Workshop, Playshop, Passion

More and more artists aren’t teaching “workshops” anymore, they are teaching “playshops,” because work is so odious that we don’t want to be involved with it in our free time.

I love play. It feels freeing and effortless. I also love work. Work results in some sort of good, or change, or results, often interesting or at least useful. Calling a day of learning “play” instead of “work” seems to diminish both terms.

“Set a table in your garden,” Quinn McDonald © 2012, watercolor pencils on paper, collage.

Work is honorable and doesn’t have to mean suffering. Work indicates that the results are not gained in a way that is fast, fun, or free. Work is best done deliberately, with full concentration and effort. It requires an investment of energy and time. That’s what makes it satisfying.

We often say our work is our passion. And while we think of passion as unchecked emotion, the Latin root word of passion is pati, which means suffering.

Sometimes work is hard, sometimes it causes us to suffer. But that doesn’t make it bad. Some of the hardest times of life finish up with some of the best learning, best results, and best ideas. Hard work, both physical and mental, can feel painful while it feels like growth.

So I’m going to continue teaching workshops. Where people show courage by working intuitively, writing deeply, and speaking their truth. We’ll also laugh and be astonished at the results, because hard work feels good.

-Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who loves her work.

Day 4: Walking and Plan B

“Day 4 of What?” you ask? Find out. It’s not too late to join us, if you feel called. And thanks for spreading the word: Seeded Earth Studio.

Wisdom from the comments:
Jackie Dishner: ” There are books to be written, stories to tell, imaginations to build in all my journals. I think of them as extensions of myself.”

Krystyna Rawicz: “I used to be terrified that my children would read what I write in my journal. How strange. Terrified my own children might see me.”

Daien: “Yesterday’s writing brought up such a surprise. I read back over the intentions, and as I put pen to beautiful rough brown paper, my body began to tell me a story about itself that I’d never listened to before. Seriously? My teeth at war with my stomach, my heart bruised and tired of intervening between the two? Such epic revelations, resulting in a much more tender carriage of my entire self yesterday and beginning again today.”

*     *     *     *     *
Walking is a wonderful activity. I first did it as a substitute for running. I like

Palm: growing and dying at the same time.

walking. Seeing plants up close; hearing coyotes, owls, cicadas; smelling trees lose their leaves and rain in the distance—it became a conversation between nature and me, between the desert exhaling dawn into the dark, and me exhaling as I walk.

In early September, when it is still  hot enough to suffocate a gnat, you can feel the days growing shorter. It February, when the cold gnaws at your joints, the dawn comes earlier. Walking is the only hope I allow myself, and it is a generous gift.

Many people in this group do not live in a warm climate. I moved into one. Phoenix is on the Sonoran Desert floor, at 1,000 feet above sea level. We have four seasons, but they are subtle. Hell spends the summer here; we bring in our outdoor plants in early June to protect them from the heat. We are starting to pick our oranges and grapefruits now.

Eventually walking became my way of meditating. There is nothing special–no slow motion stepping, no extravagant arm movements. This is meditation of my own device–walking, being fully present, not concentrating on the day ahead but on the flow of time around me.

The last two days have been windy and raining, and as I don’t own a raincoat, I didn’t walk outside. This makes me cranky, but I realized that many of the people on the journey with me face high winds, driving snow and tree-cracking cold. Many of you may have a Plan B for bad weather.

Here is where it gets interesting. There is substitute exercise, but for me, it is more important to create a substitute meditation. As Krystyna Rawicz wrote, “I nearly gave up on the meditation, then decided it was ok to do it lying in my warm and comfy bed. The idea of hatching myself arose as a result. Maybe because of the warmth.”

Walking meditation has become so much part of my morning, that the first time I substituted only exercise I realized that it was not exercise I craved, it was mental silence. If I can’t walk, I still meditate. I sit in a chair in my studio, no music, no TV, no “background noise” machine. I place my hands over my eyes, palm toward my face, so my eyes are cushioned by the section of my palm right beneath the fingers. In that way, my palms support my cheeks, and I sit in silence and feel the world getting lighter–both literally, as dawn comes, and metaphorically, as I let go and float.

Because these 30 days will covers days of bad weather and limited tolerance for cold, a Plan B is a good idea. Share one when you discover it.

–Quinn McDonald and a group of explorers are on a 30-day journey to the source of creativity within ourselves. Quinn is the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.

Healing the World

Over the table in my studio, I hang a sign. Sometimes it hangs up there for a day, sometimes for a month. It’s not an affirmation, it’s a question. It helps me think while I work. My studio is my Place Without Noise–no music, no TV, just silence. So a question hanging in eyesight is sort of a mental chewing gum.

The most recent question is “How Will You Heal the World?” No doubt the world needs healing–Haiti still has 634,000 people living in displacement camps,

Constellation Orion from cwru.edu

almost a year after the earthquake; Japan is still reeling from the earthquake and tsunami–there is no shortage of damage in the world. Isn’t is ridiculous to think I can help? Me, with no skills in engineering, nuclear physics, or law?

