Copyright Protection or Nothing New in the World

When it comes down to teaching your art, you find yourself in one of two worlds: the kind where you protect your copyright avidly, not handing out how-to sheets for fear of having them stolen or shrugging it off and saying, “everything is derivative anyway. I got my ideas from someplace else, too.”

Those ideas lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, and I’d like to introduce a third idea, maybe a fourth.

First, let me admit I’ve lived at both ends of the spectrum. I was not happy when a fellow artist came into my booth, years ago, took photos of my work, claiming it was because she “loved my display,” then rolled out a line of stunningly similar artwork the next season, priced just below mine.

Nor was I happy when I was in a class on a topic I’d taught often, and was hoping to get out of a rut, and was handed a how-to sheet that looked stunningly familiar. It was familiar, in fact, it was my handout, complete with copyright on the bottom line, photocopied for the entire class.

At some point I decided that everything I taught, every article I published should be something I had already taught to exhaustion, or I was ready to give up. But part of the fun of teaching is getting inspired by students. Would I have to give it up?

Now, I am careful to copyright my work. I send it to the copyright office once a quarter, with payment. That allows me to sue for damages for violators. But I also don’t want to be the copyright police. And I want to promote innovation and creativity. If I do not want anyone to know what I’m working on, I don’t post it anyplace. Or talk about it.

People will always explore, and people will always use what they find. Gracious people ask, kind people give credit. But if you teach, no one can teach the way you do. Your personality combined with your skill and talent make your class. And people will come to your class because you are welcoming and a good teacher. No one can take that from you.

-Quinn McDonald teaches what she knows.


Work in Progress–Acacia Tree

In the Australian desert, in a climate like the one around Phoenix, the Acacia tree is called a wattle. The leaves form a distinctive flat, triangular shape, and the branches are often twisted and multi-branched.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAcacias give us gum arabic,  used as a stabilizer in food and as a binder in watercolor paint.

Acacias don’t live long–15 to 30 years, but they grow fast. There are many varieties, all with different colored flowers–red, white, yellow. In the desert, trees form their seed pods in June and July, rather than fall. July and August are a kind of stasis–just hanging on to stay alive till it gets cooler in fall.

The acacia is the subject of my latest letter collage.

treeIn this one, I added a sun to give another dimension to the tree. While the sun itself is orange and red, all the light surrounding it is cut into triangle shapes. I used pages from a children’s book for the printed color.

acaciadetailIn the detail, you can see that there are sentences about trees that create the trunk and branches. My intention is to get people to see the whole tree, then stay a while longer and look for the detail.

-Quinn McDonald is working on minimalist collage. She’ll be teaching Monsoon Papers (useful as a base for collage) at Blue Twig studio in Colorado Spring on July 19.



Creative Hop: June 27, 2014

The best street art uses the existing environment and light to enhance the art. Oakoak, a French artist, makes the most of the environment in which he places his art.

Street art © by Oakoak

Street art © by Oakoak

In “Heart Art” Oakoak used the existing art and paint smear to create context for his golfer.

Cyclops © by Oakoak

Cyclops © by Oakoak

In this piece, the super-hero depends on the time of day and time of year. When the sun slants through the gap between two houses, the super-hero shows his power by beaming a ray of light across the street.

German street artist 1010 creates two-dimensional art that looks like 3D portals into space.

Portal © 1010

Portal © 1010

The painting above is on a wall. It’s painted to look as if it had depth.

Beyond Binary © by 1010

Beyond Binary © by 1010

In this article, the portal is in a brick wall. The magazine is VNA’s  (Very Nearly Art) street art issue.

© Agustina Woodgate, rug.

© Agustina Woodgate, rug.

Agustina Woodgate, originally from Buenos Aires (Argentina) now lives in Miami. She  believes in the non-Western cultural idea that handmade rugs depict the dream world or spiritual world in hand-woven art.

As raw material, Woodgate  uses the “skins” of abandoned stuffed animals, specifically teddy bears. She explains:

It was simply an object. But I also didn’t want to throw it away. That’s when I decided wanted to do something with the bear. In the beginning of the process, I had no idea what was going to happen. I went to a thrift store, got another bear, and started playing around. I looked at all the components that make up a stuffed animal: the stuffing, the fabric, the stitching. I wanted to approach an everyday object in the hopes of making something new.

Enjoy these artistic explorations and have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald is a writer who is involved in collage this weekend.

