You, as Punctuation Mark

Standing in front of class today, teaching the importance of using correction punctuation, I used the examples you’ve seen often. There is a big difference between:

Let’s eat John.


Let’s eat, John.

Or my favorite, from Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss:

Woman without her man, is nothing.

is a lot different than

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

As I turned around I saw how different people in class were, and it occurred to me that these learners were also personality punctuation marks –the excited Punctuation-717548exclamation mark character who loved everything new; the cautious parenthesis character who couched everything with side comments and explanations; the direct, straight-forward speak and stop character. She’s clearly the period person. There was the balanced semi-colon person, who made sure that both sides of her statements were balanced and complete; and the one who ended every sentence by drifting off–yep, an ellipsis.

I had a flash that this “personality type” would make a great quiz. And then I thought, it could be extended to parts of speech too. A “verb” person would be active and a “noun” person would be focused on people, places and things.

I think there is a journaling class in here someplace. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, what punctuation mark are you?

-Quinn McDonald knows that everything is connected.




Gelli Plate Round

The round Gelli plate showed up a few days ago, and I happily started using it for prints. A friend wryly remarked that it looked like a breast implant after the mammogram. Yes, yes, it does.


The first print, round like the world, made me want to create biospheres and gardens in the round.

Gelli4This one, with the turquoise and gold,  looks like a design on ancient jewelry, or a vase.


And after a while, I thought how much fun it would be to do a series on the seven days of creation.


This piece, a work in progress, would make a great base for a collage with plants and animals. It has the making of a wild prairie.

Gelli2And OK, round isn’t the only shape. This one is a bird at dawn. The tree, on the right, still needs some work, probably with oil pastels to show up on the acrylics.

What I love about these Gelli plates is not that they can make journal page backgrounds, but that they can do monoprints, blending new techniques with old techniques of printing.

I’ll be teaching Gelli plate 101 on this coming Saturday, November 2, at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix. You can read details and register, on my website.

–Quinn McDonald has turquoise paint under her fingernails. She hopes it wears off in time to teach Business Writing tomorrow.


Emotional Burden of Being on a List

When you teach, you hand out business cards. You also hand them out at events, meetings, and during business introductions. So it’s not surprising when people who have your card add you to their mailing list. Even when you didn’t ask for them to start sending you their newsletter, jokes, prayer requests or chain letters, they believe that a business card is a permission slip.

This poor woman has no legs.

This poor woman has no legs.

Getting away seems easy. Most mass-mailings have an unsubscribe button. I use it frequently. But “unsubscribe” is not an anonymous as I’d wished. Once I’d unsubscribed, I’d get an email that said something like, “you indicated you wanted this mail, so I’m confused why you are unsubscribing.” A long time ago, a wise boss said that grumpy letter writers rarely could be turned into pen pals. So I don’t answer.

And then the replies get personal. From mild annoyance to downright hostile, people put me back on their lists, send me emails wanting to know if I’m angry with them, and explaining that jokes, prayer requests and chain letters can “brighten my day.”

Alas, they do not brighten my day. I’ve seen the jokes on Facebook (a dozen times), find it difficult to send heartfelt prayers for people I don’t know and whose ailment is dire, but unspecified. (I’m not asking). Chain letters are not worth thinking about, much less answering. Even the needy, “I want you to know how much I care about you, so now you have to care about me” kind, which ask me to send the letter to six of my friends as well as return it to the sender. So they can use the addresses of my friends? I think not.

spamGetting out of these lists is next to impossible. Last week, almost 1,000 of them came through my inbox. It’s hard to disconnect, I don’t want to hurt people, but it finally became clear: this isn’t about hurting someone’s feelings. This is about someone wanting to guilt me into staying on their marketing list.

There are a lot of connections I value. Personal emails, business connections, and the blogs I subscribe to are all valuable to me. Un-asked for mail deserves consideration, but after I’ve considered it, it would be kind if the sender accepted my decision. No, even in the marketing world, still means No.

Quinn McDonald is working on not feeling guilty for weeding out her inbox. She does wish people would check before they believe everything they read.

Cleaning out Your Life

Thirty-seven boxes. That’s how many packing boxes are still in the garage from the last move, five years ago. We downsized and those boxes just didn’t fit in the house. Without knowing what was in them, I stashed them in the garage.

