The Art Bully

This collage was created on a shopping bag, using a black, printed stripe on the bag as well as the kraft-colored bag. A #2 pencil was used to sketch the bird. The feathers were found in the street. The printed pieces, cut from a newspaper, read, “We tend to forget we are animals, until we become prey.”

Making your way as an artist has never been easy. For most artists, it can at least be interesting. During the Renaissance art patronage shifted from bishops and cardinals (that’s how all those lovely European cathedrals were built), to wealthy merchants and bankers with political interests, who supported artists and offered them a livelihood, but were often not the kindest, most ethical, or generous people.

The Medicis  supported Leonardo da Vinci, Boticcelli,  and Michelangelo. Luckily, the Medicis had excellent taste and a gift for choosing the right artist for the job. It is not outrageous to say that the Medicis, by investing in art, laundered a lot of money by hiding it in art. The entire city of Florence (Italy), home to the Medicis, is alive with commissioned art.

Now that there are fewer Medicis (and art patrons), artists have to look to the American business model for a patron and a path to fame.

I began to pay attention to just how hard an artist has to work to become well-known. Roughly, here’s how it works: an artist develops a niche, a specialty, and focuses on that to attract an audience. The artist teaches this specialty, using favorite products. She (could be a he, too, but for this article, I’m using “she”) contacts a number of companies that produce the products she uses, hoping to get onto the company’s marketing or demo team.

Once that happens, the artist gets free products, but has to promote those products on social media, podcasts, blogs, on-line and in-person classes, books, and videos. Traditional book publishers shucked their marketing departments, using artists to market for them instead. It was a gamble, and for some publishers, it worked.

And effortless piece of art (butterfly, dog nose print, more) is no more than a piece of gum on a sidewalk.

Now the celebrity artists are often bound to art- or craft-supply companies, required to promote the products. If an artist is especially lucky, they work with their supply company to develop a new color line, maybe even a new product, and travel to promote that company.  For some, it’s a symbiosis that works. Artists develop classes to teach and books to write, and companies provide product and name recognition.

Sometimes, the supply companies unwittingly train art bullies. What’s an art bully? Someone who insists on specific name brand products being purchased for class use. Someone who insists that when they praise a product, their followers must like it, too. And if a celebrity artist/art bully doesn’t like a product, well, their friends, audience, and class participants shouldn’t use it, either. It’s the “cool kids table,” all grown up, now with art products.

Sure, I understand that not every ink, watercolor, paper, or tool is interchangeable. But a list of specific brand names in a supply list makes me suspicious. Is this brand the only one that will have a favorable result?  Is putting an art celebrity’s name and face on a product line a guarantee of art success?  (Short answer: Never. Success is 90 percent artist effort and 10 percent supply perfection.)

Some time ago, I said (in the thread of an art celebrity’s Facebook comments) that I had no luck with washi tape. It doesn’t stay stuck for me.  I joked it must be the art equivalent of kale. (I’m not a fan.)

The celebrity was not amused. She told me I must be using the washi tape wrong. Surprised, I said I was pretty sure I was doing it right, and had even tried several brand names. Out came the art bully. She disliked people contradicting her when she recommended her preferred products, she said.  She was pretty sure, she insisted, I didn’t know how to use the tape correctly, and certainly was not using her recommended brand. (Yeah, I was.)

Let’s get real: art skill never comes from buying a magic product. Art skill comes from experimenting, from failing, from trying more and different approaches until the practice begins to take hold. I thought of how asking questions to learn was so easily squashed by art bullying.  Like the worst of grade schools, you have to color the sky blue (with a specific product) and stay in the lines.

But I remained quiet. I did not clap back. Why? I don’t feel better when I make someone feel worse. Because I knew her fear of not supporting her money source, and I really can figure out how to use (or not use) washi tape. I made a mental note never to take a class from the art bully, though. There’s a price for bully-hood.

Those who protect the product they are hired to market, who care about the source of money more than spreading creative ideas, may do well. But they can’t do good.

I’m not at all sure that the art bully ensures the success of creative work. That work is always private, soulful, and revealing. And not stuck with a brand name.

—Quinn McDonald’s blog has, in 18 years, never been monetized. I want to keep it that way, so I can like and dislike, recommend or share what works for me and what doesn’t,  with freedom.

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Glue Sticks–Not For Me

Glue sticks are wonderful–for other people. For students, for fast workers, for people who hate using bottle glue. For me? Not so much.

Well-working glues I use and like. Notice: no glue sticks. Left to right, Leneco adhesive, Uhu glue, Elmer’s, and Matte Medium by Liquitex.

Part of the problem is Phoenix. Glue sticks dry out, crumble, and aren’t sticky in the low-humidity winter. In the high-heat, high-humidity summer, they melt unless kept cool inside. I keep mine in the fridge, in a baggie, where they dry out in about a week.

So I hate glue sticks. I know they are fast and I would love to love them, but they don’t want my love. Their glue is shiny, and my big, glossy strokes create a whole other layer unless I cover all the glue strokes perfectly.  (Which I don’t.)

Someone whispered a new brand name to me. And as everyone who lives in eternal hope, I thought this would be “the one.” The brand is Coccoina, an italian company.  They make pots of glue, tubes of glue, and glue sticks. I’m interested in the sticks. I ordered several.

Checking out other reviews, I found several enthusiastic reviews. Here are the major pros for using Coccoina glue:

  • It’s solvent free
  • It contains potato starch
  • It’s not poisonous
  • It smells of almonds (the containers may, the glue sticks do not.)

