Confusing Words

We write fast and think more slowly. The words leap ahead of us, and we type what we “hear,” which often misses the bull’s-eye of accuracy.

Here are the ones I’ve noticed lately:

A trooper is a military person or a police officer. We can have a troop of troopers–smaller than a squadron, and often used interchangeably with platoon.

A troupe is a group of performers. “The show must go on” is the rallying cry for performers who are sick or hurt–no matter, they are going to be brave and do what it takes to support the entire cast of the show.

Someone who braves through a lot of pain, effort, emotional upheaval or just plain work to get the project done is a trouper, not a trooper.

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A visual will help here.

peekPeak is the top of a mountain or the best part of an experience.

Peek is to look or take a quick glance.

Pique (still pronounced ‘peek’ and not ‘pee-kay’) means to stimulate curiosity or interest or to annoy: She was piqued that he did not notice her new dress.

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You know what uninterested means. Disinterested means fair or impartial. You want the jury to be disinterested in your case.

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Flout is to disregard a rule.  Flaunt is to display ostentatiously. “He flouted the rule of how much to spend on the engagement ring so his fiancee could flaunt her ring to all her friends.”

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Alot/allot and their cousins alright and all right
Alot is not a word; it is mistakenly used for a lot.

Allot is to divide or parcel out.

Alright is not a word, even though many people use it. All right is still the correct way to spell it.

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Often when I discuss easily confused words, people tell me “but it’s in the dictionary.” True. Many non-standard, incorrect, and scatological words are in the dictionary, which does not mean they are “right” or should be used. The dictionary is not a judge, but a source of explanations and definitions. In the same way, Google is not an encyclopedia, but a popularity reporter. The first listing (after the ads) is not the most correct, it is the one most often clicked on.

Quinn McDonald loves the evolving English language. She teaches business writing, persuasive writing, technical writing, and grammar. She loves that our language expands to accept new words and then regularly abandons them. (Remember floppy disk?)


Palo Verde Totem

The Palo Verde is Arizona’s state tree. That’s not why I love it, but it is a native desert tree, hardy and useful in many ways. Palo Verde means “green stick” in Spanish, and the tree is named that because the trunk and branches are green. Not covered in moss, but green.

Close-up of Blue Palo Verde tree turnk

Close-up of Blue Palo Verde tree turnk

The tree was an early adapter to the desert climate. It developed small leaves on thin leaf-holding stems. In the desert, there are no broad-leaf trees. Leaves lose too much water. Tiny leaves lose less water. But the Foothills Palo Verde has such tiny leaves that they can’t successfully photosynthesize enough to keep the tree alive. In an evolutionary leap, the tree developed the ability to photosynthesize through its bark, which is largely smooth and green.

There are three species of the tree–the Blue Palo Verde, Foothills Palo Verde and one (maybe two) hybrids of the two. The Palo Brea has a brighter green bark and the Hybrid is still trying to figure out who its parents are. All of them bloom profusely in the spring and summer, from pale to bright yellow blossoms.

A different kind of tree. A Palo Verde whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift into desert snow this time of year.

A Foothills Palo Verde, whose brilliant yellow blossoms drift like snow this time of year.

The Palo Verde is a useful tree. The Foothills Palo Verde often serves as a nurse tree for the young saguaro cactus. Birds sit in the tree, drop the seeds of the saguaro with their poop, and the Palo Verde provides shades that protects the young cactus from the harsh desert climate. The seed pod of the Foothills Palo Verde is edible–raw, it tastes a bit like snow peas. Dried and ground, it provides a flour that helps the body slow the digestion of glucose.

(The seed pod of the Blue Palo Verde is bitter, although the flour is edible, when parched, ground and toasted.)

I’m fascinated by seed pods, particularly desert ones. They provide ways to protect the seed–they are tough, or open easily when rain hits them, or open easily if they are delicious to birds. In every case, the seed pod makes the propagation of trees more likely.

Seed pods hold the entire history of the tree–the DNA tells the story of the entire species. When I hold a seed pod in my hand, I feel connected to the desert, the tree and the power the tree holds by providing shade, food, protection and growth of the people and animals who live in the desert.

seedpodBecause I travel, I wanted to have a seed pod from the desert to take with me. It helps me believe that I will return to the desert, and wearing a totem from the desert helps me remember that I have the responsibility to protect the delicate balance that exists here, both metaphorically and ecologically. But, I didn’t want to wear a real one–they open easily and I didn’t want a Sage Thrasher following me around the airport.

