Different? How Different?

There is a certain frisson in being different. Most of us really don’t want to be. We want to think we are different, but not actually be different. Different enough to still be interesting, maybe eccentric, but not stand-alone different. There is fear in having to explain ourselves—and failing.

These arrows are on the front page of all my journals. They show movement in different directions, but without labels.

There was a recent uptick in “be different and proud” quotes on Twitter and it set me to thinking. As an artist, there is a certain threat level to being different. There are fads in supplies and techniques.  Several years ago, anyone who could push a thread through a bead became a “jewelry designer;” those with more patience and talent made amulet bags. If you didn’t make them, your talent was suspect—as if you hadn’t reached an expected artistic developmental stage.  In the collage world, there was a huge surge in using photographs of people,  topping heads with pointy hats and adding a bird somewhere in the collage. It  moved from being different to cliche, with defenders and detractors. “Different” varies from “early adapter” to “outsider artist. It’s hard to eat vision or to feel connected to your path when you are alone and a large group of successful others are pouring out the fad of the minute.

Being different in the corporate world doesn’t often win awards, eihter. I once refused to fire a writer who was labeled as different. He was serious, bright, and had a talent for concise, image-rich, clear prose that drove home a point.  He was also an introvert and overweight. The department head pointed it out as “not fitting in with our image” and urged me to fire the writer. I refused, pointing to the employee’s serious talent. Suddenly I was the one who didn’t fit in, who refused to do as told, who had defied a supervisor’s order. Within six months, I was called in for a review and told, “You are different and seem to enjoy it.” It wasn’t a compliment, and I was pushed out of the company. To my satisfaction, the good writer remained.

It’s hard being different if it affects your livelihood or your ethics. It’s easier to go along to get along. Being different isn’t a label; it’s is a daily decision-making process that balances providing for your family, being accepted by your friends, and standing up for what you believe. Sometimes that can be quite lonely. It can cost you a client or friends. You doubt yourself. You struggle with the possibility that you are simply wrong.

We live in a world of image, driven by consumer values. There is huge pressure to be accepted, to fit in, to have supporters, successful Facebook “Like” pages, Re-tweets. Do you express your opinion if it is different from your client’s and she is expressing hers as the right opinion? Do you stay silent? What about a friend’s veiled slur against a religion?  What if it is your religion? What about a snarky remark about looks? Weight? Who do you defend, except yourself? We make small decisions every day, and they shape our character, our jobs, our lives. Be careful of the little ones. They change the shape of your soul.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and life- and certified creativity coach. © 2010 All rights reserved.

Raw Art Journaling with Poetry

Raw-art journaling is the combination of abstract art and words. It’s an art form for everyone, from writers to artists who aren’t illustrators. For those who love the written word in content, but aren’t calligraphers, raw art is a deeply satisfying journaling experience. You can work on it for minutes or hours, add color or leave it in black-and-white.

Here are two recent journal pages from my raw-art journal. The one below is a quote from

The quote is from Anthony Machado, about the road you create and can look back on.

The quote says, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, nothing more, there is no road. the road is made by walking. On glancing behind, one sees the path that will never be trod again.”

The second one is a quote from Lorna Crozier. Also about walking, but in a completely different way. The vertical orange lines are the book binding stitches holding the signature in place.

Poem by Lorna Crozier. Art by Quinn McDonald. Pitt Pen, watercolor pencils on paper.

The poem is called “Plato’s Angel” and is from her book, “Inventing the Hawk.”
It thinks the world
into being
with its huge mind
its pure intelligence
On the curve of its crystal
you see yourself,
you see your shadow
One of you will put on shoes,
will walk into the world.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book to be called Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. It will be published in 2011 by North Light Books.

Grounding Yourself Every Day

The clever use of a map on the cover makes it clear we need directions for grounding!

Grounding is good. Yep, ground yourself. We like our friends to be grounded. “She’s great to work with. Really grounded.” Ummm, what’s ‘grounded’ mean and how do you do it? If you are older, you may remember grounding as the sharp reprimand from one of your parents to “pull yourself together,” followed by a  DiNozzo-style dope-slap across the back of your head. Now that you are an adult, you have to do this yourself. Both the pulling yourself together and the dope-slap. Grounding is a kinder, gentler way of achieving the same result.

