Layered Journal Pages

It’s hard to admit, with the huge popularity of layers upon layers on journal pages, that I’m not a fan of layered journal pages. I think they look heavy, and occasionally just plain overworked. For me, that means I have to try it several times to explore my feelings in depth. See if I really feel that way or just have an opinion.

Over the past several days, I made three layered pages. The first one started out as a collage page with the sentence, “The siblings of the sun emerge from the mirror in the sky.”

Multi-media journal page, "Siblings of the Sun."

The collage didn’t work. It should have, but it didn’t. So I painted over the collage with a mix of Payne’s Gray and Darkest Blue.

I added another layer to make it look like deep-space night. Another layer added the sun petroglyph in the center of the page in gold paint. The figures were added in gold poster paint. The date and spiral were added in graphite, last. Here, I like that I can vary the depth of the ink on the page, so that the collage strip seems to be closer to the reader than the center of the page. I also limited the colors, which I like.

The next page also started with a collage. There were too many different kinds of paper, and the glue wasn’t friendly to them–one set wrinkled. but I liked the watercolor paper on the bottom right-hand corner. I wanted to save that. So, on went the paint. Four colors: burnt orange, burnt sienna, raw umber, titan buff.

Vision Quest. Multi-media art journal page.

I had started to write my thoughts about using vision boards—specifically, the difficulty in making a good vision board, by using images that don’t come easily to mind, but digging harder for images with real meaning. I used some printed words and another layer of paint, to keep them from being too stark. I then used poster paint pens to write around the edge of the page.

For me, this is an example of what doesn’t work in layers. It’s too busy. The colors, while related, both heat up and muddy the page. “Hot mess” comes to mind. There is no cohesion and too many writing styles and sizes. For me, the very thing I wanted to talk about–getting to deep meaning in vision boards–is completely lost. I couldn’t write across the gold circle in the middle–which is no longer a glowing focal spot, it’s just a blob that looks like a mutant button with no holes.

The last one, however, seemed to get moving in the right direction. It’s layered, but the colors work together. A painted background of Titan buff is painted on, then the other colors–burnt orange, burnt sienna, raw umber, deep purple, Payne’s Gray, parchment. Many more colors than the other one, but all in proportion. That’s how come the colors work–proportion.

Your Choice, found poetry, multi-media journal page.

With just a few, related typefaces and sizes, there is more unity. In order to isolate the found poetry on the page, I created a layer of torn artist tape (similar to masking tape, but much thinner and lighter colored). It was in the right color family and added texture without demanding more from the eye. The raw-art sketch of the plant unifies the page without cluttering. Again, I used colors whose relatives were already on the page. The only new color was green, and we expect to see it in plants, and there is very little of it.

My opinion of layered pages? Carefully done, designed with well-chosen colors and not stuck randomly together, they can work beautifully. Just like every other medium–restraint governing the composition. And always, always, powerful meaning making.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and author who is proofing her book galleys. Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light Books in July, 2011. She is currently exploring.


Fearless Creativity

Rosaland is the perfect artist’s date. She comes over with Rubbermaid containers of dyes and inks, paints and brushes, digital grounds and rubber stamps. She’s a one-person creative force. We get together to have an artist date–the activity Julia Cameron suggested in The Artists Way. It’s a time to recharge creative batteries. Some people go to a museum, or an art store, Rosaland and I get together to try out ideas.

The best part of these get togethers is that we are engaged in creative play. Tonight it was transfer papers, everything from Sheer Heaven to the new TAP (transfer artist paper) to Lutradur. We used them all with and without digital grounds–a paint that prepares a surface (metal, plastic) for printing or transfer application.

When we start we don’t have an end point in mind. It’s about having fun and trying out ideas, with no hope of creating a functional product. It’s creative play, and because it has no time limit, no requirement to publish or teach, we are open to new ideas, failures, and laughing. There is always a lot of laughing.

Here are some discoveries:

Photo transfer to fabric

I printed a photo of a willow tree on Painted Treasures, a transfer-like sheet of cloth that has a removable paper backing. After it goes through the printer and dries, remove the backing and you have a perfect photo on a piece of cloth. For Rosaland, it can go on a quilt. For me, it’s a journal page in the rough.

