It’s Not Over, It’s Just One Down

Senate Bill 1062 got vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and. . . not so fast.

Arizona is not out of the woods. And while I rarely write about politics, it’s time I did. One of the reasons I moved here is to work on social justice issues, of which there are many.

One of the scary facts in the story of SB1062 is that the three original proponents suddenly were against it when the “media made a fuss.” Which, in my humble opinion, is what the media is supposed to do.

All of us are complicit. As artists, we have an obligation to be involved in politics. Too many artists I know don’t watch any national news. I mean real news. Instead, we share bumper-sticker slogans on Facebook and think we’ve done something.

The excuse for not knowing what your own legislature is doing is “so much violence,” or “it’s all the same.”  The result of ignorance is far worse. It’s a lack of ability to see consequences and prevent them. If you are not informed,  you get a legislative clown car that is about to drive the future of your state off a cliff because they didn’t have a clue to what their action was making possible. And no one stopped them.

Think I’m on a senseless rant? Here’s what Maya Angelou says on art and politics:

“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS,” she declares. “What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’ We’ve just dirtied the word ‘politics,’ made it sound like it’s unpatriotic or something.” Morrison laughs derisively. “That all started in the period of state art, when you had the communists and fascists running around doing this poster stuff, and the reaction was ‘No, no, no; there’s only aesthetics.’ My point is that is has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language and the structure and what’s going on behind it. Anybody can make up a story.”

“All politics are local.” –Tip O’Neill

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and social justice advocate.

Cleaning Up (Start With the Desk)

leaning-stack-of-papers-and-filesSome days you are the pigeon. Some days you are the statue. And some days you have to clean your desk, table, studio space. You just have to.

Either that or plow it under and call one of those reality shows where Ryan Seacrest shows up with 50 cat carriers and has a desperate housewife fire you and send you to rehab. I’m sorry, I don’t watch TV, so it all sounds alike. Back to cleaning.

Here are some tough love tips for cleaning that worked for me today.

1. Don’t look back. I tried being serious about saving all those articles I’ll read someday. Then I realized that if I really had wanted to read them, I would have. In the time that I’ve collected the articles, I’ve read four books. So I’m not really motivated to read the articles. Toss them.

This is a perfectionism stumble. “If I were a really good X, I would read, file, remember, sketch, write, use this article, image, scrap of ephemera.” Deep breath. It’s a perfectionist thing. Toss it.

Yes, you will probably need it within 10 minutes of the trash truck vanishing down the street with it. Toss it anyway.

2. You won’t buy it anyway. Catalogs marked with turned-down page corners for storage, filing, clothing items. Largely waiting for a windfall. When windfall comes, will need something else. Toss catalogs.

3. Compare and act. Two of the items I wanted in the winter catalog are now on half-price sale. Pick up phone and order. Done. Move on.

4. Even if you teach, throw it out. I have a huge stack of magazines, catalogs, flyers that are “perfect” for that collage class that I’m not teaching this month. Or next. More stuff will accumulate. Toss it out.

5. Start where you are. Don’t try to catch up. More paper is mistakenly saved because you are scared to throw it out, for fear of forgetting, falling behind or forgetting. Unless it bank or tax stuff, make NOW your starting point. Easier and saves the nerves.

–Quinn McDonald wishes she would clean up more often. The desk has a nice wood grain she rarely sees.


Working on the Competitive Spirit

Nothing against ambition and competition. Nope. They can be very useful. But turn them up too loud, and they become a burden. But I have an unbidden competitive streak that I’ve been working on for a while. It seems to be the cousin of the perfectionist tendencies I’ve been working on, too.

the_only_thing_i_m_addicted_to_is_winning_shirts-re8eacefe5d264e5ab2822f13bd4d3a00_vj71h_512Competition can be healthy and lead to brainstorming and creative blasts. But that’s not what is bedeviling me. Mostly it overcomes me when I’m doing research. I go from “that’s interesting,” to “how is that done?” to “I can do that,” to “I can do that better,” to a growl of:  “I T ‘ S   M  I  N  E  BWAHAHAHAHA!” Not attractive. Worse. Not useful. I don’t even notice the mindset until I feel cranky and hot.

