Catching Up on News

Instead of a thoughtful, long post on a deeply meaningful topic, I’m catching up with news. I’ve done two thoughtful articles in two days, and I couldn’t make it three for three.


Sycamore bark, gel medium and ink on Monsoon Papers.

Sycamore bark, gel medium and ink on Monsoon Papers.

The newsletter: It’s going to happen–soon!  I’m going to use Mail Chimp, which will allow you to subscribe and unsubscribe without my having to do the administrative work. And it will look like a designed newsletter, not like every other email you receive. But yes, it will be email. I’ll announce it on the blog with a link to my website, where the sign-up page will live. If everything works well, it will happen in the next 10 days.

The poetry class: Will start in early August. I know a lot of people go on vacation in August, but that may be the best time to start a poetry class. It will be six weeks long. We will not focus on traditional poetry forms (sonnets, epic poems, elegy, renga) except as definitions. We will explore shorter forms, like haiku, quatrains and quintains. We will practice imagery, metaphor, personification, allusion, rhyme schemes, line length, and punctuation. We’ll write poems and pieces of poems. Like collage, pieces of poems are scraps that can be combined to form surprising word images.

Registration will open on my website on July 1, with payment though PayPal or check. There will be a notice on the blog.

Using Yahoo Groups. The poetry class will be run on a Yahoo Group. After looking at many ways to do it, the Yahoo Group is a place that is private, has no ads, allows for each person to post, comment, and participate at the level they want. It makes sense for a writing class.

Paying it Forward: I haven’t taught an online class in a long time, but always  donate part of the price of the class to a charity. This time, the donation will be to Heat Relief, a group of City employes who use donations to supply the homeless with fresh drinking water in our broiling summer. The city has turned off most of the public drinking fountains, and many homeless adults and children die of heat stroke and lack of water. This is a grass-roots organization, so I will use the money to buy the water and deliver it to one of the locations. (Yes, it will be plastic bottles, and yes, the bottles are picked up by other volunteers for recycling.)

Madeline Island Class: I’m doing some give-aways to people who attend the class in Madeline Island, Wisconsin on July 22-26. I know it is expensive, so there will be four prizes, drawn throughout the week:

1. A month of free creativity coaching. Once you experience it in class (each person will experience at least one session that week), you will fall in love with the process that helps you free yourself from your sticky story and live the live you want. (A $324 value)

2. Two $50 gift cards; one each to Dick Blick and Daniel Smith.   That should help you continue working on what you started at the retreat.

3. Three packs of Strathmore Ready-Cut paper, the kind we will use in class. There are 25 sheets in a pack, so three people will be able to create a lot of inner hero pages when they get back home.

The combined value is just over the price of the class, and while i could not afford to give a scholarship, I think this will be a nice way to thank people for coming. You can read about the class here. You can register here.

Upcoming in-Person Classes: I’ll be teaching these three classes at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix. It’s at the Southeast corner of Indian School and 16th Street. Each class is divided into two sections. The morning section explores the technique, the afternoon is spent making projects with the technique. Register for both morning and afternoon and get a discount.

Saturday, July 13: Monsoon Papers  10:00 am – 4:30 pm.  Make colorful  Monsoon Papers in the morning. Use them for art journaling, folders, photo mats, or envelopes. Then make two accordion folders with your paper in the afternoon.  Read about details or register. Class size is limited to 12 people.

Saturday, August 10: Paste Papers 10:00 am – 4:30 pm.  Learn an easy and beautiful surface-decoration technique using colorful art paste. Then collage postcards with your paper. Registration will be available on my website after July 15.

Saturday, September 7: Loose-Leaf Journaling 10:00 am – 4:30 pm. Create your personal 3-ring binder, then fill it with art journal pages, using different kinds and sizes of paper. I’m very excited about this class–loose-leaf journaling is an exciting new approach. And of course you can keep your poetry in this journal. Registration will be available after August 10.

Remember the tree bark? I pressed it and used it in a collage made with ink, gel medium and Monsoon Papers. That’s the illustration for today. The bark worked particularly well. I have also pressed eucalyptus tree bark, and it presses well, also.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and teacher. She loves doing both.


Letting it Go v. Giving Up

It’s a thin line, a shiver of a difference, but it changes the road you are on from a long hard climb up a scree-strewn path to a road you have chosen, maybe not for its easy travel, but because you are willing to walk where it takes you.

It’s the difference between Giving Up and Letting Go.