My mind was a smooth blank as I pulled a piece of paper toward me to cut into butterflies for a collage. The paper was a map of the night sky, and there, on one side, was Orion. The hunter himself didn’t have an auspicious beginning. He was born from an ox-skin that various male gods had urinated in. He was blinded by his father in law, revived by the goddess Artemis, and then angered the Earth goddess Gaia, who sent a scorpion to kill him. Gaia then placed them both in the sky as a warning to others not to harm the earth. Not much healing there, and I don’t want to think about out punishment for all the plastic bottles we put in Gaia’s earth, either.

What I did notice was Orion’s sword. You can see a pinkish star in the knife at

A closer view of the Orion Nebula. Via cwru.edu.

his waist. That’s not really a star, it is a whole nebula–an incubator for new stars. The young, forming stars are hot, and heat up the gas around them, causing it to fluoresce–so what we are seeing as a star is a cloud of gas and tiny hot stars 1,500 light-years away.

Maybe a small kindness, a prayer offered when someone asks for one, generously letting a car ahead of you in line, particularly when you don’t want to,  maybe all that is the equivalent of a tiny hot star that helps light up the nebula. Without the star, and others like it, there would be no fluorescing nebula, no sword in Orion’s belt. And of course, if you are a star in a nebula, you don’t see all of Orion.You see something else when you look into the universe.

As my hands smooth over the paper, looking for a spot to cut out the butterfly, I wonder if the way you heal the world is one tiny, glowing act at a time. They add up over time, and eventually you have a constellation of healing put into the sky as a lesson to everyone else to help out, too.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach and artist who thinks art heals by scattering stars into the sky, one at a time.

Memory of 9/11

When TV shows us images of September 11, 2001, we see New York. It’s where 3,000 people died. It’s where the iconic towers of American commerce were attacked. But there were two more places that figured in the 9/11 attacks–Washington, D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania where, for the bravery of airplane passengers, the third plane did not reach its target.

I lived in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and I remember that rare and brilliant blue day. I can’t forget the people scattered across the lawn of the Pentagon, I can’t forget the images on TV, or people jumping from the towers because choosing their death was better than burning to death.

And I remember papers. Papers floating down from the sky. Important papers. Unimportant papers. Papers that the day before had held contracts, employment records, financial records. In a second, they were not important anymore. There was no one to need them, no one to ask about them.

Papers, light and dark. © Quinn McDonald 2011

That day changed our country forever. We began to make decisions based on fear. We became suspicious and frightened, We were happy to give up freedoms for safety, but no one could make us safe from our own fear. Our President told us to go back to shopping.  Shopping. It was a defining moment. For a few weeks after 9/11, people cared more, came together more, believed more. And then we changed back to consumers. Frightened consumers. I can’t bear to talk about it much, but I spent a day in the studio working on art. It’s better than shopping for me.

I keep seeing those drifting paper in my nightmares. So I cut out hundreds of squares of paper. I piled them up and stacks and stitched them to watercolor paper. There are two pieces–two contrasts.

Hand-stitched gampi, text block, washi and handmade papers.

One is made of pieces of white paper, stitched with ivory waxed linen. I chose different shades of white to represent the passing of time, the aging of paper.

Dark papers: mulberry paper, text, book pages, washi papers stitched with black pearl cotton.

The second piece is dark. It represents the people who will never come back for their papers, those who will never need the loan, the passport. It represents everything in a life we can lose so easily. It represents who we are and who we can be.

–Quinn McDonald still believes in the innate goodness of people. She won’t give it up, no matter how many papers fall from the sky. She became a life coach after 9/11 and finds the work far more rewarding than shopping.

Heart in the Mail

The low-fire clay is called "Storyteller."

Someone sent me a heart in the mail. A clay heart. Heavy for its size (we have that in common), beautifully glazed. It looks like a pastry. When I unwrapped it, it made me smile immediately. Then I did what I do with all such heart-touching objects–I rubbed it with my fingers and palm. It was very satisfying.

I can’t identify the artist because she is a coaching client of mine, and I promise them anonymity. She’s an artist who works in several media, but this heart made me think she was working in the right area when she made this out of a clay called “Storyteller.”

Now, I have to admit I don’t like hearts as representative icons. They have been

The back of heart with the saving pierce. Or maybe it's the front.

over-sentimentalized, overused, made twee and kitschy by relentless use as a symbol of wedding-cake-topper sticky-sweet love. Ugh. But this one wasn’t that. This one was a tough little heart in pastel colors. It looked sweet but was hard.

I rolled it over. On the back was an inscribed spiral and a hole. The artist had sent a note that said, “I had to put a hole in the heart or it would explode in the kiln. Remember to breathe when in the creative fire.” Perfect. That is what every heart must endure–to be pierced and bruised, marked and damaged and healed to work effectively.  Now that’s a heart that even I can love.

