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 (c) 2008 All rights reserved.

Why Keep a Visual Journal?

I’ve kept a written journal for years. I’ve done morning pages, evening pages, no pages. So why start a visual journal? Because a visual journal helps you keep memories more clearly than just a written journal. And you don’t need to be a visual artist, either.

My journal entries often take up a lot of space describing something well enough so I can remember it. In other words, I write a lot to create a picture in my head. So I thought I’d try going directly to the source, and draw the thing I want to remember. This helps me be more observant. About color. About shadows. About shape. About what was really important–was it a linked memory, an emotion, a new idea?

radish bunchSince it’s my journal, and I don’t intend on exhibiting it or turning it into a movie, how well my drawing resemble the object I’m trying to draw it not as important as capturing a memory.

Sometimes I give myself a time limit. It helps to see what I need to see and not spend a lot of time on too many details. I’m trying to catch an idea, not a plot line.

A visual journal helps you be more aware.
A visual journal allows you to see colors more vividly.
Texture comes alive in a journal, and you can use words to compare what you see now to something else. The radish leaves are slightly fuzzy and gritty with sand. I’d never given it much thought.

Your images help you accept your level of art ability, particularly if you give yourself deadlines to prevent overworking an image. In this case, I also tested some of the reds on the same page, so I could layer some colors and get the radish right. Next time, I’ll write the color underneath, so I can use the journal to test color swatches. Another use–getting colors right.

I was flipping through my journal the other day, and as this page passed, I immediately could taste the radish sandwich I love in spring–crisp red radishes sliced thin and placed on smooth unsalted butter on nine-grain bread. I could taste it again.
Pictures are a shorthand to an experience, and you can make the most of it with a visual journal.

Next: It doesn’t have to be pictures, words can be visual, too.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She keeps journals for many reasons.
Image by Quinn. (c) 2008 All right reserved.

Choosing a Wabi Sabi Life

The moon lay on her back in the sky, her thin ivory rim tipped up. Cupped gently in her hollow was the indigo sky, dotted with stars. Two straight lines stitched past the horns of the moon. They were contrails, side-lit by the bright, reflected light. Next to the contrails is the constellation Orion. I always look for it when I walk at night. Often I can just see the belt. Tonight I could see the entire constellation: the powerful Hunter standing next to the river Eridanus with his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, fighting Taurus, the bull.

OrionI was walking at night. The sidewalks were deserted. In the distance, I could hear a train whistle calling as it crossed the street grade and raced into the blank and mountainous desert. Who is on the train? Where are they going at night, where will they wake up?

In the next block the intense smell of orange blossom washed over the block walls that provide privacy. I could just see the blossoms on an orange tree. I know the smell from perfumes, but no perfume has such a rich, deep green smell that carries the hope of next summer’s glowing ember oranges. I touched one of the polished, shiny dark leaves. I pulled one of the blossom branches to me, and, making careful that there were no bees in the bunch, touched the flowers to my tongue. The neroli oil washed over my tongue in a sweet and bitter wave. It is as if I had bitten into a perfumed orange. The branch sprang away from me.moon

The houses have their curtains drawn. I could hear faint sounds from the TVs. Someone was watching explosions and laughing. In the next house someone was not making it on American Idol. I kept walking through the shining night air. This was my gift alone.

I have chosen this life–right now it is lonely and hard. But walking through the night with all five senses is a feast I find indescribably life affirming. I feel alive and aware. I am in one moment at a time. It is an enormous gift to see all this, to taste it, touch it, to hear the sounds of the desert at night. I am grateful. The people who are in front of the TV will never know this, but they are satisfied, too. They don’t want to be walking outside in the dark. I’m glad for their comfort and glad for my own experience.

And in that second of peace, I know the heart of wabi-sabi.

Images: Orion:  Moon:

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at

Wabi Sabi Journaling in Tempe, AZ

March 12: Wabi Sabi Journaling In-Person at
Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ

Wabi sabi, a Japanese aesthetic, honors the old, the incomplete and the unfinished. It’s an interesting topic for journal writing, because a study of the aesthetic leads to choosing the real over the artificial; simple over fussy; handmade over mass produced.

I’m running a seminar at Changing Hands this Wednesday, March 12, 2008. You’ll get an idea of what creativity coaching looks like as well as learn more about Wabi Sabi. Bring a journal for maximum fun.

It should be an interesting evening at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, at the Southwest corner of McClintock and Guadalupe. The class runs from 6:30 pm to 8:30pm. Bring a journal! The class is $20 and you can register, by calling the store at 480-730-0205.

Journal Keeping: More than One

When I teach journal-writing courses, I often hear, “I’ve started a lot of journals, but I keep abandoning them.” There are many reasons we abandon our journals–because we are perfectionists, because we are guilty that we don’t write every day, because we don’t know what to write.handmade journals

A solution I offer to my classes is simple: keep more than one journal. Write in whichever one you choose. “Oh, no!” I hear you yelling, “That will never work!”
“Ummmm, why not?” I ask.
Keeping more than one journal is fine. Just date each entry. I have one journal that is almost square, and has heavy paper, so I like it for watercolors. I have another one that is small and lies flat because of clever binding. I like to take it with me in airplanes because I can write in a cramped area. Another one is larger, and I like to use it for playing around with ideas.

Journals don’t have to be neat, tidy, all the same size, or from the same store. They can be messy, have pages torn out, have ideas that never happened in them.