Whether it’s a decision made in your studio, your buzzing mind, your hollow heart or a closed-in hospital room, giving up is coming face to face with who you are and how much you can give. It’s often unwilling, exhausted, and the only idea you have left. And sometimes it’s made out of fear, anger and retribution. You give up when your effort is no longer rewarded in any way you can recognize. There are no new ideas, no breeze that feels fresh. It’s a feeling of churned up dirt. It may be laced with a feeling unworthiness and emptiness. But not the good kind.

Letting go feels different. Letting go may be shaded by sorrow, but it is lit by strength. Letting go comes from self-knowledge and the ability to give up control, give up expectations of how much you can steer the outcome. You may care, but you have weighed the choices carefully, balanced your ability with how much heart you have left, and you have chosen. Deliberately.

You open your hands, your heart, and breathe in deeply when you let go. You choose. You know it may hurt, but you also know that you are not going to carry that burden any further. Letting go feels open.

Giving up and letting go can both be uncomfortable, but giving up tastes like ashes and letting go is a long cool drink in the desert. You may still have a long way to walk in the hot sun, but you know where you are going.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and art journaler. She’s done both giving up and letting go. And letting go is done with open hands and open heart, and giving up is done with clenching fists and fear.

Looking Back, Not in Anger

This is the week that I observe my father and mother’s Yahrzeit, the Jewish memorial for the dead. I’ll light a candle that will burn for 24 hours, and think of my parents, who died almost 25 years apart.

Yahrzeit candle

Yahrzeit candle

My father has been dead for 34 years this year. He was a man of few words, and believed in not expressing his emotions, but I know with certainty that he loved me. He helped me with science projects, he showed me how to draw, and he taught me to love and respect books. That’s a lot. Certainly enough for my lifetime.

My mother will be dead 10 years now. When she developed dementia, most of my friends encouraged me to “reconcile” with her. They told me that I needed to forgive her and open my heart and we would have that happy ending everyone wants. She resisted softening (as did I), and my friends promised me misery if I did not achieve this. I would live in guilt and uncertain sorrow for all the days of my life if we did not tenderly hug and cry at the end.

There was no death bed reconciliation. She died leaving me with unanswered questions, uncertain of how to describe my relationship with her, other than “difficult.” I have long forgiven my mother, if forgiving is the understanding that the past cannot be changed.

I’d like to speak to the daughters (and maybe sons) who are counting on that big death-bed reconciliation. It’s OK if it doesn’t happen. It’s consistent with the rest of your life. Even if you say you are sorry for things you don’t regret, your mom (or dad) may not be capable of understanding, forgiving, or changing. They are busy dying. That takes up their attention and their focus. And it should.

When my mother was close to her last breath, I sat with her, and told her that she did not have to struggle any more. I told her that her children were adult and doing well, and she would go to heaven, in which she believed. I told her she would see my father, who was waiting for her there. I said this although my father was an atheist. I said things I didn’t believe, but I knew she wanted to believe.

And then I absolved her of ties and unfinished connections.  Yes, I, the wayward daughter, who had no right to step into the role of absolver, did just that. I did not ask for forgiveness. This was not about me. I accepted her exactly as she was–as I could not have accepted her had she not been dying–and let go.  There would still be anger and frustration and confusion, but that prayer was the first step to striving and replacing it with letting go. I lit a candle, read a poem, and then blew out the candle and watched the smoke rise up in the room. I drove the 100 miles back home, and was not surprised, when, two days later, I got the call that my mother and the woman in the next bed had died.

That was ten years ago. There are still unanswered questions, and what I have come to understand is that there always will be. Not every question has to have an answer. Some questions get honed into better questions. And some questions change your behavior so you don’t repeat the pattern again. That’s what death will do for you if you let it. Even without reconciliation.

—Quinn McDonald knows that sometimes reconciliation is not a goal. Living with questions will do just fine instead.

FUD: Coming Back into Style

A few days ago, I heard an interview with a software developer, and he used the word “FUD” (rhymes with Dud),  short for “Fear, uncertainty and doubt.” He continued, “It’s what people use to persuade you that they are right, you know, to scare you into believing what they want to do is best.”

Print paper, marbled with ink. Pitt pen, watercolor pencil.

Print paper, marbled with ink. Pitt pen, watercolor pencil.

The word has been around since the 1920s, but it was popularized by Gene Amdalh when he left IBM to start his own company. Amdahl said that IBM sales staff would use FUD to encourage employees to stay with IBM products instead of risking something new.

What a word. It’s perfect for today’s way of thinking.  It looms large in politics and religion, but we use FUD in almost every conversation when we want to persuade people do listen to us.

