The Dispenser of Necessary Items

One of the places where form does not follow function is in most public bathrooms. Handicap stalls are at the far end, forcing handicapped people to dodge traffic and swinging doors to get to the one stall that they can use–only to find it being used by someone who doesn’t need it. Towel dispensers are not near the sinks, so floors are almost always wet and slippery. Many stalls don’t have a place to hang your purse, making you hold it in your teeth or hang it around your neck or (ew) put your purse on the floor.

Sunscreen dispenser at Tohono Chul

Sunscreen dispenser at Tohono Chul

So when I stopped at Tohono Chul today (Tucson’s Botanical Garden) I was delighted to see this in the ladies’ room: a sunscreen dispenser. Our sun is hot and can burn, even in winter. I wear sunscreen on my face and hands every day of the year. But this small, free kindness was wonderful to find.

Even better, it was clear. Most zinc oxide is white and never fully absorbs. If you put it on your face, you feel like a plastic bag has been pulled over your head.

This was clear and worked well. I had a business conference call to make, and while I was talking, I wasn’t aging my skin (more).

After I left the bathroom, I began to wonder what other kind of dispensers I’d like to find–no, not the items you can find in a vending machine, but unexpected kindnesses–a dispenser of compliments, for example. (“Take a compliment, give a compliment.”)

There is something magic about Tohono Chul–while I was on my conference call, I was surrounded by a dozen different kinds of butterflies and a least 10 hummingbirds. In November. Life is good.


One Drop of Water

You don’t need to look at the drop of water on your car roof, you’ve seen it a million times. But if you had to draw it, at least without looking at it, you’d have a hard time. We know what things look like in a general way, but the specifics will do us in.  That’s what makes being an artist fun. We look at things in different ways. As artists we have certain expectations of water drops–we assume the light comes from above, so the highlights in a drop are around the curved part on top. So far, so good.

Except the image I chose to draw from was a second generation photocopy of a drop of water on metal. No color, just values and they had been distorted by the photocopy machine. The highlight was on one side, and the drop was probably not originally water, as it had a sharper profile than water. I struggled with making the drop look round. It looked flat and lifeless.

Drawing was made more difficult not just because I didn’t have what I needed, but because to recognize a drop of water, I have to include certain things that make it recognizable–shape, reflection, color.

” The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” Marcel Proust wrote. And new eyes consist mostly of observation. How does this thing look in this light. What, exactly is it that makes the eye think it is round and wet.

And after a while, it emerged, looking as it should. Not because I was born talented. I was not. But because I used my eyes in new ways to see a new perspective.

–Image: “Drip,”  © Quinn McDonald, colored pencil on110-lb.  Bristol Board. All rights reserved.

-Quinn McDonald is writing a book on the inner critic and the inner heroes we develop to confront it.

Listen to Your Journal

Listening to your journal is a skill  often neglected by the very people who would benefit from it. We write a lot in our journals, but then we put them on the shelf and forget about them.  We are used to writing, asking to be heard, seen–praying for answers. We often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of  journaling.

Some Prayer, acrylic and ink on watercolor paper. © Quinn McDonald.

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom greater than yourself. You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Your pen may race on, while your mind hangs on to the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

—Quinn McDonald is writing a book on inner heroes and inner critics.

Journaling Quotes

First, the winner of the Extreme Origami book from Nov. 25’s blog post:  Congratulations to Kristin McNamara Freeman! Send me your mailing address and the book is on the way. *     *     *

Time to update your journal with some good quotes. Here’s one I stole from Liz Crain, a contributor to the new book and a skilled ceramicist. The quote isn’t Liz’s, but it’s written on a shelf in her closet:

“If you can’t get rid of the skeletons in your closet, you’d best teach them to dance.”  –George Bernard Shaw

Notes for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary

And poet e e cummings understood how hard it is to live authentically: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

Once you start to experience life in every aspect, take heart  from this quoteby  Dr. Martin Luther King:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

And finally, Samuel Johnson (who compiled the first English dictionary; it pre-dated the Oxford English Dictionary by 150 years) is appropriate contributor to your journal.  ” Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.

