Before You Teach (Art or Anything Else)

You’ve been accepted to teach at an art retreat–Congratulations!  Your ideas are fresh, you can’t wait to demo this new technique, so you are all set, right? Not so fast. Even if you have done demos and taught small groups, an art retreat is a different thing entirely. Here are some tips to make the experience good for you and for your class.

Plan Before You Apply to a Retreat
An idea and a way to teach it are the most important part of applying to a show. Right after that comes the business side of teaching–how much money do you need to charge to make a profit? If you think you don’t need to make a profit, you are just doing this because you love it, then please feel a kinship with the many artists who make a living teaching. When you don’t care what you charge, you automatically drop all art teachers’ incomes, and relegate artists to the bottom of the income heap. Some questions to consider when pricing:

  • What do participants need to complete your course?
  • How much will you provide? (for free)
  • What do you expect them to bring?
  • Do you need to provide a kit?
  • How much does each kit cost you? (This is hard to figure, but important)
  • How long does it take to assemble the kits (time is money in all of America, including your studio)
  • How long did it take you to design the class?
  • How many times can you teach this class (the more you can teach, the bigger the base to spread the cost)
  • What does the class cost you? That money is gone. How much profit do you need?
  • The best way to control how much you earn is setting a minimum number of people in the class.
  • Set a maximum number, too. There is a number over which you are not teaching, you are amusing a crowd. Don’t cross that line.

Teaching Art at Key Stages by Nigel Meager

Read and Ask Before You Accept the Contract
Don’t get so excited that you sign the contract without reading it. You’ll need to know

  • How many hours are you expected to teach? What time of day (if you are a morning person, those midnight classes aren’t for you.)
  • How much will the promoter mark up the price of your class?
  • What percentage of the total cost is yours? (This is very important. If the promoter doubles the price you want, you are receiving 50% of the price of the class, and the class may now be overpriced for the audience. This does not mean you have to accept the fuzzy end of the lollipop.)
  • How soon after you teach do you get paid?
  • What are your administrative duties? Do you have to clean the classroom? Pass out and collect evaluations? Appear at a “Meet the Artist”?
  • What is the role of evaluations? (Will you not be asked back if you get one bad eval? Two?)
  • What are the rules about eating and drinking in your class? Phone use? Disruptive behavior? (Most promoters cater to clients, not instructors, so know what your rules are and how you will be supported in them).
  • Recognize that you will have administrative work, set up and clean up. It adds time to your work hours. Make sure you get paid for this time.

    Derwent Inktense color swatches

Find out Before you Teach

  • Know the location–the food service, the bathrooms, where to purchase water, what the classroom contains.
  • Know how long it takes for you to get there, including rush hours.
  • Know how long it takes you to set up.
  • Know what you need to demo–whether you have 4 people or 2o in the class. Having a small class makes standing around your desk easy. A big class needs something else–a white board, a projector, an easel. You will have to bring these.
  • Run through the class in your studio, making a list of everything you need.
  • Keep your eye on the time. Don’t plan a class that is too long or too short. People pay for a class of a certain length. It should be that long.
  • Figure in time for questions, chatting and administrative time–evals, sign-in sheets, gathering email addresses from participants, room check.
  • Control time use in your class. Selling your book, your work, your classes takes away from learning time. Participants resent it.
  • Be mindful that your main purpose is to teach and give participants an experience  that equals the hefty sum they paid to come.

Time moves at different speeds for client and freelancer. Image: Trade King,

Manage Your Time While You Are Teaching

  • Are the participants equally skilled? If not, how you will you handle the difference? (Plan for exercises during which you can help the slower participants.)
  • If there is a sign-in sheet, wait to pass it around until everyone is there, otherwise you’ll be passing it around forever.
  • Start the class with housekeeping–your rules for phones, leaving the class, bathroom breaks, food and drink, asking questions.
  • Let the participants introduce themselves in some way. If the class is large, find out who came the farthest, their favorite class so far to avoid spending a lot of time on introductions. You can also ask them to tell them their name and why they are taking this class. Manage the answers to keep them short.
  • Introduce yourself and why you are teaching the course. Make your reason something that fills a need, not a list of accomplishments.
  • If you are allowing students to use your equipment, explain what they are expected to do with it and how to care for it.
  • Explain what is in the kit in front of them and how they will use it.
  • Give them the big picture of what you will teach and then start your class.

Act After Your Class

  • Return administrative papers
  • Write a thank-you email to the promoter and anyone whose email address you gathered in class. Be positive.
  • Spend some time evaluating your class and take notes on how to improve it or change it.
  • Keep class notes, materials list, and lessons learned for the next planning session.
  • Update your mailing list with new names.