As I have done before, I turned to Matt Muralt, a custom jeweler in the Valley. He listens and then creates beautiful pieces. I wanted a sterling silver Palo Verde seed pod to wear. This is the one he created. It not only looks just like the seed pod, down to the groove on the side, it has a wonderful feel in the hand, just right for take off and landing–not my favorite part of the flight.

Matt has made me several totems and all of them are realistic and imaginative. And on my next trip out of state, I’ll have a totem to take with me.

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and wearer of totem jewelry.

Fear’s Long Stride

Some years ago, I worked for a small company that did good work. It hit a rough patch, and the president decided that we all had to help the company save money. We had to be frugal with office supplies, print on both sides of a page, keep the lights off in our office when the sun was on that side of the building.

2765415-paper-clip-pile-on-a-white-backgroundI spent a lot of time scouring the hallways looking for dropped paperclips. Probably enough time to cut into the time I could have been working productively. I saved the company about $0.75  on paper clips that quarter, in several hours of looking for old ones.

The cutbacks became serious. We lost some benefits. And eventually, the company stopped paying its contractors on time. The time went from 30 days to 45, to 60. I spoke to the president.

“We have to pay the people who contribute to customer satisfaction, to bringing new clients into the company.” The president looked at me as if I were a simple child.
“We have to save money to make the company last long enough to get out of the problem.”
“We can’t save our way out of a growth problem,” I suggested. “Pay the people who are keeping us competitive, they are keeping us alive.” It was useless. The president believed that not spending would save us. It did not. You can imagine the rest of the story. It was an inevitable downward spiral.

Finding your purpose in life and finding satisfaction follows the same plot line.  We listen to our fears, giving more value to our biggest fears, based not on outcome, but on how scared we are.

We avoid the work that would bring us success, we run from the decisions that demand us to face down fears. We think of it in terms of “being safe,” or “avoiding risk.” That’s the same mistake the company president made. The company couldn’t save its way out of a growth problem, we can’t get satisfaction, joy and energy in our lives by avoiding fear.

We reach satisfaction in our life and we realize the purpose of our life by facing

fear, and making choices that free us from fear,  not those that avoid fear. When we act with courage, face our fears, refuse to quit just because it’s hard, that’s when we can see the purpose in life.

Running away from fear is not the path to your destiny. Staying on the path to your destiny with determination and courage will bring you light and clarity.

—Quinn McDonald is plenty scared creating her next course, but she is beginning to think it may be worthwhile. And that, right now, is enough to keep her writing.

Your Creative Work and Your Story

You are a story-teller. Even if you are not a writer, your life tells a story. It is your story. You get to tell it. If you start adding pieces of other people’s story, your plot line will suffer. If you start telling it to please others, and change your story for their approval, your story drifts and disconnects from you.

Poem1Today, while doing a demo of Monsoon Papers, someone asked me if the pieces of paper could be framed as is.

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I see the pieces as colors and textures to use in collage or art journals.” The woman asked if I had any pieces of my artwork made with Monsoon Papers with me. I did. I showed her a piece (not the one shown here). She looked and asked what it meant. I invited her to explore what the image meant to her. She frowned slightly and said, “A good piece of art speaks for itself. And this one needs you to tell me what it means. So there is something incomplete about it.”

What a surprising statement. How can art speak for itself? A realistic drawing might be of something recognizable, but even that leaves a lot open for interpretation.

Good art and good stories do not always speak for themselves. They leave the door open for content (which the artist supplies) and context (which the viewer supplies). Together, the same image can mean something entirely different to several viewers.

I found a great poem by Billy Collins that explains this perfectly:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to water-ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all thy want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins, Sailing Alone Around the Room

–Quinn McDonald realizes how much she has to learn every time she asks someone else to speak and she listens to them.

Creative Stroll: April 26, 2014

Note: Congratulations to Lisa Brown, who is the winner of The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery from my blog post. Send me  (email is on my Work With /Contact Quinn page on this blog) your mailing address and the book will be on its way to you. Enjoy the book!

