Selling Doesn’t Make You an Artist

When I saw the Sephora bag being packed in the store, I thought, “this could be a journal.” (This is what happened when I got too eager and didn’t plan enough.) Accidentally, I spoke that out loud. The sales associate lit up. “How would you do that?” she asked. I folded the bag to show her.

hand-paited bollard

Photograph © Quinn McDonald, 2018

“That would be so cute!” she gushed. “And you could sell them on Etsy and make a lot of money and be a real artist!” There was so much in that comment to understand and come to grips with. In real life, I smiled, took my purchase and left the store.

In my head, I began to wonder how we got from being an artist, to being defined as an artist if we sell our work. Make a living. Get rich. That’s the American business model–develop an idea, monetize it, get rich. Success!

Years ago, I wrote a book called Raw Art Journaling. It was for people who wanted to do art for themselves. To heal. To making meaning in life, instead of chasing meaning. I believed every word of it then, and still do. Art is a way to express yourself creatively, and it has nothing to do with selling and making money.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great if you are a working artist and successful. For years, I did support myself with my art. I found it hard work and the joy of art left me. So I left the field of money-making artist. And I became a meaning-making artist.  It is not mutually exclusive–making art and making money. But for me, I chose the making art–making meaning path. I’m happy with it.

Much of my art is weird. Much of my life is weird. It becomes clearer to me, makes more sense, when I make art out of it.

I can start a piece and not have to choose what frame I’ll use first.

I can decide to use a paper that is not archival, simply because I like it.

I can experiment without wondering how much I can charge for it.

I can make mistakes and take a long time to decide how to change the work without worrying about time management.  In fact, I can make mistakes and decide to leave it just the way it is because I understand more about it now.

Art and money are not necessarily linked. I do other work to take care of my family. Work I love, but different from art. Being an artist is exploring the dark, interesting, funny, odd, hard, difficult parts of your life and seeing what you can discover about it. For me, that’s valuable.

When people ask me if I’m an artist, I generally say, “I do creative expression.” Sometimes I’m asked if I make money, and all I say is, “I decided not to sell my work any more.” It’s all I need to explain about my deeply important art.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people cope with the creativity they don’t know they have.

Saturday Creative Do It!

Every Saturday for a while, you’ve seen artists and their interesting work here. This week, it might be interesting if you wrapped yourself in some creative work yourself. Not sure of what you want to do? Here are some suggestions;

Lili's great paste paper design.

Lili’s great paste paper design.

1. Try paste paper. A lot of fun for very little money. Use your fingers, you don’t need to buy anything to have fun with making marks. Lili’s Bookbinding Blog has a great tutorial. Lili also marbles paper in the traditional way. Don’t miss the eye candy surface decoration.

2. Have fun with acetate. Mel shows you how to emboss inexpensive acetate and make a 3-D flower with only one layer of acetate.

3. DIY: pumpkin with book pages. Couldn’t be easier if you want to scare kids out of reading. No, no, just kidding. I’d love to see that pumpkin done in torn-up maps, too.

4. Make a book the old-fashioned, real-book-bookbinding way. Worth a look, but not a project you are going to whip out in a day or so.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is having her own fun in the studio this weekend. It involves Quinacricone Azo Gold.


Flash Cards, Next Step

Note: Congratulations to Deborah Weber, who won the book. And thanks to all of you for your great ideas. Now to decide which ones to try.. . .

A generous soul gave me a box of flashcards some years ago. They showed up again when i was cleaning up the studio. There are about 200 of them. They are page_cardivory card stock, 8.5 inches long and 3.5 inches wide. Sturdy with rounded corners. Each one has a word on one side, and a small number in the upper left-hand corner.The other side is blank.

What do I do with them?
I’m looking for creative, interesting ideas–not ones that anyone might think of–bookmarks, journal covers, journal pages.
Think of something you would love to do with them.  Or something you wold love to see them turn into.

I love combining words and art, so I should have thought of something really fast, but I didn’t. So I’m asking you. What should I make from these cards?

collage workbookIf you leave a comment, you have a chance to win the Collage Workbook, by Randall Plowman– a quirky, interesting source book for collage ideas.

So let’s hear those imaginative ideas!

–Quinn McDonald has found some extra time hidden in the studio.


Sometimes you want to see the world in black and white,  yes or no, right or wrong. Shades of grey keep adding definition and shadow.

blackandwhiteSometimes vibrant red and yellow wakes you up and makes you pay attention to the details.

