Big Bag, Small Bag

You can tell I’ve been traveling a lot, I know. For me, successful business travel is a fight for convenience– finding ways to make any trip more comfortable. Not always easy while ditching a water bottle, taking off your shoes, holding your license in your teeth and watching the ziplock part of your 3-1-1 bag pop off.

Small cross-body and colorful tote. They work well together.

Small cross-body and colorful tote. They work well together.

One of the shortcuts is to carry a cross-body small bag that holds just your money, phone, cards, license, hand cream and a pen. It’s convenient to have your phone (e-boarding passes) and license right in front of you, in zippered pockets. I tried just putting them in open pockets, only to lose them in the X-ray machine. And losing a drivers license puts an end to the trip–you are no one without your drivers license. And “no one” moves to “body cavity check” in one easy move.

Between flights at home, I prefer to carry a bigger purse. I wear prescription sunglasses and like to carry them with me, along with lipgloss, keys, gum, business cards and a few other necessities. But when you are home for a weekend and off again the next Monday, changing purses twice is not on the schedule, laundry is.

Neither do I want to haul around the big backpack that makes plane travel comfortable. It holds a lot, but it is also bulky, because it has to hold the iPad, class essentials, a change of underwear (suitcases don’t always make the flight as you planned), basic makeup, and a journal. OK, and writing tools. Maybe a few watercolor pencils.

So I’m spanning the gap by carrying a clever tote made for me–a brilliant gift for my needs. I put the cross-body bag in it, simply to avoid re-packing it, and toss in the other items I need–water bottle, sunglass case, and. . .pencils and pens keep creeping into it.

What I notice most about travel gear is that most of it is black. Somber, serious. Suitcases tumble onto the baggage conveyer in a dark hail of duty. Occasionally there is a pink or polka-dot bag and you can see smiles around the baggage check.

This tote is perfect for cheering me up between trips. It’s a bit inconvenient, but then again, being happy is sometimes inconvenient, and the harder choice, but always worth it.

–Quinn McDonald is looking forward to a break in business travel.

You Can Go Home Again, Maybe

Standing on the windy, cold corner of H and 17th St. NW in Washington, D.C., it felt both familiar and strange. The buses had destinations I recognized and could find on a map: Ft. Totten, Laurel, Pentagon. But I wasn’t home; I was on a teaching assignment and on my way to Farragut West Metro stop.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

I’ve been here, but not in a hotel. I’ve taught in the same building, but not the same audience. And while I felt homesick for D.C. I also wanted to go back to my mountains and landscape and vibrant colors. And most of all, I was freezing because my jacket wasn’t a coat. I don’t own a coat. I don’t need a coat.

It’s difficult to come back to a town you lived in for years. So much of the behavior I remembered–the first question you are asked is “What do you do?” and if the answer doesn’t match what the questioner is looking for to advance their career, you are left standing alone, holding up the empty end of a conversation, having been dismissed.

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

But I also miss the vibrancy, the relaxed atmosphere of a town that is incredibly diverse in color, ethnicity, size, beliefs and approach to life. There is a different ethnic restaurant on every corner, (and so many I can’t eat in), but the buildings rise up in gray and glass and cement against a gray sky.

After two days of teaching, I stood on the windy, freezing street outside the hotel at four in the morning, waiting for my airport shuttle. A little sad and a lot happy to be going back. Because Washington, D.C. is a great place to teach, but my home is in Phoenix, and I wanted to go back home.

I drove home from the airport, directly to Anthem, to teach at the library. It was

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

good to teach art journaling, because my trip had been so packed with work that I did not write one word in my own journal. I’m now trying to figure out if I should try to catch up, or just move forward. Always a challenge.

–Quinn McDonald is teaching in Tucson this weekend. Eventually she will catch up on her sleep.

Setting Free Ideas

“Set your ideas into the wild.” It was just a sentence fragment I read on a blog last year, but now, all this time later, it still resonates. What a wonderful image–taking your ideas and setting them free against an autumn sky, to soar away.

The memory of fireflies, Ink on paper. © Quinn McDonald

The memory of fireflies, Ink on paper. © Quinn McDonald

You lose control over them, but you never really were in control of your ideas. You just kept them, like fireflies in a jar,  until you had filled your eyes with wonder, and then you let them go, because they weren’t really yours to begin with.  But you never forgot the glow in the dark and the churn of comfort and power you got from opening that jar and having the fireflies crawl to the rim, lift their wings and blink up into the grassy-smelling dark of night.