The Power of String

My brother writes from Switzerland, where he lives. Occasionally, he writes of amazingly elegant and simple solutions that I think of as typically Swiss. It’s a wonderful awareness of different problem-solving adaptations in different cultures. Here is the story:

“I was coming home [riding a bicycle] on a paved, two-lane-wide road without lane markers, common around here. I saw a road sign that signaled ‘cow crossing,’ but it was in an odd place and beat-up looking. I mistakenly assumed it had been left there by accident until I came upon the cows blocking the road and coming toward me.

I’ve mentioned before that the Swiss stake out fields that have been turned into pastures by putting frail poles strung with a single thread of electrified fence. The cows could easily walk through, but because
of the shock, won’t. Thus, when farmers herd them down a street, they block of side streets with string, and the cows, mistaking it for electric fence, respect that.

valais_fightingcows_4_060508Well, this herd was being herded down the street with string. The shoulder of the road was lined with electric fence. The farmer and his wife carried some string perpendicular to the road and to the fence
lining it. The farmer formed the corner, and his children and a farm worker brought up the rear, shaping the line of string into a rectangle. The cows carefully stayed within it as the group walked down the street toward the barn.

As they saw me coming, they narrowed the rectangle, freeing one lane for traffic, and I, and then one or two cars, passed through. The cows carefully stayed within the string.”

A perfect example of elegant problem solving!

Quinn McDonald loves innovation and ingenuity.

Left-Hand, Right Brain

George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and  Barak Obama have something in common. And they share the trait with Alexander the Great, Helen Keller, Napoleon Bonaparte, Paul Klee and Whoopie Goldberg. All are left-handed.  About 10 percent of the general population is, give or take 3 percent, depending on the study you check.

Most of us left-handers have some degree of ambidexterity, and some people (full disclosure: I’m one of these) write right-handed. Our group is generally a bit older, and would have been left-handed writers, but were changed in school.

Two custom-made left-hand pendants Here’s a tip to tell if you are classified as left-handed: what hand do you brush your teeth with? How about comb your hair? (That was for men, for women, the question is more often, “What hand holds the hair dryer?) Other, more private functions, can also determine if you are left- or right-handed.

What made you left handed? It happened in the womb. LRRTM1 is the gene thought to be responsible, but there is even more involved. According to neurologist Norman Geschwind (for whom the theory is named), some women have higher testosterone levels in the womb, whether or not they have girls or boys. (Want to check if your mom did? Look at your second toe, the one next to the big toe. If it is equal in length (or longer) than the big toe, your mom had higher testosterone levels while she was pregnant, and you are probably left-handed.

How does that work? According to Geschwind’s research, the testosterone levels suppress the growth of the left side of the brain, and the ambitious neurons go over to the right brain and do their growing over there. The more developed right side of the brain, which controls language skills, also controls hand-preference.

The dominant right side can also make you susceptible to dyslexia, stuttering, and some auto-immune diseases. Before I go on, please note that not all of these will happen to you, and you can be firmly right-handed and have that longer toe. These are based on huge samples across demographic lines.

Left-handers are generally more adaptable, because they have to get used to living in a right-handed world. Problem-solving skills are higher among creative people than the general population, and it might come from trying to figure things out.

A few companies have created tools for left-handers. For years, scissors that violinclaimed to be for left-handers, simply reversed the grips, making left-handers “cut blind”, in other words, the part of the scissors that did the work was still on the original side, and you couldn’t see the part you were cutting. Friskars actually reverses the blade, and I’m grateful to them for thinking this through. Here’s the link for purchasing the scissors.

If you are left-handed, there are resources for you. If you are a right-handed parent of a left-handed child, there are also resources for you.

–Quinn McDonald is left-handed and writes right-handed. Determined nuns were stronger than her persistence. However, she writes left-handed when she uses a whiteboard or a flip chart.

Procrastinating on Your Way to Your Dream

Yesterday I talked about re-examining the rules you make. To see if they still work. To see if you have outgrown them. Rules we make for ourselves are one way we stall on our way to reaching our dream.

If your dream is still dancing beyond your fingertips, if you have stalled on the way to getting your dream, maybe it’s time to take ask if you are procrastinating.  If you are a perfectionist, you are probably a procrastinator.  It’s keeping you from getting to your dream. Because you want the dream to be perfect before the new, perfect you seizes that perfect dream. Oh, and at the perfect time, too.  Psssst. . . that’s never going to happen.

So put some traction in your action and grab that imperfect dream, because, after all, it is your dream and doesn’t have to be perfect.

Stop planning, stop talking to people about planning, and take one step toward your dream. Most of us spend too much time making up plans, planning for what could go wrong and then watching as problems surface and things do go wrong. Of course they do, when we keep looking for things to go wrong, we’ll find enough to barricade the dream. Time to take a lyric from Jackson Browne: “Better bring your own redemption when you come/ To the barricades of heaven where I’m from.”