Lutrador painted with fabric paints

Rosaland used Lutradur as a painting surface. I love the color as well as the translucency of this piece.

Transparency with photo--half painted with digital grounds

I painted half a transparency sheet with white matte grounds and left the other half bare. The painted half held the photo of the clouds, the unpainted half held my fingerprints as they wiped off the ink. Creativity is messy business.

Woodblock with photo transfer

My favorite result of the evening was using the iron-on TAP on a block of wood. The iron may not have been hot enough, but the result was wonderful to me. It looks like a Japanese woodblock print, but with much room for interpretation. Is it a tree in the wind? A snow scene with a tree and a fence? It’s actually the same willow as the fabric transfer, but in experimental form.

Used papertowel makes a great background sheet.

Finally, Rosaland and I always save our paper towel clean-up sheets. They make great background for another project.

Six Tips for Making “Free” Work a Success

If you are a freelance writer, artist or have a talent, offer a service or product, you will be asked to give it away for free. Often it comes with the promise of “getting your name out—good marketing.” I’ve talked about avoiding false marketing schemes, but today the issue is different.

Donating your work for free can be a gift to you. . .

A good way to get your services, company’s name or your own name in front of people is to donate your product or services in a way that it will get seen by your target audience. The key is, as always, the right audience. Let’s assume you are fielding requests from several good organizations, all with your target audience.

The request involves both your time and materials, which have a value. They also require time and effort, which has a financial worth–part of the price. (Price and value are two completely different things.)

. . . or donating can be a load of, well, you know.

How much should you give away? How much free time is too much to give away? Don’t get angry at people for asking you. It’s a sign they think you will generate traffic for them, so it is flattering. Be smart when you make donating time, services and product part of your marketing budget. (You don’t have a marketing budget, do you? OK, I know. But this will still work for you.)

1. Treat the request as a real job. Never give away something sloppy because you aren’t charging for it. If you are contributing, it represents you, so it has to be your best. Many requests will try to make the request look smaller by saying “just send anything.” Don’t do that. What you send represents you to your potential audience. Send your best.

2. Limit your time and costs. Not by being fast or sloppy, but through smart time management. Instead of starting from scratch, re-write a good article for this specific audience. Make new art, but not with a new technique. Create something you already know how to make, but in a new color.

3. Know when to say ‘no.’ Ask about the deadline before you agree. Most requests for “free” also come with tight deadlines. Don’t be afraid to turn down a request if the deadline doesn’t work for you. Know your limit for “free.” A good rule of thumb is between 5 percent and 10 percent of your non-committed time in any quarter. That figure includes all charitable work–from volunteering to producing. And count in all of your production–planning, buying materials, production.  (Check with your tax person about how much of these donations are tax deductible. It’s much less than you think–your time isn’t tax deductible in most cases.)

4. Plan out the project. Let’s say you offer to write an 800 word article. Use your calendar to block out the time for research, writing, re-writing, proofreading, as if it were a real assignment. The entire block of time is now not available for any other charity work. Putting it in your calendar is a handy reminder to do the work, but also a good reminder that you can’t do any more volunteer work at the same time.

5. Understand your motivation and stick to it. Most of us get in trouble because we want to be nice, friendly, helpful and loved. So we don’t say ‘no.’ We say ‘yes,’ become resentful, rushed, and do a bad job. And inadvertently become not-nice, cranky, a problem and hated. The opposite of what we wanted in the first place. You cannot accept work to be loved if you don’t have time to be loved.

6. Know how to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be a rejection of the person who asked.  Here are some ways to say no that are both clear and kind–and that’s the real key to turning down an offer. Be clear and kind.

Say ‘no’ to now, but offer a time that’s realistic for you. “Thank you for asking for an article, Mary, I’m honored you want me to be a guest blogger. I’m booked up for the next two weeks, so tomorrow doesn’t work for me. I could get you something in three weeks from Thursday. Would that work for you?”

–Say ‘no’ because you have booked up all your volunteer time. This shows you are already loved and booked. “Thanks for asking, Mary, but Carlos asked me last week, so my volunteer time for March is already booked. I’m honored you asked.” Delivered with a smile, this feels good and is clear.