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Rachel Sussman is a photographer who loves science as it shows up in nature. She photographed the oldest living things on earth (and wrote a book about it), not only so we can see them, but also so we can help keep them alive for a few more years. The book contains 124 photos and 30 essays.

the-oldest-living-things-in-the-world-by-rachel-sussman-5(Above) Llareta, a plant related to parsley. It is made up of thousands of small blossoms packed together.

The ancient organisms she photographs live on all seven continents and range from Greenlandic lichens that grow only one centimeter a century, to desert shrubs in Africa and South America, a predatory fungus in Oregon, Caribbean brain coral, to an 80,000-year-old colony of aspen in Utah.

Kerry-Miller-a-hand-book-to-the-order-lepidoptera-by-w-h-kirby1Kerry Miller is a UK artist who saves discarded books. She carves them and paints them. But these are altered books like you haven’t seen in a long time. In her artist statement, she writes:

I use only old books as they lend themselves to this treatment in a way that modern ones do not and particularly enjoy the fact that I can even make use of books in a condition which most people would dismiss as unusable.

earth-from-space-on-earth-day-2014-nasaAnd finally, a photo of mother earth on Earth Day taken by NASA NOAA’s GOES-East satellite. Take care of your mother, she’s all we have right now.


–Quinn McDonald is finished with the studio upgrade, part 1. Part 2 will start once the futon and paper rack are sold. And she figures out a few things about the third dimension.

Re-visiting Creality

TJ's avatar. That, and her beloved pretzels.

TJ’s avatar. That, and her beloved pretzels.

Note from QuinnCreative:  In 2011, TJ Goerlitz, contributor to the Inner Hero book, guest-hosted a post on creality. I’m a big fan of TJ’s work (and blog, Studio Mailbox). She has a sharp wit and a  wonderful talent in describing the fun and frustrations of being an artist.  Her experience of being an American mother in Germany made coffee come out my nose more than once.  TJ and I have discussed creative topics, and she first used the term “creality” to describe. . .well, here, I’ll let her tell it. Again. Just as she did in 2011.

Before I begin, please let me say that although creality is something I “made up” I’m convinced that it’s very real.   The hardest part of inventing stuff (besides the stereotypical bad hair) is deciding how to define the invention.  Is it a concept?  An affliction?  A tangible thing?

In my initial post on creality I tried to define it although I’m the first to admit it’s a bit rough.  And it focuses only on how I experience creality which tends to be in the negative sense.

zwischenraumThe Germans use the term zwischenraum to literally mean “between space.”   In traditional printing, the little flat spacer that was used between the words in a line of type is also called a “zwischenraum.”

Creality is much like the literal German printer’s zwischenraum except it’s invisible.  Creality is the space that’s sitting between the idea you have in your head and the outcome of whatever you just made while attempting to manifest your idea.

Creality can be experienced in a negative or positive sense.  There are times when your created result exceeds your initial expectations and you might respond to it with terms such as; happy accident, the unfolding process, or better than imagined!

crealitylineIf you’re hardwired like myself however, you might be experiencing creality in a primarily negative sense.  We’re the ones responding to our creations with terms like; dissimilarity or variance.  Which also sometimes masquerades as “I’m so disappointed with this shit.” And in the event that the creality spacer for a particular project just happens to be huge, some might call it a mutation or in other circles an “epic frigging failure.”

For years, I thought two things could be the culprit for my episodes of my negative creality:  either my ideas were too idealistic or my skills were too remedial to achieve my desired result.  Both reasons put the blame on my own shoulders.

Yet over the years I started recognizing the same problem in every creative person I met! And I’m talking about all the creative fields:  actors, writers, cooks, painters.  The only difference being that we express it differently depending on our personalities and our perceptions.

crealitycard1All this might sound super nuts-o.  But I feel it would be helpful to other creatives to simply know about this phenomenon.  I’m willing to bet that very few things have ever been brought to completion exactly as imagined or planned.  And the power of knowing this ahead of time might just really help us not be so attached to the original idea in the first place.

Imagine if from the very beginning we could say to ourselves, “hey look.  I know exactly how I want 70 percent of this to turn out.  So let’s get that right and I’ll cut you some slack on the other 30.”  Wouldn’t that be the better way to start out instead of rigidly attempting to achieve something that isn’t going to hit 100 percent anyway?

