Journaling While Traveling

It’s not a travel journal–that’s a journal for a vacation or a special trip. I journal while I travel. In an ariplane, at a restaurant, in my hotel room–a few notes, observations, capturing characters or scenes. More than that feels like work.

Because I travel only with carry-on luggage (one suitcase, one backpack), my journaling has to be limited to a small space and a few implements. Here’s how I manage it:

Travel1A practical carrying case for pens and brushes. Two zippers make it easy for me to peel back the cover and the stiff bottom means it stand upright. Writing implements, top to bottom: A white Sakura gel pen, a Pitt pen (Fine) permanent, a Yasutomo Koi pen (watercolor, for shading), Niji waterbrush, bookkeeper pencil (writes like a lead pencil, but when wet, it writes in bright turquoise and becomes permanent), and a lead holder with a lead for writing and shading.

Travel journal © Quinn McDonald 2013.

Travel journal © Quinn McDonald 2013.

It’s all I need for basic sketching and writing. What do I write on? No room in the backpack for a big journal, so I use shipping tags that I paint before I leave. I attach them through the existing hold with a photo-album screw post. The post allows the tags room to swing, so I don’t have to take them apart and can write on them. Not a lot, but enough to help me remember that great restaurant, that interesting woman sitting next to me on the flight from Houston to Dallas.

Tiny journal © Quinn McDonald

Tiny journal © Quinn McDonald

While I travel, I use bricollage–a French word for collaging with whatever is at hand. These bright colorful lines are the pieces between the stamps.


Best of all, the journal packs comfortably into the pencil case. Everything in one spot.

Tiny Journal 2© Quinn McDonald

Tiny Journal 2© Quinn McDonald

When I have filled up the pieces I carry with me, I separate them by date and put them together with a screwpost and wing nut. It’s a great way to collect memories and it doesn’t take a lot of space in the creation or in storage!

-Quinn McDonald gets more done when it doesn’t require a lot of extra materials. She may be a minimalist.

Got Will? (No? Get Busy)

Surprisingly (to me), I got a lot of fear reactions when I told some friends and clients I made a will in Arizona a few years ago.

Hand-written wills can be legal if witnessed and notarized, but ask your attorney, it varies from state to state.

Hand-written wills can be legal if witnessed and notarized, but ask your attorney, it varies from state to state.

“Are you dying?” is the question I got most often.
“Yes. We all are. Every day we get one day closer,” I’d say. What really surprised me is the reaction to that statement.
“Don’t say that. I’m fine.”
Well, sure you are, but everyday we are one day closer to the day we won’t be on this planet anymore.

Two friends, both of whom would raise their hands if asked for a roll-call of control freaks, have no wills. That surprised me. Wills give you control over what happens to much more than your stuff.

2. How are you planning your death? You know you are going to die sometime, right? If you hate surprises, don’t be caught by the ultimate surprise.  A will is a legal document that spells out what happens after you are dead. But you want to think about some things while you are still very alive. Here’s a few things to think about:

  • If you have children under the age of 18, who will take care of them?
  • If you have adult children living with you because they can’t make it on their own right now, who will take care of them?
  • If you have a lot of credit card debt, or general debt, or a big (or upside down) mortgage, what are the banks allowed to take when you die? Who is responsible for your debt? The one thing you can be sure of is that the banks don’t forgive your debt when you die. Your executor may be burdened with all your debt. Good enough reason to have a will.
Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, "Expired."

Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, “Expired.”

For people who own their own business, there are other questions that need to be thought about:

  • Who will tell your clients? This is particularly important is you are a sole proprietor, a coach, a consultant, or a therapist. You’ll need to make a client list with email and phone contact information, and keep it updated.
  • If you have clients, will you recommend someone to take your place?
  • If this list is on your computer, and there’s a password, you’ll have to include that information. In fact, there may be a lot of passwords you’ll need to classify and keep track of.
  • If you are an artist, writer, or do other creative work, what should happen to your unsold collection of work? Don’t assume you can donate it to state archives, libraries or museums. Many of them simply don’t want material that doesn’t have a high resale value.
  • Avoid fights after your death. If you have jewelry or heirlooms, write a list of who gets each item, and leave it with your will. You can change it as often as you like. Date and sign it with each update. Ask your attorney what sort of problems come up if you do this. I don’t own much high-value items, so it works fine for me. Your results may vary.