Grounding helps keep you steady, keeps you from becoming dramatic, frantic, and badly behaved. It’s a self-calming technique. To make it work, you have to vary the method, so it stays fresh. The point is to stay in the moment, not to let your mind fly to what you don’t have, what you are afraid of. Staying in the moment is hard, but worth the effort.

Listing favorite items or events helps you get grounded

Bo Mackison, a photographer in the Mid-West, needed some grounding recently. As she was going to be traveling, she decided to make herself a set of flash cards to remind herself of ways to stay grounded. But to make them work, she also made them small–and in a tiny journal that fits in a pocket or the palm of her hand.

Take a distracting walk, noting what nature has to teach you.

Above is a page she can use while walking. What do you see–put some detail to it–colors, textures. Seeing details helps you stay in the moment. Grounding averts melt-downs by diverting the reptilian brain to notice details that delight the senses.

Finding a memory of a safe place and visualizing it creates it in your mind.

A calming exercise helps her think of a safe place. By adding detail, she can visualize being safe and protected, reducing anxiety. Below is a reminder that all things pass. While we generally use it to hurry on the bad parts of our life, it is also good to remember that the good times pass, as well, and to savor every moment.

Bo’s grounding journal has a total of 16 pages and measures slightly bigger than a business card. Make one for yourself and discover a calm and peace through exercising your senses.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and is writing a book for journalers who don’t know how to draw.

Difficult Topic? Explain it to a Child.

Adding a new perspective is something I do in coaching all the time. Sometimes you can understand your life, a new idea, someone else’s idea, by using a different perspective. Standing in another (mental) place to look at the problem. Now I wanted to explain something difficult for a client. The library is my favorite place to do research. On my way in, a coyote trotted by. Ah, life in the desert.

Investigataing Art by Moy Keightley
Investigataing Art by Moy Keightley

I just needed some instruction, easy enough for a child to understand. That was the exact way I needed to explain the difficult topic. The adult section’s books were not interesting, had no pictures, and were too wordy.

Back to the library computer, to look for a book on the topic in the children’s section. It’s a trick I’ve used before–and needed again. Well-written children’s books stick to the essentials, and use step-by-step instruction. The author of a well-planned children’s book will take a difficult topic and break it down into easy to understand pieces, logically arranged. So easy an adult can understand it.

I found what I needed by doing research in the children’s section. Because our library has self-checkout, I didn’t get asked any questions about grandchildren visiting. And now my clients will understand something difficult because I made it easy enough for a child to understand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach, who owns Quinncreative.  She is a trainer in business writing and keeps a raw art journal.

Big Journal, Small Journal?

AquaBee 80-lb. Co-Mo sketch with watercolor pencil tests

What is the perfect size for a journal? For years, i worked small–4 x 6 was a format that was just right for me. It was the Twitter of page sizes–with a small format, I chose my words carefully. Kept my images tight and small. But mixed media was limited. No envelopes, photographs, even some postage stamps took up too much space. The advantage is portability– always room for a small journal in my bag.

Then I fell under the spell of Moleskine.  What writer wouldn’t be tempted by the journal of Hemingway and Picasso? The paper was heavy enough, but the slightly slick surface of the paper made using watercolor pencil a scrubbing experience.  But the 5 x 8 size still fit in my bag. My bags are big—prescription sunglasses, car and house keys, all those loyalty cards from the stores, a hairbrush, lip balm and a cell phone add up.

Then a friend made me a huge journal, with heavy, thick watercolor paper. It was 16 x 12–filling pages that big takes a lot of gesso!   I came to love the page size–it was room enough to develop a pattern, a color scheme, tell a story. But no, it didn’t fit in my bag.