*Insert fine print.*  Obviously the dialog above is probably not the best plan if you’re an architect or a heart surgeon.  Clearly we don’t want walls falling over or blood spurting out of our stitches when we sneeze.  What I’m talking about is journaling.  Quilting.  Self portraits.  Photography.  Wedding cakes.  Writing.  The kind of stuff where the consequences of creative liberties aren’t typically death.

Being aware of creality spacers can give you a whole new perspective.  For instance, have you ever taken on commission work where the client didn’t like the outcome despite the fact that you were sure that you created something to specification?  Although it’s possible that your interpretation of their request was way off or that your work in general is total crap, there’s also the possibility that you got yourself all messed up in their creality!  The point is, knowing about creality can help you stop blaming yourself for undesired outcomes.  And c’mon; who doesn’t appreciate something besides ourselves that can take the blame?

Here’s some more thoughts for you:

  • Negative creality is directly proportional to the degree in which you are attached to your original idea.
  • Creality can be especially painful for high achievers, and those who “set the bar high.”And sadly this has nothing to do with actual creative skill.  This has to do with a mentality that if you do not reach “the goal” then you have failed.
  • Creality doesn’t have to be painful or negative.  It can be a positive experience for those who can detach from their original ideas.
  • Creality spacers shrink in size and emotional significance at the same speed as which we forget the original concepts.
  • Thinking of your original idea as a catalyst instead of a rigid plan will help turn a potential negative creality experience into a positive one.

The only way I’ve been successful in handling my negative creality is to separate myself from the work.  And I specifically mean hiding whatever I just made in a spot where I know I won’t re-discover it for a few weeks.  I have never resurrected something and still been disappointed.  In fact, I’m normally really confused why I was so pissed off at it when I made it.

Distance is creality’s enemy!!

You can follow TJ on Facebook.
You can tour TJ’s studio in her blogpost. Hey, she cleaned up just for the post.

–Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who has suffered from Creality and been delighted by its surprises. She re-read this and realized some people may not have seen it. A wonderful re-run and thanks, again, TJ.

Red Barn Discount–till April 30

The studio s a mess. Navigating across the room takes steel-toed workshoes and a good sense of balance. But it is coming together. Two new bookcases flank the window and the desk has been moved. The wobbly, leaning bookcase is now empty and will get taken out tomorrow. Bins will replace the bookcase and hold all the art supplies I need close to the desk. Besides sneezing my brains out from the dust, I’m glad to be making progress, even if it is slow.

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

As I bring order to chaos, I’m day dreaming about Madeline Island. I’ll be teaching Jungle Gym for Monkey Mind the week of June 2, teaching a class that combines writing,  print-making, exploring color and texture, and book making. Best of all, you don’t have to have any experience in those arts to have a successful week.

I dream of the amazing prairie surrounding the farmhouse and studio buildings. The warm, friendly  breakfast where you get to meet the students and instructors and talk about art and writing. Then a day of sinking into a project that you can really explore. Work any time of day or night. Enjoy the food, galleries, and shops the island has to offer, or take the 20-minute ferry ride back to the mainland. Each day in class, we will do a new art journaling technique and a writing exercise. By mid-afternoon you are deep into your own work at your own pace. It’s exciting and relaxing at the same time.

The work tables at last year's class. This year's will be just as filled with papers, colors and idea.

The work tables at last year’s class. This year’s will be just as filled with papers, colors and ideas.

Jenna Erickson at MISA has extended the special and made it even sweeter. I’m still a few people short to make the class, so I’d love to persuade a few more of you who are on the fence about going to take the leap and sign up. I know it’s still cold in a lot of places, but the class is in June, and the closing date is coming up soon.

Jenna came up with the“The Red Barn Special.” This is specifically for my workshop at MISA. It’s simple. Save 30 percent on your on-site lodging reservation and when you register for my workshop by April 30, 2014. Call Jenna Erickson at (715) 747-2054 to ask for details.

April 30 is decision day. I’d love to have you there, and I know you will learn a lot about yourself, your Inner Hero, and art journaling!

–Quinn McDonald hopes to find the floor of the studio sometime tomorrow.



On the Worktable

I’ve been working on a series of collages that are minimal. It’s been fun returning to collage, and the Monsoon Papers that slipped between shelves in the bookcase I’m unpacking have been put to good use. The collages don’t appear completely straight in these images, because the pages are slightly curled.