Monogrammed handkerchief, with hemstitching and crochet. Made my my mother for her trousseau. It is all hand work.

Monogrammed handkerchief, with hemstitching and crochet. Made my my mother for her trousseau. It is all hand work.

And now, it’s time to go through them and have a garage sale. I thought it would be a tedious, even boring task. It is not. It is a weird time warp, a reminder of the difficulty of a move (those last three boxes that are stuffed with a box of crackers, two silver forks and your passport) as well as the Solomon-like decision I have to make on what to keep and what to throw out or put up for the garage sale.

The beads were easy. I no longer do silver work or beadwork, so the 20 pounds of beads and silver findings will go out in the garage sale. (Attention Phoenix beaders–we are talking every imaginable kind of bead from seed bead to antique. December 7. Mark your calendars).

Vessel necklace, silver and glass cabochon, with removable lid. From my days as a silversmith.

Vessel necklace, silver and glass cabochon, with removable lid. From my days as a silversmith.

Much harder were vases that were long-ago wedding gifts from relatives that I don’t remember.  Candlesticks my mother thought important enough to take up space in the two crates they were allowed when they left Europe, but are worn bare to the copper beneath the silverplating.

What I do remember is cleaning out my mother’s house, and working in one room for eight hours, clearing out quilting fabric and yarn. At the end of eight hours we discovered a couch, which gradually became visible with more fabric removal. I don’t want First Born to ever have to do that. So I’m sifting.

Sorting your past is a feeling that gives you vertigo. I run across jury photos of work I did when I was a silversmith. I will never make jewelry again, but the creative restlessness visible in the pieces are still in my work.

The decision to shed my collection of rocks may be silly. Who wants a box of rocks–just because I picked them up in China, Australia, Paris and Singapore? My collection of soft drink bottles with foreign labels? All of them will belong to someone else. With the sure knowledge that if they are not sold on garage sale day, they aren’t coming into the house again.

So the decisions are tough–either make room for it by getting rid of something else, or get rid of it. Shedding your life. It’s not all bad. I don’t have to maintain it. I get to learn fun skills–I often wrapped rubber bands around one leg of a pair of jewelyy pliers to give my fingers traction. Who knew that rubber bands melt in Phoenix’s insane heat? And who knew I’d figure out how to get melted rubber band off a tool handle?

The first people thought snakes were magic because they shed their skin. There may be some good re-birth in shedding a past life.

-Quinn McDonald is cleaning out her garage. The task is daunting.


How to Drive Your Trainer Crazy

It’s been a long week. I’m a patient person, for the most part, but there are some things that make me believe this is my last time around in reincarnation.

from "Silly Daddy" :

from “Silly Daddy” :

Just like autumn is vibrant with color because Mother Nature is squeezing the last of her colors out onto the trees, my life is so incredibly colorful because this must be my last reincarnation.

I have a rich and colorful life, which I tried to fight, then just turned into journal fodder. In the last two weeks:

—-A student has come to class over an hour late and asked, as he breezed in, “Did I miss anything?” I did not say (although I wanted to), “Nope, not a thing, we were just hanging out waiting for you to start our life for today.”

—Another late-comer slumps in her seat, and at lunch declares she has no book. When I hand her one, she asks if I’ll fill out everything we’ve done up to that point while she goes to eat lunch. When I demur,  she gets angry. “It wasn’t my fault I was late, and now you are blaming me for it.” Well, good to know. I wonder whose fault it was that she was late–and will that person please show up to fill in the workbook for Ms. Late?

—Another student spends her whole time texting. When I ask her to wait for break, she tells me she is listening to every word and can multi-task. Two minutes later I call on her, and she slowly lowers her phone and says, “You’d better re-cap that for me.” She should have capped it the first time.

—-Three students didn’t wear their teeth to class. At least one of them had teeth,

as they were right next to the water bottle. When I couldn’t understand an answer, he suggested I might need a hearing aid. At break, I asked him to wear his teeth or put them away, something I never thought I would ever have to ask. He explained that they were his eating teeth, and he needed them for his lunch. Oh. Well, then.

My journal is full for this week. I hope your week was not quite as colorful

-Quinn McDonald is a trainer. She would not trade her life for any other.