Our ideas are ours to nourish, marvel over, and set free into the wild. You write a book, you teach a class and your ideas float across space and time, to be caught, transformed and set free again, in different shapes and textures. You may not even recognize it when it comes back, but as it passes you on the street, dressed in a suit and formal with design, you’ll smell a hint of summer grass and catch a slight wink of light, and the memory will still be there.

The experience of recognition, the experience of power and joy, that makes setting free your ideas all the more worthwhile.

–Quinn McDonald has a jar of ideas on her desk. She remembers it once held fireflies.

Versatile Container

When I was younger and determined not to get older, I swore I would never carry one of those awful pill containers that just shrieked, “I can’t remember what days to take my pills!” It made me feel decrepit just looking at it.

pillboxTime has changed my mind, of course. I now find it convenient to take the container with me when I travel, rather than rooting around in a ziplock bag and pulling out the pills I need. And when I travel, it’s all about convenience.

I now cheerfully carry my vitamins in exactly such a container, take it to breakfast with me when I’m on the road, and take the pills for the day. Then I drop the container in the backpack and forget about it till the next day.

Now I’ve acquired another labeled pill container. It holds my earrings/pins/ring for the day. And since I plan out my clothing (in order to look professional while keeping the baggage to a minimum) I need to plan the accessories. By pre-planning what I wear and coordinating jewelry with it, I don’t forget either the outfit or the accessories. And there isn’t room to tangle in the box.

watercolor-pill-box-300It gets worse. I discovered that the better pill containers make great watercolor holders. Squeeze in some tube colors, leave the container open until they dry, and reconstitute the paint in the hotel room with a few drops of water.

Listening to politicians claim they have never changed their mind, and try to make that a virtue, has always confused me. True, I never thought I’d own three pill containers, but I’m glad I got smart enough to get over it.

-Quinn McDonald lives in a suit by day, and does art in hotel rooms at night–at least when she’s traveling.  She thinks watching TV is overrated even on a hotel flat screen.

Suminagashi in Color and Gold

Suminagashi is a Japanese technique that is deceptively simple and wonderfully intricate, depending how much time you want to spend developing it.

Here is a journal page I made by using a suminagashi technique, then adding color and a quote written over the finished piece.


The quote is from Harvey MacKay: “Take risks–you are a lot better off being scared than being bored.”

Here is a variation in gold:


To read the complete step-by-steps, check out my post on the Niji site.

Suminagashi is done in one or two colors. You load a bamboo brush with black and another one with another color. Alternating brushes, you touch the tip to the surface of the water. But I wanted to use just black. The trick (which I struggled months to figure out)  is that the other brush is loaded with vegetable oil.


Several sites I researched suggested soap, which won’t work at all. Soap breaks the surface tension of the water and everything sinks. Vegetable oil does the trick.

Alternate ink and oil. The red in the bottom (of the photograph above) is some watercolor I added to show depth–that the sumi ink is floating on the surface.


You need the oil to push the ink back. Without the oil, you still get great patterns, but they are not as intricate. The pattern above was made without oil. You can see the gold paint that I floated very carefully on the surface. It likes to sink. You can’t use it to do suminagashi.


But you can paint gold watercolor on a piece of paper, allow it to dry, then suminagashi over it. I love the elegant effect. You can use it for journal backgrounds or cut out pieces of the ink and use it to create cards.

For step-by-step instructions,  visit  my suminagashi post on the Niji site.

Quinn McDonald loves experimenting; she is a member of the Yasutomo design team. In another life, she wears a suit and teaches business communications.


Traveling as an Artist

Notice the fewer posts this week? Yep, I was on the road, and too hectic to post. Travel is not fun anymore. Although I’m grateful I’ve shaved off 60 pounds every time I have to drop into the center seat, travel is still exhausting and stress-producing. But there are ways you can make the trip just a bit easier:

Check your bag. Yes, my bag does fit overhead, but by the time I get on, there is no more space. I can gate check it, which is free, and I can ask for help loading it overhead, but once I have committed to a bag, it has to come into restrooms and food locations. So I check it, knowing that I can put in all my cosmetics, and not just the one-quart bag full. I also don’t have to hoist it onto the X-ray machine, pull it off and run with it.

4134b-7LYjLCarry a backpack and a smaller purse. The purse fits into the backpack and holds essentials–credit cards, cash, pen, phone, earphones, gum, keys. It’s worn cross-body while I’m in line, making the license and phone (with the e-boarding pass) easily accessible. Once through the final checkpoint, the purse goes into the backpack, and the only gray tub you need is for shoes and jacket.