With that feeling comes the need to be best, to excel, to climb the charts, to . . . be ruthless and uncaring. And that’s not at all who I want to be.

Now what? I am working on tiny steps. When someone shares an achievement, I imagessay, “I’m happy for you,” even if I’m not sure I’m happy.  It’s the right thing to say, and I’ll let my meaning it catch up with me later. If I feel my inner critic nudging me and saying, “you could do that too,” I call up my Inner Underdog Hero and say, “I have enough on my plate right now.”

When someone sends an email that says they are too busy to teach that class we were going to teach together; I let it go. OK, I work on letting it go. I’m not the boss of them. They get to make their own decisions. I do get to feel a tiny bit of hurt, but only for 20 minutes, then I move on. When I later see that they are teaching with someone else, I do not immediately assume it’s my fault. They got a better opportunity. Truly, if they do not want to teach with me, the class would not work out. I breathe through it. (Sometimes I have to use a paper bag. You know, a Trader Joe’s bag, till I feel grounded again.)

41a16308140c5716f774c925d022998dIt’s hard not to be competitive in an ugly way. The way that says “Winning is the only thing,” which I don’t believe. But there is that old, deep trigger. That desire to be best, first, and skilled.  I respect many of my competitors, respect their talent and the skills they have worked on. What I really need to work on it setting my own goals and steadfastly working toward them. Not get distracted by the flash of attention. I admire most the artists who dedicate their attention to creative work that enriches them and makes meaning for them. That’s my model. But it’s not easy.

Quinn McDonald is minding the high road, which seems a bit empty these days.



Last Page of Your Journal

You already know what to put on the  first page of that new journal. No more staring at blank pages for you!  Once you get past the middle, you can decide how to end your journal.

How do you  end a journal so you don’t have to continue a thought, a project, or a story into another journal?

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Step-cut of last three pages. The page that binds the signature to the book is left untouched to keep it strong.

Create a table of contents of favorite pages.  I like to come to the end of a project or idea flow in my journals. I don’t mind having a few blank pages in the back. Over time, I’ll fill those blank pages with dates of pages I keep looking up or those with favorite quotes or poems.  I don’t number my journal pages, but I date each page, so sometimes I write the start and end date at the end of the journal. It becomes a useful index to the contents.

Decorate the end pages. If there are a few blank pages left, I also cut steps into them. I trim the last page about an inch from the end, the next one two inches, and the third one three or four inches in from the book edge. Using a craft knife, I cut a wavy line and create a three-page landscape. Remember to put a cutting mat under the page you are cutting.

Tinting the page edges gives it a nice finish. I use a water color wash to keep the color pale. You could tear the pages straight down or give them a deckled-edge look. I like the curved look better.

dont-throwmeUse stickers or postcards. Daniel Smith, the art supply house, puts a sticker on small or lightweight packages in larger deliveries. The sticker is bright orange, about 4 x 6 inches and says “Don’t throw me away.” It strikes a chord, so I often use one on the final page of a journal. It seems about right. You might be done with it, but there is lots of meaning to be made.

Add a photo of yourself, your children, your pets.  That way, when you look back over them in the years to come, you’ll have an evolving view of what you looked like. Adding a photo of your house shows how it changes over the years. A photo of the kitchen is always fun with advancing technologies changing what our appliances look like.

The last page of a journal doesn’t have to be an ending. For a powerful last page, flip back to the beginning, and read the first post or two. End the book with a recognition of how far you’ve come.

–Quinn McDonald keeps journals. She’s also the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, and keeps loose leaf journals.

