Reading Baby Wipes

No, no, this is not as dreadful as it sounds. Most artists use baby wipes in their art–to wipe up smears, to spread ink, to clean fingers. I use mine to read, to let my mind wander and come up with new ideas.

Sometimes when I sit down at the art table, I need a few minutes to move from what I was doing before to a creative mindset. The shift is not always automatic. This morning, I found a used baby wipe (no babies in the house, this was an alcohol ink wipe) and immediately began to see figures in the ready-to-discard wipe.

There are figures pressed into this baby wipe, and as the ink soaks into the grooves, allowing figures to stand out.  Here is a close-up of another wipe I played with.

Using a Tombow pen, I pulled up a little robot of inspiration. He’ll have to work hard to bring me new ideas, and with those friendly antenna, he should pick up ideas from far off.

Yes, you can see it as a demon, but I decided to befriend the abstract as a robot. You can even see the extension cord on this guy.

By the time the outline was done, I had an idea and was ready to work. Taking your mind off your work allows ideas to float to the top of your mind. And it’s kinder than sitting down and saying, “I need ideas, and I need them now!”

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who often needs to get to creative ideas by a long path and the back door.




Pompeii Comes to Phoenix

The Pompeii exhibit is in Phoenix right now. (Science Center, November 18, 2017 to May 28, 2018). The story of Pompeii was the first chapter book I read when I was about eight years old, and for years I believed it was fiction. How could all those people not have escaped? How come did they find bread and artwork and dogs and people years later? After all that ash and fire?

This colander, carefully cleaned, showed the care taken to create utilitarian vessels and tools. The shadow shows the decorative pattern of the holes Photo: © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

Part of the story is no longer a mystery–the volcano explosion that happened on August 24, in the year 79 CE. It took 1700 years for Pompeii to be discovered. Vesuvius, the mountain that blew up, didn’t just spew ash, it blew its entire top off. The caldera is still active, and today is about 4,200 feet tall. It was twice that height when the volcano erupted.

The ash, pumice and dirt that fell buried Pompeii under 12 feet of debris. It sealed off the city, kept oxygen from deteriorating paintings and mosaics, and made the discovery surprising.

In the exhibit, you can see frescoes, perfectly preserved and in full color. Decorative and delicate, the frescoes show pomegranates (symbol of fertility and abundance) and various gods worshiped at the time. Mosaics, mostly from floors, are also shown. One of the signs said that mosaics were often created to use up marble from bed frames, tables and walls.

Plaster cast of a woman, shown on her back. Originally, she was lying over the child, shown trying to crawl away. © Photo: Quinn McDonald, 2017. All rights reserved.

The story that blew me away was this: As the city was being carefully dug up, archeologists discovered holes. Their irregular shape made it clear it wasn’t bubbles of gas. One of them had the idea that the holes might have once been something else. The holes were filled with plaster of Paris, left to dry, and then the plaster was dug out.

The casts were of people. A mother lying over her child, people climbing a staircase, dogs, a man hunched over, protecting his mouth and nose with his toga. The people had been covered in ash, but over hundreds of years has decomposed, leaving just their imprints in the ash.

Without the casts, it would have been too hard to see the negative space as people. Metaphor alert: Since this post is going up close to New Years Eve, what do we see and not understand as long as it is negative, but makes perfect sense, in fact, tells a story, when seen from the positive view?

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She also teaches journal-keeping as a healing art.


Alcohol Ink on Black Paper

Creativity often happens when we are trying to solve some other problem. Looking for another substrate for alcohol inks (other than Yupo), I came across an artist who used black tiles. (Sadly, I didn’t write down her name.) She said she had used black chalkboard paper as well. That didn’t work for me, but here is what did work.

1. Black, shiny-surface tiles work. I don’t want to store tiles, so I went on the search for black, glossy paper. Not as easy as it sounds. But I did find Stardream in Onyx, 105-lb cover stock. It is lightly coated with a mildly sparkle-finish. I found it at a local Phoenix outlet of Kelly Paper.

2. Use both Pearl (translucent) and Snow Cap (opaque) ink by Ranger. Put both on the paper. Add one drop of Eggplant (Ranger.)

3. Immediately put a piece of plastic wrap over the ink and rub to blend lightly.  Make sure there are strong wrinkles in the plastic wrap.