"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light." --Theodore Roethke.

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” –Theodore Roethke.

Each has a place in your life. Light and shadow. Color and gray. Joy and sorrow. We are not guaranteed a trouble-free life. And we wouldn’t really want one.

-Quinn McDonald is back in the studio.

Postcard to Yourself

Art journaling has become rote: You paint several backgrounds first, then design and layer stencils, paint, collage, and words later.  Move on. There is charm in free-slapping paint and words. You can also be precise with color and words, like Teesha Moore, whom I admire greatly for meticulous design.

Postcard with butterfly made of maps and Monsoon Papers. © Quinn McDonald 2013

Postcard with butterfly made of maps and Monsoon Papers. Butterfly path says “Sometimes your inner hero grabs the map and flies off with it.” © Quinn McDonald 2013

Long a fan of writing-only journals,  I still prefer to work out thoughts and emotions one page at a time. Without the constriction of a completed background color that no longer matches my emotion. If I work on several pages at once, they are all free-standing, drying in peace, without waxed paper.

Free-standing pages give you emotional and creative freedom. You can gather and sort at leisure. If you use 5-inch by 7-inch watercolor paper (A5 or A6 work just as well) you can also use them as postcards.  (Use regular letter postage in the U.S.) The stamp and postage mark add charm and a certain amount of wear, making your thoughts look well-used.

I belong to an international postcard exchange (Postcrossing)  and send about 30 postcards a month. People post their requests, hoping you will send a theme or style of postcard. Some people request no handmade or art postcards, and I honor that request. One person requested postcards with butterflies, and I made one, only to notice she didn’t want handmade cards. I had addressed it already, so gesso to the rescue. But that meant not sending it to someone in the exchange. I decided to send it to . . .myself. I wouldn’t mind the gesso’d over spot.

Back of postcard, with butterfly made from textbook and braille paper. It says, "Sometimes, you have to follow blind, trusting as you fly. It feels awkward, but you are still flying." © Quinn McDonald 2013

Back of postcard, with butterfly made from textbook and braille paper. It says, “Sometimes, you have to follow blind, trusting as you fly. It feels awkward, but you are still flying.” © Quinn McDonald 2013

Getting a postcard is completely different than turning a journal page and reading. Grabbing your mail and sorting it has a mindset of grumpy bill paying, tossing out, getting the chore over with.

Discovering a postcard with a personal message is the equivalent of slamming on the brakes before you pass the store you’ve been looking for. You see and feel the message in a completely different mindset–one of vulnerability and surprise. What better time to get a message you need?

—Quinn McDonald designs free-standing pages, postcards, and containers to hold them.  She is teaching these postcards in Tucson on September 22, 2013.


Your journal, your legacy

Are you afraid that someone will find out your journal secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? If this is keeping you from writing in a journal, could you reconsider? There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

journalsIf you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

Julia Cameron, the author of  The Artist’s Way, and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life such a secret, let me encourage you to let go. Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Sure, she had bright moments, but they were short and quickly dispensed with.



After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. She never talked about the events that   shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this other person. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal writing.
Her upcoming book helps people confront their inner critic by creating cards that capture the wisdom from their inner heroes. The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal will be released this December.

The Travel Journal

Travel journals are a great way to remember the details about your trip. To go to Madeline Island, I wanted to take something flexible so I could draw or paint in addition to writing. Because I was teaching, I knew there wouldn’t be a lot of time to create a journal. So I chose a Stonehenge 90-lb paper pad, wire bound. Easy to carry, because both covers are heavy chipboard.

The front cover was plain, so the tags from my suitcase and the name tag for the first evening’s welcome event made a good graphic design. The colorful spot indicates that my suitcase was searched, tested for explosives, and approved for travel.

Book1All my journals start the same way–the crossed arrows that indicate flexibility and love of change. In this case, it also showed the two destinations–Phoenix, where I live and Madeline Island, an incredible retreat location.


On the first spread, I always draw a map of the area I visited along with the sights that made the trip unique. In this case, I saw lots of corn fields, roads edged in cord grass, and a huge eagle sitting on a small tree, bending it over at the tip. The first night, I stayed on the mainland, and had a great coffee at the Black Cat coffee house in Ashland.


