Q is for Quilt in QR Code

Every time I’m in a postcard swap, I learn something new. Recently, this postcard arrived in my mailbox:

"Reflection," fabric art postcard © Diane Becka. All rights reserved.

The postcard is a black-on-black postcard that this scan doesn’t do justice. It’s at least four black fabrics–a sky, which is a sheer over another layer, a mountain and a lake–all quilted. The different depths of the blacks, the sparkling stars, the painted moon and reflection–it was all beautiful.

Diane Becka had put her name on the back of the postcard, so I had to find out more. Diane is a quilter who makes exquisitely planned and executed art quilts. They have a kind of spare beauty that is easy to admire, because you instinctively know that there is a lot of thought, planning, and careful work in this art. One of her quilt pieces is this one:

I smiled when I saw it. It’s a pattern like a QR Code–one of those squares you see associated with products. If you have an app on your smart phone, you can scan the code and get a special offer or find a website with a coupon. This QR code is a small quilt, perfectly translated.

Diane Becka's QR Code quilt. © Diane Becka, All rights reserved.

I don’t use the term “perfect” loosely. I was so delighted with the QR Code quilt, I picked up my iPhone and scanned it, you know, as a joke. The quilt works. My iPhone blinked, and I was taken to Diane’s website. The woman created a working QR Code as a quilt.

I felt like applauding at my computer. Creativity has all sorts of practical application. All you have to do is. . . create.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and artist who has a thing for postcards.

Revenge of the Introverts

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a book that helps introverts claim a respectable place in society. Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert, takes on our culture’s love of “outgoing” people. In school, kids are put in groups to learn; at work, we “collaborate” and work in teams–all difficult for introverts. Many organizations now require a personality inventory like Myers-Briggs® before a job offer is extended. Introverts are weeded out as “not fitting in.”

Susan Cain's book, "Quiet"

Susan Cain sees a big link between the 1963’s publication of The Feminine Mystique and Quiet. Cain says,

“Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time–second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.”

I’m reading the book now, and am finding it interesting and informative. It’s good to know that introverts may process more slowly, but it’s also more carefully, and when they do speak, it’s generally powered with information and facts, not bluster and hype.

Cain points out the advantages of being an introvert:

“introverts like to be alone–and introverts enjoy being cooperative. Studies suggest that many of the most creative people are introverts, and this is partly because of their capacity for quiet. Introverts are careful, reflective thinkers who can tolerate the solitude that idea-generation requires. On the other hand, implementing good ideas requires cooperation, and introverts are more likely to prefer cooperative environments, while extroverts favor competitive ones.”

I like the mix of research and personal stories. I don’t claim the book is hard science, but it is an eye opener for all the people who think that Type A workers are the only ones who can make a financially meaningful contribution.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and introvert.

You and the Unknown Phi

Geometry is an amazing part of math knowledge. When I was in school and someone would say, “Why should I learn this, I’ll never use it,” it astonished me.  All around us are amazing geometries that are not only meaningful, but give life structure. and beauty.

Phi is a number–.1.6180339. It’s called the Golden Ratio. Like Pi, it continues forever. There is a way it was derived, and if you are super geeky, you will recognize this definition from Wikipedia: “In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.” (I just heard half my daily readers leaving.)

The Golden Ratio as a graph

There is something even more interesting about Phi. The number can be scaled into a grid. And the grid gains meaning in nature–it can be found in the way rose petals shape the bud, the pattern of sunflower seeds in the center of the flower, and the way branches are spaced along the trunk of a tree.

Even if you’ve never heard of Phi, you are walking around with it. The length of your hands and lower arms follow Phi, and so do your facial features. Leonardo Da Vinci figured out many of the applications.

Here’s a quick way to check: your foot is the length of your lower arm. If you are flexible enough, place your heel on the inside of your elbow. Your toes will reach to your wrist.

Why we think Paula Zahn is attractive--it's all about the math.

Shells that spiral follow the path of Phi. The eye, fin and tail of a dolphin align with the ratio. A line drawn between the pupils and down to the corners of the mouth follow the Phi proportion. We consider a person attractive if the lines form a square. Your two front teeth form a rectangle in the Phi proportions in height and width.

You can see more examples and you can download a grid and use it to check it for yourself. And I promise not to tell anyone you are using geometry and loving it.

