Chihuly in the Garden

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places in the whole world–and I’ve been to a lot of places. This year, the Garden brought in glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. It’s not the first time Chihuly has been in the garden. There are two permanent sculptures at the entrance.

chihuly at the dbgOccasionally, people think the sculptures are real and ask what kind of plants they are. I always say, “Chihuly” and people think it’s a kind of cactus.

Glass1The thin red poles look balanced between the green cacti.

Glass2The mix of of spheres and pipes make an interesting grouping with the blue agave.

glass4The sculptures have to be dusted several times a week. This one is about 20 feet tall. Dusting it must be fun.

glass3This round shape is amazing. I love how these shapes fit into the desert landscape.

glass5This color almost seems like a black and white in this photograph.

glass6Nothing like polka dots to brighten the day. This is a great exhibit. If you are in the Phoenix area, don’t miss it.

Hope: It’s Complicated

Desert Night © Quinn McDonald. Fabric, marbled paper, stitching on watercolor paper background.

Desert Night © Quinn McDonald. Fabric, marbled paper, stitching on watercolor paper background.

Hope is a tricky emotion. It’s necessary so we can imagine what will happen if we take action and overcome hardship. It’s useful to use as a ladder out of sorrow: we can imagine life getting better, and we go where we look.

So why have I said that I’m not a fan of hope? Heretic. Well, in a way, yes. When we expect hope to be enough, to be the only fuel to drive a dream into reality, hope isn’t enough.

When we rely on hope to create what we cannot, we will be disappointed.

When we take that word for 2014 and expect it to change who we are, to be the magic eraser that vanishes all problems, we are making it carry to much of a burden.

Treat hope for what it is–the clay that we shape into a plan with the skill and

It's not clay; it's a rendering made to look like clay. A good metaphor for hope. From:

It’s not clay; it’s a rendering made to look like clay. A good metaphor for hope. From:

talent we have.

Take another look at your word for the year and make sure it’s strong enough to last a whole year, to push you when you want to stop, and to be the chuck under your wheel so you don’t roll back.

That’s a strong hope.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. And the author of the Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, published by North Light Books.

A Poem for Your Journey

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Watts Towers in Los Angeles, built by Simon Rodia.

Counting down to New Year, choosing who you will be in 2014, trying to find that special word to be your amulet–it can all be a bit confusing. “I want to be a better me” is hard to define in specific terms. We can’t shed our skins like a snake and become someone new. Even the snake stays a snake. A bigger, stronger snake once the skin is shed, but still a snake.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Detail of the Watts Towers, made of cement and broken pottery, found and discarded objects.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even want to create a whole new me.  I like the dinged, battered, missing-perfect-by-a-mile me I’ve become, because working on what you are with what you’ve got makes you more interesting. And more honest. And certainly more sturdy and vulnerable.  I’d rather be a Watts Tower than the Dubai Building (the tallest building in Qatar).

Being who you are is hard work. No pretense, no hiding behind a new model, a new name, a new location, just recognizing what you can and can’t do is more than a year’s worth of work.


The Dubai building in Qatar.

I’m still working on the final draft, but one of my big recognitions in 2013 is that I am not a healer. Don’t want to be one. Most likely I am a teacher. Even that seems too big a burden sometimes–to claim expertise in something. It’s also possible I am a witness to other people’s stories. At best, I help them edit them, keeping what is useful, and culling out the misery and pain that holds them back from knowing who they want to be. That’s why I wrote the Inner Hero book.

So while you are figuring out who you are, too, here is a poem by Mary Oliver struck me as being perfect for the work behind and the work to come.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Quinn McDonald is still figuring out who she is.

Before You Leap into 2014 . . .

The temptation is so strong to make a list of changes necessary in 2014. There are hundreds of ways to be better, kinder, thinner. We are never enough for ourselves. I have nothing against self-improvement, it’s a never-ending project. A renewable resource for your psyche.

11401998-largeBefore you make a six-volume improvement list for 2014, there is unfinished business in 2013. Take a seat. Take a few deep breaths, too. Then look back at 2013, and see what you did right. What you are doing better now than you did last January. What you struggled with, figured out and made progress on. What you conquered.

None of these victories have to be permanent to make them count. There are some improvements we have to make over and over again. Not unlike painting the trim on the house, rotating the car’s tires, or doing laundry.