“Night Falls on the Mesa” (above) is a mix of Monsoon Papers and Gelli Print papers. The saturated color is unusual for me, but I like it.

When I first started making collages, I used nothing but text, numbers and diagrams in black and white. I decided to try that technique again.

collage2“The Ten Percent Truth” is a summary of my fears and doubts about flying. Travel is my way of life right now, and having been in more than one airline accident over a lifetime of travel,  I work hard to appear perfectly calm when on an airplane. Self-discipline practice is not always fun, but making this collage was.

collage1“Give Spiritual Direction” is an exploration of math, science and belief. As in the one above, there is a bit of color in the piece, to lead the eye around the elements, which include pieces from a math book, a clockwork design, and the earth showing different equinoxes. The title of the black-and-white pieces always come from print included in the piece.

These practice pieces are fun and helping me think about the structure of collage. It was David Addix (whose class I took in Tucson) who suggested filling large sketchbooks with collages to improve color and composition skills. It’s a great exercise.

-Quinn McDonald is having fun with collage while struggling with the floating paper tide in the studio.



Altered Imagery: a Giveaway

The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery is a mixed media book explaining techniques for collage, altered books, art journals and more.  The author, Karen Michel, is a New York mixed media artist.

610Au086VWLI’ve had the book in my collection for a while, and it has been a solid source for techniques and inspiration on topics I didn’t know much about: altering photography, digital work, and printmaking techniques. Because of the popularity of art journaling techniques, I thought it was time to pass it on.

The book has sections on various multi-media techniques:

  • Photography, which includes both 35mm photography and Polaroid photography.
  • Altered images working with scanners and printers.
  • Found sources, such as magazines and found objects and working with image transfers.
  • Printed images: using acetate as a negative, using photographic images to creating rubber stamps.
  • Creating monoprints

There’s also a gallery of projects and tips done by contributing artists, including Julianna Coles, Traci Bunkers, Lesley Riley , Michelle Ward and Lynne Perrella.

If you want to add it to your collection, leave a comment. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday’s blog. Be sure to check back on Saturday to see if you won!

-Quinn McDonald is (gulp) is re-doing her studio. The first stage (of three) is just starting. With some luck and hard work, it will look less like an explosion in a paper factory and more like a studio. It will also be a guest room. (That’s the third part).


Non-Attachment: Hard Work, but Worthwhile

Non-attachment seems to be against everything we’ve learned: ambition, competition, beating out the slower contenders, winning, success, and “we’re #1!”

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

Non-attachment sounds lazy, uncaring, and weird. It’s anything but. Non-attachment does not mean you don’t care, won’t try, or give up. Non-attachment means you care deeply, do your best, and then don’t expect the world to throw money (or fame) at you.  A few examples will help with clarity:

You are in line for a new job. You are asked to take some good-fit behavioral tests. Attachment to outcome move: Instead of answering honestly, you suss out what the company is looking for and answer that way. Outcome: you get the job and are miserable, because the job fit is awful and you have to keep re-programming your authentic self.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You answer honestly. If you get the job, you can behave authentically and be appreciated for your skills. If you don’t get the job, you can be glad that you didn’t waste time trying to force yourself into a bad fit.

You want your creative work accepted into an upcoming gallery show.  Attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium, but you are an artist and can do anything.  Outcome: You work very hard and very long to get that theme into a piece of work. You are not chosen. You begin to doubt yourself as an artist. You also start to make snarky comments about the gallery owner.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium. You thank the curator and ask to be kept on their list for future shows. You have free time to pursue your own creative work and have a piece ready for another show at another time.

Someone you know on Facebook posts her latest (in a long series) humble-brag. You call her on that s**t, because you know the truth behind that story. And you tell her what she should have done to earn real praise. Outcome: you look like you are trying to control the universe (again). Worse, your FB friend feels embarrassed, takes your advice next time and it ends in disaster. She blames you.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You take a deep breath, roll your eyes, and congratulate her.

Non-attachment frees you from the responsibility, outcome and control over work that is not yours to do. It allow you to do your best work without blaming yourself if you don’t win the prize. It allows you more emotional room and freedom.

Non-attachment is hard to learn. If you work in a corporate situation (or ever did), it is harder. But the freedom feels wonderful, and is something worth practicing.

–Quinn McDonald wishes she could hit the stride of non-attachment more often.