Non-Attachment: Hard Work, but Worthwhile

Non-attachment seems to be against everything we’ve learned: ambition, competition, beating out the slower contenders, winning, success, and “we’re #1!”

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

The eclipse on the 14th was so important to me, but I was in a place with cloud cover. Instead, I made this collage, which helps me imagine it.

Non-attachment sounds lazy, uncaring, and weird. It’s anything but. Non-attachment does not mean you don’t care, won’t try, or give up. Non-attachment means you care deeply, do your best, and then don’t expect the world to throw money (or fame) at you.  A few examples will help with clarity:

You are in line for a new job. You are asked to take some good-fit behavioral tests. Attachment to outcome move: Instead of answering honestly, you suss out what the company is looking for and answer that way. Outcome: you get the job and are miserable, because the job fit is awful and you have to keep re-programming your authentic self.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You answer honestly. If you get the job, you can behave authentically and be appreciated for your skills. If you don’t get the job, you can be glad that you didn’t waste time trying to force yourself into a bad fit.

You want your creative work accepted into an upcoming gallery show.  Attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium, but you are an artist and can do anything.  Outcome: You work very hard and very long to get that theme into a piece of work. You are not chosen. You begin to doubt yourself as an artist. You also start to make snarky comments about the gallery owner.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You interview the gallery curator to discover what the show is about. Not exactly your favorite topic or medium. You thank the curator and ask to be kept on their list for future shows. You have free time to pursue your own creative work and have a piece ready for another show at another time.

Someone you know on Facebook posts her latest (in a long series) humble-brag. You call her on that s**t, because you know the truth behind that story. And you tell her what she should have done to earn real praise. Outcome: you look like you are trying to control the universe (again). Worse, your FB friend feels embarrassed, takes your advice next time and it ends in disaster. She blames you.

Non-attachment to outcome move: You take a deep breath, roll your eyes, and congratulate her.

Non-attachment frees you from the responsibility, outcome and control over work that is not yours to do. It allow you to do your best work without blaming yourself if you don’t win the prize. It allows you more emotional room and freedom.

Non-attachment is hard to learn. If you work in a corporate situation (or ever did), it is harder. But the freedom feels wonderful, and is something worth practicing.

–Quinn McDonald wishes she could hit the stride of non-attachment more often.

Leading With the Left Hand

A comment on the last blog reminded me of something and that led to another jump and. . .a blog post.

I’m left-handed. Born that way. In a time when being left-handed was not acceptable. As was quite common in the years when I was growing up, my mother took the pen from my left hand and put it in my right hand. There were some shaming words that accompanied it. In seventh grade, it became Sister Michael Augustine’s goal to turn me into a right-hander. Skip forward several decades.

left_handedI’m still left-handed. But I write right-handed. Except when I write on a flip chart of white board–a task I took up as an adult. And I write on flip charts and white boards left-handed. Unapologetically.

Part of what I learned as a left-handed person is that I was not good enough, and that I was flawed. To prove to others (and, of course, myself) that I was good enough, I fell into the habit of overwork. Now that I own my own business, it looks great to work hard. A 70-hour week is one in which I’m coasting.

Today, when I came home from teaching a fun class, I was exhausted. It was warm out, and instead of sitting down for a few minutes, I assessed the yard work that had to be done and began to fret about the DVD project which has to be planned. Samples made. Projects half-made to save time on the set.

The only one who can slow me down is . . . me. Taking a break feels exactly like being lazy. So I sat down with my Inner Hero called “Left-Hand” (I’m not one for fancy names) and did some artwork. Listened to what she had to say. Did not talk back. Here’s what she said:

“There will never be less work. When there is too much work, you worry. When there is not enough work, you make more work and worry more. So just for tonight, close the computer, grab those art books you want to read, and put your feet up. No one will do the work for you. It will still be there tomorrow. But you will be rested. And bolder. And begin to think with your left-hand first. Because that is the sign of bravery for you.”

Good idea. How will you free yourself from destructive noodling and step into a healthier mindset today?

Quinn McDonald has nut bread in the oven and a DVD ready to run.

Get It Done: Book Review (and a Giveaway)

What better day than Valentine’s Day to love yourself enough to give yourself the creative help you need to finish your work? Creative people are wired differently and see the world a bit differently–but the one thing they have in common with every other person is a lack of time to work on projects that are due, projects that sound like fun, and projects that need to be explored.