The next few months were torture. I was conflicted. I wanted a journal with watercolor paper that was absorbent enough to

Three journals: big Moleskine in the back, medium journal open in middle, 6 x 6 Aquabee in front.

hold up to collage but not so thirsty that I couldn’t use markers.  The pages had to be unlined and sewn, not glued, into the book. The journal needed a closure to hold it shut in my purse, but not a magnetic closure. The cover had to be comfortable. It had to be larger than 4 x 6 but smaller than 6 x 8. My choices grew smaller and fewer.

I made journals, I deconstructed journals, I created journals in books. It became more of a chore than a process. In the end, the answer became obvious and easy, and it happened because of Bee papers. I loved the thickness of the Bee sheets–not as fat as watercolor paper, but substantial and crackly. I loved the way watercolor pencils would spread and the color would extends and look like pan watercolors. I loved the 6 x 6 pads that went in my bag. But alas, they were spiral-bound, and kept me to one page at a time. Turns out, I didn’t hate that. It was fine with me. A Co-Mo Sketch book travels with me for sketches, ideas, notes.

The folio-sized Moleskine was also perfect. 8.25 x 11.5 is manageable, great for collage and painting. Heavy watercolor paper is great for everything. But. . .doesn’t fit in my bag. It stays at home for multi-media. I can use the sketchbook to start and the Moleskine to finish. I can tear out the sketchbook pages and collage them into the sketchbook. Time might go by one day at a time, but I can have as many journals as I want.

Quinn McDonald is a journal keeper and collector. She is writing a book about art journaling for people who can’t draw. Raw-Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be available in the summer of 2011 from North Light Books.

What I Learned from Social Networking

Social networking hasn’t been around that long, and I’ve been using it for maybe two years. In that time, here are some important lessons I’ve learned, largely from making mistakes.

1. You will not change someone’s mind by replying to a post. This is true about their opinion on politics, religion, food, music, or anything else about their life. Trying to explain it just one more time in another comment doesn’t work either.

Image from: vaibhavtiwari.wordpress.com

2. Do not turn the angry person who posted a nasty comment into a pen pal. Do not answer them at all. Seriously. You will not make them go away or (see #1) change their minds. They will have another quote, another link, another argument. If you don’t answer them at all, their comment will just hang there.

3. Do not get off the high road to wrestle with a pig. You will get dirty, and the pig will enjoy it. The late Gordon Bowman gave me that advice the first week I was working for him, 20 years before social networking.  It was brilliant then and it is still brilliant now.

4. When someone whines, is looking for sympathy, or is proud of an achievement, be nice. Do not tell your own story in the comment section. Empathize with the person posting. Instead of “I know how you feel,” say, “that must have been really [great, awful, fun, no fun].  You may then unfriend them, if necessary.

5. Be useful. Be helpful. Re-tweet interesting messages. That includes your own blogs. “Includes” means there is more than the thing listed. Don’t link to just your blog or website all the time. It’s a big world, find other interesting sites to share.

6. Strangers become friends in a strange way in social networking, but they may not act like friends. Practice one of the following: “Thanks for the feedback,” “How kind of you to offer,” “Interesting information, I’ll think it over.” You really don’t know these people well enough to say, “Are you crazy? You don’t know my mother! That will never work, she will never, ever love me, and you don’t care either!”

7. Say half of what you think. The practical, useful half.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and social network user. She learns slowly.

Intersection of Words and Art

Journaling is a big field. You can write, draw, work in mixed media, collage. You can write on individual pieces of paper, make your own journal, use old ledger books, re-purposed books, expensive journals, cheap journals. I admire the huge variety of work I see.

Start someplace. Keep going. It enriches your life.

I work at the intersection of words and art. I love words; I’m a writer. But I want to do more than write in a journal. I want to spend meditative time idling in my journal.

Not every page is going to be a showpiece. Some of my work is clearly thinking things out. I call this personal, meaningful work “raw-art journaling.” It’s work that is intense, private, and brings results. It helps me make decisions, know when I have to get into action and when I need to hold back. I have to make separate books to show in my classes because some of these books are simply too personal, too private to share. And that’s fine with me, too. Not everything in your life needs to go on display. We forget that from time to time. It was easier to remember before the internet made our lives so very public.