A few days ago, I noted on Facebook that my car had been broken into. No damage, and the only things taken were a USB cord originally plugged into the phone charger for the car.  A box of Kleenex, a tried up container of hand wipes, and a half empty bottle of Armor-All were taken. In a nod to irony, my mother’s quilt, finally retrieved, was untouched..

Someone left me the comment that the thief could have taken my garage door opener, checked my registration for my address and was now coming after me. She suggested I “watch out.”  FUD. What possible use could that remark be? She didn’t ask, but I was over 32 miles from home that day. Most thieves prefer to do their work without a lot of driving. I had taken the garage door opener with me, as I don’t leave anything plastic in the car in the summer.

Thanks to contributor Pete for this graphic

Thanks to contributor Pete for this graphic

FUD. Easy to believe, because an easy solution offered by someone else offers a faster solution than trusting our own logic, intuition and experience. Taking risks and measuring progress and defining success seems so much harder. And it is. But FUD works only if we let it work, and almost never if we begin to ask careful questions whose answers will open the map and point us in the right direction.

Quinn McDonald will mud-wrestle fear before she uses it as a reason for decision making.

Saturday Creative Spark

Mehmet Ali Uysal's Ten / Skin © 2012

Mehmet Ali Uysal’s Ten / Skin © 2012

Mehmet Ali Uysal is a Turkish artist with a great sense of humor. He starts with a common object, a clothespin, let’s say, and changes what it does. The reaction is to stop in a space you would never even consider and look, smile, or begin to think about the space and the use of space as we go through life.

Clouds are the perfect symbol of the ephemeral–they appear, disappear, move, cast shadows, change shape and amaze. In the desert, clouds are rare most of the year. In New England, a cloudless day usually makes the news. But what about indoor clouds? Dutch photographer Berndaut Smilde’s creates his own clouds, in beautiful rooms, to otherworldly results.

He has a careful process blending humidity and air flow, but the best thing is watching the cloud drift. If you are in a hurry, it starts at 01:23 in this video.

IBM-Ogilvy2Ogilvy, France (a branch of the original Ogilvy and Mather) created a clever series of billboards for IBM. Normally, billboards are eyesores, something we want to avoid. This series of billboards help city dwellers cope with the environment a bit better. There are billboard benches and ramps, and even a billboard that helps you stay dry if it’s raining. This is a clever blend of creativity and marketing, not offensive, not loud, just simple. Olgivy’s trademark is simple.

Canadian photographer Ulric Collette is fascinated with the familiarities of of family features. In his photographic work, he blends facial halves (right and left) of two related people to show relationships both physical and photographic.  Some of the photographs are startling, but the one that fascinated me the most was the combined image of the two brothers in row six, right side. Amazing family resemblance.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is amazed at the ability of art to transport.

Changes in Summer

People laugh when I tell them there are clear seasons in Phoenix. “What?” they joke, “Hot, Hotter and Hell?” We have shifts in seasons. Yes, it has been 112 degrees F (44.4C) already. But there are progressions I love to pay attention to.

Dust storm rolling into Phoenix, courtesy komo news.

Dust storm rolling into Phoenix, courtesy komo news.

The sun rises relentlessly earlier until June 22. That’s the longest day, and after that, even though the two hottest months are still ahead of us, the days taper slowly to a later dawn and an earlier sunset. But it is very slow at first.

Today, for the first time, when I got up at 4:00 a.m., it was too hot to leave the door open. Once it doesn’t get below 85 F (29.5 C) I don’t leave the sliders open. By the time I had put on walking clothes, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, the sun was up over the horizon.

IMG_0777.JPGThat day it becomes too hot to leave the door open also signals the beginning of Monsoon Season. Not officially, of course. We need to have three consecutive days of a dewpoint over 55 for that. But once it gets too hot to open the sliders, we start to get afternoon clouds. And the humidity inches upwards. After that, it’s no longer a dry heat.

The oranges, lemons, and grapefruit stop growing. They are bright green now, and will stay that way till October.

First picking of last years lemon crop. The table is six feet long.

First picking of last years lemon crop. The table is six feet long.

Oranges are the size of ping-pong balls; grapefruit the size of oranges. Lemons are small; I don’t see them yet, but last year the tree (still damaged from a lightning strike five years ago) had 300 lemons.

The pool is still cool, but no longer crisp. In another three weeks, it will feel warm to get into it, then the cooling power comes from getting out. You dry fast, and it feels cold. Then you get in a warm pool again.

The figs are still green and hard. It will be July before they are ready to eat.

Now is the season to bring the plants in pots  inside because the pots get too hot during the day. Now is the time to water the thirsty plants twice a day. This years new plants won’t survive without twice a day watering. My two new gopher plants and the bird of paradise plant need help.