Quinn McDonald realizes this is a super-long post. She’s hoping you will print it out and use it as a checklist as you go teach anything from art to zookeeping.


Making Mistakes and Problem Solving

“Defining the problem is the last step in problem solving.” I thought it was an easy question on the pre-test I give my Back To Work students, but it’s not. It’s the one True/False question that is most often answered incorrectly.

One way to fix a road. Or, tar dribble.

When asked what they think the first step in problem solving is (OK, I encourage them to make stuff up) I hear, “Suggesting something—anything.” “Asking what the boss wants.” “Keep your mouth shut, if you suggest it, you have to do it.”

I feel their pain. It’s hard to get to the solution if you don’t know what the problem is. And it’s hard to nail down the problem. Which makes “defining the problem” the first step in problem solving. You can’t solve it if it’s a moving target.

The way many problems show up is when we make a mistake. I’ve never met anyone who wanted to screw up–not in the studio, not at work, not in front of our friends. But we do. Often on cell phone cameras and YouTube. Most mistakes are actions we wish we could take back the instant we know they are a mistake. And we can’t.

And that’s why we need to fix them ourselves. Not rush to the boss, our mom, our best friend, our coach, teacher or mentor and say, “Tell me what to do.” Admittedly, it sounds great to run for cover.

The person who does the work, screws up, recognizes the screw-up is also the best person to determine the solution. Notice I’m not saying “have all the answers,” or even “Do the fixing as punishment,” but to create the solution. Because when you screw up, you know how it happened. Which is defining the problem in a glaringly clear way.

My answer to “What do I do now?” comes in a matched set of three:

1. Know what went wrong. Make sure it is the real cause, not the loud one. When I dropped a tiny piece of sodium into water (pure sodium, not salt, which is sodium chloride) there was a big bang that broke the beaker and made a lot of smoke. What went wrong was not the bang, the fright or the mess, but the fact that I didn’t know how quickly the sodium would react with the water, releasing that damn explosive hydrogen gas.

2. Create a solution. There will be more than one. There will be more than one right one. In my case, it was understanding what happened, gratitude that we wore safety goggles, thinking maybe the instructor should demo this instead of letting us mis-judge how small “a small piece of sodium” is.

3. Tell your boss by accepting responsibility and suggesting a solution. Accepting responsibility helps keep your credibility, which is important. It also acknowledges the next step: that you know what to do. This also applies to artists, working alone in the studio. It’s generally not the fault of the watercolor or paper, stencil or sewing machine. Once you admit to yourself (that’s the boss, right?) what you did, you can move on to deciding how not to do that again. Or doing something different.

In the case of a business mistake, you want to be the one to suggest the solution, because you have the best information. You can also suggest a solution that will have a good outcome, whether it’s asking for help,  or asking that your solution be considered first. Leave the answer to the boss, and you may not like the solution, think it may not work, and have to do it anyway.

Note: The winners have been chosen for the Raw Art Journaling and Monsoon Papers giveaway.  Congratulations Melydia on winning the book, and Laurie Morris and Lisa from Artist Cellar have won the paper. Thanks to all for participating!

Quinn McDonald has made enough mistakes to figure out how to solve them practically and in a way that saves you from stomping on your own ego.

Putting Out the Effort

New book: ready, set, go! I sat at the screen for an hour. Nothing. I wrote 1,000 words. None worth keeping. I wrote another 300. Lame. Yep, even writers who have been working at it for a long time are not a faucet that you crank on and the words come pouring out. There are still rough spots. Still scree that you slide on and are afraid you’ll fall.

I’d love to tell you exactly how I got out of it, but I can’t. Because I’m still stuck. Tomorrow is another start. Today, it just didn’t work.

Strength is required to work the rings.

So I watched the Olympics. Watched a swimmer get disqualified, then re-instated. Watched a male gymnast take a run and get it just right. Take another run and mess it up. Watched another one jump up on the high bars and do everything just right, then slip and fall, hard. You could hear his breath being slapped out of him.

Even with years of practice, these swimmers and runners jump in, unsure of what is going to happen. The difference between winning and losing can be 1/100ths of a second. That’s not even noticeable, but it can be the difference between standing on the podium and never being mentioned.

Without knowing what will happen, which side of the 1/100th of a second they will land, the athletes still run, jump, dive. Knowing that years of practice may not make perfect, they still show up and do their best this day.