SamRt443-199x300Sam Bennett created the Organized Artist Company and she wrote a book that is part coaching, part time management, and part kick in the butt. Get It Done, from Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day is a book with suggestions, how-tos, and clever ideas to help anyone (but especially artists) choose their work, get their work done in a time frame (by working 15 concentrated minutes a day), and complete their work.

Here’s are some chapter titles:

  • Procrastination is Genius in Disguise
  • Which of Your 37 Projects to Tackle First
  • Overcoming Perfectionism
  • How to Do Your Could-Do List
  • Where Will You Find the Time?
  • Organizing Your Space
  • Why Is It So Awful When Everyone Thinks You are So Wonderful?
  • Do You Quit When You’re Almost Done?

When you read Bennett’s book, you know she is an artist, has been in your shoes, and can teach you how to dance in them–backwards–to success. Her worksheets are realistic, her steps doable and her process powerful.

sambennett-412fab8b-eff5-4bda-bf24-8f7aa46f6602-v2The book is a fast read but one you will want to concentrate on to overcome perfectionism and the destructive procrastination that goes hand-in-hand with it. She’s knows art is important to culture, supports the necessity for excellent work, but won’t let you ruin your success with senselessly chasing perfection.

It’s 204 pages that are packed with good advice, success stories, and real help.

Giveaway: I’ll be giving away this copy. so leave a comment for a chance to win. The drawing will be random. And the winner will be announced on Monday’s blog. Stop by and see if you were the lucky one!

Disclosure: The book was sent to me for review from New World Library. I did not purchase the book I read. However, I did purchase one after I read it, as I’m giving away the original.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who will be using some of the ideas in this book in combination with the ideas in The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.

Dreaming of June

MISA1June seems like a long time away-but like the seed catalog that reaches you just as you had given up all hope for Spring, I want to whisper some green hope in your ear. Polar vortices, sleet, shoveling snow–leave them behind for a minute. Tuck yourself into a cozy place in your house and imagine June on an island that is a green prairie. It has rocky and sandy beaches, rivers tucked into coves. This place is not just imaginary, it’s Madeline Island in Lake Superior. And you can restore your soul and learn to laugh again this summer.

thumb_seed-packets-wedding-favourFrom June 2 to 6, I will be teaching Jungle Gym for Monkey Mind at Madeline Island School of ArtsThe class is based on the Inner Hero book, and we’ll learn something new every day. You’ll try your hand at writing poetry, surface decorating papers, using the papers to make seed packets for those tiny beginning ideas you want to grow into big, sturdy plans.

You’ll discover your inner heroes and what you have in common with them. You’ll make friends and have time to visit art galleries and restaurants. If you like a noisier time, you’ll find bars and restaurants to keep you up all night.

MISA2If you are ready to retrieve your soul from where it has drifted, this class is the one for you. Every participant will receive a free creativity coaching session to help them explore the inner landscape that is so often neglected. The island is a perfect setting for coming back into who you want to be.

MISA3We’ll learn specifics every morning and you can explore how to use them in the afternoon. The classroom is also open all night. No locks, just space and time. You can work any time. Just turn out the light if you are the last to leave.

You’ll create monoprints and gather your results into a book, a journal of memories and encouragement to take back into your changed life. It’s time to restore that part of you that has to be strong and give all year.

Think about it. And begin to plan it. It’s an experience like no other. No art or writing experience necessary. Just a sense of adventure.

Quinn McDonald taught at Madeline Island last summer and is dreaming about returning. She welcomes you to join her in a remarkable experience.

Looks like a painting, but it's the view from the classroom at Madeline Island School of Arts

Looks like a painting, but it’s the view from the classroom at Madeline Island School of Arts

Living with Your Messy Journal

Somewhere in your head is the vision of the perfect journal. Maybe it’s all online, on a beautifully decorated page with changing photographs. Or maybe it’s all written in fountain pen, in a lovely Palmer penmanship. It’s a nice thought, but it’s unlikely. If you are like me, you drag your journal with you and it has sticky spots on the cover, grease spots on the inside pages and some place where the cat (or your) chewed the corner.


“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are, you’ll fall into someone else’s plan and. . .”

Life is messy. Your journal will be, too. Unless you create separate pages and include only those you like, (and whose life is that controlled?), you will have pages that are neater than others. If you use your journal daily, you will write in various pens, include things torn from magazines, and in other ways, create a journal that looks like your life–messy and busy.

"Guess what they have planned for you? Not much."

“Guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

It’s a much more realistic approach to journaling. There are people who tell me that they are waiting for their lives to “quiet down” before they start coaching. They never get around to it. Coaching, like journaling, takes place in the middle of messes, tears, joy, and confusion. That’s how life is.