Quinn McDonald suffers from some forms of math fear, but loves geometry. She is a writer and creativity coach.

Dealing With Hurt and Anger

A few days ago, I talked about being angry after being wronged. First of all, thank you for all your supportive emails and messages. They were thoughtful, insightful, and uplifting. And comforting.

While I was working on letting go of my anger and choosing a course of action, I wrote my own coach, who reminded me that before I took action, I needed to spend some time healing.

It’s good advice. When we are bruised, we put ice on the spot and elevate it. My spirit needed the same thing. But I’m so busy! I have deadlines! I need to . . .heal. My coach was absolutely right. How do you heal? But treasuring your creative work and spending time with it. By being creative, the sense of loss is not a sense of threat. By turning to creative work, the hole left by the sense of lack is filled with creative work, proving we are capable of it, and capable of healing ourselves.

Choosing a reaction doesn’t spring from a sense of anger, it grows from a sense of boundaries and accountability. Yes, that’s from Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Brené says that by holding people accountable for their actions, we enforce the boundaries of acceptable behavior and can concentrate on what someone did, not who they are.

My first task today was healing. I went out to the Desert Botanical Garden and enjoyed the butterfly house with a friend. We then wandered into the garden, found a bench, and sat down to sketch. Sketching requires concentration and gives you positive results. Looking closely at something you are drawing helps you see how it’s constructed. A bigger lesson at work.

So thanks to my own coach, I’m on the road to healing through creativity and setting boundaries and holding the person who wronged me accountable. I want to create a solution that is clean, ethical and simple. I think I can.

-Quinn McDonald is working through a hard time the only way she knows how–by meaning making and creative work.

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Loose-Leaf Journal Pages (Again)

The idea behind loose-leaf journal pages is simple–you can create a group of pages. If you like them, they go into the book. If not, they can be reworked without slowing down the creative process. Some other good reasons:

1. I can keep sample pages in one section. Here is a page that shows Twinkling H20 colors on one side, and some Tombow water-soluble pens on the other. I always keep samples in my journal, but now I can keep them all in one place, instead of shuffling through journals searching for that second set of Inktense samples.

2. I can remove pages that are too personal to show to a class. This means I can carry samples that are ready to show and take out pages that aren’t the right sample for the class, or ones not meant for anyone but me. The pages are easy to remove.

3. Loose-leaf pages can remind me of an idea I had and what it meant. I can group similar ideas or series that I make weeks apart. It’s a great idea for teaching and planning. This one shows a group of alchemy symbols. On the back I have notes on how creativity is like alchemy.

Loose-leaf journals don’t have to be your only journal, but they can be a very useful one if you have a lot of ideas, a lot of plans, or teach a lot.

-Quinn McDonald is a keeper of journals and a maker of Monsoon Papers, a technique she created and will teach in Valley Ridge, Wisconsin, May 5 and 6.

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The Consistent Heart

I am angry at someone who wronged me. What the reason is, who the person is, doesn’t matter. I am burning in a rage that wants vengeance, retribution. I want to rise from my anger like the Khaleesi from the fire in the final scene of the Game of Thrones. I want vindication. I want to command a dragon.

The seedpod grows what you imagine. It can grow hatred, it can grown creativity and meaning-making. That's the power of growth.

For a moment, I hunt for an excuse to act in anger. I call it justice. I call it fairness. But the realm of the legal and the realm of ethics do not always intersect.

If I act on my anger, I will act from a place of lack. The place of lack is a space without bottom; it cannot be filled. Not even with all my anger. I keep wanting to justify my anger. But in the very back of my mind, in a tiny, cramped space that avoided the flash-fire of anger, is a tiny window that lets in light. If I crawl to that space in my mind, I can see a dim, even light.  And in the light, I recognize that any action that diminishes the person I am angry at, diminishes me.

If I choose to act from a sense of wholeness, from a place of the person I would like to be, then I have to let go the thought of retribution. I will not change the other person through anger, or vengeance, or punishment. I can choose only how I will conduct myself.

What about justice? Justice will appear if I act justly. What if it doesn’t? What if this person gets away with it? Then I have acted justly. Then I have acted not like I wanted to act when I was angry, but the way I chose to act when I was whole.