Listen to your heart.

Listen to your heart.

Here’s the biggest thing I learned while I was re-creating my relationship with food: logic is wonderful. If you live in your head, logic sounds like real life. But until you bring emotion into it, you won’t act. Logic lays out the plan, but emotion fuels the action.

The worst emotion you can bring in is fear. It might be an emotion you know well, but it’s not inspiring. Bring in doing a small thing right. Bring in making small steps. Bring in congratulating yourself over small things. Look back and see how far you’ve come. Toward that beat up, crumpled, beloved dream that you are now clutching to your heart.

Update on Is It A Book: I’ve turned in a table of contents, I’ve turned in my sample pages. Right now the acquisitions editor is on vacation. It may be next week till the negotiations are done. I’m grateful to have a smart agent.

–Quinn McDonald is practicing patience as she waits. She horrible at it.



Creative Boost #623: Re-Think the Old Rules

Rules usually come from pretty good experiences and reasons. But as good as the reasons are, life changes and shifts. It’s good to consider change from time to time. Oh, sure, you’ll be met with “We’ve always done it this way,” and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”

sunriseHere’s a real-life example. I have three different walking routes: a winter one, a summer one, and a really long one (reserved for cooler days when I have enough time.) I’ve been walking the winter route, even though it’s June. I’ve gotten used to it, and a few times I wonder why I’m not walking the “summer” route. But I’m so used to the winter one, I just kept on walking.

The other day, my walk started just at dawn. For half the walk, I was facing into the sun. On the part that has me walking North, my face cooked on my right side. (Yes I wear sunscreen. It’s still hot, and the hat is not big enough to provide shade). On the second half, which is unshaded, the sun cooked my back. In 0622002041winter, on that same route, when the sun rises later, I don’t get the sun in my face, but it warms my back.

So, tomorrow, it’s the return to the summer route. My back will be to the sun for the first half, a tall line of trees for the cross section, and the sun high enough so a slightly tilted brim shields my face on the home stretch.

Here is how we make and use rules:

1. We study the problem with the way things are now.

2. We make rules to solve the problem.

3. Time happens, things change, we still use the old rules.

Every now and then, when you are used to the rules, think about why they were made. It’s good to question them, and just as good to change them when they need changing.

This is particularly true about ideas we have about success, goals, careers, and the definition of happiness.

–Quinn McDonald loves change, but not for change’s sake.



Summer Classes

Summer is a wonderful time to take classes. Even with kids out of school, there are fewer stresses in life, and the urge to create is strong.

I’m teaching two classes this summer, and would like to see you at either one.

July 19, 2014. Blue Twig Studio, Colorado Springs.

Monsoon Papers: Ink, Water, Words.

You’ll create two sheets of Monsoon Papers, then use them to build an accordion folder or a stitched pamphlet (your choice) of pockets, fold-outs, faux stitching,FolderInside-300x169 and scraps of wisdom—small designed pieces of paper on which you’ll write favorite quotes–and tuck into place. You can also add quotes directly on the folder or flaps. At the end of the day you will have a journal packed with quotes and cleverly designed, tucked-away notes!

When: July 19, 2014

Time: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monsoon Papers

Monsoon Papers

Where: Blue Twig Studio Classes   5039 N. Academy Blvd. Colorado Spring, CO 80918

Register: At Blue Twig Shop website or call 719-266-1866.

Blue Twig Studio will send you a supply list. If you do not receive one, please contact me at QuinnCreative AT Yahoo DOT com

August 9, 2014 Frenzy Stamper, Scottsdale, AZ

Easy Does It: The Shipping Tag Journal

Date: August 9 (Saturday) 2014

Time: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Location: Frenzy Stamper. 7064 E 5th Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

To register: Call Frenzy Stamper (480) 946-0007

Supply list: Frenzy Stamper will supply a list. Or, contact me at QuinnCreative AT yahoo DOT com


tagbookDescription: Create a useful, flexible journal using shipping tags. How flexible? It can be a travel journal or mail art. Postcards or bookmarks. Create separate tags and then sort them by date, by color, by theme.

You’ll spend the morning learning techniques to use with the shipping tags–painting, collage, choosing a theme, using ephemera you have. Knowing what to keep and what to discard.

During the afternoon, you’ll make as many pages as you want. You’ll do some writing exercises and have fun creating new ways of exploring journaling.

You’ll create some mail art for yourself and for others, and when you leave, you’ll have learned a new way to journal that is so flexible, fun, and fast you will never be without shipping tags again!