Red Bird of Paradise (also called Mexican Bird of Paradise).

Red Bird of Paradise (also called Mexican Bird of Paradise).

Now is the time to be glad I replaced the frozen and dead Natal Plum with rosemary, which is tough and survives our heat.

This is the season of daily changing the hummingbird feeders, as it spoils in the heat. Sometimes it turns into syrup, as the water evaporates and the sugar stays.

When I walk in the morning, the ice in the bottle won’t last. If there is any water left, it will be warm when I get home. I shut off the hot water in the washing machine; the cold water comes out of the tap at 105 degrees. If I want to wash delicates in cold water, I have to add ice to the washing machine. That will be true till early September.

This is the time of heavy heat. I spend most of my days indoors. I saw my first young child standing in the street in front of the Parks and Rec. pool,  waiting for the parents to drive up with the car. When the car drove up, the kid’s flip-flops had melted to the street. Welcome to summer in Phoenix.

-Quinn McDonald is blending strawberries and yogurt and freezing it. It’s cold and will pass as popsicles.


Other people’s happy

You’re on the interwebs. You’ve just bought something. Or posted about a book you read. Or signed up for a class. You are happy. You stay on the computer and see a post about a different purchase, book, or class. Someone else is describing their choice in glorious terms. And just like that, you are unhappy with your decision.

hindenburg-wideYou should have done more research, you think. The other choice was better. Smarter. The joy goes out of your emotional sails like hydrogen out of the Hindenburg.

How can it be that your satisfaction and joy could be deflated so fast? How did you get left with dust in your mouth and heart?

Comparison is a natural inclination. But the conclusion that the other choice was better is not a natural inclination. It’s a mindset that makes unhappiness the norm. And it’s a short, straight road to competitive happiness. It’s a tough game, and you can’t win it. Because there are always other choices, bigger choices, better decisions.

If you aren’t sure about what makes you happy, it may be time to spend some time with yourself, discovering more about what lights your heart, what brings you joy. It’s not about what others are doing. Where is your center? Where is your balance? Your joy is uniquely yours. Be proud of it. Satisfaction feels like a ripe tomato–warm and heavy for its size. Your joy is yours to have. Nurture it.

–Quinn McDonald knows the Inner Critic doesn’t want you to be happy. He’s just jealous.

Reading List (Suggestions)

You could, of course, go to Goodreads, and ready reviews, but if you are ready for an interesting book to pick up, here are some suggestions:

WabiSabi1. Serena Barton’s Wabi Sabi Art Workshop: Mixed Media Techniques for Embracing Inperfections and Celebrating Happy Accidents. North Light Books, 2013. With a title like that, you can’t go wrong. You know how I love the concept of Wabi Sabi (I’ve written 44 blog posts on wabi sabi) so Barton’s book was a great treat. Barton finds design and beauty in the ordinary. She works with wax (encaustic), tissue paper, specialty papers, creates layers of texture and helps you create freely and deeply. Seth Apter, a contributor to my Inner Hero book, wrote a review of Barton’s book here. And Pam Carriker worked one of the projects on her blog on Tuesday.

Tribes2. Seth Godin, Tribes. Portfolio, 2010 Godin is the master of the compact, to-the-point blog post. Here’s a quote from a post about his disastrous first speaking engagement:

Just about anything worth doing is worth doing better, which means, of course, that (at least at first) there will be failure. That’s not a problem (in the long run), it’s merely a step along the way.

If you’re not willing to get your ‘worst one ever’ out of the way, how will you possibly do better than that?

He writes unselfconsciously about customer service, creativity, and, in this book, the groups we create and lead. He doesn’t tell you how to be a leader, just how some really good leaders (in today’s business world) found their way to leadership. Their secret? Passion. Leaders don’t get elected, they lead because they care deeply and get a few people, then more, to listen. He’s caught some flak because it’s not a how-to book, but how could you write a step-and-step on all leadership? It’s a dense, powerful book that is fascinating to read. Don’t have time? Listen to the audiobook.

Collage-Journeys3. Jane Davies, Collage Journeys: A Practical Guide to Creating Personal Artwork. Watson-Guptill Publications, 2008 Collage is so much more than tearing images out of magazines, and Davies makes you happy to explore the possibilities. The book covers different styles, including painting with paper, making color collage samples. layering with transparent materials, and how to develop a working visual vocabulary.

What are you reading and loving right now?

—Quinn McDonald is reading several books at a time. Again.

New Books, Demos, Classes

My projects in three new workbooks!

My projects in three new workbooks!