4. Leave the plastic wrap in place until the ink dries. This takes about 15 minutes in Phoenix, but at 5 percent humidity, it’s not a good measure for other locations.

5. Peel off the plastic wrap. I added the stem and flower base with a paintbrush and Snow Cap.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, a creativity coach, a writing trainer, and an abstract artist who combines writing with images.

Experiments with Alcohol Inks

Alcohol inks are the best color application tool since crayons. They are bright and crisp. Unlike crayons, they are not easy to control. In fact, when I teach a class in alcohol inks, the class hears about control, letting go, happy accidents, and going with the flow long before we start the technique section of the class.

While I’ve loved making landscapes, florals have always eluded me.  This weekend, with enough time and Yupo, I experimented with florals. (You can read more about Yupo and acrylic inks in this blog post. Some landscapes are here.)

First, I selected three coordinating colors for each flower. One drop of the darkest color goes down first. I blow on it carefully with a big-bore straw. That pushes the color out without causing “legs” to form. The second drop goes on next, blown into place with a small cocktail-stirring straw.  I use a small, inexpensive, brush to keep the colors in the same area.

For the leaves, I use the tip of the bottle to shape the leaf, while applying the ink in a slow, even motion. Brushwork keeps the leaves from spreading. Careful brushwork shapes the stem on the far-left flower. It makes the leaf look translucent and adds depth.

The writing on the images? I created the letterforms, but the meaning is left for the viewer to decide. It’s not a code, it’s a graphic addition to the floral.

Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer.

Letters and Visuals

Combining words and images is the idea I’ve been chasing for about two years. I didn’t want to be middling-good with calligraphy. Hand-lettering is a better idea for me. Quotes from others are wonderful, but many other artists have done that, and done it better.

While scrolling through the images on my phone, I came across the photos I take of graffiti and marks put on the street by utility workers. Those interesting hieroglyphics make me think of alien alphabets. Alphabets that can be written, but not read. Suddenly, it came together. How we struggle to say what we mean and be understood. How we long to be heard and understood.

Here are the first three works in progress.

The abstract landscape is easy enough to understand, but what do the three lines at the top mean? It’s not a code; it is deliberately not explained. Just like much of what we say and write.

This night landscape can be calm or eerie, depending on what you interpret the letters to be. Meaning-making, the purpose of creativity, is always up to the viewer.

Is this an explanation for the abstract? Is that a waterfall? Is the sun rising over the left part of the landscape, or is it burning? All up to the viewer. All left to your imagination. Because I believe we all are imaginative beings.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a creativity coach.

The Black-and-White Photo Challenge

If you’ve been on Facebook anytime in the last two months, you’ve seen the black-and-white photo challenge. The rules are simple: once a day, post a black-and-white photo, no people and no explanation.  I got tagged, but wanted to do something different. (To those who know me–no surprise, right?)

I’m a writer, so the idea of not making any comment on the image seemed like too much constriction for me. As a fan of black-and-white imagery, I wanted to join, but not bore people, who have seen enough desaturated images to last a while. Here they all are, with the thoughts I had when I took the photo.

Melrose bridge. ©Quinn McDonald, 2017

Here’s an image of a portion of the Melrose (Phoenix) welcome sign. It is carved, rusted, and reaches from one side of  7th Ave. (just north of Indian School Road) to the other. It’s bold and daring and makes a commentary on the Melrose Curve.

Most streets in Phoenix are on a grid. Occasionally, there is a curve, which becomes noteworthy. On the front side of this portal (not shown here) is a bright pink line with a curve in it.

I walk about five miles every morning about dawn. (It’s a kind of walking meditation combined with Robert Moss’s idea of setting up a day with Sidewalk Oracles.) Here are some items from my walk through Melrose.

Metal fence in Melrose, PHX. © Quinn McDonald, 2017

Phoenix still has alleys. They contain big trash barrels and yes, odd and weird views into the neighborhood. I encounter homeless people finding refuge from the busy dawn world, dogs, cats, an occasional coyote, and what I think was a bobcat. It was too fast for me.

One person put up a metal fence. On the side facing the house are attachments. I don’t know what they are, but they are held in place by things that are almost wing nuts on the alley side. No one unscrews them, which I find particularly interesting. In fact, it’s the entire reason I took the photo.