Re-Use, Recycle, Rejoice

Note: Congratulations to Janice (aka Rubber Rabbit) who wins Gina’s book No Excuses Art Journaling! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Drop me an email (under “Contact” on the right side of the header) with your mailing address and the book will be under way!

*     *     *     *

Long before recycling had a name, my family was doing it. Every family whose parents went through either the Depression or a war in the country they emigrated from learned how to recycle out of habit. My mother cut down usable pieces of  my brothers’ shirts and jeans to make clothes for me.  When I wore through them, the shirts became dishtowels, dust rags, and doll clothes. We darned socks and sweaters and when they had too many holes, the sweater was cut, the yarn re-wound and re-knit.

It is part of my inheritance and certainly part of my DNA that I became a collage artist. Those pieces of paper don’t get tossed, they get made into art.

tag4No surprise then, when I added another journal to my collection, I began to hunt through my papers for a way to hold it closed.

My journals get tossed into my purse, and if I want to pull them out in one piece, there needs to be a way  to keep the pages held together.

This journal is made in India out of cotton rags. I adore cotton paper, and this one had unlined pages heavy enough for watercolor markers. I purchased it with a smile, as the 5-inch by 7-inch size is perfect to take along in a purse.

How to hold it together? It didn’t take long to find a tag from another purchase. The tag was glossy light-weight cardboard with a thin elastic band through the hole in the top.

tag1I cut open the elastic, put another hole in the bottom, and discovered the elastic was long enough not to warp the tag.

tag2Next step, gesso the tag–both sides. Then brayer paint over it, making sure to add a bit of gold. Let each side dry thoroughly–about a minute here in Phoenix. Then restring the elastic and it’s ready to go.

tag3The book is held shut comfortably. When the journal gets tossed into my purse, the tag gets moved over to the open edge to protect the pages from bending back. It also works nicely as a bookmark to hold the pages while I’m writing.

Quinn McDonald had a lot of fun at her book signing Thursday night. She is trying to ignore the idea for the third book that keeps floating up. [Quinn at lectern,  Rosaland Hanibal (seated) and Traci Paxton Johnson (standing), both book contributors, helping the audience find their Inner Heroes.


Creative Jaunt

Anila Quayayum Agha is a photograph with a big shadow. And a big dream. Agha is an artist with a political bent and looks for “truth” in her artwork.

shadow-cube-light-installation-art-interesctions-by-anila-quayyum-agha-3She created a 6-1/2-foot cube (2 meters) and pierced it with geometric patterns that represent various religions and cultures. Then she illuminated the inside of the cube, allowing it to through 35-foot shadows. “This project is meant to uncover the contradictory nature of all intersections; which are simultaneously boundaries and also points of meeting,” Agha explains.

Nature is the artist in this next photo.

grand-prismatic-spring-yellowstone-natonal-park-on-google-earth-cover-imageYou are looking at Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring. Google Earth is both an encyclopedia and a great way to get a view from on top that we would never otherwise notice. There are 49 more amazing sites here, each one with a GPS location. You can cut and paste the numbers into Google Earth, and you’ll see the same wonders and weirdnesses in the world.

Have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald is packing to film a DVD. She’s not worried about what to wear, but she is amassing what projects to show.


Another Book Launch

Tonight and 7 p.m., for the second time in three years, I’ll launch a book at Changing Hands independent book store. Yes, I did a book signing at CHA in Anaheim. But doing the first signing in your own town is the real launching of any book.  Two of the contributors, Traci Paxton Johnson and Rosaland Hannibal with be with me to help people find their inner hero and to sign the books.

HeroBookThe Inner Hero Creative Art Journal is ready to go out in the world and stand on its own. I’m proud of it, and proud that I finished it. Several times while writing it, I didn’t think I had the courage to say the things I wanted to say.

Tomorrow night, I might feel that same fear. Just because you write about the inner critic doesn’t mean you got over your own. I just got to know him better.