North Light Books (my publisher) has released three books that combine exercises from several popular journaling books–mine among them. The new books are workbooks–with pages of projects followed by blank pages so you can use the book as a workbook. I’m pleased to be in good company and found myself looking at the re-combined projects and exercises with new interest.

The three books are  stART Journaling, Mixed Media Storytelling Workbook, and Doodle Draw Journal. All three books are edited by Kristy Conlin, whose name appears on the cover. All of the authors are recognized in the back of the book, and yes, we will receive royalties from sales.

This month I will be doing lots of demos for Splash Inks at various Arizona Art Supply stores in the Valley. You can see the schedule locations and phone numbers at that link. The demos are free, but seating is limited, so you will need to make a reservation. Here are the dates, if you’d like to come visit and see how the inks work. I’ll be showing how they mix, using stencils with ink-tinted medium for cards,  turning the inks into spray inks for use with stencils, painting, and my favorite, marbling with the inks.

  • Sun City: June 19
  • Tempe: June 22
  • Scottsdale: June 29
  • Phoenix: July 6

More good news: I’ll be teaching three classes at the Phoenix Arizona Art Supply, starting in July. Registration will be up in about a week or so, but save the date if you are interested.

Front view of an accordion folder

Front view of an accordion folder

July 13: Monsoon Papers. In the morning class, we’ll be making Monsoon Papers. I’ve developed some short cuts, fun additions, and ways to bling up the papers. In the afternoon class, we’ll make two projects with the papers. One is an accordion fold journal with interesting embellishments. The other is a holder for loose-leaf pages shaped like little houses. You’ll create four or five houses to put in the accordion folder.

Of course, you'll be writing on those cute little house-pages.

Of course, you’ll be writing on those cute little house-pages.

August 10: Paste Paper. In the morning class, we’ll explore paste papers, colors, textures and different styles of making them. In the afternoon, we’ll make projects with the papers.

September: Loose-leaf journals. We’ll be making and covering 7″ x 10″ (approx. 18 x 24 cm) three-ring binders in the morning, then creating pages on different papers of different sizes in the afternoon. I have to set the date on this one.

Hope to see you around the Valley (greater Phoenix, Arizona)

–Quinn McDonald is happy to be teaching again!

Fixing, Helping, Interfering: Tough Call

Three years ago, a hummingbird built her nest in my fig tree. To my great delight, she laid two eggs that hatched right on time. Being a fan of Phoebe Allen, the videocam trained on California hummingbirds, I knew what to expect. One of the windows gave a perfect vantage point on the nest.


The hummingbird eggs are the size of a Tic-Tac.

About a week after hatching, the mother didn’t come home one night. There had been a Grackle tussle at the front yard hummingbird feeder earlier that evening, and I feared the worst. Grackles raid nests of other birds, eating the young.

The mother hadn’t returned by 4 a.m., and not at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. Sixteen hours is a long time in the life of a small bird, so I got a ladder, filled a pipette with hummingbird food, and fed the two little ones. They were thirsty. I knew they needed protein, which I could not provide. At 8 a.m., I had found a wildlife re-hab volunteer, cut the branch off above the nest and delivered the babies, complete with nest for rescue. I felt virtuous and caring.

When I got home, I found a hysterical hummingbird flying around the cut branch where the nest had been. Whether it was the mother or simply another angry hummingbird is above my pay grade. But I now felt like a meddling fool.

The hummingbird taking refuge and panting on the front porch.

The hummingbird taking refuge and panting on the front porch.

The consensus of many naturalists was that I should have left the nest alone. Birds, coyotes, rabbits and other animals I share the desert with are professional wildlife. My good intentions are less “helping” and a lot more “interference.”

I no longer feed quail ( the coyotes figured out when feeding time was, and then made quail feeding time their feeding time.) Training wildlife that humans feed them habituates the wildlife to trusting behaviors that does no one any good.

Our urge is to fix and rescue. As a coach, it is wiser to be the naturalist of the spirit, and trust that people will thrash their own way through their problems. Clients need support and encouragement, accountability and room to explore. Not every struggle will work out, but that, too, provides growth and learning.

The tendency on Facebook and blogs today is to present solutions that worked for you and expect they will work for others, too. They may. They may not. But if they don’t, you have habituated a human to being provided answers, and you will be blamed if things don’t go as hoped for. 

It’s hard being a friend and not micromanaging events you’ve experienced and know just how to handle. But if you think it was heartbreaking to see a hysterical hummingbird, watch a friend who followed your advice and failed.

-Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and certified creativity coach. Which, she notices, have a lot in common.