Each year, you’ll meet the same problem over and over again until you understand it fully. Rather than becoming impatient and angry with yourself for “not fixing the problem,” give yourself some credit for recognizing and working regularly on the problem. Think over what you were bad at and see if you have made progress.

Look over what you were good at and see if you are doing more of it. Don’t start making a list of improvements just yet. Take a minute first to see how far you have come. That’s an important part of being strong enough to continue.

–Quinn McDonald has a feeling 2014 is going to be a busy year.

Family Christmas, Bullfighter Style

Tasha+Tudor+Christmas+TreeIf you are from a big, happy family who gets together on Christmas in loving celebration to exchange presents, sing, and eat. . .you aren’t reading this. You are enjoying your family. Both of you.

The rest of us struggle with family. We are adults,  lead responsible lives, no longer have the bad habits of younger years. But something triggers five-year old behavior. Someone’s a bully. Someone gets teased.  One person is nosy, someone else doesn’t care to ask enough questions. Many are “offended” at an opinion, the food, the word in a song. Instead of “merry and bright,” you get “fury and fight.”

old-fashioned-thanksgivingWhy does this happen when absolutely no one wants it to happen? Because Christmas is fraught with the freight of memories. We take the gauzy, vague memories of childhood and make them solid. We had perfect trees and handmade, heirloom ornaments. The treats were perfect and the food exquisite. It wasn’t of course, but our brain steps in, says, “let me remember that differently for you.” Your perfect childhood is endlessly trying to be created, not re-created.  You struggle to create  today the fantasy that never was in your childhood. Trouble erupts when your definition of “perfect” is not the same as the other people’s. Tension blossoms, followed by a power struggle. Everyone loses.

As adults, we have a firm vision of who we are now. In control. In control of how we want people to think of us. Your siblings remember foibles and habits we’d63241like to forget. They bring them up anyway. You collapse. You realize just how many buttons you have that get pushed. In fact, you are just one big button standing next to the Christmas tree.

Shift your perspective just a bit. Instead of thinking of yourself as the noble, wounded bull in the bullfight, remember that the bull inevitably gets stabbed by the bullfighter (to wild applause). Update that image. You are the bull—but strong, nimble, powerful. Not wounded, but angry. The matador is the thoughtless sibling, aunt, cousin. Decked out in a too-tight suit of lights, [the link description is worth reading, just for the unfortunate translation], complete with the little goofy hat, pink hose, sequined pants and . . . your emotional baggage instead of a cape.

From a Samsonite Spinner commercial, produced by ad agency Moxie and Superfad.

From a Samsonite Spinner commercial, produced by ad agency Moxie and Superfad.

Here’s the trick: stop looking at the red cape/baggage the matador wiggles at you. There is a sword in there. Look at your matador–the sparkly sequins, the tight pants. There’s your target. Can’t run fast in that getup. You are a lot more powerful. But only if you ignore the taunts and flapping red attention-distracting flag. If you charge the flag, you will be jeered. Swords will appear. If you gore the bullfighter, you will hate yourself later. And you’ll be stabbed. People will cheer. Not the result you want.

Here’s the move: Ignore the baggage. Do not attack the attention-grabbing baggage. Once you charge, there is a feint, the distraction moves, and the matador is engaged. Instead, listen to what the matador is goading you with. Listen, not to charge headlong into the red, but to hear a keyword you can acknowledge. This move catches the matador off guard.

Aunty Annoying: Are you still at that dead-end job? I don’t understand why you didn’t become an engineer like your brother.

You: [respond to key word, “engineer”] Yes, [brother’s name] is very successful. We are all proud of him. [If you can’t manage that, you can substitute, “You must be so proud of him. “]

Aunty Annoying: We’d like to be proud of you, too, but it’s hard to be proud of someone who claims to be an artist.

You: [respond to key word “artist.”] Art isn’t valued by our culture, is it? [Notice that you are not chasing the red flag here]

Aunt Annoying: No, who cares about art? Why did you disappoint us all anyway?

You: [changing subject] What did you want to be when you were little, Aunt Annoying?

Aunt Annoying: I didn’t have choices like you kids today do. I stayed home and raised the children. Which reminds me, when are you going to give my sister a grandchild?

