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.

The Pigeon and the Peregrine

Phoenix has peregrine falcons. They have adapted, using our high-rises as aeries and our pigeons as food. There is no shortage of pigeons in Phoenix.

Peregrine falcon, audubon website free download.

Peregrines are compact and fast. A stooping (diving for attack) peregrine can reach speeds of 200 mph. Females are considerably larger than males.

Yesterday, I was driving from one place to another, stopped at a traffic light, waiting for the light rail to pass. There was a blur above me and I saw a pigeon working hard and above it, a stooping peregrine. The pigeon didn’t stand a chance, I thought.

But the pigeon was not ready to be dinner. He flew directly in front of the light rail. I flinched, certain he was crushed. Then my eyes jerked up to watch the peregrine. He had vanished. Had he hit the light rail? Nope. The pigeon was safe in a nearby palo verde tree. The peregrine pulled up in a move that must have filled his imaginary Pilates teacher with core pride, and flew along the light rail, and then up toward a tall building. Both birds were safe. Both had survived another day in the city without being killed by the Machine in the Garden.

The car behind me honked. The light was green. I moved on, part of the machine in the city garden.

Quinn McDonald is an urban naturalist, a writer and creativity coach who helps people heal from trauma through writing.

 

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.

 

Unlikely Persistence

Sometimes stubborn is persistence, sometimes it’s annoying, and sometimes it’s just baffling.

We had an early Spring here in Phoenix, and we are now roasting, way too early. We’ve had three days of record-setting weather. A high of 97ºF is too hot for March.

Road2We had a bit of rain, and grass began to sprout in cracks in the street. Big, wide, black-tarred street, tiny crack filled with green grass. They will last until lack of rain and heat kill them.

Road1

Grass is opportunistic, it will start up anywhere. Maybe it lasts, maybe not. But it is worth a shot. What’s truly amazing is that after it browns, if it rains, it turns green again. A mystery.

Quinn McDonald loves the mystery of grass.

Saguaro: Home in the Desert

cactus1Saguaro cacti (Sa-WAR-oh) provide food and homes for a large number of desert animals. You wouldn’t think so–the cactus has big thorns, are tall (40-60 feet), and live for 150 years. Doesn’t sound like a friendly place to set up housekeeping.

Saguaros attract Gila Woodpeckers. With their tough beaks, they drill holes in the low- to middle areas of the cactus, between the ribs.  You can see one in the center of the cactus in the photo on the right.

A saguaro is not hollow. It’s made up of tough, long ribs and woody structure. This is what a cross section of a dead saguaro looks like:

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

Cross-section of a saguaro, showing the woody interior and the ribs that hold it upright.

A bird has to be pretty persistent to drill through the outer skin into the cactus. When the bird breaks through and hollows out a space big enough for a nest, the bird abandons the cactus. The cactus protects itself by secreting a material that hardens into a waterproof lining for next year’s nest.

Hand holding a saguaro boot.  © Take a Hike, Arizona.

Hand holding a saguaro boot. © Take a Hike, Arizona.

The lining is called a boot, and the Native American tribes used the boots to carry water and to use as waterproof shoes. The next year, when the boot is firm, Gila Woodpeckers will build a nest. After the woodpeckers abandon the nest, elf owls, screech owls, purple martins and starlings will take turns. There is a strict pecking order (yeah, I said that) of birds.

cactus3Higher up the saguaro, the Gilded Woodpecker can drill through the harder ribs. They build nests underneath the arms of a saguaro, which protects the entrance to the nest. It can also provide important shade in a landscape that rarely has overcast days.

In late April the saguaro sets flower buds. Bats, moths, and small birds pollinate the flowers.

Once the fruit forms–at the top of the arms of the cactus–it provides necessary liquid and food for birds, and the chunks that are spilled and drop provide food and liquid for rabbits, desert squirrels and rats.

A saguaro grows slowly. A 10-year old plant may be only a few inches tall. While they are still small, the cactus is food for bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Those that survive to the 30-foot mark or higher and develop arms (at around 75 years of age) provide the support for the large platform nests of Red-Tail and Harris Hawks. Once the nests are built, Great Horned owls and other large hawks might battle for the nest. Harris Hawks are team-hunters and they get the first call on the nest. Take on a Harris Hawk, and you have the whole family to deal with.