With social media the way to communicate, do you want your Facebook, Linked In and Twitter accounts closed when you die? It’s probably not a good idea to keep them open, because they become spam targets when not used regularly.

  • Write the statement you want distributed on your social networking sites and leave it with the passwords for each site. You might want to add the contact information of someone who will know about memorial information.
  • Let people know if you want your account “deactivated”–but kept accessible for information or “deleted” so no one can get information from those accounts.
  • If you do online banking, have  PayPal account, or do any shopping online, those access points to your money should be closed.

The major reason I started creating plans is not for when I’m dead, but while I’m busy dying. A living will or medical directives is paperwork every adult should create.  You don’t want a hospital, medic, or emotional family member making those important decisions. In fact, two members must agree on what is to be done for me. My husband may be overwhelmed by a decision, but another person may be clearer on what I want.

Your ideas might change over time, so update the documents if your convictions change.

Some other simple precautions to take: have a trusted relative or business partner as an additional signer on your bank accounts. If you die, your family should have access to the joint bank accounts.

Making a will does not mean you are ready to die, willing to die, or not afraid of dying. It simply means you care enough about your family not to leave them to clean up your mess. It’s the bigger equivalent of rinsing your own dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. If you don’t leave that for someone else, clean up your used dishes of life, too.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who has lived a full life and hopes to live many more years. Cleaning out the garage and making a will seem like good ideas.

Email Hassles (Sorry, Mr. Kilmer)

I think that I shall never see
an email answered thoroughly.

Replies that answer questions asked
instead of adding to my task.

Concise with information needed
Instead of three-times asked and pleaded

sadtree2And then forgotten with a Huh?
A smiley face, a shrug, a “Doh!”

I hunger for a sentence rich
with information, scratch my itch!

It isn’t hard, first read, then write
Answer the question, end the plight!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who wishes for emails that answer what was asked, preferably the first time, although the second time will do.

Slow Art Wins a Round

When I dragged the third load in from the car, I regretted, for a moment, that I did not make kit packets for everyone in class. It would be easier if I made a sample to follow, cut out all the papers, choose three colors to use and teach the class that way. That would have made one trip possible.


But following a sample, and assembling a tiny journal from a kit would not support creativity, would not allow experimentation and discovery. So I cheerfully hauled in papers, threads, paints, inks, buttons, screws, nuts and the rest of the choices.

It was a gratifying class. Colors flew, participants mixed inks and paints, used new tools and created wonderful journals of their own making. It was real creative work. The pieces they made were truly the work of their own hands.

About three years ago, I said slow art–creativity without kits, a class without a sample to follow, results that varied with each person–was my goal. I would not make kits, I would not encourage people to copy a sample and strive for perfection and speed.

Tag3I know why teachers do the kit class. It’s much more practical and easier. It’s a bit more work up front, but it guarantees success (everyone makes a perfect project), and you limit what you have to bring into the classroom. Plop a packet in front of each person and it’s done. Not so much set up. Less clean-up.

For me, it’s not a class. For the participants, it’s freeing not to have to race against the clock to create a perfect replica of the teacher’s sample. It helps people get in touch with what they want to learn, what ideas they want to work with. It’s so much more satisfying than duplicating a sample.

Not every page was successful, but each was satisfying. Participants learned now to fix mistakes and clear up color choices. And I did not mind in the least carting out all the equipment it takes to teach a class without kits. It’s a much richer teaching experience. It looks like it works–great results, and my car is big enough after all.

Congratulations to Kimberly Santini, who won the Gold Sumi-e Watercolor in the cute ceramic dish! Can’t wait to see what she does with it!

-Quinn McDonald is a teacher of writing and creativity.

The Basic Recipe

The bread recipe has morphed again. When I published it a few days ago, I had already changed it twice. I baked it again this morning and made more changes. Swapped the sunflower seeds for pecan pieces. (Chewier texture.) Added some powdered coriander seed and orange dust, they both have a common background fragrance. (Deeper flavor.)

Photo: © Brock Davis via Instagram.

Photo: © Brock Davis via Instagram.

The changes are for taste, not just for the sake of making changes. It’s the same way I handle uncomfortable situations in daily life. No changes just to do something different, but adjustments to feel better, easier, lighter. Sometimes the changes are hard and the results not obvious at first. Sometimes I don’t want to figure out the change that needs to be made, so I add a strong flavor to cover up the unknown.