The way I decided to use the journal was to remember what we did in class each day. The first day we made Monsoon Papers, and we hung them on the clothes line to dry. It was a trip from the second floor studio, across the balcony and into the field. The weather was sunny and mild, and as long as we remembered the clothes pins, the trip was a plus for the view. There are two samples of Monsoon Papers, and of course, the clothespin.


One of the most amazing experiences was seeing the moon rise over Lake Superior. The lake and sky were shades of blue and the moon rose in a salmon slice of color, reflecting in the water. I had to remember it as we did tissue collage the next day.


On one day, we made mosaics from photographs. I used pieces of Monsoon Papers, some other paper pieces other people used, and the stamps that were used to ship the boxes back home.


There were other pages, including a map of the island and some other class projects, but these pages brought me back to that wonderful classroom overlooking the farm fields and the prairie.

A travel journal doesn’t have to be a detailed schedule or a report of each move. When I finished paging through the book, I was smiling and remembering a special week. For me, that’s what a travel journal should be!

–Quinn McDonald is packing for a different trips–in the next few weeks, she’ll be criss-crossing the U.S. to teach business writing courses.

The Joy of Paste

PasteJarDid you eat paste when you were in elementary school and paste came in little plastic tubs with a bright yellow spreader?

Paste smelled clean and tasty, but I never ate it. I squished it through my fingers and rubbed it on paper because I liked the way it looked.

Paste paper is an ancient art that honors the paste-loving kid in all of us. You cook wheat-paste, add color and then spread it on sheets of paper. Before it dries, you drag a design into it with various tools.

Wheat paste is a bit of a problem because bugs like to eat it. I’ve fiddled with the recipe and came up with something that is traditional and doesn’t attract bugs.

Paste_Sm_goldThen I created more modern versions of paste and applied them to different kinds of papers.

This is gold paste paper applied to black paper. You don’t get the full effect in this image, but it’s wonderful. I love the three-dimensional effect

You can layer paste paper designs, too, as well as layer colors. Below is a blue and purple paste on white paper.


This technique in this color blending is the old-school heavy-body paste mix, which makes for interesting color blending results.

You can also use a thinner paste-coat technique. It makes for interesting uses for stencils. Another use for stencils!

Paste_Sml_NmbersLayering colors and stencils makes great collage papers or background papers.

One of the real reasons paste paper is the tools–you already have them. Almost anything can be used or modified–spatulas, paintbrushes, string, palette knives, old credit cards, cans, plastic spoons and forks, chopsticks, sponges, and yes, your fingers.

Using odd writing instruments sometimes improves your handwriting, and creates an interesting repetitive graphic design across a page. That can be used for both cards and wrapping paper.


I’ll be teaching Not Your Grandma’s Paste Paper at Arizona Art Supply in Phoenix on August 10. Class will begin at 10 a.m. and go till 3 p.m. If you are interested, drop me an email at QuinnCreative [at] yahoo [dot] com. I’ll send you details. You can also register here.

—Quinn McDonald loves playing with new and old paste papers.

Newsletters: Worth Considering? (Plus Giveaway)

Yes, I’ve had a newsletter. Twice. Each time, it became too unwieldy to manage. Too much content. When I switched from newsletter to blog (which seemed sensible at the time), I deleted the newsletter address list, after I invited everyone over to the blog.

That left me with, umm, no announcement or contact list. Sure, the blog mentions my classes, but if you ask “Really? Where? ” you aren’t alone. The Workshops page on this blog is often overlooked. And updating it often happens only after I announce something on the blog. (See my upcoming demos at Arizona Art Supply).

newspaper-stackI can’t really expect people who are waiting for me to announce the poetry-writing class to read the blog every day to see when it will run (Late July, early August start) or to check the Workshop page. A newsletter would be a great way to do that.  I am grateful to everyone who is signed up to the blog, and to everyone who tells me they start their day reading the blog. Realistically, though, a lot of people check in once a week, Or once a month.

So here is the question: Should I start a once-every-two-week newsletter? Or are newsletters passe? (I don’t want to create a business Facebook page. Yet)

More information:

  • The newsletter would list my classes and demos, in person and online, local to me or local to you.
  • It could contain a few other items not in this blog–a link to a clever tutorial (not necessarily mine), a book suggestion (creativity-related, including books I quit reading or didn’t enjoy), or a creative-life tip or quote from my reading.  It would be short (not like my blogs, I know).
  • You’d be able to subscribe and unsubscribe anytime you wanted (you’ll have to unsubscribe from the same email you subscribed with). No questions asked.
  • I’ll start small, just an email list I handle myself. No cookies, no tracking, no selling or renting your name. I have enough trouble managing my time.