–Quinn McDonald is working on her second book, about inner heroes and inner critics.

Review: Crescent Sketch Journal

Label attached to journal.

If a new sketch or art journal comes out, I generally buy it and try it. Different sizes, different papers, different finishes on the paper–all interest me. I have three more journals coming my way, but today the review is for just one journal. And no giveaway. You’ll see why in a  minute.

Brand: Crescent Rendr No Show Thru Paper Sketchbook.
Details: 110 lb. (180 gsm) paper, 48 sheets, 96 pages.
Price: $17.99 at Hobby Lobby (I had a 40% off coupon)
Size: 5.5 inches x 8.5 inches.

What I liked: The label says “Use for every media” and shows an aerosol can, marker, charcoal stick, pencil, paint brush and technical pen. Great. I use a lot of different media in my journals and really need sturdy paper. This turned out not to be a strong point of the journal, but first, what I liked.

The label also said “Use both sides,” and “No Show Thru.” Also a good idea, particularly for my ink abstracts and Copic (alcohol) markers. Those go through anything.

Writing samples with different kinds of ink and writing instruments.

I tried a big variety of writing instruments, and not a single one showed through. What did surprise me is that some of the pens–gelly roll and pointed pen dip nibs and bottled ink–took a long time to dry. In Phoenix, I generally don’t have that problem. But both the inks that smeared–gel pen and dip pen can take a bit to dry, so that’s fine. So far, so good.

What I didn’t like: The paper’s surface has an unpleasant (to me) feel to it. It’s heavy and smooth, but it feels like it has a special coating on it.

In bright light, the paper is slightly mottled in gray and white. Noticeable and distracting. Although I like writing papers with inclusions (as long as the surface is smooth), this paper looks slightly foxed. Not enough to stop me from using the journal, as when the paper is written on or drawn on, it shouldn’t be noticeable.

My first clue that this was not a journal for me was when I put a brush in clean water and wet the surface for a watercolor wash.

Plain water brushed on a journal page.

The wet paper turned gray. Not just a little, but considerably. The paper buckled and water pooled. The green tint is not on the paper, it’s my camera. The gray, however, is all the paper. I pressed on, and created a wash of blue and purple.

Blue and purple watercolor wash.

I’m not a professional watercolor artist, but I can put down a wash pretty evenly. The colors separated, and some of the coating came off (see the thready look at the top right of the photograph). The watercolors (Windsor Newton) were grainy, something that’s never happened to me with that brand.

The worst part of this experiment is that the watercolor wash, which normally takes a minute to dry here in the desert, took a full 20 minutes to dry. And as it dried, the paper curled up. Not just a little.

Those are pages of the journal, drying. Of course, when they roll up, they smear the color, which is not yet dry. The flat page with the starburst of color was done with Copic markers. That page did not bleed through, nor did it curl.

Twenty-four hours after I tested the journal, the pages remain curled up. Spraying them on both sides did nothing to relax them. In the photo below, I turned the book on its edge to show the extent of the curling.

Dried pages after 24 hours.

The one page that remained flat is the marker page. This is not a journal I can use. I think it would work well for Copic, Tombow, Ranger Distress, and Pitt markers, ink sketching, pencil, ball point, charcoal and markers. But it’s simply not for wet media. I can’t image what would happen with aerosol art.

For the price, I can’t recommend it to mixed media artists. I’m going to try to return it, as it is defective–I can’t use it as a journal. So there is no give-away, either.

Disclosure: I purchased the journal myself at Hobby Lobby.

Quinn McDonald likes testing journals, even if they don’t work out. Her inner critic tried to blame her, but her inner fairness hero used duct tape to silence him.

Book Review: Extreme Origami (+ a Giveaway)

 Book winner: Congratulations to Kristin McNamara Freeman, who is the winner of the book!

A book review on a different paper art: origami. I’ll give the book away on Tuesday morning, and the winner will be posted here. To win the book, let me know in the comments. The book is hardback, and heavy, so this time its new home is in the 48 contiguous states.