Point to another source. This will make you a valuable resource and not cost you future work. “Thanks for the offer, Mary, normally I’d jump at the chance. I’m booked right now, but you might want to ask Haji. He’d be great for your project.”

Free work, handled like real work, can be a good marketing idea. Or it can be the project from hell. Either way, it’s yours to accept or turn down. Don’t create your own hell, I learned that lesson the very publicly embarrassing way.

Images: Giftbox from, garbage truck from

Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and certified creativity coach. She’s made her fair share of mistakes and, painfully, what she should have done instead.

Repurposed Book as Journal, Part II

Last week, I tore the covers off a book and used them as postcards. Then I used the book as a 3-D journal. Or at least I started it. I promised an update, and here it is. I wanted to used this folded-page book as an ephemera journal–a place to store some pretty visuals so I could see them. This might include some pieces you can’t normally (easily) put in a journal–like the big key.

Click on any image for a much larger view. I finally figured out how to make that happen.

Side view showing the stand I made for the journal

For the base, I used about 75 pages of the original book, cut off with a craft knife. I glued the pages together randomly (every 3 to 5 pages) and put them in a book press to create a nice hard stack. I then used pages from a larger book and wrapped the book block like a present, gluing it firmly into place. I deliberately used a lighter paper to create contrast. Then I applied glue to the first and last pages of the folded sheets and glued those onto the wrapped book block.

Click for larger view. You can see two feathers and some ribbons connected to fun items.

From the front, you can see there is a lot of room left to add emphemera. There are two feathers–one is large enough to be tucked in on its own, the other is glued to a small tag. The thread holds the tag to the piece, but allows flexibility of movement.

Postcard reminders and ticket stubs are exchangable. Click to see a bigger view.

The advantage to this journal is that it is flexible. When I want different affirmations or postcards, or have had enough of feathers, I can move them to different places, hide them in between the pages or put them in another journal and use new pieces here. It’s a great way to look at new pieces and decide what to do with them.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She has an unending love of journals of any sort.

Writing Blog Comments Worth Reading

Leaving comments on a blog post is often anonymous, so it’s tempting to be snarky, self-serving, or rude. “Rude” is what happens when you cross “cruel” with “can’t catch me.”  We often read blog posts we don’t agree with, so letting people know how we feel seems legitimate. And it can be. In today’s digital life, leaving a comment leaves a fingerprint, and it can help (or hurt) your own blog

Leaving a comment leaves a fingerprint of who you are.

stats. If you want to boost your own blog stats, leaving interesting, meaningful comments is to your own advantage. Light-hearted comments are also useful, as long as you remember that the internet is global and humor is not. Some hints to keep your comments make you click worthy (people read your comments and then look up your blog).

1. Follow the basic etiquette rule of saying something nice first, even if you want to correct or criticize. You don’t have to agree, but it’s easier to take someone seriously if they say something complimentary or kind first, they point to the differences. “What were you thinking?” doesn’t encourage continued reading as much as “Your perspective on global warming is interesting, even if I don’t agree.”

2. Don’t use labels or engage in name-calling. “This is about what I would expect from a blog called ‘Heartland Living’,” paints with broad strokes, and doesn’t speak well to your own reasoning ability.

3. Agree more often than disagree. Encourage more often than correct. There is no other reason to do this than to be nice. “Nice” is not popular to give right now, but it’s secretly what everyone wants to get. If you like the post, the photos, the concept, say so. If you don’t, you can also say so as long as you use “I statements”–being plain that this is your opinion and not a

Make people hope you are coming toward them, not glad you are leaving, with your comments.

universal truth. “I don’t agree that the sky is blue” is a kinder way to disagree than “the sky, as everyone in this world knows, is gray or white most of the time.” If you leave a lot of comments, do a quick scan. If most of your comments are negative, ask yourself why this is necessary in the way you show up in the world.

4. Use your comments to build relationships, not market your own site. When you leave a comment, you have the opportunity to leave your own blog or website so the blog owner can see it. That’s plenty. Leaving your site at the bottom of a thoughtful comment makes your site available to everyone who reads the blog, and is marginally acceptable. It depends on context, which is the next issue.