Covering up a bad flavor with something else doesn’t work in baking. It doesn’t work in life, either, but I keep trying. A lesson I will repeat till I learn it.

Timber from Buddhist Boot Camp says it perfectly: “Here’s a secret: while everyone’s recipe is a little different, the main ingredients for a successful batter are love, gratitude, kindness and patience. And the most common ingredient that makes people’s cake bitter is fear, so don’t use it!”

Note: Starting this week, the blog won’t run on Fridays and Saturdays. They are the two days I get the lowest readership, and are a good choice to carve out more time to teach and develop classes, as well as do some serious journaling. It’s one of the changes that I wish I could avoid, but it needs to be done.

Quinn McDonald is starting a new way of journaling and wants to practice more.

Saturday Stroll: In my Neighborhood

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” —Marcel Proust
On many Saturdays, I find interesting things around the world of the internet. There are also interesting things within the five miles I walk in the morning. Come along on my walk and see ordinary things with new eyes.
This spill looks like a cheetah, lying down and facing left. “Rof Lit” is part of the alien language painted on the street. I don’t know who Rof is, but his literature has something to do with wild cats, I’m sure.
This tire mark looks like a roadrunner in sunglasses, also facing left. There’s a lot of detail in this accidental mark.
A circle of sand that spells “water” just cracks me up. Of course, I’m easily amused.
Phoenix is so much more than cactus and dust. Here’s a Hong-Kong orchid tree that has adapted to Phoenix. Most of them don’t do well. This one seems to be thriving.
Flying to Houston from Phoenix, I saw this abandoned town in New Mexico. (Yes, the air is hazy with smoke and dirt). During the housing boom, the streets were put in and the foundations poured. Then the money dried up. And so did the town. There are no houses, just empty streets and slab foundations. And there was more than one we flew over.
Take a look at your world today with different eyes. You’ll be surprised at what shows up.
-Quinn McDonald made it home by sheer luck and a crew member who had a map app of the airport so she could find the shortcut to the gate.

What Lies Within

We are all so much more than our outsides–what we look like. Sure, everyone knows that, but still. We love things that are beautiful, from kittens to people, from cars to landscapes. I love the potential in things. I love looking for what is about to become different and delight in the development.

fleur4This cactus fruit is developing seeds. They are in progress. The light from the sun illuminates the still-growing fruit in a way that says “anticipation” to me.

fleur3Amaryllis are big, showy flowers. When I lived on the East Coast, they were my salvation in the winter. Here, many things bloom in winter, but the amaryllis always is a delight.

It develops quickly, always stretching and leaning into the sun. The bud develops and you can see that a lot is happening inside.

fleur1Then one day, in under 12 hours, crisp white petals appear and unfurl. I always wonder how they fit into that much smaller bud. It’s like an idea. Once expressed, it expands and takes on a whole new shape.

fleur2This blossom was just one of three packed in that special spear-shaped promise. And there is more to come.

What are you growing into?

–Quinn McDonald is letting nature take its course.

Creality, Revisited

What separates success from disappointment (not failure, which is not as bad as being disappointed in yourself) is the ability to be OK with “not yet.” The sense of being an experimenter comes out as the strength to be satisfied with your creative output while knowing, at the same time, that you will do another round, and it will be different, and maybe even better.

Caption at the metro station in Victoria Station, London.

Caption at the metro station in Victoria Station, London.

I’ve covered creality several times, but this is the step after creality hits. (Creality is the term that T.J. Goerlitz introduced me to. It’s the gap between what is in your head and what you produce. )

This quote by Ira Glass  (host of This American Life) jumped out at me today, and it was perfect for my state of mind. Maybe yours, too.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”   ― Ira Glass

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and art journaler. She’s still fighting.

Dreaming of June

MISA1June seems like a long time away-but like the seed catalog that reaches you just as you had given up all hope for Spring, I want to whisper some green hope in your ear. Polar vortices, sleet, shoveling snow–leave them behind for a minute. Tuck yourself into a cozy place in your house and imagine June on an island that is a green prairie. It has rocky and sandy beaches, rivers tucked into coves. This place is not just imaginary, it’s Madeline Island in Lake Superior. And you can restore your soul and learn to laugh again this summer.

thumb_seed-packets-wedding-favourFrom June 2 to 6, I will be teaching Jungle Gym for Monkey Mind at Madeline Island School of ArtsThe class is based on the Inner Hero book, and we’ll learn something new every day. You’ll try your hand at writing poetry, surface decorating papers, using the papers to make seed packets for those tiny beginning ideas you want to grow into big, sturdy plans.