Heart on a spike in my studio. Just as a reminder that every artist heart is always exposed.

It came into the studio with me. The hole in the heart had been made by a pointy object of some sort, so I grabbed a skewer (I use them to write and hold papers together) and slipped it into the fire-hole of the heart. It balanced. Just like creative people–we put our hearts on spikes and show them to people, willing to be accepted or rejected, loved or hated. Being creative means risking it all.

What a perfect lesson. What a perfect gift. I think I might make room for a heart in my life. At least one that won’t explode in a kiln.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She’s beginning to notice hearts around her, now.

Healing Your Soul Through Art

I’ve made art to make money and I’ve made art to make meaning. I’ve made art to have fun. Most people make art under  those “normal” circumstances. But lately, I’ve run into people who are making art for many different reasons. They are making art:

–for pleasure, to express a special event
–to get them through a crisis, either emotional or physical
–to get through another creative block, like a writing block
–in deep grief, seeking relief from mental and physical pain and suffering
–in confusion, to find a path to begin a new path on the Journey

Australian Aboriginal art from MsPaintArt.com

When these art-makers are my coaching clients, I try to help them dig deeply to find reasons for their art-making.  We find out what makes them want to change, how they will change, where the new path is taking them. Sometimes all they can do is write down memories and leave it at that. Sometimes, in writing, they start to see a new path, and it looks safe to try that new path, see what lies in that new area.

The answers lead in many different directions, but the one that interests me the most is the immediate art. The desire is always there to make “something important,” or “something meaningful.” But the healing path is often just a way to make “something.” Anything. Working on a piece of paper or cloth, whether it is writing or drawing, stitching, quilting, origami or writing music is healing.

Dawn or sunset? Creative light is yours to name.

Pouring emotions on paper lets you both capture the emotion and release it. Grab a strong emotion and wrestle it down on paper. Your feelings will pour out, you will release them and they will allow you to heal.

If you are fearful or worried about those emotions, scared to name them or face them, pick a time to work when you are tired. Exactly the time you normally wouldn’t do creative work. Your guard is done, you are vulnerable. There is no better time to begin. The rest will take care of itself.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people through difficult change in their life.

Making Art That Heals

I’ve made art to make money and I’ve made art to make meaning. I’ve made art to have fun. Most people make art under “normal” circumstances like that. But lately, I’ve run into people who are making art for many different reasons. They are making art:–for pleasure, to express a special event
–to get them through a crisis, either emotional or physical
–to get through another creative block, like a writing block
–in deep grief, seeking relief from mental and physical pain and suffering
–in confusion, to find a path to begin a new path on the Journey

art healsWhen these art-makers are my coaching clients, I try to help them dig deeply and find old memories, put to new use. We find out what makes them want to change, how they will change, where the new path is taking them. Sometimes all they can do is write down memories and leave it at that. Sometimes, in writing, they start to see a new path, and it looks safe to try out for a walk.

The answers lead in many different directions, but the one that interests me the most is the immediate art. The desire is always there to make “something important,” or “something meaningful.” But the healing path is often just a way to make “something.” Anything. Working on a piece of paper, whether it is writing or drawing, origami or writing music is healing.

Pouring emotions on paper lets you both capture the emotion and release it. Grab a strong emotion and wrestle it down on paper. Your feelings will pour out, you will release them and they will allow you to heal.

If you are fearful or worried about those emotions, scared to name them or face them, pick a time to work when you are tired. Exactly the time you normally wouldn’t do creative work. Begin. The rest will take care of itself.

–Image: J. Sandquist, Art Heals

–Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach. See her work at QuinnCreative.com (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Daily Practice, Part I

Busy. Time crunch. Overbooked. We are all of these things, but there is something I’d like to suggest. About 8 months ago, I joined a group of people who write or create art every day. We post it, we encourage it, we support our efforts.

I decided to post to a blog every day. On days when I could think of nothing sensible, I wouldn’t post. Writing every day was a chore. But the more I did it, the better I got at generating ideas and putting them in writing.

calendar blocksMeditation works the same way. So does creating art. So does mindful parenting, dancing, creating and performing music. Few are born experts. The change is slow and incremental, and often not noticeable to those of us engaged in it. Much like going to the gym, we see the effort and not the results. And the effort is often why we quit, which stops the benefits at the same time.

But daily practice is worthwhile. It conditions the mind, spirit and body in good ways. It allows us to get better slowly. It allows us to think over small issues, solve little problems, and try out little ideas. When we get good at that, it grows into nuturing those small ideas and projects into big ones. When we run into big problems, we have the expertise on how to handle them.

A daily practice takes time and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about making time for a daily practice.

–Quinn McDonald has several daily practices that she thinks of as “her life.” She leaves room for the unexpected, too. See her work at QuinnCreative.com Image: blog.pentagram.com (c) 2007 Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved.