Saturday Creative Ramble Jan 31, 2015

Art doesn’t always have to hang on the wall or be a museum installation. There are a lot of practical artists who make art that you can use in everyday life. Swedish designer Gabriel Sarkijarvi, created an Illusion Chair. The slats of the chair, from some angles, look like a chair back. From another angle, you can see the shape of a face.

Illusion_Chair_Gabriel_Sarkijarvi2-600x900-565x847He carves the chair by pixilating the image, transferring it to slats of wood, then translating the final image into birch chairs.

Here’s the chair from an angle–the image still shows because it is three dimensional.  Imagine the heirloom value!


While thinking about chairs, you can change your room by customizing the wallpaper. This design, by ZNAK,  (via Design Milk) consists of pieces you can remove–as many or as few as you want, creating constantly changing designs all over your house.


What would it look like in two patterns in a dining room? Like this:


Forget what you need to do as soon as you leave? These new post-it notes will help you. No, not by reminding you about the hole in your memory. . .

12632_switch-note-product-on-black-565x485. . . but by helping you. Put these notes on your switchplate by the door and you’ll have a great memory boost whether you are coming or going.


You could get used to these clever inventions made by Switch Notes by suck uk stationary store.

26449_sk-umbrella2The company also makes an incredible clever travel journal , skyline gift wrap (your wrapped gifts look like a city, no one would blame you for using it in collage) and an umbrella that changes color when it gets wet. You’ll be waiting for rain!

Want to see an island in the making? Here’s a clip of lava dripping into the ocean off the coast of Hawaii. Lava is molten rock. I wonder how much it heats up the ocean right around it.

Have a creative weekend!

Disclosure: I found these interesting items while doing important internet research avoiding doing my taxes. I am not paid by anyone or make any money from these items.

Quinn McDonald loves the jump from creative idea to useful product.


The Elusive Fresh Idea

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

Fog in the Grand Canyon.

Lately, I’ve been sitting down at 10 p.m to write the blog and a soft white fog drifts over my brain. The more I run through the fog to find a sturdy idea, the thicker the fog gets.  The more elusive the good idea.

Maybe getting up early to take care of the cats has shifted my creative time to a different time slot.

And like all changes, it took me a while to figure it out. I would often sit, as most writers will, staring at the screen trying to generate ideas that become suddenly slippery and elusive. Like a fish you can’t quite land in the boat.

Of course, when I am writing other things, the ideas leap out of the water and Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 6.34.16 PMgrin at me. When I am pinning down one idea, a hundred others flash across my peripheral vision and slide back into the dark.

This morning I tried something new. Writing a workbook for a client, I had an idea for the blog. Normally, I will think, “that’s a great idea, I’ll use it later.” But when I rummage around my short-term memory for the exact idea, it’s not there. There are scattered prayer cores and rinds of old, used-up ideas. There are a few bones of earlier ideas, some with meat still on them. But not blog-meat. Workbook meat. Slim pickings for the blog.

I turned back to the workbook. Then had a new idea. I opened the blog to “new



post” and then turned back to the workbook. The next idea spark that flashed across the dark sky of my imagination, I clicked over to the blog and jotted down the idea, gave it a title that would remind me what the idea was, saved it as a draft and went back to the workbook. Idea saved.

When the blog needs writing, I can pick from an idea I like and write it up. Of course I could use the idea recorder on my phone, or use the to-do list that’s next to the computer, but clicking over to another screen and capturing an idea is both fast and there when I need it.

It also works for  saving other ideas, too.  Instead of a blog, you can have a notepage open. Then when the title for your next book streaks across your mind, or that great reply you should have said to that remark at lunch, write them down.

What? A clever reply to a reply from hours ago? Sure. It makes great dialogue in your next story.

–Quinn McDonald writes what she thinks.

Facing Down Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions on how to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be fair. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make up what you think something means, ask. Listen.

"Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly." © Quinn McDonald 2005

“Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly.” © Quinn McDonald 2005

Then came the giant one: No fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired.

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table as a motive, your life looks different.

So this week, I made two huge choices that would normally strike fear into me. First, I hired a consultative comptroller–someone who can tell me which line of business is most profitable, and how I’m progressing month to month and year to year. I’m bad about keeping track of expenses, and this business consultant already pointed out two big truths that I have not wanted to consider.

The second decision was to hire a real ad agency to build a website that makes sense for my business. Right now I have a placeholder website and that’s not enough.

In other words, I have decided that growth is something I want to choose. I want to expand the business training I do. I want to do coaching programs. I am amazed that after all the talking I do about the Inner Critic, I have not only been listening to mine, but backing away from playing big. Yep, I have been deliberately playing small because it became my comfort zone.

I was doing too many things to pay attention to any one of them. So I cut back to what I do best: helping people get better at what they like to do. For me that means writing, teaching writing, and coaching people who want to have the life they wish they could deserve.

The whole plan is big and bold and oddly, scary. That means I have to trust that I can do this, write the check to get the process started and leap. It’s what I talk about–being bold. I’m telling you, because you are coming along with me–I’m starting to walk this talk. Stay tuned for late-breaking developments.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches what she does.

Give Away Your Work? It Can Work

If you are a freelance writer, artist or have a talent, offer a service or product, you will be asked to give it away for free. Often it comes with the promise of “getting your name out—good marketing.” I’ve talked about avoiding false marketing schemes, but today the issue is different.

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

Giving away your product or service can be a gift to you, or. . .

A good way to get your services, company’s name or your own name in front of people is to donate your product or services in a way that it will get seen by your target audience. The key is, as always, the right audience. Let’s assume you are fielding requests from several good organizations, all with your target audience.

The request involves both your time and materials, which have a value. They also require time and effort, which has a financial worth–part of the price. (Price and value are two completely different things.)

How much should you give away? How much free time is too much to give away?

1. Treat the request as a real job. Never give away something sloppy because you aren’t charging for it. If you are contributing, it represents you, so it has to be your best. Many requests will try to make the request look smaller by saying “just send anything.” Don’t do that. What you send represents you to your potential audience. Send your best.

2. Limit your time and costs. Not by being fast or sloppy, but through smart

. . . or a load of garbage.

. . . or a load of garbage.

time management. Instead of starting from scratch, re-write a good article for this specific audience. Make new art, but not with a new technique. Create something you already know how to make, but in a new color.

3. Know when to say ‘no.’ Ask about the deadline before you agree. Most requests for “free” also come with tight deadlines. Don’t be afraid to turn down a request if the deadline doesn’t work for you. Know your limit for “free.” A good rule of thumb is between 5 percent and 10 percent of your non-committed time in any quarter. That figure includes all charitable work–from volunteering to producing. And count in all of your production–planning, buying materials, production.  (Check with your tax person about how much of these donations are tax deductible. It’s much less than you think–your time isn’t tax deductible in most cases.)

4. Plan out the project. Let’s say you offer to write an 800 word article. Use your calendar to block out the time for research, writing, re-writing, proofreading, as if it were a real assignment. The entire block of time is now not available for any other charity work. Putting it in your calendar is a handy reminder to do the work, but also a good reminder that you can’t do any more volunteer work at the same time.

5. Understand your motivation and stick to it. Most of us get in trouble because we want to be nice, friendly, helpful and loved. So we don’t say ‘no.’ We say ‘yes,’ become resentful, rushed, and do a bad job. And inadvertently become not-nice, cranky, a problem and hated. The opposite of what we wanted in the first place. You cannot accept work to be loved if you don’t have time to be loved.

6. Know how to say ‘no.’ Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be a rejection of the person who asked.  Here are some ways to say no that are both clear and kind–and that’s the real key to turning down an offer. Be clear and kind.

Say ‘no’ to now, but offer a time that’s realistic for you. “Thank you for asking for an article, Mary, I’m honored you want me to be a guest blogger. I’m booked up for the next two weeks, so tomorrow doesn’t work for me. I could get you something in three weeks from Thursday. Would that work for you?”

–Say ‘no’ because you have booked up all your volunteer time. This shows you are already loved and booked. “Thanks for asking, Mary, but Carlos asked me last week, so my volunteer time for March is already booked. I’m honored you asked.” Delivered with a smile, this feels good and is clear.

Point to another source. This will make you a valuable resource and not cost you future work. “Thanks for the offer, Mary, normally I’d jump at the chance. I’m booked right now, but you might want to ask Haji. He’d be great for your project.”

Free work, handled like real work, can be a good marketing idea. Or it can be the project from hell. Either way, it’s yours to accept or turn down. Don’t create your own hell, I learned that lesson the very publicly embarrassing way.