That’s all they can do is show up and give it their best combination of effort and skill. That’s a lesson I can understand.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who knows that books are not written, but re-written. But to re-write, she has to do the writing first.

A Year Ago Today. . . (and a giveaway)

Note: The winners have been chosen! Congratulations Melydia on winning the book! Laurie Morris and Lisa from Artist Cellar have won the paper. Thanks to all for participating!

It’s been a year since Raw Art Journaling was launched. A year ago tonight I stood at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe and did what I had wanted to do since I was eight years old–introduced a book I hoped would help people try out their creativity.

Pinna Joseph, from Changing Hands, introducing Raw Art Journaling a year ago.

What I loved most of all was all of the loving and generous people who decided not to stay home, but to show up and smile and celebrate the book with me. Tonia Davenport (now Jenny), who edited the book and encouraged me to be unconventional; Lynn Trochelman, an incredible cheerleader and art instigator; Rosaland Hannibal, a spiritual and creative powerhouse and explorer who experimented fearlessly. Bonnie Barnard, whose brainchild Creative Mastermind group introduced me to an incredible group of women who became friends. I’m grateful to everyone who showed up, stood in line, purchased a book and shared encouraging and loving wishes. Particularly the Arizona Calligraphers and Maverick Quilters.

The books at Changing Hands bookstore

Some of the contributors to the book came, too. Journey Cole, Barbara Hagerty, Rita Ackerman.

Pinna Joseph, marketing director at Changing Hands, and one of the first friends I made in Phoenix, introduced the book. Cooking Man made food for the party.

In the past year, I have heard from so many people who purchased the book, tried the exercises, and fell in love with meaning making. Wonderful emails that proved that art transforms and mends. I also received a few emails from cranky people who didn’t like the book. That’s OK. It was not ever meant to please everyone. I’m so pleased the book did so well,  is still doing well, and I’d like to thank everyone who bought the book and discovered a part of themselves that made meaning and had fun.

Samples of Monsoon Papers in a variety of colors

To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Raw Art Journaling and, for those of you who own it, a chance at one of two pieces of Monsoon Paper. Just leave a comment and let me know if you want the book (signed), or a piece of Monsoon Paper (let me know if you want it in tones of blue or brown.) Each sheet of paper is about 12″ x 24″ and can be used for journaling, card making or other paper art projects.

The drawing will happen on Saturday evening, July 28, 2012 at midnight Eastern Daylight Time.

Thanks again for an incredible experience!

—Quinn McDonald is working on her next book, The Hero’s Art Journal: Mixed Media Conversations with the Inner Critic. She hopes to be doing giveaways, classes, and an incredible book launch sometime late next year. She hopes to meet more of you then.

Too Much of a Good Thing

“Plant in full sun,” the tag on the plant said. It added that I could trellis it, but keep the trellis in the sun. The plant was a Manzanita and I purchased it at a local big-box hardware store.

Because it was the first year, I didn’t plant it in full sun. I planted the Manzanita in a big pot with a small trellis and put it where it got the morning sun and was shaded from the harsher sun of the afternoon.

During May and early June, the Manzanita bloomed constantly. By the end of June, the edges of the leaves were beginning to turn brown. Too much sun. I pulled the pot under the patio overhang.

Through July, the plant slowly died, from the branch tips in. It was simply too hot. Not just too much sun, but too much heat. For all the years I lived in Connecticut, there was no such thing as too much sun, but in the Southwest, too much sun and too much heat is what we call June, July and August.  As far as plants go, there can be too much of a good thing.

It turns out that Manzanitas grow at 3,000 feet to 5,000 feet, which was not mentioned on the label.  (Phoenix is about 1,000 feet) The big-box store probably should not have sold the plant; I think few people buy them here and then drive them North to plant.

But it did remind me that any living thing can suffer from too much of a good thing–too much sun for plants, or too much water. For people, we can suffer from too much free time, too much work, too much anger, too much stimulation.
It’s not just a matter of balance, it’s a matter of knowing what, exactly, it takes to let you thrive. Even if others around you are thriving, they may be the high-altitude types and you aren’t. Demanding the flexibility to thrive under every condition is more than most people can deliver. But it’s up to you to figure that out, the people who surround you will assume if they find you in their lives, you will be able to thrive.

You will need to establish your own limits, and then let others know. “Grow where you are planted” might be a great proverb, but it may be wiser to plant yourself where you can thrive.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who helps people become brave enough to know what it takes to thrive.