Teaching Through Praise

At the end of every class I teach, I hand out an evaluation form. The form is my chance to find out if I’ve met the expectations of the class. Over the years I’ve 4274463847_b8a00c8bbbbeen running training programs, a lot of interesting information has come my way. I’ve changed content, approach, and added suggested topics, all based on evals. Occasionally, a comment has made me wonder what would possess someone to think of the comment written on the evaluation.

Adults learn differently from kids. Adults need to hear information more often, in different ways, in order to remember it longer. The word “educate” comes from the Latin educare and it means to pull out of, not to stuff into. Most people in the training sessions learn a lot from sharing information with people who work in similar business environments. Maybe even more than from me.

From me, they need to hear a practical application, examples that resonate with their experience, and reinforcement. If I tell a participant they are “wrong” or their writing “isn’t up to standards” in a training class, they won’t hear anything else I say. Their mind will be caught in the sticky spider web of having been shamed in front of a whole class.

My classes are short–one or two days. I can’t teach someone how to write in that time, or how to do presentations. But I can give them tools to use that will make them a better writer or presenter over time. And one way I do it is to find something to praise in every piece the participant reads or demonstrates in a presentation. By praising them for something they are doing well, it is more likely they will continue to do it. That alone will make them a better writer or presenter, and that’s my goal. I’m not a magician, just a trainer.

dominatrix_2But every now and then, I get a comment on the evaluation form that baffles me. Today I read, “I didn’t really need this class for more than a review of what I already know, but your laxity in correcting others disappointed me.”  A few months ago, I got the more enigmatic,”You did not criticize other people’s work strongly enough.” I’m still not sure what this was supposed to teach me–would they be happier if I appeared in class in black leathers and a whip?

Instead of planning how to be tougher, I thought, “What was that person’s childhood like? Is s/he a manager? Do they slap their co-workers with their remarks?” Children of alcoholic parents often grow up to be alcoholics because drinking created power in their home. What will these managers train their direct reports to be? Praise is a powerful teaching tool. And it works. I’ll keep using it.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer who teaches business writing and creative work. She knows the Inner Critic thrives on shame and has chosen to promote the Inner Heroes instead.

Gelli Plate Collage

Note: I’ll be teaching Gelli Plates 101: Make A Book of Monoplates at Arizona Art Supply (Phoenix) on November 2. Details and registration.

Gelli plates are gelatin-like plastic that you coat with paint and use as a printing plate. You apply the paint with a brayer, but the printing press is your hand. Once the paper is down, you smooth it over with your hand and lift off the impression.

Here is a collage I made using Gelli prints


First, I tried to make the poppies an underlayer, but they came out too uniformly red, so then I printed a sheet of mixed reds and used it to create the poppies separately and collage them over the stems.

BranchesOn this one, I wanted to mix unusual colors, giving it a worn feel. Not sure I love the colors, but I got the effect I was looking for. I cut the masks myself, using old overhead projector plastic. It makes them reusable.


I love the teabag print. This is a journal page I will write on with a Sharpie.

And yes, I have two teaching locations where I’ll be teaching how to use these for journal pages. Minneapolis and yes, Madeline Island. Stay tune for details!

–Quinn McDonald has fallend paint over fingers for Gelli Arts plates.

Listen to Your Inner Wisdom

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 close the covers, put them on the shelf and forget about the wisdom we just wrote. We are used to writing, asking to be heard–praying for answers. But we often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s one of the benefits of  journaling.

From the website, Business Trends.

From the website, Business Trends.

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 of your Inner Hero.  You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and you just dug up an important truth, courtesy of channeling your Inner Hero. Your Inner Hero gives you permission to dream up solutions.

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, but maybe it’s exactly what you need.

journalYour pen may race on, while your mind chews on 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 before. Because you could not.

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 the author of the upcoming The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, to be published by North Light this coming December.

Monoprint Mug Mat (Tutorial)

Gelli Art plates are my latest obsession, and I’m discovering how much fun they can be. Today I’m demonstrating for Arizona Art Supply at the Phoenix Women’s Expo. I thought it would be smart to demonstrate something practical, so I made a mug mat, using a Gelli Arts printing plate, Studio Cloth, paints, and masks that I cut myself. I’ll be teaching a Gelli plate class at Arizona Art Supply on November 2, in Phoenix. If you are in Tucson, I’ll be there on November 17. (Mark the date, registration isn’t open yet.)