Leave a comment if you have ideas, suggestions, or thoughts about a newsletter.


Oh, and of course there will be a drawing for leaving a comment and taking the poll:  a copy of Creating Time, by Marney  Makridakis. The subtitle is “Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life.” You can read my earlier review here.

Note: Thanks for the 76 percent of readers who would read a newsletter. Another 11 percent said “It depends if I like it.”  So, it looks like I’ll be starting a newsletter soon. Stay tuned–I have to create a space to sign up and get the first copy together. Thanks for voting!  Barbara I is the winner of Marney’s book!

Quinn McDonald is curious, again.

Making The Commonplace Journaling

We’ve talked a lot about Commonplace Journals, and I thought it might be a good idea to show you mine. The purpose of a Commonplace Journal is to record items you need to remember, everything from the name of a book to an idea for a future art project. It’s not formal, it’s not meant to show to others or as a brag book. It’s your memory, your imagination, and the garden of your muse.

To hold my Commonplace ideas, I bought a hand-made journal from Val Bembenek. She makes wonderful, traditional Japanese-bound journals, about 8-1/2 inches  x 5-1/2 inches, with horizontal orientation. Val ties non traditional buttons on the front as decoration. She also uses paper bags as covers.  (You can buy them from her via email, too.) This one has a wine bag front cover and a bread bag back cover. Perfect combination!


I’m not showing you the front page, which is the same in all my books–the two crossed, curved arrows, and my email address so I can get the book back if I lose it. Because I travel with my Commonplace Journal, it has to fit in my bag. I generally put items in with a glue stick (which I normally hate, but hey, when you are on the road, you have to use what you have).


On the left side is the map to the hotel I was staying in. The hotel was great, with a fridge and microwave, but the complex was, well, complex. Thank goodness for the map. On the right side is information about the kinds of paper we made ad two samples. The page is dated, so I know when I made the papers.



While I was in Tucson taking the class, I stopped by an art store and bought some Neocolor II watercolor crayons by Caran D’Ache. On this page I rubbed the crayons and then showed the color and texture, both wet and dry and wrote the name and number next to it. If I buy some more (I may not be able to resist), I’ll have the number of the ones I already have, and I’ll add the new ones to this page.


When I went to Las Cruces, someone was handing out flyers for Earth Day. This was a good way to get the date right and remind me of the activities I participated in–including a film festival.

DemoPageThe ticket for the film festival is on the left, and a bit about the interesting documentaries about life along the backbone of travel (the Camino Real) in early New Mexico. On the right are the parking lot tickets for the days I was demonstrating at The Women’s Expo in Phoenix. I created marbled papers for Arizona Art Supply (and I’ll be doing local demos in June and July and teaching there in July, August and September!) More about that later this week.

You can see that this is a notebook is the real sense of the world. There is nothing beautiful about it, but it is practical and useful.

newpaperPageOne of my big rants is young girls dressed up to be sexy. I found a great quote in the paper from a mother who addresses her daughter’s threat that she will just change to the clothes she wants to wear after she arrives at school. That’s on the left, with some marbled paper. On the right is a quick collage I put together with some phrases about the underwear women wear as outerwear and the stiletto with the phrase “it pays” as part of the image. It was satisfying to make the collage, although the composition is not excellent design.  The pages can be cut up to use in another collage. Great way to store pre-made design elements.

KettleSTitchHave you ever tried to remember where you saw that article you need now? You can remember the side of the page it was on, but not the book or magazine. I’ve lost hours thumbing through my iPad, books and magazine stash, looking for that phrase, reference, or stitch. I’m working on a book of handmade papers, but it’s number four on my to-do list. I’ll need that kettle stitch to hold the signatures together. So I drew out the part of the stitch I forget, then added the page number and name of the book so I can find it when I need it.

BackcoverThe back cover of the book. I have many pages to write on before it’s done, but when it’s filled, it will be a useful reference book as well as reminder of when I did what.

If you are keeping a Commonplace Journal, leave a link in the comments, so we can visit others as well!

-Quinn McDonald is enjoying Memorial Day weekend in art projects. But she’s getting back to work on Monday. She’s a ghost writer for several blogs, and they are due this week.