Yes, some people will laugh at me behind my back. Yes, I was tricked. But I chose to maintain my own integrity, my own reputation. I have walked the way I claim to think and believe. Right now it is not a willing walk, it is a limp and a bent-over burden, but it is the way I choose. I hold in my hand a seedpod. I have the power to grow from it what I choose, what I think.

-Quinn McDonald is struggling with meaning-making. She is struggling to walk the talk. She would rather rise as the Khaleesi who commands the dragons. But she lives in Phoenix, and she teaches what she knows.

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“It’s Our Policy”

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A few days ago, I ran across one of those phrases I wonder about. A lot. I wonder about it, not so much as a customer, but as someone who teaches customer service. [If this shocks you, because you know about the writing and art journaling but what is this about training? Yes, I develop and run training programs for businesses. What can I say? I have a lot of interests.]

The phrase I wonder about is “It’s our policy.” After a lot of thought, this slippery

Policy decisions from Corey Smith's Random Thoughts blog

phrase is often used as a communication shut-down and means, “We do it this way, and if you don’t like it, tough.”

I’ve also heard it used to mean “Don’t ask me for special treatment. I’m going to treat you like this because I can.” And, “I am not allowed to make any decisions, and no matter what I’d do, this is what I’m told to say or do.” And even, “Logic would dictate some other action, but I’m sticking with the hard line, and it’s my way of telling you to suck it up.”

“Policies and procedures” is part of how a company gains obedience from its workers. You violate Policy and Procedures and you get a warning or fired. I was an “employee at will” long enough to be very clear on company’s policies and procedures.

As a customer, I hope to receive treatment that shows me how the store thinks about me as a customer, how much the store values customers, and what they expect from the customer in return. For example, every store has a policy that says if I want to take something out the door, I must pay for it. Makes sense. Right after that, the policies and procedures get fuzzy. If something is mis-marked, must I pay the marked price or the scanned price? If I have a coupon, and it is expired, will the store honor it? If I drop and break something in the store, do I have to pay for it? If a purchase doesn’t fit or I just change my mind, can I return it? For cash? Store credit? What do I have to bring with me? Every store has policies that cover those cases.

What became clear to me is that a store’s policies reflect their values. If they don’t value their customers, the policies are rigid and focused on bringing money into the store, rather than customers. If the store doesn’t want people to linger or explore their items, they will have policies that don’t encourage touching, asking questions, or displays that show different ways to use items. They will have employees who don’t care about the customers comfort, but focus on applying those policies.

Pretty much, policies are a training issue. If the people who deal with the public (store employees) are given rules by people who don’t deal with the public (corporate office policy-writers), problems will arise. If the store employee is not trained to use their brain, but just trained to enforce the policies, the store will lose customers. There is a name for stores that lose too many customers: Closed.

Policies directly reflect the thinking of the people who make them. They reflect management’s assumptions and values. They reflect how much management trusts their employees, too. If employees have no discretion in applying the policies, but must look at all cases the same way, it tells the customer that management doesn’t value customers as individuals or the store employees as thinking beings.

This explains a lot about how I experience different stores. And why I have become brand loyal to some and avoid others. The policies you set for yourself, and those around you, including your art, your writing, your creative work reflect your view of yourself and your life. What do you automatically assume? What is the value that goes with it? Interesting, huh?

–Quinn McDonald teaches ethics, customer service, four generations in the workplace and other tough topics. She’s also a life- and creativity coach.

The Magic Draft

The client was terse. “Your copy did not hit the mark, I will write the copy myself.” And she did. I suppose she was unhappy because the first draft didn’t mimic her own ideas. Or maybe she had forgotten my request that a first draft would be a start, and her feedback would be a way to get to the heart of the matter.

In progress. Draft. From 92Y.tumblr.com

“If you can’t get it right the first time, you aren’t much of a writer,” she said. I thought about how that would look if we applied it to the rest of life.

To a toddler: “Just one step? If you don’t get up and run 26 miles, you aren’t much of a marathoner.”

To a calf: “You are still drinking milk? If you can’t produce milk yourself, you aren’t much of a cow.”

To a seedling: “Just one leaf? If you can’t produce an apple, you aren’t much of a tree.”