Book cover

Title: Extreme Origami
Sub-title: Transforming dollar bills into priceless works of art.
Author: Won Park

 Details:  Hardback. Race Point Publishing, 2012. Size: 11.25 inches x 8.25 inches.  Page count: 144. 20 projects and more than 1000 illustrations on folding. Price; $25.00 U.S. $28 Canada, £16.99 UK.


  • Introduction
  • Terms and Symbols
  • Are You Ready to Take the Extreme Origami Challenge?
  • Instructions for: butterfly, toilet, tank, spider, fox, pig, swordfish, sea turtle, ox, Pegasus, praying mantis, stag beetle, car, fighter jet, bat, scorpion, koi fish, stegosaurus, dragon, formula 1 race car.
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author

What I liked: You have to like a book that uses only American dollar bills to fold into shapes of everything from a toilet to a formula one race car.

The hardback book is beautifully designed. The pages are rich, cream-colored stock with clean black type.

In the front there are explanations of lines, folds, directions.

The completed pieces make the best use of the printing on the dollar bill, so that the pieces appear to have eyes in the right place.

The instructions are always on the right side, or start on the right side, making it easy to keep the book open flat while you follow directions.

The illustrations (of which there are many) are in clean olive green and white and clear.

What I didn’t like: I discovered that Won Park used dollar bills because they are hard to tear during the hundreds of folds and bends it takes. In other words, it’s too intricate for me. I realize it’s called Extreme Origami, and that means it’s way over my head. And it is. You have to have some experience with origami to be able to complete any of these.

Some of the large photographs don’t look as appealing as the smaller photographs that accompany the directions. It would have been been fine to show the completed work at 150 percent instead of much larger.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is busy writing a book about conversations with the inner critic.

Latkes: Potato Pancakes for Hanukkah

Thanksgiving is barely over, and already I’m talking about latkes–potato pancakes normally eaten at Hanukkah. (Starts at sundown on December 8 this year).

Crispy and light, delicious! Not the heart-attack-on-a-plate of yesteryear, either.

Latkes can be eaten by anyone, and not just at Hanukkah. They are not a diet food, however. Not that you asked. You can eat them as hash browns for breakfast, too.

Traditionally latkes are eaten with homemade apple sauce or topped with sour cream. I’ve eaten a lot of bad latkes in my life–left in the oven to “warm” —where they will just get mushy, toaster latkes (No. Just No.), and low calorie latkes. (What?)

I’ve worked with latkes over the years and like to mix the potato with apples, sweet potatoes, onions and carrots, all grated with the same grater. Lowers the carbs, adds a lot of juicy flavor. Here’s the recipe:

Hanukka Latkes (Potato pancakes) Serves 4. Time: 1 hour. Active time: 20 minutes.
Put away your measuring spoons. I cook without measuring, and for this recipe, so can you.

  • One large baking potato (russets are fine)
  • One large sweet potato–the orange kind
  • One medium yellow onion
  • One organic carrot
  • One organic apple–Gala, Fuji but not Granny Smith or Red Delicious.
  • Two fresh eggs
  • Good quality olive oil
  • One bunch curly parsley
  • Salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg.

Scrub all vegetables. Peel the onion and apple, core the apple. In a big mixing bowl, grate the potato, skin and all , using a box grater. The biggest holes are the ones that work best. Follow by grating half the onion, all of the apple, and the yam. That order will keep you from weeping as much as if the onion were on top.

Wash the parsley, discard the stems, or save for soup. Cut up half a bunch of parsley into tiny flecks of green. Add to bowl. Add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Grate about a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the mix.

Crack two large eggs into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to mix.

Using a large skillet, cover the bottom with good olive oil and heat till a drop of water spatters. Using a serving spoon, drop a generous spoonful of mix into the pan and immediately pat it thin. You are cooking the potato, so a thick latke won’t cook all the way through. You should be able to fit four into the pan.