But here is what I do know: without the encouraging, brave, funny, and imaginative group of people who read this blog, leave encouraging comments and help me solve problems, there wouldn’t have been a book. So to all of you who stop by here–thank you so very much for supporting my inner heroes.

If you live in the Phoenix area, stop by Changing Hands at 7 p.m. tonight. There will be chocolate chip cookies for snack lovers and seedy bars for diabetics and gluten-free patrons, fruit spears for vegans, too. Changing Hands is on the Northwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock in Tempe.

We’re going to do fun exercises to call out our inner heroes. Original art from the book will be there, too. I’m so happy I finished the book. Because it’s a whole new beginning for outsider art and courage.

—Quinn McDonald never imagined there would be people stopping by to chat every day. She’s glad for the company. Writing can be lonely.

Book Review: No Excuses Art Journaling

And yes, there is a giveaway of a signed book. But first, about the book.

Before I met Gina Rossi Armfield, her book, No Excuses Art Journaling, had me hooked. After I met her at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association Convention in Anaheim), I felt I’d met someone I’d known for a long time and crossed paths with again. She’s warm and happy to share her ideas. Over dinner, I got hooked on her style of art journaling and am having a lot of fun doing a “No-Excuses” journal of my own.

Cover of the No Excuses Art Journal.

Cover of the No Excuses Art Journal.

Her book is a flat-out, ingenious way to journal. There are easy step-by-step instructions. Take a book-size calendar, weekly preferable. Convert the datebook into a  journal by adding the journaling program (a free download) by taping it into the datebook. Add envelopes in each month, to store snippets you will want to use as you go along.

Gina also gives you monthly theme pages with quotes, ideas and prompts to put in the calendar for each month. You then add watercolor paper so you can draw, collage or paint, as you decide.

That’s just the beginning. Each month has a theme, there are tasks for each week. Feeling overwhelmed? No need. She just wants to make sure you aren’t bored. You can do as much or as little as you want.

I decided to use a watercolor sketch book and added sticky-note weekly calendar pages. This page shows some envelopes I made to hold painted leaves and feathers.

I decided to use a watercolor sketch book and added sticky-note weekly calendar pages. This page shows some envelopes I made to hold painted leaves and feathers.

To help you stay interested, she teaches you some techniques: how to carve your own rubber stamp, how to create collages, how to do contour drawings (so you can create sketches, which you also learn.

Jennifer Joanou's pages on seasons.

Jennifer Joanou’s pages on seasons.

There are hints to work with photo strips, the color of the day, getting in touch with your emotions and drawing the weather. Just when you think you are going to pop if you don’t grab a journal and get started, she gives examples of her own and from guest artists like Jenny Doh, Jennifer Joanou, Traci Lyn Huskamp, LK Ludwig, Susan Elliott–one for each month of the year.

"Nice Pair" watercolor marker and Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

“Nice Pair” watercolor marker and Gelli plate collage. © Quinn McDonald, 2014

Each artist chose a color palette to work with and answered a set of interview questions. You get an intimate look at each included artist and a view of their interpretation of the assignments.

The book is cheerful and peripatetic. You will want to use it as a reference, as a guide, as an inspiration.

Gina has offered to sign a book as a giveaway. Leave a comment, letting me know why her book would help you, and I’ll have a random drawing. Winner will be announced on Sunday–make sure you check in to see if you won.

This book will show you a fresh new way to create a fat, interesting journal while exploring your own seasons and landscapes. Oh, and Gina’s giving away the Inner Hero book today, too.

Quinn McDonald loves to read other artist’s journaling ideas.

Aging Out. . .

How I know I am getting old:

images1. I RSVP when asked to. I can’t understand why you don’t. What part of Respondez, s’il vous plait do you not understand?

2. Don’t leave a voice mail? I won’t phone you back. I know your number is in my “recent” file. But you could have butt dialed by accident. If you leave a message, I know what you want and will phone you back with an update, not a “so why did you call?”