Writing is an art of iteration. Of drafts. Of writing long and cutting it down. I’ve never seen a first draft that was perfect. I’ve seen lots that aren’t very good but that get better with each draft. It’s funny that clients think that if you need more than one try, you aren’t talented.  Thomas Edison tried 6,000 different materials until he found one that worked as a light bulb filament. James Michener’s boss told him to quit thinking he was a writer, instead, he should keep his eye on doing his job as an editor or he’d be fired. This was months before Michener won the Pulitzer Prize for South Pacific. He went on to write 40 other titles, including Hawaii, Chesapeake, and The Drifters. Each one went through several drafts.

Julia Child cut up piles of onions before she felt competent wielding a knife. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had been flying airplanes for more than 30 years before he put the U.S. Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson so that all 150 passengers could stay alive. Bet he couldn’t have done that the first time he stepped into a plane.

So, alas, I lost a customer. I did not shed a tear or spend more than two deep breaths mourning the loss. Good writing takes drafts. Good writing takes cutting and feedback. And if you don’t think it does, you’re getting bad copy.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She practices both.

Glitter Sharpies: Tale of Two Prices

Fish done in yellow, orange and dark pink Sharpie watercolor pens on Arches Velin. Background in Twinkling H20s. © Quinn McDonald, 2012

The Glitter Sharpies are a must-have for hand lettering. How I got mine is a story I hope you’ll enjoy–it involves a large-chain store (called XYZ here), a stubborn shopper (yep, me) and a camera. The pen review comes after the story. Part of the marker review is in the photo captions, so you can read just those and skip the store story if you prefer.

XYZ is a store I avoid. The one I’m familiar with is  older and has a messy display out front that’s tired and picked over, even in the morning.  The store don’t have enough help, and the help they do have isn’t well-trained so everyone is cranky (including me.)

On my trip to find the markers, I have to go down narrow, tall aisles jammed with Easter products and the omnipresent, overwhelming smell of what must be mountains of potpourri.  The Sharpie glitter markers are way in the back.  Pretty spendy at $12.99 for 3. But they put down color that looks like heat-set foil, so I splurged.

Back at the front of the store,  there is one elderly man with faulty glasses, peering at prices and slowly checking out customers. The line snakes through the store.  I stand and wait.

Eventually, it’s my turn. I put down the 3-pack of glitter markers, and $15.

He starts to give me a spiel to get a store marketing card, which may or may not cost money. “No, thanks,” I say, still cheery.
He scans the markers, and it comes up $14.99.

Glitter Sharpies hanging on the display. I've distorted the part of the tag that identifies the store name.

My eyebrows shoot up to my hairline. I say, “They are marked $12.99 at the display.”
“You’re wrong,” he says, “It’s scanning at $14.99.”
“That may scan at $14.99, but they are marked $12.99 in the back,” I insist.

He sighs. “I don’t have anyone to go back and check, so you’ll have to pay $14.99.” he says.

I think about the line I’ve just spent 20 minutes waiting in. “That’s OK,” I say, “I don’t want them at that price.” And I leave. Unhappiness chews at me.

Back home, I print out a coupon,  run errands, and return to XYZ.

The guy who couldn’t help me is hanging my purchase back on the rack. “I’ll take those,” I smile, and photograph the $12.99 price tag.  Markers and coupon in hand, I trek  to the counter, and the checker scans them at $14.99. “They are marked $12.99 in the display,” I say. She looks at me doubtfully and says, “They scan at $14.99.” Déja cranky.

I whip out my cell phone and show her the photo–she can read both the price and the writing on the package of glitter markers. The lady is astonished. “What a great idea!” she says. “But don’t you go telling anyone about this, or everyone will be saving money.” I do not want to think about what she means–just how many other products are over-priced here?  She calls the store manager. “The price signs were wrong,” she says, “you’ll have to pay the scanned price.”

“I have a photograph of the price marked,” I say, still polite, but firmly. “I expect you to charge me the marked price, and I want the coupon discount, too.”

The lady looks at me dubiously. I hold up my phone-proof, making eye contact.  “Ahhh, you deserve it,” she says, and then says, “So say ‘thank you’ or I won’t give it to you.” Small price to pay. “Thank you,” I say, and mean it.

And that is how I bought a packages of  glitter markers at a bargain price.