Gratitude and Guns

Because I live in Arizona, I see a lot of people packin’ heat. Carrying guns in hip and shoulder holsters. Here, it’s fine to conceal-carry. Or open carry. I see guns in the library, bars (yes, places where you go to drink and let down your inhibitions), and movie theaters. Gives the store name  “Target” a whole new meaning.  My classes are gun-free zones, and when I announce that, some people argue and some go stow their guns in their cars. Life can be weird here in the West.

Walt Whitman from

When I ask my coaching clients to keep a gratitude journal, I start slowly. It’s hard to be grateful when you are downtrodden, angry, restless or a victim of your own life. Gratitude is hard. It makes you responsible for your own self, your own joy. And when you are busy eating worms, it sounds annoying, not helpful.

Gratitude journals do something very ancient and very interesting. They base their success on the sure knowledge that we create our own reality.  What we look at, we find. What we find, we become.

Walt Whitman had it exactly right when he said:
” There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.”

So the gratitude journal serves the purpose, not of making you grateful, but of making you aware that you can allow yourself to be grateful. Once you have done that, you begin to look for things to put in the journal. You go gratitude hunting. Things that are mildly gratitude-producing become grist for your gratitude. You find what you look for.

To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. (It’s often attributed to Abraham Kaplan and slightly reworded, to Abraham Maslow, the developer of that hierarchy of needs, Maslow’s pyramid.) We use the tool we have. If the tool is gratitude, we look at our life trying to figure out how to be grateful, even if it’s not obvious, even if it’s hard.

Now replace that gratitude journal with a gun. Concealed carry.

When a gun is strapped to your hip, you are ready to “protect” yourself, your ideas, your beliefs, your world. That gun becomes part of your reality.  And you begin to look for reasons to use it. Without a gun, armed only with your pen and journal, you have to look for a way to reason with someone who argues with you. You have to be willing to lose, to walk away, to concede a point. You have to learn patience, tact, honesty, compassion.

If you have a gun, everything looks like a challenge. You want to use the tool you carry. You look for threats. No one goes to the range to practices “shoot to scare.”

Be careful what you choose to arm yourself with. You think it’s hard to withdraw words said in anger, it’s a lot harder to take back a bullet.

-Quinn McDonald is a user of words. She does not own a gun, although she has qualified as a sharpshooter in years gone by.

Who Owns the Inner Critic?

Hardly had I announced the new book would deal with the inner critic, when the emails started to come in. People letting me know that there was someone else teaching a class on the inner critic, another one saying that they had taken a class with someone who had a chapter in her book about the inner critic. Still another who reminded me that “inner critic” belonged to Julia Cameron, Martha Beck, and a host of other people who have used the term some where, some time.

Big, deep breath. I know. The term “inner critic” is a generic term for that voice we all have that yammers about what we are missing, what we don’t have, and how we are not enough.

I did not invent the inner critic–he (or she) comes built-in to your brain, courtesy hundreds of  thousands of years of evolution. I did not invent the name “Inner Critic,” Byron Brown has used it since he wrote Soul Without Shame, in 1998. Before that, Hal Stone wrote Embracing Your Inner Critic in 1993, and Matthew Ignoffo wrote Coping With Your Inner Critic in 1989. So, the term has been around a while.

But let’s scratch the itch, here. I know about copyright, but copyright doesn’t preclude me  (or you, or 300 yodeling unicorns) from writing a book about the inner critic. The inner critic is a concept, an idea, and ideas don’t qualify for copyright.

Learn to make this apple pie, complete with micro-lattice from

Imagine what it would be like if there were one book on apple pie, or, for that matter, one recipe for apple pie. One, and done. Maybe, if you are generous, one open pie, one lattice pie, one deep-dish, and one streusel.  Or one book on journaling, one book on watercolor. Libraries would be tiny. My bookcases would take up a lot less of my house,  and Cooking Man’s collection (now numbering close to 300 cookbooks) would be down to just one.

Incidentally, here is Country Home’s recipe that claims to be the best apple pie ever. And here are 15 more “best” apple pie recipes from Country Living. The one with salted pecan topping looks pretty good. And the orange-spiced, streusel-topped, cream-enriched Dutch apple pie looks yummy, too. And while I’m on a tear, streusel doesn’t rhyme with doozle, it comes from the German word for scatter (streuen) and it rhymes with Roy-zell. I think I’m done now.

Those three books I mentioned above deal with the inner critic, just as mine will. But each offers a different method, as mine will. And then there is the idea that a lot of books on the same topic allows a lot of perspectives. A lot of solutions. A lot of right answers. Because there is not only more than one answer, there is more than one right answer. And I’m looking to add another.

-Quinn McDonald is writing again. But she’s got her mind on apple pie.