3. If I send you three times we can meet and you do not reply, I will book others into the spots. If you are surprised that I didn’t hold all spots for you until you make up your mind, you are too young to understand the practicality of time management.

4. If you think posting to my timeline on Facebook is a way to communicate with me about an important, personal subject, we need to talk. Talking is something old people do before texting and tweeting.

5. The answer to “Thank You” is “You’re Welcome.” Not, “No Problem,” because that means you thought I was going to be a problem and you grudgingly changed your mind but had to let me know I was a potential problem.

1262033941_juicy-asswriting6. I do not understand, nor care to, the word “Juicy” stitched in bright pink, bold letters, with glitter, across your butt on your too-tight leggings. Whether you are a size double zero or a 2X, I’ve worked really hard on feminist issues like equal pay and you are turning back the clock on my hard work on your behalf.

Quinn McDonald is beginning to think about the “good old days” and muttering “git off my lawn” at kids.

The Pull of Inner Critic and Inner Hero

It’s hard to admit that after writing the Inner Hero book, I’m still bedeviled by my Inner Critic. People expect me to be over it by now. Sadly, not. I’ll have to face down my Inner Critic many times in the coming years. If I’m lucky, I’ll get good at facing him down. Why won’t he go away? Because I’ve got faults, and he’s an expert at noticing them, showing them to me, and then helping me believe I am that fault, and am helpless in the face of it. Oh, and while I’m worthless, I might as well destroy all my art, too. And toss in the writing for good measure.

Which brings me to something I said in the comments yesterday, and which keeps coming up with my creativity coaching clients: Your faults are your strengths turned up too loud.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Image from The Music Ninja.

Turn up your favorite music too loud and your sternum shakes and all you can hear is a base beat and distorted sound. You can’t make sense of it. You just want to get away from it. It’s not music, it’s ear-splitting noise.

Your strengths and faults work in much the same way. Let’s say a strength is a good sense of humor. Great. Helps you get through the tough patches in life, helps you not take yourself so seriously, helps you be easy on yourself as you make learning mistakes.

Turn up that sense of humor too loud and it is easy to be insensitive, even obnoxious. Your friends can’t hear you making life easier, all they can hear is the jarring noise of not-caring.

Image from

Image from

Maybe your strength is teaching others life skills. Wonderful. Your guidance helps people find what skill they need to work on, focus on it, practice it while you help them see and avoid the pitfalls until they get good at the skill.

Turn that up too loud and you are micro-managing, pointing to all they do wrong, insisting on your way as the only way to to be “right,” suffocating any ability to learn by making mistakes. Too much advice, and they lose the freedom of making their own choices and learning from the results.

I often ask my creativity coaching clients to make two lists: three characteristics you are really proud of, that you are good at. The second list is three characteristics of faults you have. Failings you feel bad about. (Just three, not 10). Now compare them. Almost always,  the client sees how the fine characteristic can get too big, too loud, too jarring, and turn into a fault.

Still, faults need to be worked on. We can’t just say, “well, that’s my authentic self, it’s the me you get, like it or not,” and continue on our way, pleased that we are being”real.” Our authentic self is our self-realized self. Flawed, but aware and working on it.

When we pull our out faults by the roots, we also pull out the very ability that is a strength. Best not to try too hard to discard those faults, they contain the possibility of change.  Instead, try dialing them back until they talk to you, sound resonant and useful. That’s your Inner Hero, holding the space where you do good work.

HeroBook* * *   This week is the local launch of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. (If you are in the Phoenix area, it’s at Changing Hands independent book store on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Bring a pen, we’re going on an Inner Hero hunt!)

Note: Congratulations to Jeff (@fernseeds), winner of Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Congratulations, Jeff! Send me a note at QuinnCreative [at] Yahoo [dot] com with your mailing address and the book will be on the way!

–Quinn McDonald is busy turning down the volume so she can hear the Inner Hero better.