Being Yourself

We want to work like a CEO, delegate like the managing partner of a law firm, produce wonderful art like whoever is popular right now and smile like a Orbits chewing gum commercial.

Become-who-you-areWe rarely want to be just like ourselves. Flawed, working hard, trying to be better is wonderful. It keeps us busy and mindful of change. But when we always aspire to be better, smarter, cooler, and other-than-us, we don’t get to be ourselves very much.

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself,” Miles Davis said.

It takes time to discover all the parts of you, sort them out, and make something of them. The best way to do that is to focus on the parts of you, instead of comparing the parts to someone else and falling short. Focusing on the you that exists already helps you discover who you are, what you like, what you want to do with your talent. Comparing yourself to others shows you what you are not, what you lack.

And lack is the home of the inner critic. Bring out The Assembler of the Pieces of You as an inner hero and celebrate all the parts of you that are marvelous.

Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal. She’s happy she wrote the book. It’s not a fast-riser on the New York Times best-seller list, but the reviews on are amazingly thoughtful. People are being themselves when they comment. Nothing could be better.


The Other Side of the Camera

Returning home after filming the DVDs was a bit strange–many of my go-to supplies would not arrive home for a week or so, and the constant pressure to practice one more time had vanished. Making the DVDs was an exhilarating experience–scary, fun, exhausting, and awkward.  So far out of my comfort zone, the horizon was a faint line in my emotional landscape.


I don’t like being in front of TV cameras. Luckily for me, North Light put one of the editors, Amy Jones, into the DVD with me, so there could be live interaction instead of droning lecture.

But it is hard to work on an art project and look natural with three giant TV cameras in front of me. I was, however, grateful for the lights, which kept the studio warm.

Phil, checking details before filming starts.

Phil, checking details before filming starts. The bookcase was carefully decorated with pieces from the book and some props to create color and height.

It’s good to be out of your comfort zone, that’s where the real creativity comes in. I had forgotten a few basics, and had to take a deep breath and ask for help. I was amazed at how reluctant I was to ask for tape or gloves. I was reminded again that asking for help gives other people a chance to be generous an to offer help.

The projects went well, and the DVDs will be offered on the North Light shop in a few weeks. (And yes, there will be a giveaway here on the blog.)

There was time for coffee; Amy Jones from North Light waits for the go-ahead to start again.

There was time for coffee; Amy Jones from North Light waits for the go-ahead to start again.

The first one demos Monsoon Papers in the latest version–made inside, without a water hose, in a small container. Just as vibrant, just as fun. Much less mess.

The second DVD covers several ways to carry loose-leaf journal pages: boxes, 3-ring binders, folders. It was fun making them all. Of course I still have regular journals, but the loose-leaf versions have so many advantages, I’ll be using them for a while.

There were several projects I didn’t have time for, which was a relief. Better to have too much than not enough. I’m creating some step by steps for those to put on my website as extras.

Some tips I learned for making DVDs:

  • Show the finished project first.
  • Start with an interesting fact instead of introducing yourself
  • Get to the project quickly, add background when the viewer knows what is happening.
  • Wear solid colors. They are less distracting and create a better background for your art.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, a DVD that lasts an hour takes 8 hours to film.
  • Don’t fret so much what you look like. It’s who you are and the DVD is about your art, not about the fact that your nose is shiny and you broke two nails going through the TSA line.
  • Have fun. Filming doesn’t last long, but relationships do.

I’m glad to be back where it’s warm. Temperatures far below freezing don’t hold the charm they did when I owned cross-country skis.

–Quinn McDonald is glad to have stretched out of the comfort zone and glad to be back in it.

Inner Hero Accordion Folder

Yesterday, I showed an accordion folder for one of my inner heroes, the Protector of Flight Feathers. Only part of it was visible. Here’s how it was made:

1. Cut a piece of heavy paper, about 8 inches long and 3 inches high. (This happens to be a page from a constellation atlas).

Book72. Paint the paper on both sides. I used a Gelli Plate to monoprint this paper, front and back. I used a texture plate from an architectural kit. The black side (constellation atlas, remember?) had some gold added.

3. Fold the piece of paper in half, to make a piece 4 inches by 3 inches. Fold each side to the center mark, to create a 2 inches x 3 inches high. Re-fold to create an accordion fold book.

Book54. Choose short pieces from your stash for additional pages. These will be folded and fit into a crease of the original book. They should be shorter and smaller than the original accordion fold.

5. Stack the pieces together to make sure the original accordion can still fold. Trim any sheets that create a problem.

Book86. Stitch the pieces in place to create a wild, multi-sheet accordion book.

Book2Now the fun begins. You could have written in the book first, and assembled it afterwards. I assembled it first, thinking about my inner hero. Until the book was complete, I didn’t have an Inner Hero at hand. Once I knew her name, I drew the feather images and added the words.

Book3It had been raining the day before, and I wondered where the birds go. I know they sit in trees and under eaves, but I rarely see them. What I do see a lot of is feathers. And I began to think that one of my strengths is thinking of details, and one of my weaknesses is that sometimes I forget how all those details piece together and make a glorious whole.

Book5The image of the birds’ feathers and how they serve different functions, but all come together, came back to me. If all I do is pay attention to details; I’ll forget the purpose of the whole.

book9So the last page (sort of) says, ” Don’t spend time wondering which feather lifts you–they all do. Practice flying instead of counting feathers.”  The Protector of Flight Feathers has a lot to teach me. The details are important, but so is the big picture, the goal. Without knowing how to see the goal, I can’t really grow toward it. And rather than thinking of the place of each feather, it makes a lot of sense to fly.

