Choosing Change

Chrysalis from caterpillar is programmed by destiny to spin a cocoon and emerge a butterfly. No one knows if the caterpillar is aware of what happens during the process. No one knows if the butterfly remembers being a caterpillar.

People are different. We don’t spin a cocoon to change, we choose a harder way–small steps every day. We change because we keep choosing two, day by day, decision by decision.

It is hard, making the choice to change. It means we deliberately give up one thing to choose another, often unknown.  It means we risk losing friends who don’t want to get to know us all over again in our new forms. We don’t demand that they choose with us, but they must to remain with us as we change. Some friends will turn around or branch off. That is there decision. We can’t control it. The choice between controlling our own lives and not controlling others’ lives is a struggle.

But some of us choose to move to a new place and start a life over. We choose to forgive bad parenting, and accept what we did get, and thrive despite of it. We choose to leave a job that pays well but doesn’t meet our values. We choose to stay or leave, because either is a choice.

Our transformations are as amazing as a caterpillar’s. For all of us who have surivived, who have chosen to heal ourselves, to push into growth,  to keep going no matter how hard, we have chosen a life of growth and transformation. We know change is possible and sustainable. Sometimes it’s a secret. Sometimes we reinvent ourselves several times. We can be more than one person in a lifetime, and we can celebrate each life we choose.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and an artist. See her work at

Raw-Art Journal Page: June 28, 2010

The end of June brings us over-110 degree heat. Swimming pools heat up to over 100 degrees and the night time temperatures rise. We view this as what happens in summer as much as people in colder areas know that snow will fall and ice-coated roads are dangerous. Instead of kitty litter and a blanket in the trunk, we carry extra bottles of water, a hat, and a good pair of walking shoes in case the car battery dies.

The saguaro cactus is setting fruit. In May, the tops of the cactus have a garland of large, white flowers that bloom at night. In June, the flowers fade and the fruit is set, giving the cactus an odd, Carmen Miranda look. The Tohono O’odham (literally: Desert People)  harvest the fruit and make both juice and jam out of it. Saguaros are tall, the work must be brutal in the heat of the desert.

My journal these days is largely a nature journal, and here is the page for today:

Raw-art journal page, © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people through changes and re-invention. She is writing a book on raw-art journaling to be published by North Light Books in 2011.

Watercolor Pages for Raw Art Journaling

OK, I’ve said I’m a minimalist when it comes to raw art journaling. Nothing’s changed. I like using watercolor pencils and washes with writing. I’ve always done the ink work first, then added the watercolor. I’ve never been adept at watercolor, so today I took a class with Alice Van Overstraeten at Jerry’s Artarama in Tempe, AZ.

Grapes with silver highlights. © Quinn McDonald, 2010. All rights reserved.

Alice is relaxed and easy. In fact, her class was called “Free and Easy.” She may be the non-fussiest art instructor I’ve ever taken a class with. Her demo was amazing. In order to allow all the students to see her work, she held a piece of artboard in front of her and drew so we could see the work–she was working upside down from her point of view. She used a pencil to sketch in circles where the flowers would be. The circles were no more than placeholders. They were not recognizable flowers.

Using a mop brush, Alice picked up several shades of color on the one brush and pressed the brush onto the paper, pulling it in one direction. She repeated this process. She then loaded the brush with greens and browns and drew in lines. Notice I didn’t say stems. So far, the artboard looked like it had red round shapes and green long shapes. The next part was amazing. Using a Pitt pen, Alice drew in lines that created poppies, stems and leaves.

The demo was encouraging. If Alice could do it upside down, I could probably handle it with a piece of paper in front of me. I had varying amounts of success. The less I planned or forced, the better it looked. The harder I tried for realism, the less real the flowers looked.

Orange flowers with gold edging. © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

Time flew and I tried a variety of subjects–various flowers, grapes, and another version of radish bird. (Radish bird is a recurring figure in my journals and in my book, Raw Art Journaling.)

What I love about watercolor is that you can write over it. Unlike acrylics, which create surface texture that may be impossible to write on unless you use a big marker, watercolor works well with pen and ink. I love the ease of the washes today. Am I now an expert? No, of course not. But I like the results, and in my journal, I don’t have to be perfect.

–Quinn McDonald uses her talents and her own handwriting to create raw art journaling. Her book will be out a year from now, in June of 2011.

Poppies, © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

Stars in Your Eyes

Tonight the waxing moon rose in the hot black sky while there was still a ring of turquoise in the West. These mid-summer nights have a way of staying hot past midnight. I let the cats out and stood looking up at the stars. I noticed that the part of my body closest to the house could feel the heat radiating from the bricks. My face was hot until I turned it up to look at the stars. Then I could feel a cool settle over my upturned face. For a moment, it was the most special event of the day.

Often, we aren’t in touch with the natural world around us, and we don’t feel the importance of the connection between our hearts and nature.  Grab your journal and write about your connections. To people. To summer. To the heat. Do you notice where the sun is when it rises? How at this time of the year it is in the Northeast, but starts to move more to the East as the summer burns on? How many stars can you see in your night sky? When was the last time you were out at night and not walking toward your car?


Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She keeps a nature journal, even in summer.

DIY: Brush Cleaner

If you use brushes in art journaling, you probably hold them in your mouth, your other hand, or put them in a container filled with water. (ARGHH! SO bad for the brush!)  If you’ve painted a lot of pages you have also pulled over the container you use to rinse your brushes because you are using a yogurt container and forget there is water in it. Yogurt containers also tip over easily when you put a long-handled brush into them.

Conveniently empty container, waiting to be recycled.

There’s an easier way. I happen to have  an empty finished eating the dark chocolate ginger pieces from Trader Joe’s and loved the squat, clear container. I can see if there is water in it and how dirty it is from the paint.

Two Vs are marked. Cut 4 in total: 2 on one side, 2 on the opposite side.

Using a sharpie, I marked two Vs into one side. That shape is easy to cut, and it will hold any size brush snugly.

Using a sharp pair of scissors (not your best sewing scissors) or a pair of plant pruners, cut the Vs out of one side, then cut them out of the opposite side. I cut one side slightly smaller than the other.

Your brushes are handy, and don't get damaged from sitting in water.

Place your brushes in the Vs. You can see that by cutting one side smaller than the other, The brushes point down slightly. This keeps the water from running into the ferrule and rotting the end of the brush near the shaft.

You do have to be careful to pick the brushes UP, not grab them and drag them across the top. The shape of the container is sturdy, you can see when you need to change the water, and you’ve kept one plastic container out of the landfill! If you put the lid under the container, you also catch stray drips and keep your desktop dry.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach and artist. She is teaching at Art Unraveled in Phoenix in August, 2010.

Negative Self-Talk, or Lizard Brain

Negative self-talk expands to fill up your brain.

You know the feeling. You are about to go into an interview and you think, “I’m going to screw this up.” And you do. “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be,” you think. “The universe doesn’t want me to have this.” Give the universe a pass. This is your own doing.

The closer we get to success, the more we sabotage ourselves. Why do we do this? Because of a lump of cells close to the brain stem that broadcasts negative messages on lack and attack. The more we listen, the louder it gets.

Research shows that we need about a five-to-one ration of positive to negative feedback to be productive. Here are some other statistics:

  • 65 percent of American workers say they received no recognition for their work in the last year.
  • 22 million workers are not interested in their work or actively dislike it.
  • Bad bosses increase the risk of stroke by 33 percent.
  • When you tell yourself something is “too hard” your stress levels increase, and you are more likely to fail, even if you have done the same thing before.
  • Increasing your positive attitude even a little starts to add years to your life–as much as 10 years.

So what does this mean? It means that you have to start with yourself, turning negative thoughts and critical talk to positive talk. Then pass it on. How?

  • Stop the automatic critical thoughts when you see someone poorly dressed, fat, or with weird hair.
  • Hang around positive people. Negative people’s snark might be more fun, but when you aren’t with them, it’s likely to be turned on you, leaving you with increased paranoia.
  • Hang around positive people more. They are more productive. Negative people fill your head and heart with ideas that drag you down.
  • Tell people what they are doing right. They are likely to do more of what they are appreciated for.
  • If people need a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative, do your share to keep your own positive comments five times higher than your negative ones.

Think this is all new-age, woo-woo stuff? Nope.

  • Seth Godin, the entrepreneur who writes about change (and has written 10 bestsellers) writes about the damage lizard brain causes.
  • Steven Pressfield (the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) encourages people to cover the canvas, fix the details later. But start, and do as much as you can in one positive swoop.
  • Pressfield’s advice: “My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as ‘turning pro.'”

So put down the negative anchor and pick up the positive wings and try them on. They’ll fit just fine.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who teaches businesses and individuals how to talk to each other, in positive ways.

Raw Art Gallery 6: Send Your Submissions

Chapter 6 of my book is done, and I’m looking for people to contribute to the Gallery. The book is on Raw Art Journaling–a way to keep an art journal for people who can’t draw.  The idea is this: you create (or choose) a repetitive design (there are examples below and on my Flickr site)  and a haiku, or short quote (must be attributed, no ‘anonymous’ quotes.)

Create a journal page (you can use a loose sheet of paper) with words (the haiku or a quote) and a design. You can use your own design. You can use the spirals, loops, lines I’ve posted below as inspiration or in any combination.  You can write the words in after you do the design, or you can write the words first and design around it.  The design does not have to cover the whole page. The page should not be larger than 5″ x 7″ (12.7  x 17.8 centimeters)  The deadline for submission is July 15, 2010.

Instructions for submitting your work are below.

"To change our lives, we must first change our minds." --Japanese proverb

Left: The words start at the bottom of the page, then move to the bubble on the right. It says, “To change our lives we must first change our minds.”

Right: The gel pens are gold and copper and the writing says, “It is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” –Gandhi

"It is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart"--Gandhi

Below: No words, but a good, simple repetitive design. You don’t need to fill up the whole page, leaving white space lets you control the design.
How to submit: Your designs can be simpler, better, or in color. They must include designs and words. They can be in one color, or more, or many colors. Please send in an image by July 15, 2010. Keep the original. If chosen for the book, you will be asked to send in the original art work.