—Quinn McDonald learns by failing spectacularly. Then she shares with her readers.

Images: Giftbox from, garbage truck from

Words Worth Dumping

I’ve never been a fan of business jargon–paradigm shift, take it to another level, gold standard. Almost all business jargon words take a simple word (in the above case: change, improve, and best) and make it more complicated and confusing. The only reason to do that is if the speaker doesn’t really want to be clear.

Business jargon will always be used, and I’ll always be looking for shorter, better words. I’m tired of “wheelhouse,” which means within your area of expertise or interest, as in, “I’m assigning you to the marketing team because the Acme Dynamite account put marketing in your wheelhouse.” Except it doesn’t really distinguish between expertise and interest, and that distance can be pretty hefty.

Instead of “wheelhouse,” let’s get back to what it means, and use either “expertise” or “skill.” Simple and no one thinks you are the ancient mariner or Captain Ahab.

But there are two phrases that have come into casual language–the language we use with our friends. In today’s world, that means at work, too, because our friends are now those we compete with and see every day at work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.48.52 PM“Bitch slap” is an open-handed slap to someone (admittedly, male or female) who is whining. It also means that the person who gets slapped can’t take a “real, manly punch.” The whole thing is abhorrent. Because it also implies that if your woman is a bitch, she needs to be slapped. This happens a lot in movies, and it’s not just recent. It shows that men are always in charge, need to control their women, and if the women steps out of line, well, then, she deserves a little slapping around. It’s not funny, and it teaches a whole boatload of bad ideas.

“Resting Bitch Face” (also called Bitchy Resting Face) is another term that was started to explain the look of aging women–the mouth that isn’t in a perpetual smile, but one with corners that turn down. Everyone who is over 40 knows that sooner or later, gravity wins. If you also have the two lines between your eyebrows, it gets worse. There was even a pretend PSA (Public Service Announcement) that set the phones of plastic surgeons ringing.

The idea is that women always need to look nice, pleasant, smiling, sexy. I don’t know a single person, male or female, who can maintain that. But I’ve not heard of the male equivalent.

This isn’t about political correctness, this is about two terms that de-value women based on the fact that they are women. Our culture runs on language, and when we use language that demeans a segment of our culture, it changes opinions of how those people should be treated. Not every woman is beautiful, and most women who are lucky to live long lives have that life written on their faces. it doesn’t make them bitches. The thing that bothers me the most is that the terms (when I hear them) are most often used by women.

–Quinn McDonald is fierce, but she’s no bitch.

First-World Problems

When I couldn’t think of a solution to a problem I had, I posted the problem on Facebook. I knew I’d get interesting, odd, weird, smart, funny, and wise answers. It wasn’t a big problem, but I wanted to get out of my own head, so Facebook seemed like a good crowdsourcing solution. Other people’s perspectives can really wake you up.

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 11.18.15 AMAnd one of them did. “No disrespect, but ‘first-world problem’,” he wrote. My eyes rolled. Whenever someone says, “No disrespect” it means, “I’m about to be deliberately disrespectful, but  because I said ‘no disrespect’ first,  you  should suck up whatever I dish out, and if you do get angry, I can accuse you of not having a sense of humor.”  Sort of like “Bless your heart,” or the little winky-face emoji. That kind of passive-aggressive behavior never sits well with me.

I first heard the term about three years ago and at first thought it was funny. There are so many things to be grateful for in a normal life. Small problems plus drama creates big problems. But even small problems need to be solved, and often throwing money at it is not an option, so the solution demands time, effort, money, or luck that you don’t have. Generally at exactly the time you don’t have an excess of what you need.

I might as well say to someone who is stuck in a snowstorm, “non-desert problem. If you lived here, you wouldn’t have that problem.”

Lovely stream next to a nice greenway. Except, it's a sewage canal.

Lovely stream next to a nice greenway. Except, it’s a sewage canal.

We live in the first world. Inconveniences cost time and money, both of which can send a ripple into our lives. Our problems are our problems, it doesn’t matter which world owns them, we live in a certain time and place, and it doesn’t matter that the problem is first, second, or third world. It’s still a problem that requires a solution or, worse, several solutions involving cooperation.

Here’s an example: I dropped a tube of lipstick, which falls into the open toilet. The lipstick tube in the toilet couldn’t be pulled out by hand, and I don’t have a snake, so I had to call a first-world plumber and not use the toilet, which created a third-world living condition.

When someone did use the toilet, it flooded, pouring sewage on my floor, soaking into the bath mat. So, sewage in the house: third-world problem. Plumber who cost $125, first-world problem. Someone who had to stay home and wait for the plumber: another first-world problem. Fouled bath mat: lucky I have a washer and dryer, so, second-world solution.

I washed the mat and hung it outside to dry–nice third-world solution. Then aScreen Shot 2015-01-24 at 12.26.49 PM bird pooped on it, but that’s a third-world problem again, so I washed it again, wasting first-world water and first world-time. Birds poop in all worlds.

Dizzy yet? Me, too. Saying “first world problem” has nothing to do with the size of the problem. What it really means is, “this is trivial to me, and you should not let this bother you at all.” Who gets to judge that? One person’s inconvenience is another’s big deal.

And who are we to think first-world problems, the ones that are solved by first-world solutions, are trivial?  First-world conveniences, for which I am hugely grateful, and would not want to live without, include shots so you don’t get shingles, smallpox or polio. Electricity, central heat and cooling, paved roads, a system that brings food to my grocery store, mail to my door, and the internet to my computer. And yet each of those solutions has inherent problems of waste, pollution and costs. First-world problems.

Calling the plumber, and tossing the stinky mats into the washer cost me time and required me to change my outfit, which got sewage dripped on it. The change made me run into heavier traffic, and arrive late to a teaching gig, to face an unhappy client, who fired me. (This actually happened. One of those “no excuses, take responsibility, you should have gotten up half an hour earlier in case you dropped your lipstick in the toilet and had to call a plumber and got sewage on your jacket” clients.) Still trivial? Only if I don’t care about the money. Or if have lots of clients to replace the one I lost.

We live in the first world. We all have first-world problems. Perhaps we should be grateful for them, and glad we manage to get enough food on the table. Losing that client made a significant difference in my income for several months. No, I did not starve. But the ripples were worth more than a shrug.

At first I, too, thought “first-world problem” was clever. A way to remind people how lucky they are. But after thinking it over, I’m not going to use it again, not to describe someone else’s problems. Because you don’t know what world they are in at the moment.

-Quinn McDonald lives in the first world with all-world problems.

Interesting Art from Interesting Artists

On Saturday, it seems right to take a look at unusual art from people who like to make art, opinion be damned.

Ignacio Canales Aracil makes hollow vessels out of dried flowers.


*     *     *     *

Richard Sweeney makes paper sculptures. Amazing ones.

Richard-Sweeney_05*    *     *    *   *

Graffiti artist Odeith creates art that looks three-dimensional, but isn’t.

odeith-anamorphic-3d-graffiti-letters-pink-and-green-fluor-lights-lisboa-portugal*     *     *    *

Another three-dimensional artist, Pejac, creates murals on walls. They look like, but have, no depth.


Here’s another Pejac artwork that looks like a poster, but is flat art.


Have a creative weekend!

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach.


Sticking to Your Idea

Yesterday, I talked about working with what works for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your work, if you are making meaning in your life, if you are finding inspiration and growth,  you are on the right track. For you.

A few people asked me to prove my point by giving an example. Gladly.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

Museum installation using styrofoam cups. © Tara Donovan.

The art on this page was done by Tara Donovan.  She works in plastic straws, Styrofoam cups, coffee filters, and steel pins. She tended bar and waited tables for six years while working on her art. She heard people laugh and suggest “real” art work. Maybe event a “real” job. But she didn’t do that.

You may know the feeling. You are working out an idea–on a book, a painting, a textile piece of creative work, and you begin to doubt yourself. “Who will ever think this is worthwhile?” you think. Maybe a friend or relative looks at your work and sighs. “Do you really think this is art?” they ask. And you begin to doubt yourself. Your work. Your life choices..

Most artists go through this, and many cave when faced with serious criticism or doubt. They move to something more acceptable. More popular. More understandable.

The artists who inspire me the most, who give me the biggest soul boost, are the

Tara Donovan's installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

Tara Donovan’s installation using plastic straws. © Tara Donovan.

ones who stick with their work and perfect it. They let the criticism and doubt stay with the person who feels it–while the artist sticks with the creative work.