You’ll discover your inner heroes and what you have in common with them. You’ll make friends and have time to visit art galleries and restaurants. If you like a noisier time, you’ll find bars and restaurants to keep you up all night.

MISA2If you are ready to retrieve your soul from where it has drifted, this class is the one for you. Every participant will receive a free creativity coaching session to help them explore the inner landscape that is so often neglected. The island is a perfect setting for coming back into who you want to be.

MISA3We’ll learn specifics every morning and you can explore how to use them in the afternoon. The classroom is also open all night. No locks, just space and time. You can work any time. Just turn out the light if you are the last to leave.

You’ll create monoprints and gather your results into a book, a journal of memories and encouragement to take back into your changed life. It’s time to restore that part of you that has to be strong and give all year.

Think about it. And begin to plan it. It’s an experience like no other. No art or writing experience necessary. Just a sense of adventure.

Quinn McDonald taught at Madeline Island last summer and is dreaming about returning. She welcomes you to join her in a remarkable experience.

Looks like a painting, but it's the view from the classroom at Madeline Island School of Arts

Looks like a painting, but it’s the view from the classroom at Madeline Island School of Arts

Gold Sumi-e Color and a Giveaway

Note: Congratulations to Kimberly Santini, who won the Gold Sumi-e Watercolor in the cute ceramic dish! Can’t wait to see what she does with it!

*   *   *
One of the items Niji gave me to play with when I became a designer for them is their dish of pale gold sumi-e watercolor paint. Rich with gold and possibility, I’ve found several ways to make the most of it.


Ceramic dish of pale gold sumi-e watercolor paint by Yasutomo.

I can’t help it, I love the 2-3/4-inch ceramic dish it comes in. And I’m giving a dish of it away. (Details below.)

My new favorite way to apply it is with a brayer–the roller you use to apply ink to printing plates.

Using black paper and gold paint, I made a fantasy card.  For the background, choose a sturdy paper like Strathmore ArtAgain or Arches cover. Using a fat, fairly stiff brush (I use a glue brush), mix some water into the dish. Load the brush and then snap the brush to drip gold sumi-e paint on the paper.

GoldXImmediately, roll the brayer up over the paint. You can use a painted stripe if you want to include a horizon line.

Gold7I added a painted circle out of the acrylic paper for a moon and let it extend beyond the edge, trimming off the extra. You can read the entire instructions on the Niji blog page, here.

Gold6If fantasy cards aren’t your thing, you can use the gold sumi-e paint to color shipping tags, too. I had already painted several of them with acrylics (for my Tiny Journal class this weekend at Arizona Art Supply) I splashed some gold ink on them and rolled the brayer across to add bold patterns.

Last week, at the Craft and Hobby Association convention in Anaheim, California, I discovered that Yasutomo was introducing a new paper.  It’s made of  . . . minerals. Called Mineral White in the origami paper and All Media paper for artists, it is amazing to work with. Yes, it is made from very finely ground calcium carbonate in a soft binder. It feels like paper, but it has a huge benefit for watercolor artists–the paper doesn’t curl when wet. It stays flat no matter what you do with it. No buckling at all.

Gold4Here is a sheet of Mineral White with gold sumi-e watercolor brayered across it. It looks like a landscape of mountains. It’s great for art journaling or origami. You can also use it for origami or collage.

Gold9This is the Mineral White with a blue and green Splash Ink wash and a spritz of water to create the look of rain.

Then I brayered gold watercolor across it for another whole dimension of color and glitz.

Just because it’s watercolor doesn’t mean you have to use a brush to paint it on!

To win a 2-3/4-inch ceramic dish of Yasutomo pale gold sumi-e paint, you have to do two things:

  1. Leave a comment on this blog.
  2. Like the Yasutomo Facebook page.

The winner will be announced on January 27, on this blog post and on the Yasutomo Facebook page.

There’s another giveaway going on today: Photographer Bo Mackison (I altered a photograph she took in the Inner Hero book) is giving away a copy of my new book on her blog.

Quinn McDonald is the author of the newly-released Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She is on the Niji Design Team and is an art journaler, writer, and certified creativity coach.

dtbutton1Yasutomo provided the materials to all design team members and will provide the paint to the winner.