My journal pages don’t stay flat. I like pockets, and I like creating accordion journals to cover a special topic. I might have an accordion journal on a book, a poem, an event, a recurring thought. I love nature journals, so the accordion may cover a walk, a season, a tree. After I have an accordion, I make a pocket in the journal and store the accordion in there.  Decorating a cover for an accordion so it blends in with the pocket is part of the fun.

Accordion folder is partially removed from the journal pocket.

Working at the intersection of words and illustration means working with poetry, color and texture. Because I love found poetry (tutorial here) I enjoy using pieces of paper I’ve experimented on to provide the color and texture, like in the one below. The poem reads:

Ancient Worlds

There is evidence
in a short time frame
of her travels.
Her sense of being awakened
To light and space and three-dimensional objects
two thousand square feet on the ground floor
is an ocean of experience.

–quinn mcdonald, 2010

Found poetry from Ornament magazine. © Quinn McDonald 2010, All rights reserved.

Raw-art journaling can be what you want makes meaning for you. It is enjoyable and peaceful, and will record a life full of experiences and memories.

You can visit my website on raw art journaling to learn more about this method of journaling. I’m writing a book that will be available in June of 2011.

The Secrets in Your Journal

Secrets, pen on paper.

Are you afraid that someone will read your journal, find your secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? Don’t let it stop you from writing in a journal. Reconsider, please. There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

If you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life a closed book–or an empty one–consider letting your fear go.   Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Her bright moments were short and quickly dispensed with. I only knew her rules, my transgressions, and how I disappointed her at every turn.

After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. I never found out what had shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this hopeful young bride. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her memory.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on raw-art journaling for people who want to keep an art journal, but don’t know how to draw. It will be published in June, 2011. You can also read about Raw Art Journaling at her website.

Summer’s Here–It’s April

Here in Phoenix, we had our first day of over-90º weather. Summer is on the way. And to go with it, fruit trees and ocotillos are doing what they need to do:

9-ft. tall ocotillo in full bloom.

The ocotillo is flowering with extravagant, red-orange flowers. They last about 10 days, then they fade and are the start of new growth.

Close-up of octoillo bloom.

The close-up shows that each flower is made up of smaller flowers. Smart in the desert, where not every plant makes it through.

Figs don't bloom, the bloom is contained in the fruit.

We trimmed our fig tree this year, and the first crop, the brebas, didn’t show up. I thought we’d have no figs this year. Ahh, I am so grateful to be wrong. If you look very closely, you can see a small bud on top of the leaf stem. That will be a fig later in the summer. (Look at the green leaf stem, follow it to the bright green upright branch. You can see a small, fuzzy fig there.

If you crush the fruit, it smells powerfully of grapefruit, even at this size.

These tiny fruits, with flower parts still attached, are smaller than a pencil eraser. They will grow to the size of a large lemon by June and stop growing. They won’t grow anymore till September brings a slightly cooler night temperature. They then continue to grow, and by January of 2011, they will be sweet, white grapefruits with a 1-inch thick rind. But sweet beyond belief.

–Quinn McDonald is a naturalist who is keeping track of the changes in nature in a 3-mile radius of her house.

Twice-Told Papers

Book artists love unusual papers. We turn them into end papers, divider papers, random papers, collage. So when I saw the braille book, with heavy paper and perfect Braille letters, I knew the paper would be perfect in a journal.

Braille page

I don’t know how to use it, but it’s just beautiful. I can imagine fingers skimming over the surface, reading what cannot be seen, just felt. Isn’t that why we love reading–because of the way we imagine what we read? The book is fat and heavy, the paper heavy.

Braille book, open page to show writing on both sides of page.

There are practice sheets–sheets that have the alphabet on them, and the matching Braille letter. Dark and light create tiny mountains and valleys. Maybe that will happen to the sheet–it will become a map or landscapes.

Sunlight slants off Braille letters on book page.

If you have any good ideas how to use this wonderful paper in a journal,  leave a comment.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and paper artist, who keeps a raw-art journal. She is writing a book for people who want to keep an art journal, but who can’t draw. The book will be published in June, 2011 by North Light Books.