If you want to submit them for consideration for inclusion in the gallery, you cannot have published them anyplace before, including your blog or on any social networking platform. And you can’t publish them anyplace until you know if they have been chosen. I’m sorry about the rules, but that’s how it works.  The good news is that you can do with with someone–your friend, your mom, your child or grandchild. If two people work on it, both names should be included when you submit the image. Please sign your work on the front.

Submit to: Please send them, with no dimension bigger than 400 pixels and at 300 dpi to:  Quinn [at] rawartjournaling [dot] com. If you have questions, please leave them in the comment section for this blog post. The deadline is July 15, 2010.

Spiral lightning is made from three simple designs: spirals, loops and straight lines connected at the ends.

Need a haiku to work with? My friend, wise woman, and poet, Carolyn Wyatt, has given me permission to use two of her haiku for you to use in your work if you prefer working with a haiku someone else wrote. Here are Carolyn’s haikus:

Perhaps I live my life
as I use my pen
gripping it tightly
bearing down
to press meaning from its tip
while others balance
the instrument lightly
and dance across the page
—  © Carolyn Wyatt

I sit in anger
today roiling clouds, fire shroud
my quaking mountain
No water will quench
the searing pain except to
rest in compassion
—  ©  Carolyn  Wyatt, Herndon, VA

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on Raw Art Journaling to be published by North Light Books in June, 2011.

Pencil Perfect

I love pencils. Cheap, available, usable. I have a pencil on my nightstand next to some index cards–in case I wake up and need to remember something but don’t want to turn

Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald
Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald

on the light. A pencil always works. In the dark, without looking, the pencil will work. Ballpoints and fountain pens, which I also love, sneakily need to be warmed up and I don’t know when they’ve started working.

The other night, I wanted to jot down a reminder for the next day. The cat had run off with the pencil, I used a ballpoint and the next morning I read “uh tc bca d”because missing halves of letters looked like different letters–half of a W turned into a U, the O into a C.

When I got to the journaling workshop, I was asked the most popular question I get–why not just blog? Why not keep a journal on your computer? I love my Mac. But I also have a shoebox full of diskettes in various sizes that no one can read. Some are in word-processing programs that pre-date Wordperfect. Anyone remember Multi-Mate? Of course not. Some are on formats for which there are no matching slots in computers. The big 5.5-inch floppies. Punch cards. Those computers are long gone, and I didn’t keep updating as I went along. Once you miss an update, the information vanishes.

Lascaux cave drawing
Lascaux cave drawing

It’s true that I lost a pile of journals to a flood in the basement, and to another to a fire in the attic. (Ah, the Old-Testament years.) But in each case, the journals I found were still readable. For that matter, so are the drawings in the Caves at Lascaux, which are about 30,000 years old and made with charcoal, an early pencil-substitute.

My son’s first drawings, love notes I scribbled, my parents notes to each other, my father’s sketches from when he was 6 years old–over a hundred years ago–are all still intact because they are in this simple medium. Pencil on paper. Timeless.

Quinn McDonad is a writer, trainer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches what she knows–how to write, give a presentation and keep a journal. Her book on raw-art journaling will be published in June of 2011 by North Light Books.

Same Obsession, Different Oil

A specially outfitted ship ventures into deep ocean waters in search of oil, increasingly difficult to find. Lines of authority aboard the ship become tangled. Ambition outstrips ability. The unpredictable forces of nature rear up, and death and destruction follow in their wake. “Some fell flat on their faces,” an eyewitness reported of the stricken crew. “Through the breach, they heard the waters pour.”

“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” — “Moby-Dick”

The words could well have been spoken by a survivor of the doomed oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 11 men and leading to the largest oil spill in United States history. But they come instead, of course, from that wordy, wayward Manhattanite we know as Ishmael, whose own doomed vessel, the whaler Pequod, sailed only through the pages of “Moby-Dick.”

Read the whole article by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” –George Santayana. OK, Moby Dick was not history. It was historically accurate for 1851, the year it was written. And proof enough that 160 years later, we are still chasing oil that we can’t live without. Another reminder that a classical education was not the failure we thought in the 1960s–when we shifted to teaching to the test, to training for a profession or a trade. A classical education taught students how to think, not what to think. A classical education taught philosophy and encouraged discussion so ideas could be tested. In all the furor over how to solve the Deepwater Horizon spill, I think the best answer is to bring back a classical education.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who had a classical education and has never regretted one day of it.

It Started with a Selectric

I wrote my first book on a Selectric typewriter, using carbon paper and the Prestige Elite typing ball just like this one. It's not the same typewriter. I found this one at Goodwill for $14. I didn't really have the space, so I thought about it. When I went back, it was half-price. It cost me another $75 to bring it back to top shape.

I'm writing the second book on a MacBook Pro. It doesn't need carbon paper, and research is done without index cards or taking a pen to the library. The entire computer weighs 12 pounds less than the typewriter. And they didn't let you bring typewriters into the library.

But writing books is still the same. Creating something, line by line, that makes meaning to you. Praying that it makes meaning to someone else too. Because every writer's biggest fear is not connecting.