Modulate the heat between medium high and medium, but never allow the pancakes to stop sizzling. In about 2 minutes, try to flip a latke. A cooked latke will release easily. It should be crisp and brown. Turn only once, or you get an oil sponge. When all four are done, serve, put in another four and eat yours at the table. The idea that you can make all of them and put them in an oven between layers of paper towel is a myth. They will go from light and crisp to soft and greasy. It’s worth the work of going back and forth to the stove top.

Serve with unflavored Greek yogurt or sour cream and applesauce, below.

Apple Sauce (Serves 4 as a side dish)

  • Choose 6 organic apples of almost any sort except Granny Smith and Red Delicious.
  • Optional: Orange juice, vanilla, sugar, honey, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Wash, peel and core the apples. If you hate peeling apples, you can strain the applesauce through a colander at the end. I like cooking them with peels as it makes the sauce pink and gives more flavor.

Cut up the 6 apples into chunks (cut each quarter into 2), put a half cup of water in a saucepan, and add the apples. You can add orange juice instead of water and add a bit of vanilla. I’m a purist, so it’s apples in water. Cover the pan and boil. When the apples reach a boil, stir occasionally. Do not let the pan dry out. When the apples start to disintegrate, help them along with a potato masher. If the result is watery, take off the lid and boil off some of the liquid. Once you have applesauce consistency, strain to remove peels. Return to pan and sweeten to taste with honey, brown or white sugar. If you are diabetic, skip the sugar alcohol substitute sugars (they have drastic gastrointestinal consequences for me) and stevia (not for me, either) and try the least amount of sugar you can handle. Three teaspoons will give you good flavor in the total amount, particularly if you don’t eat a lot of sugar.

Light candles and enjoy!

–Quinn McDonald loves latkes a bit more than she should. She makes them only once a year.

The Muse Connects

The community pueblo at Wupatki National Monument.

North of Flagstaff, Arizona, are the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo. In the years between 1100 and 1182, a tribe of approximately 100 Native Americans lived there, in several buildings and a large, complex community room. Within a day’s walk, there were 1,000 other people from various clans. The stones that built the Pueblo are found on the ground in slabs. They are still there today. Their shape is smooth and regular, so stonemasons would not have needed to be hack them out of a quarry, just trim and place and mortar them into place. The walls look, after 900 years, fresh and even and modern.

Wupatki Pueblo is in the high desert, and the climate today is harsh–hot in the day and cold at night. A hundred years before Wupatki was settled, Sunset Crater, a volcano about 10 miles away, erupted, spewing lava and ash for many miles. The ash helped keep moisture in the ground, and the box canyon on which the village is built collected water during rains. The climate may well have been milder, modified by the volcanic explosion. Although some of the buildings are built close to natural wind blocks–canyon walls and arroyos.

The Hopi believe that the lessons learned about living and tending animals, making peace and making war, are still there, taught by the spirits of the village population that died there.

I took a photograph of the community building, showing a wall through a window. I thought about life in that community, the hard work that had to happen every day. And I wondered how the tribes had avoided war for many years.

Collage: Black paper, painted with metallic inks, covered with Japanese washi paper, pierced. Words cut from a history book.

When I got back, and took the idea into the studio, I wanted to make a collage in light and dark, with spaces to see through and spaces that look onto a different view.

For me, found poetry–a gathering of random words into meaningful ones–is like hearing bits and pieces of an ancient conversation.
The poem reads:

It is no longer
good enough to cry
We must
Act peace,
Live peace.

For me, the photo and the collage have striking emotional similarities–the look through an opening, the prayer for peace, and the realization that peace is work. It doesn’t just appear, it needs to be acted out and lived. Daily.

The muse brought one from the other. An entirely satisfying experience, all the way around.

Flagstaff is a “Dark Sky” city. No lights shine into the sky at night. Lights that work at night all shine down, toward the earth. At the Wupatki Pueblo, you can see a sky full of stars and the Milky Way, much like they were 900 years ago.

—Quinn McDonald believes she is standing at a point in time, on a road that has been traveled for many years. She has been here before.

Thanksgiving: Tough, Wonderful, or On Your Own.