You: [responding to keyword “grandchild”] Speaking of grandchildren, how is your grandson Iggy doing?

Notice that this is not a conversation. This is you, avoiding charging the ancient painful baggage being dangled in front of you. You are not looking for conversation, you are avoiding a tearful confrontation. You are listening, not to correct her, make her wrong, express your frustration, but to keep coming back to her, instead of the red cape.

Keep your eye on the real target–the matador.  Do not resort to the clever, snarky verbal slap that will put the questioner down, hard. (It will attract the attention of the bully protector.) Feel sorry (if your can’t muster compassionate) at the inability of the matador to manage a good relationship. Focus on acknowledging the life of the questioner. Turn the conversation to neutral ground or to questions about the matador. Not mean questions, neutral. Within 20 minutes, you will be behaving like the in-control adult you are.

lsThis behavior is not easy. You will want to attack. You may want to dump the eggnog over the taunter’s head. Resist. You want to feel good about yourself. Pity the lack of tact of your matador.

Then take a lap around the ring, still standing, still strong, still powerful.  Stand among your peaceful family. You’ve earned it.

—Quinn McDonald has been the matador and the bull. This year, she’s avoiding being the red baggage.

Lesson of the All-Year Flower

Flowers planted in pots die a long, slow death in the desert. Basil, violets, zinnias, even marigolds have crisped up in pots–even the ones that aren’t clay and don’t hold heat.

bloomsUntil last summer. I planted a Lisianthus–tough gray-green leaves, and big, multi-petaled blossoms. With no idea what the flowers looked like, I waited for the first buds with anticipation, the gardener’s companion.  The first blossoms opened in a pale parchment color. Nice. The next day, the same blossom was pink, the next dusty rose, then darker parchment, then pale, then it crinkled up.

Damn. That’s impressive. Each blossom does this. It starts out as one color, morphs through several delicate, antique shades, and wrinkles into a deep kraft-bag color.

Through June, July, and August, when everything else (except the lantana) dies of heat exhaustion, the Lisianthus stayed. Thrived. Then, in August, it began to die back. I trimmed the stems and noticed new growth. And here, in December, it is happily blooming again.

No one says that one color of the development is “better” than the other. They are all glorious. Every stage of life has its advantages and disadvantages, whether you are a flower or a person. You couldn’t pay me to go through high school again. I’m not as flexible physically as I was then, but my heart is flexible and will grow where planted–and I’m grateful.

The Lisianthus is tough. It has outlasted the roses of Spring, the cosmos of Summer and the chrysanthemums of Autumn. It is beautiful in every season because it is generous with its blossoms and makes the most of the space where it grows. Delicate and tough, generous and making the most of where you are. Good words for 2014, if you haven’t chosen one yet.

–Quinn McDonald had an odd word come to her in a dream. Nothing else is standing up for notice. She may yet embrace the odd word for 2014.

Last Minute Holiday Cards

The second I dropped my cards into the drive-through at the post office, I thought of a few more people I wanted to send cards to. There were no more on the desk.  Instant card shortage! I’m probably not alone, so I made a few cards that don’t take long and don’t require  illustrator or designer skills.

All of them used only the papers and materials I had on my desktop. OK, my desktop is cluttered, but no buying more material. Here are the five cards you can make quickly and get points for sending handmade cards.

Cardbluetree“Solstice” A large 5″ x 7″ card starts with a piece of Strathmore Ready-Cut, my salvation because I can’t cut straight. I painted the bottom corner, let it dry, then covered the rest of the card with marbled paper. I cut three triangles out of paper I’d inked for some project, choosing greens and blues. One card made. Inside it says, “May the returning light brighten your year.”

Tree_reflection“Reflection” The second large card starts with a base of suminagashi paper I made a few weeks ago for the Niji Design Team blog. It’s the middle one on this blog post, you can see the gold far more clearly. I cut my signature wavy lines in increasing lengths and created the reflection of pine trees on the paper. Inside it says, “Reflect on 2013 in peace and joy, and may 2014 bring you dreams to live.”

Card_packages” Three Gifts” Using a gift-tag punch, I created three gift tags, then turned them into presents with a pen. The place where you punch a hole and run a thread becomes the ribbon, and two more lines create a package. I used a monoprint cut down to size for a background.  On the inside I wrote,”Peace, health and joy for 2014.”