5. Add to the information. If you know a lot about the topic, it’s fine to add a link that isn’t your own. But don’t just dump links into comments. Tell people what they will find there and why you think it’s worth reading. Leaving a link without context will get your link sent to the spam file. Leaving context will help people make the decision to click on it or not. If you do leave a link, make sure it is to the exact page with more information (permalink), not the home page. And please make sure it is relevant, not just something you thought of when you read the post.

6. Leave your aches, pains, angst, suffering, anger, and neediness far, far away. Reading a post about someone’s dog does not entitle you to leave a comment about your dog phobia, your story about how your child was bitten by a dog, or your sad thoughts about how many thoughtless people ignore your dog allergies. Demanding comfort or sympathy from strangers because you are needy is a reason to call a therapist, not leave a blog comment.

7. Grammar mistakes and errors of fact go in an email, not a blog post. I actually like people telling me about typos, or errors in facts, but not everyone does. Blog writers should have an easy-to-find email, but if they don’t, and you can’t bear not to point out the mistake, make it general. “I’ve always had trouble with lie and lay–I would say, ‘lie down’ to my dog, not ‘lay down.’ Do you know the rule?” is nicer than “You made a common, but irritating error in lay/lie” Again, not saying anything is the best choice, but I know the pull to fix.

8. Humor is tricky. Not everyone laughs at the same thing. Case in point: The Three Stooges. Love ’em or shrug-em-off, there are strong opinions on either side.  Leaving a comment you think is funny may not bring universal agreement. Also, the internet is global, so watch idiomatic expressions. “I’m pulling your leg,” is plain to you, but not to others. In Russia, it’s “I’m putting noodles on your ears,” and in Germany it’s “I’m dragging you through the chocolate milk.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who read countless blog comments on her blog and others before writing this post. Please feel free to comment.

Spring in Phoenix

People sigh, “I have to have four seasons, so Phoenix isn’t for me.” But we have four seasons. Subtle, yes, but beautiful. In Spring we often have cold fronts come through, followed by rain. The cold front clouds look like plowed fields.

Early morning cold front

Citrus trees, many of which still have fruit, begin to set buds. These are hard-working trees. In a few weeks, the buds will open, filling the air with the real smell of orange blossoms. It’s incredible.

By September this grapefruit bud will be the size of a softball.

Succulents are next, sending out colorful buds. The gopher plant is new, so I have no idea what will develop.

The gopher plant that survived the frost is now ready to bloom.

Succulent in bud. Does this create a new plant?

I’m delighted that this plant made it. It’s in a pot with several others and we brought it in to avoid the frost, and put it back out so as not to warm it up too fast. Lots of work!

Cactus creating a bud? a branch?

Cacti have a long spring. They both bloom and set new branches. I’m not sure which one this will be, I’ve been fooled before.

And that’s just the beginning. There will be wild flowers and grasses, the ocotillo will bloom, too. We have a long Spring here, and a beautiful one.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist, and a creativity coach as well.  She lives in Phoenix.

Creativity Coaching–What Is It, Anyway?

Of all the questions I get asked when I’m running a training session on communications, the one I hear the most interest in is “What is creativity coaching anyway?”  There is always a bit of doubt, a fear that maybe creativity coaching might be inaccessible to the business worker. After all, day-to-day creativity is suspicious to American corporate culture.

"Beginning" ink and watercolor pencil on paper, Quinn McDonald © 2010

Read more about the fear of creativity in leadership in “A Bias Against Quirky,” in the Feb. 16, 2011 issue of the Wharton School of Business’s online journal, Knowledge@Wharton.

Answering questions about creativity coaching is fascinating to me, because it doesn’t take long to discover the hunger for answers behind the questions. There is a curiosity about creative problem solving, creative thinking, and the possibility of living a daily creative life. Creativity coaching focuses on the stumbling blocks experienced by anyone involved in creative endeavors. Clients cover a wide range, including creative business leaders, performing or visual artists, parents, and students.

Here are the answers to questions I’m frequently asked:
Q  Do you teach people how to be creative?

A. No, you are already creative. I just make you less afraid of your own creativity, or how to re-discover your existing creativity when it has been buried and unused for a long time.