–Quinn McDonald is an outsider artist and a certified creativity coach. She is teaching only two classes this summer, and would love to meet you at one of them.

Fulfilling the Promise

She was the smallest cat in the pound–found in winter, in D.C., feral and exhausted. I’d stopped by the animal shelter because I was on that side of town, but I didn’t know it was deadline day. Cats that were not up for adoption were euthanized on Tuesdays.


Aretha at five years old.

The shelter worker said placing a black cat needed a previous home inspection–too many people abused black cats. The cat was feral and would never make a good pet. Too much time outside. She was reluctant to schedule a home visit—the paperwork to have this one put down was complete. Still, the adoption wrangled its way through.

When I brought her over the threshold, I made her the promise that I had made all my cats: “I will spoil you and love you and care for you until the day the quality of your life declines. I will not prolong your life to avoid my own suffering.” She bolted behind the bookcase and remained there for more than a week, coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. We abandoned the shelter name “Raven” as not right for her, and named her “Aretha,” after Aretha Franklin. She demanded some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

For a feral cat, she adapted to home life quickly. Regular food, warm laps, and a bed changed her mind about going out. She was never interested in the door again. She retained odd habits–given a whole bed, she would lie on the hanger left on the edge of the bed or a plastic bag that hadn’t been recycled yet. She slept in the sink when it was hot. She would not wear a collar.


Aretha earlier this month, enjoying catnip and sporting white whiskers.

She’d take a moth down with lightning speed and accuracy. She was a heat-seeker and followed sun patches around not matter where they were–on tables, chairs or floors. Once we moved to Arizona, she loved lying outside until she panted. I’d have to carry her inside for fear of heat stroke. No lizard was safe in our yard. She’d pluck off their tails and play with the squirmy part, leaving the lizard to run off and grow a new tail.

At 14 she developed arthritis, and limped in the morning. We were quite the pair, right out of bed. At 15, her whiskers began to turn white, one at a time, until she had four.

Today, the promise I made to her 16 years ago had to be fulfilled. I was teaching, so Cooking Man took her to the vet because the medicine didn’t work and she was in pain. I was hoping to see her again when I came home, but she was gone already. I am struggling to believe it was the best thing for her, if not for me.

I wish for Aretha a re-birth into another cycle of life. I will miss her sorely in this one.

Quinn McDonald was owned by Aretha. She has two other cats.





The Power of Blank Space

White space. If it’s not in your life you will feel crowded, hemmed in. What is white space? If you’ve ever planned design work, you consider both the space where there are words and images (message space) and the space that is empty–called “white space.”

White space is important. Too much copy and illustration, and the busy page exhausts you. You can’t read any of it. Too little white space and you feel lost and disconnected, not sure you understand what you are looking at.

If you know this already, you might explore “passive white space”–margins and spaces between paragraphs, and “active” white space, the space purposely designed to give your eyes and mind a rest.

whitespaceexample_no2-1If you are interested in how to use white space in design, read Larisa Thomason’s excellent article “The Use of White Space.” The image on the left is from that article.

So yesterday, when I was having a  terrible, no-good, horrible, really bad day (Judith Viorst knows about those days). I felt jammed up by 6 a.m., when I had a competitive assignment to hand in before I left for a teaching assignment.

I made some choices that changed the day. Here’s how I did it:

1. I stopped doing my work. Put the phone down, signed out of email. I needed to distance myself and my frustration.

2. I took a break. I got a glass of ice coffee, looked out the window  and did some deep breathing

3. I re-set priorities. This is the hard part. I had to call clients, work on projects, solve some problems. But I knew if I forced myself ahead with the considerable self-discipline I am capable of, I would do more damage than good. I’d make mistakes because I was frustrated; I’d miss correcting those mistakes because I was rushed. I’d create more mistakes and less forward motion.

4. I added white space to my day. I cut out some items I thought I had to do. I added a few administrative tasks that were more noodly, didn’t require a lot of brain power, but needed to be done. I added a half-hour of reading a magazine between tasks. Another spot of white space. I ran some errands. At the end of the day, I had accomplished some necessary items, hadn’t ruined client relationships and felt less harassed and frustrated.  I need to be clear here: I chose not to do some important things because the risk of doing them and failing was more probable than being able to push through them successfully. Yes, I put off the thing that has to be done, in order to save it. It is a hard decision to make, and exactly why adding white space is a life saver.

I now have a name for deliberately putting off work because I am emotionally incapable of doing it. This is very different from avoiding work, creating excuses, or not meeting a deadline because you didn’t get up early enough. You know the difference. My day was saved and ended well because I added emotional white space.

—Quinn McDonald  occasionally has to fight to nurture her ability to get work done.