Markers on index card, tilted to show glitter effect. Smooth and rich, these Sharpie markers are worth the money.

And they are worth it. The Sharpie Glitter markers are water-based. You have to shake them and push the nib down to start the color. Once the color starts, it puts down a smooth line of glittery color. The color is so even and smooth that, once dry, you can go over it with a Pitt or Micron pen and the black outline pen won’t jump. There are six colors: green, blue, light pink, dark pink, yellow and orange. The colors are rich, the smooth glitter is bright. Small details and hand lettering look great.

Roofs are done in light and dark pink Sharpie Glitter markers. The rest of the color is Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils. Left half is pencil, right half outlined in Pitt pen. Notice that there is no smearing.

You can erase over them without dulling the color or picking up the glitter.

Despite the drama of the purchase, I love these colors. I’m not much of a glitter girl, but the color is saturated, well- defined and crisp.

The yellow is bright and clear, and perfect for crowns, halos, light effects and well, koi scales (in the top illustration).  I’ll be using these often.

Quinn McDonald is the author of  Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. She wrote it to help people who can’t draw become art journalers.

Report on the Postcard Swap

When I signed up for iHanna’s postcard swap, (see the results of all the swaps)  I wanted to try a new swap idea: very few duplicates. I’ve also started to receive my swaps; you can see them on the bottom of this blog post.

When I saw my list of swappers, three of them were overseas. So I made three of these:

This saguaro cactus has a fruit set on it. The Tohono O’odoham Indians harvest these fruits as part of their ecology/economy. They make syrup and candy from the fruit. And then, as part of a gratitude ceremony, they ferment some of the juice for the annual rain-calling ceremony. To indicate the heat, I covered the image with a sheer red-and-orange fabric and sewed around the edges.

Monsoon paper had to appear on one of the cards. This one is a piece of Monsoon Paper that looks like a night sky. Around the edge it says, “The stars are always in the sky, but are visible only in the dark of night.” I love the idea that the bright twinkly stars are always there, but we can only see them when the light fails.

There is something about foreign language type I find mysterious. Here is a card divided into thirds—Japanese, Russian and Hebrew. The strips that separate them are Braille paper. I love the idea of different ways to communicate. The circle is mica.

I have some Braille paper, so I made two postcards with that wonderfully textured paper.

This one is woven with irregular pieces.

This one is more of an underwater fantasy. I added some glitter, but it doesn’t show up well on a scan.

I thought that someone may have use for a very small bulletin board, so this one is made of cork, edged in copper tape. There is room in the bottom right-hand corner to use as a coaster for your drink. Hope this one makes it through the mail.

I made two found-poetry cards. Only one is shown here–the one about secrets. I love making the inked background on these.

So far, I’ve received four cards:

This card with three button flowers and stitching arrived in an envelope to protect the buttons. I love the color combination; the flowers seem just right for Spring. Thanks, Amy!

This one is mysteriously meaningful in mixed media, mixed messages. Batman sneaks a peek out of a bright red poppy, sewn onto the card. A piece of heavy lace is attached to the right side. Does Batman have a sensitive side? What astonished me is that this card survived the trip from Sweden! Thanks, Charlotta!

This big card is a visual stunner. The background is squares cut out of text. The bright red lips are cut out of a magazine. And the rest of the woman is drawn in black marker. It took me a fraction of a second to see it all, and the shift as I understood the card made me smile. Thanks, Lena from Sweden!

This card arrived just in time to be included in this blog. At first I thought it was a pencil point at the bottom, but Gail explained that she often want kayaking, and gets the nose of her kayak in the photo. It made sense to include it in the card. The quote on the front is from Rick Bass, the American writer and environmentalist. It says:

“If it’s wild to your own heart, protect it. Preserve it. Love it. And fight for it, and dedicate yourself to it, whether it’s a mountain range, your wife, your husband, or even (god forbid) your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s wild to anyone else: if it’s what makes your heart sing, if it’s what makes your days soar like a hawk in the summertime, then focus on it. Because for sure, it’s wild, and if it’s wild, it’ll mean you’re still free. No matter where you are.”

Clever and a great card, Gail!

These swaps are a rewarding challenge. If you’ve never done one before, dive into the next one you find. They are a lot of fun!

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer who loves art journaling in any form.