For me, potato starch means bugs. Maybe not in Phoenix, but when I lived in New England, most of the homemade wheat paste and potato paste I used wound up being eaten by tiny bugs, which left holes in my paper.

Because I am an adult, have no children and home, and don’t expect people to eat my art, I am not so concerned about using glue that is edible.

I want to use glue that is:

  • matte
  • dries clear
  • keeps sticking over time, no drying out
  • can be applied in tight areas without glopping
  • doesn’t wrinkle paper or other materials

The Coccoina glue stick didn’t pass the basic tests. Here’s what it looks like freshly opened on a day that did not get above 72º, applied with a light touch.

You can see it doesn’t apply evenly, it blobs. Yes, I could apply it with a brush. But that defeats the purpose of a glue stick.

After spreading it around with my fingers, I left it to dry. After 24 hours of drying time (laughable in Phoenix, we have trouble keeping glue from drying out in seconds), it was dry, but lumpy. Slightly tacky. And it looked like this.

It’s not matte, it’s not clear, and it’s not easy to control.

My favorite glue stick is still UHU, which dries clear, but shiny, so I have to watch out where I put it.

For regular collage projects, or for attaching feathers to paper, I’ll use matte medium. and a brush. Liquitex and Golden are favorite brand names. I’ve used it a long time and it dried matte, clear, and holds on to the collage pieces.

If you have found glue sticks that don’t dry out, don’t glop, dry clear and matte, let me know. I always have more room in my studio for art supplies that work well.

New Tree, Old Tree

Trees have it tough in Arizona. The wind blows dust around them, wind gusts are high, the ground is hard, roots are fragile. Trees often topple in our monsoon season. Often, they are left to dry out before they are cut flat and removed.

This tree was left to die, but still had a life to live. You can see the cut end in the right of the photo. But the tree had other ideas. It started growing again.  Created a new tree right out of the old one, using what was available to create a whole new tree.

It was a lesson for me: Yes, I have fragile parts, and yes, I’ve been felled before. But giving up is a choice, and it doesn’t have to be the only choice.

It’s what I teach my coaching clients: you get to decide. You have a choice. Even when it doesn’t look like it, you have a choice. Build on the answer you want.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and is working on a book: The Invisible, Visible World.

Blessing for the Autumn Equinox

Relief from the burning sun is a blessing.
A blessing, too, is the bounty from the garden, the plants that bloom as proof that life is generous.
Bless the food that grows and stores the sun and makes the light delicious.

The balance in your life as night equals day, then slowly lengthens the shadows, that is a blessing to you.

To understand that your time walking on this earth is limited is a blessing;
as is your chance to be kind for another day.

Bless this night for everything that leaves us, that grows dark, that we can release into the mystery of the moon, the stars, and the sun that will rise into another day.

Bless the cooling pavement, the sidewalks that do not radiate heat to the knees.
Bless the waning heat–no longer hot enough to stand on your skin like a knife.

May you harvest the heat and use it in the darker months to brighten life,
to shine your goodness onto the world,
to let it be a dot of light in the dark night to comfort the wanderer
who sees it in his distance.

The wheel of life has moved through a year to this point,
and you are here again.
Blessed is this sacred time we walk on the face of the earth,
knowing there is a dawn to come.
–Q. McDonald, © 2018

Dust You Are

You see something, and your brain doesn’t quite understand it. Your brain, trying to be helpful, makes up information for you to believe. You not only believe it, you will defend what you are sure you saw.

About a dozen people have seen the photo above. Most of them guessed it was some sort of archeological dig, showing a partial skeleton. Some decided it was a sketch of a skeleton using pastels. I can see that.

But this is much more commonplace. It’s truck tire tracks into a construction site. The dirt mixed with rain to create the look.

–Quinn McDonald is writing a book on The Invisible, Visible World. It takes a look at commonplace things that have a more interesting story to tell.

Positive and Negative

Without  sunshine, there is no shadow. Without sadness, happiness cannot be recognized. We live with our own shadow–the negative side of our personality, we could not choose to see the positive, to decide not to give in to fear, but be courageous instead.

The Japanese art of notan (rhymes with so-wan) uses black paper on a white background to create positive and negative spaces. But it does more than that. The figure above shows a zig-zag cut-out, and while the spaces where white meets black look like they are intact, they are not. The illusion is created by leaving the corners intact. Our eyes fill in the rest.

Each section is cut out, then turned down, edges matching. The effect is mesmerizing. The process is simple, the result is complex. Just like the decisions we make in our lives, the ones that change the shape of the future.

-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and set it free to play in their lives. She also delights in seeing the invisible, visible world, where creativity holds the oracles that make our lives interesting.

Blown By The Wind

Haboobs, or dust storms, roll into Phoenix regularly during monsoon. High winds push balcony furniture back and forth across the balcony, roll potted plants down the street, push birds into trees, and dirt into just about anything.

One of the nice parts of the storms is seeing the unusual places trash comes to rest. I’ve seen a Coke can in a tree, a hat stuck on a cactus, and a cat collar with no cat, hanging on a street sign.

This morning, I saw a vinca blossom, stripped from the plant, and stuck in a fan palm. This delights me for the unusual combination of color and shape. I also found the delicate palm fiber almost calligraphic as it held the blossom in place. Art is in front of us. All we need to do is enjoy it. My art to draw in my journal to remind me that I’m safe from the storm. This time.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who helps people get unstuck and dare to be happy.