Q. Why do your clients come to you?

A. Generally because they are stuck. They might be confused about their talent, they might not have enough time to create, or have too many ideas at once. Sometimes they are conflicted between their creative work and day job. Some people want to create but are afraid to sell their work. Or they get confused between selling their work and satisfying their own creative calling. It’s easy to make creativity a full-time money-making job, with job-like demands and that can be confusing.

Q. Can you make money being creative?
A. Yes, but not always in the way you think. If you don’t have an existing following or marketing skills, it’s hard to put the burden of money-making on a creative project. The main purpose of creativity is to make meaning. Once you have mastered meaning-making, you can think about money-making.

Q: What’s a coaching session like?

A. My coaching is done on the phone, so it starts with a phone call. In the first or second session, when we are defining the relationship, I ask the client what his or her goals are, what their dreams are, what they wish they could make of their lives, how they want to show up in the world, what values they want to display and honor. Often creative people want to show up in the world in a certain way, but behave in a very different way, and are surprised when they get unexpected results. Once we uncover basic goals and the values that support them, we see what the obstacles and gifts are on the path. I create a big space for the client to express their fears, their hopes, and, eventually, their desire to work on a goal. My role is to ask questions to clarify and to toss out ideas that the client is free to follow, discard or change.

Q: Are you a creative person?

A. Yes, I’m a writer who teaches business writing and communication, a book artist who works at the intersection of words and images, and a life- and creativity coach. I’m really an every-day creative person–a problem solver and seeker. I believe that you have to be involved in creative work to be a good creativity coach.

Q: Did you go to school for creativity coaching?

A. I did. After I went to school for life coaching, 180 hours worth. When I graduated, in 2003, I opened my practice. At that time, I was already a writer and business trainer. Most of my clients were creative, so I took the certification path of creativity coaching became the first creativity coach certified in the U.S.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. Her crossover book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published by North Light Books in July of 2011.

Listening to Negative Self Talk (and a prompt)

When you sit down to write in your journal,  after morning pages, what happens? Does peace flood into your mind, stillness settle in, and the sun rises just over the horizon of your deep inner peace? Liar. It does not.

Pitt pen on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald All rights reserved. 2008.

Your head fills with yakking.  Monkey mind starts right up with the to-do list, “Right after this I need to go shopping, but before that I need to stop at the ATM and get some money, I don’t write checks anymore. Where is that checkbook? I haven’t written a check in months. You don’t need to do that anymore. I must have put the checkbook in my desk drawer, and I’ll bet it slipped back, so the desk drawer jams. Or maybe I need to wax the runners. . .” On and on goes monkey mind, hopping from topic to topic while you are seeking quiet.

More likely, your talk is not neutral, but damaging. Journaling helps the negative self talk crank up. The critic or the judge, one in a red velvet jacket and one in a powdered wig show up and start in on what isn’t right, what hasn’t been right, and why you don’t have talent, dedication or time. If they are really active, they will ask how you will ever make enough money to support yourself as an artist if you spend time writing by hand.

So now you are poised over your journal page, frozen. You try to push monkey mind and negative self-talk from your mind, but they persist. Of course they do. Instead of pushing them from your mind, sit down and listen to them. What, exactly do they have to say after the first sentence? Repetition. Endless repetition until you cave in and believe them. You will probably find that there isn’t an original though there. You’ve heard what they have to say from your parents, a mean teacher, a thoughtless sibling. Monkey mind and negative self-talk aren’t original, they are simply persistent. The more you push the thoughts away, the more they persist. Sit down and examine them, and they are not only not original, they are often spoken in voices from the past. And you are animating them. The voices in your head are yours. Your fear. Your insecurity. You make them up. And as evil parents in all the TV after-school movies say, “I brought you into the world and I can take you out.”

On your journal page, draw the slide bar you use to turn the sound up and down on your computer. Take your pencil, drag it down to where it’s silent and draw the bar right there. It’s a lot quieter in your head now, isn’t it?

Start writing.  .  . what is it that you don’t remember but wish you could?

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. Her book, “Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art” will be published in July of 2011.

Book: Repurposed

Raised by parents who thought books were sacred, I always cringe when I re-purpose a book. When I see books bound for the dumpster, I will choose to save a book and turn it into art before I “respect” it right into the trash.