The backpack itself has the items I must have when I arrive–iPad, hotel and shuttle information, a spare jump drive with the class material, and a change of underwear. There’s also a journal to work on while there is an electronic blackout.  A backpack is remarkably comfortable to carry–much better than a one-shoulder bag.

Carry food. It’s possible that I’ll miss a meal while on the flight, and missing a meal is bad for blood sugar. So I carry mixed nuts, nut-and-seed bars (homemade), a dark chocolate bar, and an apple. In a pinch, I’ve got a low-carb meal.

Pack an excellent quality hand cream. I love Diptyque Hand Balm. It’s abc_baume_genereuxnon-greasy, mildly fragranced, and can be used on your face and neck. Airlines and hotel rooms are horribly dry. I also carry lip gloss and a small tube of OK hand cream. That way I can use it often enough to keep my cuticles in one piece.

Bring something comforting. A candle, a favorite sweater, a favorite fragrance. Hotels can be impersonal and lonely. A candle that fills the room with fragrance, a spritz of your favorite fragrance on your pillow, something that eases stress is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Plan when to work and when to relax. Working all the time wrecks your efficiency. Allow yourself to relax on flights.

-Quinn McDonald teaches business communications. She does art in hotel rooms.

Name Your Art

“Is this piece finished?”

“Am I ready to sell this?”

name that book badge2Familiar with the feeling that you can’t let go a piece of your work yet–whether it’s giving it away or selling it? Sometimes it’s the inner critic beleaguering you, filling you with doubts about your talent and skill.

Sometimes it’s the attachment to the work. You’ve done hours, days, even weeks of work, and the idea of the growing, living piece being taken from you is a lot to handle.

And sometimes, you just feel like a fraud. It’s a common occurrence with creative work–we feel that the beauty, the way it came together was an accident, that we really didn’t have much to do with it. That’s the inner critic again, and you need to call out a powerful inner hero to talk for you.

"Adam Naming the Creatures", 1847. Currier & Ives print, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, LOC #LC-USZC4-2780.

“Adam Naming the Creatures”, 1847. Currier & Ives print, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, LOC #LC-USZC4-2780.

The inner hero is the Name-Giver. Not familiar with that one? There is an origination story that gives precedence. God did the creating, then set Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to name the animals. It gave them dominion over them. And the action of naming does give us a certain power. We give names that are meaningful–we name our children after poring over name origins and finding just the right match. We name our children after others to honor them and remember them.

The same is true of our creative work. We name it to have dominion over it, and also to, at the right time, set it free. As a child leaves home to become an adult, our creative work has a life away from us. And giving it a name allows the growth and separation to begin.

–Quinn McDonald sometimes gives an artwork a public name and a private name, one she will use to retrieve the magic of creation.


A New Kind of Class

This past Saturday, I stepped into a new kind of class–one I’ve wanted to teach for a long time. Immediate disclaimer: you may not want to teach this kind of class or take it. That’s fine. I’m not trying to persuade anyone; I’m just happy I found the way I want to teach.

monotreeConcept:    I want to teach explorers and experimenters. People who want to try, discover, mess up and learn, without needing to walk away with a finished project.

Instead of:  Many classes today are based on the American business model of “follow an example, do it just like the sample, and do it before close of business.” in other words, emphasis on perfection and speed.

There are advantages to doing this–the instructor brings in a kit or pieces already cut out and bagged. Participants follow instructions and walk away with a piece they can give as a gift.

The problem with this is that it has nothing to do with creativity. It has to do with following instructions and small motor control in assembly. The other problem, of course, is that when the confused student, thinking the project is original art, submits it to a show. The instructor is angry. After all, it’s the instructor’s design, concept, and “all the student did was put it together.” I’ve seen that complaint on many instructors’ websites.

Nothing of that is interesting to me. And I know most classes today are taught that way. And many people enjoy it.

Advantage of Experimental Classes: Participants have permission to play, to create (in the best sense of the world) and to really learn. Because I’m there to demo techniques, make suggestions, and help on the discovery step when something goes wrong, the participants learns a skill, along with problem solving and self-confidence. The resulting curiosity and joy in discovery is the basis of a living a creative life.

Disadvantages of Experimental Classes: Participants don’t walk away with a completed project. Participants have to ask for help; I don’t pace the classroom looking to give advice.

Why It’s Important: I believe in creativity and living a creative life. I don’t believe in fixing people or giving advice. I think the joy of discovery is a vital part of creativity, and the accidental discovery is magical. I want to create a classroom where that is possible. And probable.