Card_Tree1“Bird in Winter 1” Using a book with Chinese writing, I cut across the writing to give the pieces the look of birch trees. A tiny triangle of red paper makes the bird. I used Arches Cover in black for the card, it’s sturdy enough to make into a card. Inside, I wrote, “May you find surprises that delight you in 2014.”

Card_Tree2“Bird in Winter 2” Not sure if it was easy for everyone to create a tree from slivers of paper, I did away with the branches and created a forest of  abstract trunks. This one is my least favorite, as it looks like one of our dreaded forest fires has moved through. I included it because I wanted to show what happens when you simplify too much. Later I went back and added tree branches in white pen. It was better, but it won’t get sent.

I’m looking forward to this week; it’s a quiet work week, and the weather is warming up enough to eat on the patio.

-Quinn McDonald is using monoprints that didn’t work out to wrap last-minute presents.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 2

Yesterday, in Part I of Perfectionists and Procrastination, you heard about Anne, who missed opportunities because her perfectionism never let her finish a project.

The Root of Perfection.
What causes perfectionism? Research shows that around the age of four, children begin to socialize with the culture they live in. In American culture that means playing in groups, not being too different, not showing above-average intelligence, and following rules. (Later this changes to not getting caught when breaking the rules.)

ColoringInsideTheLinesAround age four, children start spending most of their day in a school-like group environment where behaving according to the teacher’s norms is important—it yields approval.  Children learn to color in the “right” colors, stay inside the lines, sing in groups, write the “truth,” and memorize facts that will appear on standardized text.

Critical thinking is not encouraged. Creativity isn’t either. Both take time, and most schools spend a lot of time preparing the class to get better grades on standardized tests.

Graduation-CeremonyA Little is Good, a Lot is Worse.
Socialization isn’t bad, it’s just overdone. Our parents and teachers tell us to compete, win, get that good job, make lots of money, be “successful.” We compete, and our inner critic  steps up to tell us that we are not good enough, not applying ourselves or lazy. By the time we are in college our goals are to hurry up, win, compete, and stay in the top percentile of school and achievement. And we are almost completely unequipped to do it.

Perfectionism is not all bad. In tiny doses, self-discipline is great, and even the desire to be perfect can be useful–doing careful research, doing original work instead of plagiarizing, being diligent–all are good. When being “perfect” gets out of hand it leads to serious life problems.

The key is separating discipline from  fear of failure. Over-discipline stops us from producing anything finished.

New Idea of Discipline.
There is a new discipline–and it is exactly the right word for what we need to nourish.

The idea stage of a creative project is the fun part,  the part where anything is Lowering-the-bar-300x193possible.  But when we start the process portion of the project, we need to call on a new discipline rather than the critic of negative self-talk.

What we need is discipline enough to push through to the finish and get that wonderful feeling of completion, satisfaction and accomplishment. Even if the project is not perfect.

The Trap of High Standards.
Perfectionists say they have “high standards.” It serves as the excuse to miss deadlines and to berate less than perfect results. The perfectionist is a bully. Of self, of others. Because that was the power example they learned early by coloring in the lines.

Blaming the deadline is a lack of discipline. The truth is more likely to be, “If I never finish it, others will never find the flaw, and I will never have to admit that my work (and I) are not perfect.”

The Reward of Completion.
Here is the big reward: when you get things done, even if they are not perfect,  you will first be overwhelmed with shame at how poor the work is. You will invent hundreds of excuses not to turn it in.

Do some deep breathing, put it away for an hour. Then, look at it right before you send it in. You will feel relieved. You will feel the rush of the imperfect. It is the acceptance that you worked hard and as well as you could with the talents you have today.  It will be the first step into being a recovering perfectionist.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps other people open the door to a new future without the burden. She has just completed a book on developing inner heroes that take on our inner critics.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 1

Anne is a writer. She hit upon a great idea for an article. It would require a lot of interviews, but the idea was brilliant. She posted a segment of the work on her blog and was contacted in four hours by a publisher. Anne could turn the idea into several spin-offs, so there was a great future ahead.


Changing time won’t change deadline

If you are a perfectionist, you know the next part of the story. Anne missed the first deadline. And the next. And the project is still not complete.

