Desert Colors: We Have Green!

Michelle Ward’s Street Team Challenges always inspire me. This time, it took me a while to know how I wanted to respond. I don’t publish photographs or me or my house around the web, yet her challenge was tempting: Crusade 51: Describe your house. Make it interesting.

Because I wanted to work both on my blog and in my journal, I chose to use color. Because Michelle’s challenges are done by people all over the world, I thought showing the colors around my house might be fun. I live in the Sonoran Desert, in the American Southwest. Often people think we live in a bland, sand-colored world. Not at all.

The sky comes first. This is the intense blue of the morning sky (I left in a bit of tree branch so you can see that it’s really the sky and not something I made up.)

At the other end of the day, we have a different sky. Pollution makes for beautiful sunsets in the desert.

The desert is not without green. We have palms striped in light and shaded green.

But we also have the more subtle greens, often mixed with browns and reds, in a cactus. Watch out for those sharp white thorns!

We also have Palo Verde trees that have green trunks. Their leaves are tiny to prevent water loss in the 20 or so days we have that reach 110 degrees or higher. (We have an additional 60 days or so where the temperature reaches 100 degrees or higher.) Because the Palo Verde leaves are tiny, trunks and branches are green. We have older trees, so the green is not as vivid. I love this curve of green next to the healed limb that was removed.

We grow citrus in the desert. The leathery leaves also protect the tree from water loss. Lemons and oranges stop growing in the heat of the summer, and resume growing in September. They ripen in late December. This lemon smells like sunshine, not at all like the lemons in a store:

For the very brutal heat, we can cool off in an aqua-colored pool. I love the lines the sun makes as it draws on the water of a swimming pool

Blue agaves have really interesting leaves. The center bud is so tight that each leaf imprints on the next. Below is just one leaf, but you can see the imprint of another on on it. How cool is that?

You can love color and still live in the desert. We also have browns and beige, in different textures and shades of browns and beige. My front lawn is not grass, it’s sand and rocks, like this:

There is a little bit of everything in the desert, so I brought the colors inside. Here is a snapshot of a textile that’s in the house. It seems to reflect a bit of all the colors on the outside.

And just so I remember that we have all that sun,  here’s a big smile from the sun sculpture that hangs just outside out back patio door. She reminds me to wear a hat and sunscreen, even early in the morning on cloudy days.

And here is the collage I made from all these pieces–well, most of them. What I love is that a simple collage is really an accurate representation of the house and surrounding yard and garden.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, to be published by North Light in July, 2011.

Sakura Postcard Update

Note: I’ve received more poscards than these from Angie and Bo. I’m learning how to make videos, and wanted to post this now. There will be another video with more cards later this week. Thanks for all who are sending cards.

This weekend, two more people gave me postcards for the Sakura children.

I’m gathering postcards for the children who went through the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. These children had every right to expect a normal life, and now their lives will be forever changed. You can read a previous part here. And see more postcards for the kids here. I called them the Sakura children, because Sakura means cherry blossom in Japanese. One of the heartbreaking facts was that the Cherry Blossom Festival, culturally important in Japan for parents and children, was cancelled this year because the terrible destruction made it impossible.

Cherry blossoms had been ripped from the trees by wind and water, and many parents and children weren’t alive to celebrate. Others were separated, lost, or injured.

You’ll love these postcards. The first set were made by artist Angie Platten, with the help of the children she teaches in her art classes. The second set are photographs from Bo Mackison at Seeded Earth studio.

You can still send make and send postcards to:

Sakura Children
P.O. Box 12183
Glendale, AZ 85318

“Sakura” means Cherry Blossom in Japanese.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and creativity coach.

Art Heals–Jenny Doh’s New Book

Jenny Doh's book is available at You'll have to look inside there--the click part doesn't work if you swiped the cover from amazon like I did.

Jenny Doh was my editor for years when she was the publishing director at Stampington. (I write the Business of Art column for Somerset Studio magazine.)  She left Stampington and set up a zillion-faceted website and blog, Crecendoh.  She shares creative projects, coaching, life’s joys and information. (Full disclosure: I am one of the coaches writing at her blog.)   On her blog, Jenny started a feature called Art Saves–stories of how creating art saved a life, a heart, a soul, a unique vision. She has turned these stories into a book, Art Saves,  where you will find inspiring lessons and stories from 20 master artists who share the unique circumstances and experiences that brought them to art and how they have used their talents and passions to elevate and infuse their lives with beauty and meaning, helping themselves and those around them.

From mixed-media, to crochet, photography, digital collage, lettering arts, jewelry, art quilting and more, the contributing artists not only share techniques and step-by-step projects, but also the lessons they have learned and the challenges they have conquered. The projects, range from prayer flags to wall hangings, mixed media collages and creative photography. Jenny is no slouch in finding talented artists!