Tar Leaf. ©Quinn McDonald 2017

Further down the street, I saw an imprint of a leaf. But wait, it wasn’t an imprint after all. It was a glob of tar. I had to work to continue to see it as beautiful.

Right there was what I wanted to learn. We see something and label it, and it becomes that.  Which, in turn, reminds me of the beginning of a poem by Walt Whitman: “There was a child went forth every day, / And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or pity or love or dread, that object he became, / And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Plants, not the beautiful, arching, graceful ones, but the ratty, street-level ones,

Going to seed. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

fascinate me. They are graceful and wonderful. At this time of year (end of October), some are going to seed. That’s an even more graceful time. How I wish this were true for humans. Sadly, we never look at old people. They are closer to death, and we are afraid. So we don’t look. And miss the story of creation and destruction.

Coming out of Melrose, I stop by my favorite coffee shop. Urban Beans is not in Melrose, it’s in Mid-Town, at 7th Street (not Avenue) north of Osborn. I order coffee and watch the forks cast shadows.

Forks in tines. © Quinn McDonald, 2017.

Then it’s time to get on an airplane for a business trip. The brand name “Airbus” describes exactly what flying is like today. It’s a crowded bus and it’s hard to keep my equanimity.

Not your father’s airline seat, but wait, maybe it is! © Quinn McDonald, 2017

But then again, if I am lucky, I get to hear someone’s story. Those stories are tiny windows into someone else’s life. I am witness to them and am grateful.

This sign makes me believe the seats are recycled from a much older plane. I haven’t seen a “no smoking” on the back of a seat in a long time. Although we are still told not to smoke or vape in the emergency instruction portion of the bus trip.

Changing planes in Charlotte, N.C. has some surprises. If you have time, and have to change concourses, make sure you sit in one of the big rocking chairs–if there is one free. It’s a nice touch.

Ceiling, unfinished in Concourse B in Charlotte.© Quinn McDonald, 2017.

So is the layout of the airport. It’s easy to find food, which is in a central location in addition to in each concourse. The airport is under construction. You walk from a beautiful, bright, naturally-lit concourse into an area that has a rough, unfinished floor, creating a roaring sound of roll-aboards, and hollow announcements. There is no finished ceiling. Lighting is hanging down, air ducts are unfinished, but the gates are labeled, and the TV screens lit. Use it till it’s built. It will all change again later.  If you think this looks like a grate, you are right. I turned the photo upside down. We assume the light source is always from the top of an image, and changing that, changes what we think we are seeing.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. She is also a collage artist who combines letters and papers to make meaning.


Ballpoint for Travel and Office

Maybe you don’t care what you write with–anything at all will do. Chewed wood pencil, give-away ballpoint. If you aren’t fussy, you probably always have a pen with you. I’m fussy.  Fountain pen? Perfect for note-taking and some sketching, but not always good on airplanes. (Yes, I have a ballpoint with a valve for air travel.)

Ballpoint? Reliable and easy. Except I’m not a gel pen fan, want a fine point that doesn’t skid across the page, can cross-hatch without creating a mess, and doesn’t glob and smear.

What I was looking for (this time; I am a pen hoarder collector.) What I really wanted was one pen that worked in the office, and can be tossed in my bag and travel with me. It needs to be light, dependable, easy to use and have refills. Because I am a collector, it also needs to be aesthetically pleasing and feel good while writing.

On Jetpens (an addictive site I will choose over Pinterest any day), I found a Midori ballpoint.

It has a brass cover, a stainless steel end that allows you to post the top of the pen, and a place for a keyring or a lanyard, if you like to wear your pen.

On the aesthetic side, the pen itself is wood, which will darken with age. It’s small, but light, which makes it comfortable to write with. And yes, it is refillable. The refill comes in fine (only, so far) and in black (only, so far.)

The clip holds it in my Travelers Notebook, so it doesn’t get lost in my bag, and the quality of both the pen and the ink is wonderful. No smearing, no globbing.

It’s an inexpensive pen ($19.90) with an inexpensive refill ($1.60). How does it write?

It puts down a smooth, even line and can be used for cross-hatching and tiny lettering. It’s a crisp ink and holds up well. You can see the sample that shows other pens and a pencil for comparison.

Are you a Travelers’ Notebook fan? So are millions of others. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, writing program developer, and creativity coach