Anne is a perfectionist, too. She does excellent work and doesn’t want to turn in anything less than the best.

If Anne follows the road of perfectionism most writers and artists (and office workers, moms, employees, and supervisors) take, she will start a dozen projects and finish none of them, because they are not “finished.” Or “quite right,” or “done editing.”

She will have another great idea, and start it, and never finish it, either. Over her lifetime, she will start a thousand projects, ideas, articles, books, blogs, and relationships. None of them will end satisfactorily; many of them will never be finished at all.

Perfectionism sounds like something everyone would aspire to, but in real life, it is a pitfall to satisfaction. Perfectionism is the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.”

Don’t confuse “excellent” with “perfect.” Perfectionists are not satisfied with excellent, because there may be an  invisible flaw that someone will find. And expose the perfectionist as a fraud.

And being exposed as a fraud takes the identity from a perfectionist. And the images-1power they hold over others. As long as they don’t hand in the project or complete the work, they hang onto their identity.

Perfectionists are driven by fear of inadequacy–and sooner or later, often sooner, they will fail. Perfectionists fear this failure so much, that they begin to control their lives, their work, their employees, their family and friends in an ever-widening circle of perfectionism. By judging other people severely,  perfectionists point to the flaws of others as a distraction from faults growing in their own lives.

They are never happy, always striving, forever hearing the threat of “fraud,” “unworthy” and “failure.”

Continue reading Part 2 of  Perfectionist and Procrastinator on Sunday, Dec. 22. Discover a common cause of perfectionism and a new perspective. The Inner Critic takes the form of perfectionist to make sure you never are satisfied, and don’t get your creative work completed.

-Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps others open the door to being great, if not perfect. See her work at

Acrylic Skins for Upcycling

First things first: Pia from ColourCottage won one of the new Inner Hero books! The other winner was Suzanne Ourths–congratulations to both winners! As soon as my shipment arrives, two books will be on the way to new owners!

* * *
Show me a container and I’m in love–cardboard, plastic, wood–if it’s well designed, I will find a use for it. No clever container goes in the trash, it get upcycled.  In this case, I used a small drawer-shaped cardboard box, about 3 inches by 3 inches.

After painting it in cream and black, I decided to add an acrylic skin to dress up the box. It will hold small pieces of paper for journal or collage work. Some of the skins are made with Splash Inks and some with acrylic paint.

drip2Pour three or four puddles of tar gel directly onto a teflon craft sheet. About two tablespoons of tar gel makes a good size finished piece. I’ve tried glue and acrylic gloss medium for this project, but I find that clear-drying tar gel gives the best results.

drip3Using a plastic dropper, put three or four drops of different colors in each puddle of tar gel. Rinse the dropper well between each color to prevent further blending.

drip5Using the stirrer, blend the colors by dragging the stirrer through the tar medium and colors. I start at one edge and draw the stirrer through to the other side, then circle and cross through the colors like you would if you were incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter–always cutting through the middle.

The gold adds a dramatic effect, but add it last. Because it contains a lot of pigment, it likes to settle to the bottom. You can use the Niji gold sumi-e watercolor, or acrylic fine gold iridescent paint.

Now comes the hardest part of this project. You have to wait for the puddles to dry completely. It will take at least 24 hours. You can use a hair dryer, but be careful. You don’t want to push the shape around. Do not put this project in the stove or microwave to dry it. Patience produces the best results. If you live in a damp climate, it may take three days to dry.  Here in Phoenix, it takes 24 hours.

Find a piece that is attractive and matches what you plan to place into the box. paint the back with clear-drying glue. Do not use tar gel as glue.

box1It’s nice to have one edge wrap over the edge of the box. Place carefully. Don’t slide the gel skin because the glue will leave a mark on the box. Because the tar gel dries perfectly clear, the skin allows the color of the painted box to show through.

box2Here, I used a large one on the front of the box, and a smaller one on the back of the box. The upcycled box is now a handsome gift box, ready to hold the small journal sheets or other surprise!

Read the complete instructions (with more photos) on the Niji blog site.

–Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member, a collage artist, blogger,and the author of Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, released this week from North Light books.

dtbutton1As a Niji Design Team member, I do not get paid to play with art materials. However, Niji sent me a box of materials to play with.