Light and Dark: Notan

Notan is a Japanese paper art that plays with light and dark.  “Notan” means “light-dark harmony” in Japanese. There are guidelines, of course, and as I usually do, I stuck with them for the first go-around. After this, I may bend the strict rules a bit.

I used a square about 5 inches (13 c.) on a side. I used black art paper because construction paper is too soft and tears too easily. Canson makes a good black paper. So does Arches.

Notan 1. © Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

Notan 1. © Quinn McDonald, 2016. All rights reserved.

The idea of playing with balance, with light and dark, is intriguing. We all have a dark side, which means we all have a light side, as well. Art imitates life, again.

Here is a video for complex shapes.

Here’s another one with more explanation of symmetry and positive and negative space.

I started simple, because I have some spatial relationship problems. And I like understanding where I’m going.

Some tips:

  • Keep the cut-out portions limited to the side of the paper you are working on. Don’t go beyond the middle of the square.
  • Don’t cut off the corners of the square. Because this art requires dark and light to mirror each other, your eye needs to “see” the line completed.
  • You can use scissors, but a craft knife will be easier once you get better.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, a poetic medicine practitioner, and a creativity coach.


Work or Play?


All work and no play makes Bart a troublemaker.

Creatives are often told “You are so lucky! You get to play all day!” Most artists begin to grumble at this–creative work is just that–work. But many creatives love their work deeply, are dedicated to exploring the limits, and also have fun when they can chase an idea.

Play can be work. Design, the right use of color, critiquing your own work–that’s work.

Work can be play. You lose yourself in what you do, and the lightness you feel is the sound of success landing in your heart.

There is always the struggle is you are pricing your work. Then play doesn’t get paid enough and work that doesn’t work is overpriced. Creative exploration is work and play.

What do you do in your studio? Is it work? Is it play? How do you decide?

—Quinn McDonald sometimes can’t tell work from play. If she plays with it long enough, it starts to feel like work.

Saturday Stroll

When I was a mother of a young child, Saturdays were always so hectic–errands like the grocery store, hardware store, and probably kids’ clothing department in a store,  and certainly the cleaners (we wore suits to work every day in those years, and the dry cleaning smell was part of my life).

Busy mom, for the site by the same name. See the link to tips for busy moms at the end of the blog post.

Now Saturdays are different. When you own your own business, you stay away from stores on Saturday, choosing mid-afternoon on weekdays, when stores are empty and errands take half the time. This week was busy with a lot of driving and teaching, and that means a Saturday of cleaning house (you never outgrow that), making hummingbird food, and refilling feeders (after cleaning them, too) and then. . . studio time.

If you need a creative boost, here are some articles you may have missed, and places you can explore:

Bubble backgrounds are fun, easy and you can do them with your kids or grandkids. For teachers, try making the bubble pages, then having the kids write wishes in the bubble spaces. For younger kids (or you–I love doing this), create the background, let it dry, then color it in.

I love making paper mosaics of all kinds. This one is literal but still a lot of fun. You can put it right into our journal, there are tips to keep the page from curling. I like to help you avoid all my mistakes.

Make yourself a virtual kaleidoscope. No peeking through a tiny tube, and lots of fun to change the visuals. To save you time, you drag the pieces you want into the moving virtual kaleidoscope, on the left. Your visual shows up on the one on the right.

Tired of hugely realistic video games? Here’s one of the early ones that requires using the arrow keys on your computer. No joystick, no fingers. Still fun. Zefrank’s  old-fashioned puzzle game is fun to play–move the rocket through the gears.

And finally, want to sound profound at your next meeting? An entire site of useful things to say–in Latin.

The photo above is from a site that has tips for busy moms. So you’ll have time to come back here and play!

Have a creative, inventive weekend.

–Quinn McDonald is writing her second book. She’s amazed at the information she didn’t put in the original outline.

Weekend Plans

There is a pile of administrative work to do, and yes, I must do it. I hate administrative work, and routinely ruin the best part of the day struggling with it. So today, I’m off to the studio early and will leave the admin work to later in the day when I’m slower.

What to do today?
With a bunch of classes coming I’m, I thought I’d try some new ways to get ink on paper:

This is such a clever idea set from Mark Montano–not just the vegetables, but the foam stamps, too.

Her’s a detail of how Alisa Burke uses foam to print on fabric. This looks fun, too!

Need inspiration for the weekend? Tammy at Daisy Yellow is a fearless painter. She uses color in bold ways. I love that she stepped in pthalo blue paint and walked it around her kitchen and then told us about it. You have to love someone who is so open about flubs and color!

Have some creative fun this weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is looking in the direction of the studio and planning some time experimenting. After a trip to the produce section of the grocery store.

Theme Thursday: #26 12.17.09

Theme Thursday is back. In the hectic week of holiday stress, relax with creative play. A new photography craze is to take a picture of a person while holding up a photo of a different person on currency. Sound confusing? Take a look at the Intense Zone for banknotes/ people and it will become obvious. And funny!