Saguaros are fascinating and do a lot more than stand around and look tall.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and writer who lives in the Sonoran Desert.

 

The Patience of Grass

I’m not a patient person. As this cold/flu/bronchitis crawls on into its 12th day, I’m discovering just how impatient I can be. It’s not something I’m proud of. But I hate being sick. Not walking. Not really wanting to eat. And worse still, doing taxes because it’s something I can do.

Nature provides me with lessons on life all the time. Here’s a recent favorite. This sign is well over eight feet tall.

grass2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I love is that coming out of the top is fresh, growing grass. In our searing heat last summer, that grass, crawled up, inch by inch, in 110-degree heat in a metal tube. Grass that does not grow that tall. It just kept climbing. Now it’s reached the top.

grass

And now it’s found the sun and recent rain. That is patience. Patience with not idea of a result. Just patience.

A lesson well-taken.

-Quinn McDonald is still coughing and sneezing herself through tax season.

The Seedling of Patience

Patience–wish I had it. At least more than I do now.  Impatience is my strong suit. The last time I was discussing a problem I wanted to resolve, my coach rootnsproutsuggested just letting it ripen for a while. For a Myers-Briggs “J” –the one who checks things off a list, who is always working toward a goal, who makes decisions and even if they are wrong, who cares, it’s better than not doing anything–well, letting a problem stew didn’t seem like a good solution.

My coach, wise woman that she is, said–“think of the solution as a seedling. It’s just broken out of the ground and is searching for some light. If you come along and pull it out to get a closer look, then stick it in the ground, then do that every day, the seedling won’t survive.”

I could see that poor seedling getting pulled up every day, examined, and stuck back in the earth. I could see my impatience doing just that.  And how quickly fatal that would be. Some things do better when left to grow roots and shoots.

The story reminded me of another gardening metaphor on patience. Sweet corn zea_mays_-_kocc88hlere28093s_medizinal-pflanzen-283takes about 75 days to go from seed to picking an ear. Yelling at it to hurry up has no effect on the length of time. It doesn’t make the corn sweeter, either.

Some problems, some answers just need time to ripen. Even if we want answers and solutions right now. Knowing when to turn things over, as another wise woman I know says, “to the operating system of the universe,” is good wisdom.

-Quinn McDonald is a gardener at heart. She is learning to be a gardener of the heart.

The Cactus Seed

Ever wondered what a cactus seed looks like? I’d imagined it to have spines, because everything in the Sonoran desert has spines–from orange trees to aloes. Cactus seeds do not have spines, and they are surprising, because they are small. Even the seeds for the giant saguaro are small–about the size of the head of a pin.

I have a fencepost cactus in my front yard. It bloomed last summer. The  cactus blooms at night and the flower looks like this:

cactusflower copy

And after the bloom finished, it set a fruit. One fruit for each bloom.

cactus1The taller post is about six feet tall. At first the fruits are green, then they turn darker blue-green.

cactus2And then, surprisingly, they turn red. Bright cherry red. They are very hard and can’t be knocked off the cactus easily, which is a good thing. Birds keep looking at them, but don’t really do more than sit on them.

Finally, the fruit cracks open. At this stage birds will land on the fruit and work out the tiny black seeds. Thrashers, with their curved beaks, love the fruit.

cactus3The bright red one is ready for the birds, the dark one in back will take another two weeks to ripen. I removed a ripe fruit from the tree. This one is about the size of a small apple.

cactus4I cut it in half; here’s what it looks like open:

cactus5The seeds are small and crunchy. You can scoop out the white flesh which is crispy like an Asian Pear and eat the whole fruit. The taste is sweet and sort of like a cross between an Asian Pear and a kiwi. No wonder the birds like to wait for the fruit to ripen.

And while the snow is piling up on the East Coast and it is just past the half-way mark of February, Spring has come to Phoenix.

Here’s the first leaf on the fig tree:

figThe flower to the right of the photo is a aloe blossom, at least four feet tall.

grapefruit

And here are the grapefruit blossoms getting ready to bloom. A few grapefruits are still on the tree. Spring has come here.

-Quinn McDonald is spending as much time outside as she can. By April, it will be too hot to do a lot of that.