If you hate a messy journal, here are three ways to make changes:

1. You can cut out an annoying page, leaving about an inch close to the spine. Then tape another page, one you like better, to the stub, using washi or masking tape. (If you have a sewing machine, you can stitch it in.)

2. You can gesso over the page you don’t like, and re-create it. Now you don’t have to look at the annoying page. You can also use a cream-colored acrylic and let some of the old work peek through. It’s more interesting that way.

3. Tape a piece of vellum over the offending page and write a list of things you would do differently on the vellum. That helps cover the old work and lets you remember what you like and don’t like. (That may change over time).

Or, you can enjoy the journal exactly the way it is, knowing that you are a recovering perfectionist, and your journal is fine the way it is.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who keeps a messy journal. Several of them, in fact.

In Progress. . .

Note: Shirley Levine from Paper and Threads won the Inner Hero book from the Endings and Beginnings blog post (January 1, 2014). Congratulations, Shirley! I hope you make many Inner Hero pages!

*     *     *     *    *
Still having fun with monoprinting with my Gelli Plate. I’m not going for fancy designs. I’m going for great color. Then I use one piece for a background and cut up another for collage.


Sometimes it’s more realistic. On this one, I sprayed the plate with background once I had the paint on it, and took the print that way, giving the snowing effect.


Sometimes it’s more abstract. Beach Storm. Love the background colors. Am so grateful I can see them accurately (well, with one eye.)

Either way, it’s a lot of fun.

Have a creative weekend!

Quinn McDonald is in the studio this weekend, practicing for her classes as the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts and Madeline Island School of Design.

Before You Leap into 2014 . . .

The temptation is so strong to make a list of changes necessary in 2014. There are hundreds of ways to be better, kinder, thinner. We are never enough for ourselves. I have nothing against self-improvement, it’s a never-ending project. A renewable resource for your psyche.

11401998-largeBefore you make a six-volume improvement list for 2014, there is unfinished business in 2013. Take a seat. Take a few deep breaths, too. Then look back at 2013, and see what you did right. What you are doing better now than you did last January. What you struggled with, figured out and made progress on. What you conquered.

None of these victories have to be permanent to make them count. There are some improvements we have to make over and over again. Not unlike painting the trim on the house, rotating the car’s tires, or doing laundry.

Each year, you’ll meet the same problem over and over again until you understand it fully. Rather than becoming impatient and angry with yourself for “not fixing the problem,” give yourself some credit for recognizing and working regularly on the problem. Think over what you were bad at and see if you have made progress.

Look over what you were good at and see if you are doing more of it. Don’t start making a list of improvements just yet. Take a minute first to see how far you have come. That’s an important part of being strong enough to continue.

–Quinn McDonald has a feeling 2014 is going to be a busy year.

Last Minute Holiday Cards

The second I dropped my cards into the drive-through at the post office, I thought of a few more people I wanted to send cards to. There were no more on the desk.  Instant card shortage! I’m probably not alone, so I made a few cards that don’t take long and don’t require  illustrator or designer skills.

All of them used only the papers and materials I had on my desktop. OK, my desktop is cluttered, but no buying more material. Here are the five cards you can make quickly and get points for sending handmade cards.

Cardbluetree“Solstice” A large 5″ x 7″ card starts with a piece of Strathmore Ready-Cut, my salvation because I can’t cut straight. I painted the bottom corner, let it dry, then covered the rest of the card with marbled paper. I cut three triangles out of paper I’d inked for some project, choosing greens and blues. One card made. Inside it says, “May the returning light brighten your year.”

Tree_reflection“Reflection” The second large card starts with a base of suminagashi paper I made a few weeks ago for the Niji Design Team blog. It’s the middle one on this blog post, you can see the gold far more clearly. I cut my signature wavy lines in increasing lengths and created the reflection of pine trees on the paper. Inside it says, “Reflect on 2013 in peace and joy, and may 2014 bring you dreams to live.”

Card_packages” Three Gifts” Using a gift-tag punch, I created three gift tags, then turned them into presents with a pen. The place where you punch a hole and run a thread becomes the ribbon, and two more lines create a package. I used a monoprint cut down to size for a background.  On the inside I wrote,”Peace, health and joy for 2014.”

Card_Tree1“Bird in Winter 1” Using a book with Chinese writing, I cut across the writing to give the pieces the look of birch trees. A tiny triangle of red paper makes the bird. I used Arches Cover in black for the card, it’s sturdy enough to make into a card. Inside, I wrote, “May you find surprises that delight you in 2014.”