Creative Play fun dust left over from Theme Thursday. Or maybe it's Palo Verde pollen.

Ready for some eye candy? Check out Notebook Stories’ blog on Lynda Barry’s 2008 book, What It Is.  You’ll want to run out and buy it. My favorite sentence, “Can we remember something we can’t imagine?”

There is an association for journal writers. Of course there is. If you are interested in a community of journalers, prompts, journaling software, information and activity, the International Association of Journal Writers is your group. It costs $49 a year to join.

Bomomo let’s you doodle on your computer screen. I’m sure there is an explanation for how to do something specific, but I was having too much fun clicking choices and seeing what happens. It’s a great, colorful stress reducer. Prefer a little more direction? Have fun with Mr. Picassohead–choose hair, eyebrows, face shape,colors and more in a face you assemble. You can erase a step if it doesn’t match your mood.

Enjoy your creative play!

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays:  * * *   Creative Play 11.19.09 * * * Creative Play 11.5.09 * * * Creative Play 10.29.09 * * * Creative Play 10.22.09 * * *  Creative Play 10.15.09 * * *

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also wonders what you would like to say that you didn’t?

Happy Thanksgiving–Alone or in a Crowd

Whether you are alone, in a crowd (but not part of it) or loving a lot of company and noise, Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s also Theme Thursday, a day of links to fun and interesting place. So I’m combining the day of listing things I’m grateful for, and links to find them.

Daniel Patterson's image of wild Mexican turkeys in the Tucson, AZ area.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, one without presents but not without stress. But we all have much to be thankful for, from big blessings to tiny flashes of insight.

Two years ago, I was alone on Thanksgiving. It felt strange, but not unpleasant. I spent the entire day in silence, working on art projects, feeling what it is like to be alone with just your thoughts. It wasn’t an exciting day, but it was memorable. I didn’t eat turkey, I wasn’t part of the imagined vision of national celebration. I felt removed from the mainstream, but intensely happy to have a day to sink into my art.

In that time, I thought of things I was grateful for. Non-traditional things–the ability to make it through a day alone, without a TV, with just my own meager art supplies.

Today, I’m presenting a list of links that are also reasons to be grateful. I had a rocky start with gratitude journals, but I’m a fan now.

I’m grateful that there are still wild animals on the face of the earth, and that the internet makes it possible for someone on one end of the earth to watch a pond at the other end.

I’m grateful that I found the intersection of art and words as my heart’s delight. If you are a book artist, enjoy pages of inspiration. Don’t miss the Pittsburgh Art Collective books. Beautiful!

I’m grateful that I can see the works of a lot of other artists–of all skill levels. And participate in showing mine, if I like. You can display your art on Illustration Friday, too. It’s great to see what others are doing.

Chris Dunmire runs the Creativity Portal. No matter what your outlet, the portal will help you find more and more interesting articles, projects, and interviews with creative folks.

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays: * * *  Creative Play 11. 19.09 * * * Creative Play 11.5.09 * * * Creative Play 10.29.09 * * * Creative Play 10.22.09 * * *  Creative Play 10.15.09 * * * Creative Play 10.8.09 * * * Creative Play 10.1.09* * *  Creative Play 9.24.09 * * * Creative Play 9.17.09* * * Creative Play 9.10.09 * * *

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also wonders what you would like to say that you didn’t?


Theme Thursday #25: 11.19.09

It’s Theme Thursday and that means it’s time to do something fun and creative. For altered book artists, go take a peek at GoMakeSomething, who has a list of elements to add to altered books, each with a how-to link, including one for 350 ideas for altered books, as well as how to do a layout for one.

Colored pencils from

Altair Designs provides you with different geometric patterns, a brush, a color selector and a few auto-fill in tools. You can color in designs, save them, email them, and see other people’s work in a gallery. Surprisingly enjoyable; a great way to explore color combinations you’ve been wanting to  work on.

Tired of explaining your project progress  to your peers? Here’s a jargon generator that creates empty, meaningless phrases for you. The advantage is that these phrases sound important. Who wouldn’t want to empower cross-market e-platforms?

Thanks to frequent commenter Pete Harbeson, we have a map quiz with a twist. The maps are shown, complete with colors, demarcations and scales, but there is no explanation. Using only the information shown and your basic knowledge of, try to guess what information the map shows. It’s not about geography, it’s about information.

More on found poetry: Logolalia is a site dedicated to artists’ collaborations. The link points to an artist who is working through a page of a book a day, looking for found poetry. It’s visually and poetically interesting.

And finally, TinyBuddha gives you simple advice for a complex life. In this link, 7 keys to happiness.

Five Most Recent  Theme Thursdays:  * * * Creative Play 11.5.09 * * * Creative Play 10.29.09 * * * Creative Play 10.22.09 * * *  Creative Play 10.15.09 * * * Creative Play 10.8.09 * * * Creative Play 10.1.09* * *  Creative Play 9.24.09 * * * Creative Play 9.17.09* * * Creative Play 9.10.09 * * *

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also wonders what you would like to say that you didn’t?