—Quinn McDonald is working on more Inner Heroes. A girl can never have enough of them.


Another Book Launch

Tonight and 7 p.m., for the second time in three years, I’ll launch a book at Changing Hands independent book store. Yes, I did a book signing at CHA in Anaheim. But doing the first signing in your own town is the real launching of any book.  Two of the contributors, Traci Paxton Johnson and Rosaland Hannibal with be with me to help people find their inner hero and to sign the books.

HeroBookThe Inner Hero Creative Art Journal is ready to go out in the world and stand on its own. I’m proud of it, and proud that I finished it. Several times while writing it, I didn’t think I had the courage to say the things I wanted to say.

Tomorrow night, I might feel that same fear. Just because you write about the inner critic doesn’t mean you got over your own. I just got to know him better.

But here is what I do know: without the encouraging, brave, funny, and imaginative group of people who read this blog, leave encouraging comments and help me solve problems, there wouldn’t have been a book. So to all of you who stop by here–thank you so very much for supporting my inner heroes.

If you live in the Phoenix area, stop by Changing Hands at 7 p.m. tonight. There will be chocolate chip cookies for snack lovers and seedy bars for diabetics and gluten-free patrons, fruit spears for vegans, too. Changing Hands is on the Northwest corner of Guadalupe and McClintock in Tempe.

We’re going to do fun exercises to call out our inner heroes. Original art from the book will be there, too. I’m so happy I finished the book. Because it’s a whole new beginning for outsider art and courage.

—Quinn McDonald never imagined there would be people stopping by to chat every day. She’s glad for the company. Writing can be lonely.

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.

The Powerful Placebo of Creativity

Say the word placebo and people’s noses wrinkle up. A placebo is a pill that doesn’t do anything, doesn’t cure anything, contains no drugs. And yet, between 35 percent and 75 percent of  people who are given placebos experience the same cure as people in the group that were given the real drug. If the doctor who hands out a placebo is optimistic and assures the patient the pill is the real thing, the cure rate is on the higher side of the statistics.

How do placebos work? They trigger the powerful body-mind connection we all have. They give the mind permission to do the healing work, and the body follows along. Not bad for a blank pill.

When I do book signings, I sometimes ask the people in the audience to make permission slips. I bring blank watercolor postcards, pens, colored pencils, markers, and glitter glue. As we make permission slips, I encourage people to give themselves permission to be creative, to let the housework slide, to take time to daydream.

Some people ask me to sign the slip. I encourage them to sign their own slip, as each person needs to give him- or herself permission to let go of their old beliefs. The Inner Hero is not a new person–it’s the authentic you, the person you wish you might be someday. But you already are, but have trouble admitting it. Heroes have a lot of responsibility.

Occasionally, I do sign the permission slip. I look the person in the eye and say, “This is powerful, and you have to work an hour every day to make it work.” I’ve begun to hear back from people, who have discovered that their permission slip has power.

Like a placebo, the permission slip takes away excuses and replaces it with possibility. The chance that ideas will come, that creativity will flicker and catch pushes reluctance aside, and leaves space for acting as an Inner Hero. When success gets breathing room, it expands.  The people who write me to say their permission slip worked–they always were creative. What they needed was the permission to believe it and act on it.

What would you like to take a pill for if it gave you what you were hoping for?

-Quinn McDonald is the author of The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal.  She will be signing books and encouraging people to discover their Inner Hero on February 20 at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. 7 p.m. Come join in!

Inner Hero, Inner Critic

Most people think that with the Inner Hero book,  I no longer have an Inner Critic. [Snort] HAHAHAHA! Or course I do, and he’s not going to go away. That’s the whole purpose of the inner hero idea–to create an alter ego that has your permission to kick the inner critic’s butt.

One of the big steps in dealing with an inner critic is knowing when something makes you happy and reveling in it. Dogs do this naturally–they roll in revolting things because it makes them happy. Cats chase after red-light dots with crazy abandon. But people don’t express happy very well. We create an excuse like drinking to say “I got carried away.” We should all get carried away more often.

I’m just back from the CHA convention (Craft and Hobby Association) in Anaheim, California, and I had two enormously wonderful things happen.

BookingsigningCHA1. North Light (my publisher) had me do a book signing. I asked Seth Apter and Rosaland Hannibal, book contributors,  to sign the books with me. (Seth is not in this photo, that’s Rosaland on the right). After all, three signatures is better than one. And I’ve never seen that happen, so I thought it would be fun. And it was. Pure fun. My editor, Tonia Jenny, was there for moral support and took the photos. How nice was that? Tommy Semosh (also from North Light) made books, chairs and pens appear. And we signed books and talked and laughed.  Pure joy and excitement.

2. I was talking to someone at the CHA booth when a woman came up and recognized me from my column in Somerset Studio magazine. “Are you the Quinn McDonald?” I was sure she was thinking of someone else. “Probably not,” I said, and then she asked if I did the column. She said nice things. I did not tell her I was a worthless human or a talentless troll. I said, “Thank you,” and meant it. I allowed myself to feel good. I allowed my ego to inflate.  Carefully, and not too much. Because sometimes it just feels good to be recognized and praised.

I did not “jinx” anything by feeling good about myself. The world did not come to an end. Nothing bad happened to “counterbalance” the good. Happy is a wonderful feeling. But you have to allow it to happen.

—Quinn’s Inner Hero book is launched. There will be a Phoenix-launch at Changing Hands bookstore on Februray 20. Save the date, she wants to see you all there.