Seeing a pile of old paperbacks, I chose several for their covers and relatively good shape. I wanted to use the covers for my Mastermind Group. First, I cut the covers, both front and back, cleanly off the book.

Book with cover cut off.

Then I trimmed the corners off the covers, used gesso to paint over any of the inside covers that were marked or printed.

Trimmed book covers

What I have now is postcards, almost ready for my Mastermind Group. I trimmed the corners to make them round and look more like old-fashioned postcards. At the group’s meeting, I turned all the covers over, so the blank sides were up, and each group member chose what looked like a blank postcard. They then turned the card over to reveal either the front or back cover of a book. They read the title or book blurbs and used that as a starting point to write a postcard to themselves. It’s a great exercise–each person gets to see their life as a book description. What do they write on the card?  They start with a reaction to something on the cover–the adventures of the main character,  the struggle in the plot,  the praise in the book blurb. How is this like their life? How is it completely not true?  For example, the book blurb on the card I drew says, [the character] “leaves a vivid impression on the mind of those who never knew her.” Powerful stuff for a creativity coach, isn’t it? What do I need to step up to make that true? It makes for an interesting message on the postcard.

I then gather up the postcards, put a stamp on them, and each person gets their postcard during the week as a reminder of their goals or insights.

We write a message that makes the book title or plot ours.

What about the rest of the book? It gets re-purposed, too. I folded over the first page, tucking the outside edge up to the spine and running over the fold with a bone folder.

Fold each page the long way.

Then do the rest of the book. If you get tired of folding the pages the long way, toss in a few corner folds. It adds interest.

Book folds, completed, seen from top.

All the folds hold without glue. In addition to being visually interesting, the folded pages make room for tucking in additional pieces–loose journal pages, postcards, ATCs (artist trading cards), or interesting origami or decorated envelopes. You can see how the folds would support additions from this side view.

The book, fully folded, lies flat and is ready for altering and adding to.

That’s as far as I got with the first book–postcards and altering it enough to work with. You can fold the pages with all corners or no corners. I like the break in the shape, it makes it more textural. I’ll post more photos when this one is complete.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and raw art journaler.

Casa Grande Ruins

Half an hour East from I-10, in the town of Coolidge, AZ in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, are the Casa Grande ruins. Originally built by the Tohono O’odoham Indians in the 1200s, the “big house) (Casa grande) was a phenomenal structure. Most likely, it was built even earlier, and completed over time. It was built without architectural tools–no cranes, no digging machines, and no trees or cement to build with.

Inside the Casa Grande

Underneath this part of the desert is a layer of caliche–a cement-like mud that was used at the building material. The timbers in the structure are pine and hardwood, and come from more than 50 miles away. Because the Hohokam (literally, “those who vanished,” belonging to the larger family of Tohono O’odham) didn’t have horses, no one knows how the trees were cut and hauled to this spot.

The building is about 30 feet high, and only a small part of it is left. The rest has been beaten back into dust under the sun, wind and rain of the desert. In the last 100 years, various roofs were built over the ruins to protect it from further weathering.

The ruins are about 30 feet tall and protected from sun, wind and rain by a roof.

Today,when we were there, we watched world-champion hoop dancer Tony Duncan in a series of amazing moves. His dance represents elements of nature–butterfly (seen in the video below), rattlesnake, and eagle. After each segment, Duncan dances out of the hoops and represents the entire world spinning by raising the connected hoops over his head. He danced intricate dances with grace and ease–only when I saw how hard he was sweating afterward could I appreciate the effort and concentration that goes into this complicated dance.

There is a bit of irony in Duncan, who belongs to the Apache clan, dancing on the Tohono O’odoham ruins. The Tohono O’odoham word for Apache is “Ohb,” which is also their word for “evil.” The two tribes were rivals for water, travel space, cooler mountain land and food for centuries.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist, and life- and creativity coach. She is learning how to make videos. She needs to work plenty to get it right.

I’m participating in WordPress’s Postaday2011 challenge. Having posted more than 1,000 posts in three years, I will commit to posting 5 times a week. That’s plenty.