Through creativity, we not only find happiness, we also find meaning, hope and connection to ourselves and others.  In Art Saves, you’ll be walked through several projects and you’ll also see how – through art – you can connect to a deeper part of yourself, escape from the pressures of daily life and connect with those in need.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. Her book Raw Art Journaling, will be out in mid-July 2011, published by North Light books.

Heart Thoughts

Once the heart came in the mail, I began to see hearts everywhere. I don’t like hearts in art, in jewelry in clothing. They are too predictable, too twee, too common and too ick. Which means, of course, I need to pay attention.

Seems to have a scuff mark on it. I like that.

They are too predictable, too twee, too common and too ick. Which means, of course, I need to pay attention.

An aversion like that means I have some sort of attachment or rough spot that needs a closer look for understanding.

On my morning walk there was a white rock on the sidewalk. So white I thought it was a piece of broken china. Nope. A very white quartz . . .heart. In the middle of the sidewalk. Edgy, rough and pointy. Wonder what that meant.

When I got home for breakfast, there was a strawberry heart. Odd I even noticed it. But that’s what happens when you are avoiding something–you see it all over.

Some people see the Virgin in a tortilla. I see a heart in my breakfast.

Just to make sure, I checked my jewelry box. Except for one small accidental heart, it’s heart-free.

Perhaps I have to give the heart thing another thought. See what shows up.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

Creative Change, or, Getting Where You Want to Go

I ride a motorcycle. Before I bought the first one, I took a class on how to ride safely. (I like to take classes if I’m going to do something that’s inherently dangerous). Our class was a motley crew of geezers, younger punks, wealthy touring bike-types and regular people who like to ride.

In these standardized safety classes, you don’t bring a bike, you ride a small

Helmets are expensive, but wear one anyway. Neurosurgery is more expensive.

provided bike. I had the odd feeling that these bikes were confiscated or had been ridden into an accident. Bent fenders, scrapes and odd color combinations attested to hard use. I was on a tiny, banged up model. I felt like a circus bear on a bike.

Class rules demand that everyone wear a helmet, gloves, heavy jeans, a jacket, and boots above the ankle. Did I mention it was August in D.C.? Even at 7 a.m., we thought we were taking lessons in a dog’s mouth. The instructor said, “Now we are going to learn how to go around corners and make sharp turns. How do you think we do that?” Half the class turned the handlebars and fell over. A non-moving bike likes to lie down. That often comes as a surprise to the rider.

The instructor rolled his eyes, and said, “Never turn the *&$%&^@ handlebars to go around a corner! You LOOK where you want to go. The bike will follow. Always. Look. Where. You. Want. To. Go.”

He was right, of course. When we look ahead to where we want to go, our body automatically makes small adjustments to get us there. On a bike, you lean into the curve, and your hand and arm closest to the turn automatically pushes the handlebars down on that side, guiding the bike through the curve.

Creativity works the same way. We make tiny decisions that take us where we look. We press down, our thoughts go where we look. That’s why it’s important to look ahead where you want to go creatively. Because looking at failure is as easy as looking at success. But a very different trip.

Where are you going?

-Quinn McDonald rides a motorcycle. She’s also a creativity coach. Those two facts are more closely related than is obvious.

Heart in the Mail

The low-fire clay is called "Storyteller."

Someone sent me a heart in the mail. A clay heart. Heavy for its size (we have that in common), beautifully glazed. It looks like a pastry. When I unwrapped it, it made me smile immediately. Then I did what I do with all such heart-touching objects–I rubbed it with my fingers and palm. It was very satisfying.

I can’t identify the artist because she is a coaching client of mine, and I promise them anonymity. She’s an artist who works in several media, but this heart made me think she was working in the right area when she made this out of a clay called “Storyteller.”

Now, I have to admit I don’t like hearts as representative icons. They have been

The back of heart with the saving pierce. Or maybe it's the front.

over-sentimentalized, overused, made twee and kitschy by relentless use as a symbol of wedding-cake-topper sticky-sweet love. Ugh. But this one wasn’t that. This one was a tough little heart in pastel colors. It looked sweet but was hard.

I rolled it over. On the back was an inscribed spiral and a hole. The artist had sent a note that said, “I had to put a hole in the heart or it would explode in the kiln. Remember to breathe when in the creative fire.” Perfect. That is what every heart must endure–to be pierced and bruised, marked and damaged and healed to work effectively.  Now that’s a heart that even I can love.

Heart on a spike in my studio. Just as a reminder that every artist heart is always exposed.

