, so it’s sturdier. All good reasons.

I just ordered a larger Mokeskine with watercolor paper for some larger raw-art journaling work. It just arrived, but I like the watercolor paper a lot already. You can write, draw and collage on it successfully without leaking through. Oh, and watercolor in it, too.

Stamps from the end of the earth

My brother and his wife just came back from the End of the Earth. No kidding. They were in Argentina, in Patagonia, at the sourhernmost tip of the continent, which is the Southernmost city in the world—Ushuaia.  The passport control there volunteered to stamp people’s passport with the official stamps. My brother had his journal stamped. This is the place where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. The very edge of the earth–the end of land.

We compared translating the stamp as either “end of the earth” or “the end of the world” and decided that “end of the earth” was a geographical location and “end of the world” was a time stamp–one you wouldn’t be bringing back anywhere.

If you are wondering why this canal is called “Beagle” —it was the name of the boat Charles Darwin was on when he did his research on evolution and he sailed through the canal on his way to the Galapagos islands.

I haven’t seen my brother and his wife in more than five years. Not to put too fine a point on it, but at a certain age, waiting that long is taking a risk. So now that we are together, I keep thinking of what I should be showing them, or where we should be. It was a huge effort today to pull myself into the present, to stay right here with them right now, and not try to think about the next thing to do or how soon they are leaving. I want each moment to last forever, and yet I keep planning and thinking about dinner, or the next day. This is an important lesson, staying present. It’s easier when I’m doing work then when I’m having fun. Meanwhile, I hope the end of the world won’t happen just yet.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.