Mug mats protect your desk from spills and smears and provide a nice surface for a mug of coffee, tea, soup and perhaps a snack. They come in many sizes; this one is larger than most.


Here’s what you will need:

  • A Gelli Arts plate, any size. Mine is 8 inches x 10 inches..
  • One piece Studio Cloth, the size of your mug mat. Mine is about 10 inches x 12 inches.
  • A fat quarter of batik fabric, in colors that coordinate with the colors on the mug mat.
  • Sewing machine and thread (optional).
  • Acrylic paints, several different colors
  • Brayer, 2-inch or 3-inch.
  • Paper mask, one in the shape of a tea bag, one in the shape of the tag.
  • Sturdy cardstock, to cut masks
  • Pen, pencil and tea bag (to create mask)
  • Baby wipes (to clean plate)
  • Decorative comb

Drip several dark colors of acrylic paint onto the Gelli plate. About a teaspoon will do. I used Quinadricone Dark Orange, Payne’s Gray, and a bit of Iridescent gold.

Brayer the colors over the plate to reach the corners. Take a print on either side of the Studio Cloth. Allow cloth to dry completely. Take another print off the plate to create a ghost print to use for another project.

While the cloth is drying, place he tea bag and the tag on cardstock, trace around the outline, and cut out.

Re-ink the plate with lighter colors. I used Titan Buff, Periwinkle blue. Brayer over the plate, which will pick up color from the last application.

Place the tea-bag mask and tag at differing angles on the plate. Using the non-bristle side of a brush, create a “string” connecting the tea bag and the tag with a curved line. This design will remove paint.

Using decorative combs or other household objects, create patterns around the tea bag. Take a print on the same side of the Studio Cloth as before. The mask and the scraping of the paint will allow the darker first coat to come though. Allow to dry.

LinerCut a piece of batik cloth a bit larger that the Studio Cloth. Fuse to the back of the cloth using Pellon fusible webbing. (Make sure it sticks on both sides). Create a fabric sandwich: Studio Cloth, painted side down; fusible webbing; batik fabric, right side facing you. Iron to fuse.

Trim away any extra fabric, then use a zig-zag stitch to edge the Studio Cloth. You can also use a decorative scissors to trim the edge. Studio Cloth will not fray.

Your mug mat is ready to use! You can seal it with acrylic paint sealer. I leave mine the way it is and surface clean it if it needs it.

You can also use canvas, but you will have to gesso it first.

Quinn McDonald is enjoying playing with Gelli plates.

The Joy of Autumn

new-england-fall-colors-photo-by-chrisbastian44-thumb-300x200-14979When I lived in New England, autumn meant leaf changes, cold nights, wearing scarves and coats after a few weeks of lighter clothing. The leaves were so beautiful. All the trees didn’t turn at the same time, so you’d look from one tree to the next, hoping for one more day of good color. Because after the leaves, it was windy, rainy and dark.

Autumn in Phoenix is so completely different. You come out of your summer protective shell. You see people on the street again. But here are my favorite surprises of autumn in Phoenix:

1. The sky turns into a giant dark blue bowl over your head. It’s the angle of the sun and the wind that pushes the pollution away for a while.

2. The migrating birds arrive, and suddenly, there is bird song all day long, from dawn to dusk. Sometimes birds mark their territory by singing, and the hedges and orange trees are filled with birds. Given that half the bird species in the world don’t sing, so this is special.

3. The owl is back. I don’t know where the Great Horned Owl goes in the

Great Horned Owl at Sonoran Desert Museum  © Walt Thomas

Great Horned Owl at Sonoran Desert Museum © Walt Thomas

summer, but every fall, it’s back, with it’s huge silent wingspan and deep hoots in the evening.

4. The oranges, lemons and grapefruit start to grow again. They stop growing in the summer. Now they are heading toward ripening. We won’t have any lemons this year, the three-day frost last year killed them all (we usually get about 300 a year). But we do have 16 grapefruits, nice big ones.

5. I can leave CDs and teaching supplies in the car again. In the summer, CDs warp, plastic melts, paper deteriorates in the car. It’s nice not to have to empty the car into the office every night.

Fall is here and life is good. And the birds are coming in, including the hummingbirds.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and naturalist who loves autumn in Phoenix.