Card_Tree2“Bird in Winter 2” Not sure if it was easy for everyone to create a tree from slivers of paper, I did away with the branches and created a forest of  abstract trunks. This one is my least favorite, as it looks like one of our dreaded forest fires has moved through. I included it because I wanted to show what happens when you simplify too much. Later I went back and added tree branches in white pen. It was better, but it won’t get sent.

I’m looking forward to this week; it’s a quiet work week, and the weather is warming up enough to eat on the patio.

-Quinn McDonald is using monoprints that didn’t work out to wrap last-minute presents.

Perfectionist and Procrastinator, Part 1

Anne is a writer. She hit upon a great idea for an article. It would require a lot of interviews, but the idea was brilliant. She posted a segment of the work on her blog and was contacted in four hours by a publisher. Anne could turn the idea into several spin-offs, so there was a great future ahead.


Changing time won’t change deadline

If you are a perfectionist, you know the next part of the story. Anne missed the first deadline. And the next. And the project is still not complete.

Anne is a perfectionist, too. She does excellent work and doesn’t want to turn in anything less than the best.

If Anne follows the road of perfectionism most writers and artists (and office workers, moms, employees, and supervisors) take, she will start a dozen projects and finish none of them, because they are not “finished.” Or “quite right,” or “done editing.”

She will have another great idea, and start it, and never finish it, either. Over her lifetime, she will start a thousand projects, ideas, articles, books, blogs, and relationships. None of them will end satisfactorily; many of them will never be finished at all.

Perfectionism sounds like something everyone would aspire to, but in real life, it is a pitfall to satisfaction. Perfectionism is the enemy of “good.” Or even “great.”

Don’t confuse “excellent” with “perfect.” Perfectionists are not satisfied with excellent, because there may be an  invisible flaw that someone will find. And expose the perfectionist as a fraud.

And being exposed as a fraud takes the identity from a perfectionist. And the images-1power they hold over others. As long as they don’t hand in the project or complete the work, they hang onto their identity.

Perfectionists are driven by fear of inadequacy–and sooner or later, often sooner, they will fail. Perfectionists fear this failure so much, that they begin to control their lives, their work, their employees, their family and friends in an ever-widening circle of perfectionism. By judging other people severely,  perfectionists point to the flaws of others as a distraction from faults growing in their own lives.

They are never happy, always striving, forever hearing the threat of “fraud,” “unworthy” and “failure.”

Continue reading Part 2 of  Perfectionist and Procrastinator on Sunday, Dec. 22. Discover a common cause of perfectionism and a new perspective. The Inner Critic takes the form of perfectionist to make sure you never are satisfied, and don’t get your creative work completed.

-Quinn McDonald is a recovering perfectionist who helps others open the door to being great, if not perfect. See her work at

Positive and Negative Perspectives

When I do monoprints, I have to think carefully and plan the negative and positive aspects of the print slowly. Negative space is still something I have trouble with. Looking at what isn’t there is a lot harder than seeing what is there.

Negative tag

The negative space of a gift-tag cutout–the part left after the tags are removed. It also looks like a box with a bow on top.

A stencil can be positive or negative–it can leave an imprint or it can create a shape through an empty space–the negative. What you see is a matter of your perspective. And for me, it can be confusing, particularly if the image itself is open to interpretation.

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive tags are plain, blocking color and design

The positive pieces look like gift tags–all I need to do is punch a hole in them and they are ready to go. Except, of course, I want them to have color and design, so I will punch them out of painted papers.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

On a different background, the negative space takes shape.

But while I struggle with the visual aspects of positive and negative space, I also realize that the same is true in real life–what I think of as a negative isn’t necessarily bad or depressing. Sometimes there is a positive twist to a negative event.

Now the tags look like a children's book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

Now the tags look like a children’s book being held by chubby hands. Depends on your perspective.

This past weekend I was scheduled to see the Sandhill crane migration and was too exhausted to drive the 10 hours to see it. I was bummed out until a storm moved through, dumping a lot of rain on the entire length of the trip–except for the elevation in which blowing snow and ice closed the interstate. It was worse at the site–fog, high winds and blowing snow blocked a lot of the visibility.

I was suddenly grateful not to be standing in a cold wind and driving snow pre-dawn. In fact, having stayed home and gotten enough sleep and a lot of backed-up work cleared off my desk seemed like a better outcome.

Maybe my next accomplishment will be getting better at understanding how to work with negative space in my monoprints.

–Quinn McDonald knows that life imitates art.