Tara Donovan graduated from the Corcoran School of Art in 1991, got a MFA from Virginia Commonwealth in 1999 and kept her day job till 2003, when she had her first solo show at the Ace Gallery. In 2008 she got a MacArthur Fellowship, often called a Genius Grant. And she still works with pins, straws and cups.

I find this dedication and constantly renewed creative energy incredibly inspiring. She knew what she wanted and she kept working at it. How many times do you think she heard jokes about tending bar and stealing straws? And she kept going. All the way to that Genius Grant and beyond.

It’s a good story to remember when you begin to question yourself.
See more of Tara’s work.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.

Focusing on What’s Important

If you own your business or are starting up a business, you need a plan. Not a formal business plan (unless you are planning on forming a partnership or need to borrow money from a bank). But you do need a plan. A plan that uses your skills and what is important to you. Normally, I call what is important to you, “values,” and what I mean by that is heart. Your power to run or improve a business depends on your strength of heart.

Heart is talent. It’s what you believe in. It’s what you are good at and don’t mind putting in long hours to improve.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.54.37 PMThe biggest mistake you can make is get distracted. Decide that someone else is stronger, better, or smarter than you and follow them. Hope their light shines on you. Ask them to include you in their plan. Think they will mentor you.

Successful people have plans. They keep their eyes on working on their plan, making choices that benefit their plan. That is what you should be doing, too.

The American businessman Jim Rohn said it wonderfully: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

Of course you can ask for help, advice, or suggestions. But tend your own plan. Know what it is. Watch your business decisions to keep them filled with your heart. That’s where your power is. That’s where your strength is. That is how you will build a business that is all yours and clear to you.

-Quinn McDonald owns her own business and helps others work on their plans.


Non-Attachment to the Outcome

If my creativity coaching clients had to choose their least-favorite task, it would be completing an application for a juried art show or submitting a grant proposal.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.30.03 PMThe application for a juried show includes the dreaded image-selection process, a choice that either will make judges smile and say “Yes!’ or push an application into the rejection stack. Artists rarely know exactly what the jury is looking for. Often the jury’s background isn’t released in the application, so some of the jurors may not understand the descriptions carefully crafted by the submitting artist.

It feels a lot like running across a rope bridge, blindfolded. In the rain.

Writers have the same struggle with grant applications. If the application has stringent rules, the writer has to second-guess what the review committee means  when the instructions are unclear or use jargon. Recently, I helped an applicant figure out that “disruptive practices” is now the buzzword for creativity.

The language is just one hurdle. The instructions for submitting the application is often confusing and complicated with no additional, simplifying help.

It becomes really easy for an applicant to second-guess choices, to put out work that is safe and popular instead of innovative.

All that is just the beginning. The part that comes next is the most difficult part: waiting for the reply.

If you are a normal human being, you will begin to worry, then doubt yourself, then think you surely submitted the best work, then be absolutely certain that you are not worthy of any consideration. All in one coaching call.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.31.43 PM

Crown used at coronation for the monarch of Denmark.

Worse still is believing that the choice of the jury or review team is a reflection of your artistic talent. A rejection does not mean you are a talentless slug who should be banished to a life of assembling watercolor brushes by hand, bristle by bristle. An acceptance does not mean you are the shining star of your field, and get to wear the crown of fabulousness.

A rejection is just that—a turndown by a group of people you don’t know. An acceptance is approval, also by people you don’t know. This is not a judgment of your character, your future, or even a universal statement about your art. It’s an opinion.

A writer’s job is to submit an application that is clear, well-written, free of grammatical mistakes, logical and representative of the best thinking, writing, and creative work.

Your best approach is to write book or class descriptions while you are working on it and have your audience and outcome clearly in mind. It’s impossible to remember the important elements of your book when an application is due tomorrow.

Once the application is sent, the hard work of non-attachment starts. You are not in control of the judging. You have done your best. Take pride in your growth and ideas. Take pride in submitting your well thought-out work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.35.11 PMInstead of celebrating only if you get accepted, plan a celebration for the day you submit an application. Submitting your best work is the focus of the celebration, not the approval of others.

When the reply comes back, take a deep breath and remind yourself this is not about you. Non-attachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you know you did your best, presented work that you believe in, and are not defining yourself by the decision not in your control.

Non-attachment to outcome may be the hardest work you have ever done, but it will build your confidence in the deep part of you that makes meaning as an artist.

Quinn McDonald is waiting to hear about a grant application.