Thanksgiving is wonderful if you have a bunch of family around. Or it can be miserable. Thanksgiving on your own can be special or a special hell of loneliness. Each Thanksgiving, I post something for those who are along. Here’s a re-cap:

Celebrate yourself on Thanksgiving. Do what makes you feel happy and grateful.

Being Happy on Thanksgiving takes some work, but there are enough links in this article to keep most people busy. (The link to Pete’s Pond works, but they had a rainstorm last night that knocked out the lights).

With your big, dysfunctional family and dreading it? Some tips to help you get through the flying verbal debris at the family Thanksgiving meal.

Some other ways to keep busy on Thanksgiving, if you are not participating.

Several years ago, I found this poem in Annie Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. I’ve read it out loud on Thanksgiving since then. It seems strong and real and grateful to have made it through another year.

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is”

–William Stanley Merwin, (1927- ), American poet, winner of both Pulitzer and Tanner prizes.
The author of anti-war poetry in the 1960s, he now focuses on Buddhist and
ecological themes from his home in Hawaii.

—Quinn McDonald is grateful to have survived another cycle of the sun to bring her and her widely-scattered family to Thanksgiving again.

Madeline Island Gift for the Holidays

Wrap up a free MISA hoodie to give as a gift along with a class registration for Metaphor and Magic (or any other summer class)

Madeline Island has a cute giveaway–sign up for a summer course (I’d love it to be mine, of course) during this weekend, and get a Madeline Island School of Arts hoodie to put under the tree (or next to the Hanukkah menorah or Kwanza candles).

It’s a great idea. You can surprise someone (or yourself!) with a gift certificate to a class, and have a hoodie to keep you toasty while waiting for summer Here’s the small print from the website:

To receive a hoodie, you must register between Wednesday November 21 and midnight on Cyber Monday, November 26, 2012.  We will be in touch with you to get your color and size preference (larger sizes are available to accommodate holiday eating!).

I’m a big fan of the color, too. Mostly, I am a fan of shopping at local stores for the holidays, and giving art handmade by artists whose work you like and admire. Buying locally keeps money in the community and helps small stores stay in business, contribute to the creativity in the community, and make art support your concern, too.

A plug for my Madeline Island class:
July 22-26 2013 at Madeline Island, Wisconsin
Magic and Metaphor: Mixed Media Conversations With Your Inner Critric.
An amazing art retreat in Lake Superior that covers deep writing and intuitive art. What will you do for five days? Join a class of creative explorers and confront your inner critic. You can read more in Quinn’s Workshops at the top of this page.

*    *    *    *    *
Local Arizona Classes coming up in December and January
If you are staying local (or are in Arizona in December or January), I’d love to see you in Tucson, where I’m teaching two classes.

The box of magic words for One-Sentence Journaling.

1. One Sentence Journaling: Does having a journal sound more appealing than writing in one every day? You aren’t alone, and this workshop was designed to help you keep a journal by writing one sentence a day. A daily writing practice creates a GPS system for your inner journey—it helps you figure out where you are and how to get where you want to be. Using exercises including “magic words” and “17 syllables” you will see the power of writing just one sentence.  Explore the possibilities of one meaningful sentence when you write with awareness, intensity and all your senses
Thursday, December 6, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
University of Arizona Modular Classroom, 4101 N. Campbell  Ave. Tucson 85719
Cost: $60

Samples of Monsoon Papers

2. Monsoon Papers.      Date: Saturday, January 26 10am – 4pm
Location: U Of A Modular Classroom
4101 N. Campbell Avenue  Tucson, AZ  85719
Cost: $100 + Material Fee $5
Originally created in Arizona’s monsoon storms, this wild surface decoration technique is fail-proof. Pieces of paper transformed with inks and gilding into dark, rich colors or bright, intense ones. It’s messy and unpredictable, so leave your controlling urges at the door—and be surprised at how the paper develops! Use your papers for folders, book projects, constructions, collage.

The two classes in Tucson, are taught through Paper Works, the Sonoran Collective of Paper and Book Artists. While these classes are for Paper Works members, a year’s membership will cost you just $35.

-Quinn McDonald is not going to get up at 4:30 a.m. on Black Friday. She’s shopping local and from other artists.