The risk: It’s not for everyone. It’s for people who are curious about living a creative life as a soul growing processes. My classes may not make, I may teach a lot of small classes. And discovery classes are harder to prepare for. I have to bring a lot more equipment, tools, and paper to share. It is easier to bring a sample and kits, which is why so many people default to a project class.

As a creativity coach, I believe that everything in life is connected in some way, and that a big part of creativity is pattern recognition that helps us change our life and re-invent ourselves. Through creative exploration. In order to be authentically me–coach, writer, instructor, creative soul–I’m best suited to teach the way I live.

The class I taught this past weekend really fueled my delight in this way of teaching. Experiments were inventive, a few mistakes taught something more important (paper is cheap!), and anyone who asked a question got an answer. A participant was also a teacher and artist, and did an inventive demo I described. Everyone learned as much as they wanted. I think everyone left excited to try out more.

My wish is that the creative soul and exploration movement is just beginning. I’m ready for it. Want to join in?

Quinn McDonald is teaching experimental classes in Tucson (November 17), at the Minnealpolis Book Arts Center (April 2014) and at Madeline Island (June, 2014) Her book comes out in December. It’s going to be a busy 2014!





The Tricky Part of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a slippery slope that confuses almost everybody. (OK, maybe just me). What makes it slippery? Because forgiving is often confused with “I accept your apology and now we can pretend that never happened.” That might work in some cases, but not in others. Another difficult logic hill to climb, “Thanks for saying you are sorry. But your saying you are sorry does not obligate me to make you feel better. Or to let you continue mistreating me.”

forgiveness-heart-words-300x199The key to forgiveness on part of the person who was harmed is to stop expecting  retribution or punishment. The person who did the original harm has an obligation to do more than apologize. An empty apology with no intent to stop the harm is not worth the effort of forgiveness. An apology with no real effort to change, or worse, a deceptive appearance of change, isn’t worth an apology either.

Forgiveness is not an agreement that no harm was done. It’s simply an acceptance that the past cannot be changed. But to forgive, you do not have to return to trust. You do not have to place yourself in harm’s way to show that forgiveness is complete.

The best way to forgive some people is to accept them exactly as they are–but not to bring them back into your life. Once you have learned the lesson the relationship taught you, you can forgive the hurt, yes. But you do not have to continue the relationship. Some people are simply not trustworthy. And you are under no obligation to let them prove how trustworthy they are now. You already know that answer, and while they might not, you do not have to repeat what you have already learned–that someone who breaks a trust repeatedly will do so again. Yes, of course, some miracle may have happened, but you do not have to be the one to test the miracle.

Sometimes survival is a miracle, and escaping with your soul intact is enough. You can forgive, but there is no need to forget the important lessons. And certainly no need to repeat them.

Quinn McDonald has been puzzling out the tough knot of forgiveness, only to discover there is a difference between the generosity of the soul and the foolishness of repeating old mistakes.



Peaceful Warrior Author’s New Book

Dan Millman is the author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and several other books on the theme of spiritual awareness. His latest book, The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, is different. First of all, he wrote the book with Sierra Prasada, his daughter.

BookThe book is for anyone who is creative and wants to take their work from the imagination out to the world. Because I’m a writer, I saw it more clearly as a book for writers, but it works in a broader sense as well.

The five stages of creative work, according to Millman and his daughter are Dream, Draft, Develop, Refine and Share.

Dream includes getting to know yourself and then developing your “stickiest” idea–the idea that gathers attention and interest and asking (my favorite question) “What if. . .?” The chapter ends with the interesting Dreaming on Deadline.

Draft tackles some hard topics–how to listen, how to read writing books, writing as a solitary act. The chapter is compelling and the father-daughter take on the topics are really useful.

Develop has some good, strong practical advice: sweat trumps talent, never surrender, allegiance to your story and the layers of learning.

Refine covers the ancient skill of trusting your gut, word choice and word order, working with an editor and knowing when that draft is final.

Share helps you understand how to move your readers, summarize your plot, handle rejection  and marketing your book. It also covers self-publishing pros and cons.

Normally, I give away books, but I am not finished taking notes on this one yet. It’s a good book, and if you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this book is worth paying for.

Millman takes a sacred approach to creativity. It’s an appealing way to think of the hard work of book writing and meaning-making. Prasada doesn’t always agree, but they work together to bring a book better than either one of them could have written alone.

Quinn McDonald has an irrational love of books that make the task of writing seem sacred and worldly. Because it is. She just found out that her book will be available in mid-December–two full months ahead of schedule!