It came into the studio with me. The hole in the heart had been made by a pointy object of some sort, so I grabbed a skewer (I use them to write and hold papers together) and slipped it into the fire-hole of the heart. It balanced. Just like creative people–we put our hearts on spikes and show them to people, willing to be accepted or rejected, loved or hated. Being creative means risking it all.

What a perfect lesson. What a perfect gift. I think I might make room for a heart in my life. At least one that won’t explode in a kiln.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She’s beginning to notice hearts around her, now.

The Canvas Book, Part II

A few days ago, a friend gave me a blank canvas journal. I asked what I should do with it. I got a lot of good suggestions and decided to take a leap. First, I cut the canvas pages apart to make 6 pages.

I wanted to do a theme book–something that focused on just one thing–so I made the book about Sahuaro Ranch Park in Glendale, AZ. I went to the park, took some photos and printed them out on a transparency, on Lutradur, and on cotton.  I sewed the edges to keep the canvas from unraveling.

The cover is a map, and there are some ink drawings on the inside.  You an see the rest on the video. This was fun!

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art to be released by North Light in July of 2011.

See One, Do One, Teach One

On the job training is a valuable tool. You learn exactly what you need to accomplish, and focus on the details that get it right. While focus is good, let’s not underestimate the value of practice.

We get it for sports, but not for basic writing skills. Image:

“See one, do one, teach one,” is becoming a more popular way of learning. I used to teach 2-day writing seminars, then it was one day, and now, I’m often asked if I can teach people how to write in half a day. Well, no. The other day, I was told that the “see one, do one, teach one” method works for “so many things,” why wouldn’t it work for writing?

If you are asking that question and are serious, I can’t begin to explain it. If you are willing to spend more than 10 seconds reading, I’ll try. Here’s a short answer: would you like your heart surgeon or neurosurgeon to go to medical school for six weeks, on the “see one, do one, teach one” path? How about your dentist? He’s seen a root canal done once, and now he’ll do yours. Changed your mind yet?

Almost all skills–writing, engine repair, hair cutting, car towing, cake baking–need practice. By practice I mean doing the same basic thing, then variations of it, over and over. Making mistakes and solving problems as you go. Not for days, not even months. Years. Ask any writer, chef, doctor.

When I’m teaching those half-day writing classes, I focus on a few skills. Something that is easy to understand. That makes a difference in clarity. Then we practice with exercises. When my client tells me that “exercises are ‘nice’ but not ‘necessary’ I fight for the right to have participants do exercises. “You can’t get it by hearing about it, you have to try it,” I say.

In these short-cut classes, I try not to mention that it took me 20 years of practice before I became a good writer, and I’m still working on it. What I think is important, though, is that I never tell someone they are wrong, or their writing is horrible. Instead, I focus on one thing they are doing right, and praise them. If I tell them they are wrong, they will ignore what I have to say. They will spend the rest of the class thinking they are stupid, or dumb. When I praise them, and am specific on the thing they did right, they will do it again. And that may be all I can do in a four-hour class. Encourage a few writers to keep doing one thing right. Over and over. Because encouragement works much better than punishment, much better than “constructive criticism,” much better than “feedback.”

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Raw Art Journaling: The Book

Tonia Davenport, my editor at North Light books, walked across the parking lot carrying a tote bag. She’d told me about the painted canvas cover she’d made for her computer, and we generally have show and tell when we get together.

Front cover taken on my kitchen counter because I didn't want to wait for good sunlight tomorrow morning.

But this was different. She handed me a sealed, padded envelope. “It’s your book. The first advance copy. I thought you should open the envelope.” And so, sitting in the outside garden of Pita Jungle on a cool May evening, I opened the envelope and slid out  the printed, color copy of my book.

When you’re a writer, you often look at a piece of writing you did a year ago and cringe. Wish you had done it differently. Wish you could re-do it. I didn’t feel that at all. Each page looked wonderful. It was the first time I’d seen the book in color. Held a bound copy. Enjoyed what I hoped it might be–a welcome for everyone who wants to keep an art journal but can’t draw. A set of projects that come from your heart, that will make your ideas come alive for you. A way to pique the interest of everyone who is tired of assembling perfect kits, of pre-designed scrapbook pages. Who longs to make meaning while they make art. Who wants. . . more. More meaning. More deep writing. More than just putting

Back cover--glare and all, just to be able to post it.

color and words on a page. A real exploration of the journey. I hope readers feel encouraged, cared about, nurtured. Grandiose ideas? Foolish? I hope so. It’s about time. I felt the same way when I held my son for the first time–filled with big dreams for him, filled with joy at the power of creation.  Now it’s time to take my word for 2011–Step Up–and step into the world with the book.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.