You can sort them by topic–dreams in one, ideas in another, family stories in a third. You can sort them by paper type or where you will use them.

No matter which way you choose, keep a journal. Your life is worth examining, even occasionally. And when you read them, you will be amazed at what you remember.

See my three different set of journal-prompt cards: perfectionists, one-sentence, and wabi sabi.

–Quinn McDonald teaches journal-keeping and runs seminars on personal and business communication. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

“What should I write in my journal?”

One of the major reasons people quit keeping a journal is fear. “I have to be neat,” they think, or, “I better write profound thoughts.” Not at all. Many of my journal pages are a way of thinking out loud–and often not in words. Sketches, collage, ephemera are vital elements that create journal pages.

jrnl pageOne important act is to date the pages. That way, you will know where your thoughts were on any specific day.

You don’t have to keep one journal in order, either. I have several journals–a small one that I take with me when I travel, a bigger one made of lokta paper,and one with a hard cover, is bound with a big spiral and is filled with heavy watercolor paper. I don’t write in them in order; instead, I use the journal right for the job.

jrnl page 2The three examples shown here show typical journal pages. There are two collages–but not styled or finished ones–simply a “first draft” that does not need to be complete or perfect. It needs to speak to me. I don’t show these collages as artwork, they are meditations in paper.

One has a photograph of my grandfather, a man I never met, but about whom many stories have been passed down. He was a doctor in the last century, and his secret was his curiosity. So there are things on the page that represent not knowing, exploring and discovering.

On the bottom left is an illustration with the saying “Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress.” There is a quote from Rumi, the Sufi mystic, that says, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” I didn’t write a long essay on the importance of not knowing, but the collage says it all, and reminds me of the value of curiosity.

jrnl page 3Another one is a collection of papers, illustrations and a few words that illustrate, for me, how the whole is made up of many parts, all important. It was the result of my trying to describe my idea of the force of the universe–that all of us are one, and that struggling separately is what causes misery. It’s a study that helped me think through my philosophy, part of my interior journey.

The final piece was a page of doodling. My favorite markers of the moment are two fat gray markers–they have a point on one end and a chisel tip on the other. One is 50 percent gray, the other 20 percent. I was playing around with values and hue. This isn’t a composition, it’s doodling. I noticed I was drawing plants, which are green, but using two shades of gray. Then I thought of ee cummings poem that starts, “I thank you god for most this amazing day,” and wrote down the first verse in the doodling. I found a phrase in a poem that says “Green is a solace,” so I added that, too.

These three pages are just as important and valid as if I had written down elaborate descriptions and carefully formed logical thoughts. As I put down the pictures, or doodled with the pens, my mind was free to roam and think. It was soothing and helped me sort out thoughts. And that’s the reason for keeping a journal.

–You might also enjoy the difference between a diary and a journal.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and a certified creativity coach. She will be teaching “Wabi-Sabi journaling” starting September 16, 2007. For more information, contact Quinn at QuinnCreative[at]yahoo[dot]com. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Journal Prompts (what’s next?)

The alarm rang at 3:30 a.m. The ride to the airport would leave in an hour, so I struggled out of sleep and into the shower. On the ride to Chicago’s airport the sky shifted from black to dark blue, moving silhouettes to three-dimensional forms.

The sky is not yet light when we get on the plane. A truck pushes the plane back from the gate, and the plane begins to roll forward, gathering momentum. Then, as the pilot checks her controls, she brakes and checks the flaps. We roll forward and the plan makes a Haloween-moaning sound. As the pilot hits the brakes, the plane slews and squeals. My stomach lurches. That’s not supposed to happen. The pilot’s voice comes on the intercom, “We seem to have a problem in the auto-brake, and while we can take off without using it, we can’t land again at National without it. And the runway at National isn’t forgiving, so we’re returning to the gate to have someone look at it.”

I’m grateful for a cautious pilot. But I begin to wonder, and I write down a few questions. They are not meant to be morbid or stir the fear in you. They are questions that we need to answer sooner rather than later. And, of course, they make good journal prompts.

–To live a complete life, one without regret, there are things I must do. Sure, I’d love to travel extensively, but let’s say I have one week left to live. What should I do in that week?

–What important thing must I say to [my significant other, my child] that they must know while I can still say it to them in person?

— If I were on a plane, and had to leave a note that would be read to all my friends when I’m gone, it would say. . . .

–If I had a few minutes left to live on a plane, and there is no one on the plane I know, I would. . .

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal-writing. See more at

Journal, Diary, What’s the Difference?

It’s a question I get asked all the time. “What’s the difference between a journal and a diary? A diary is a report of what happened during the day—where you ate, who you met, the details leading up to the kerfluffle in the office, and who took whose side. It’s a bit like a newspaper about you.

A journal is completely different. A journal is about examining your life. It’s a GPS system for your spirit. “I’ve made this mistake before. . . and I always make it when I rushed for time and feel panicky. But I feel panicky because I know I’m headed for the same mistake.” Journals lead to insight, growth, and sometimes, achieving a goal.hand made journal

You don’t have to set a goal to have a journal, I have a tendency to live in my head and like goals. You can just muse. You can put down the shifts in emotion, the goals you’ve achieved and how, to remember them. The shortest pencil beats the longest memory, says the proverb, and writing down your motives, successes, emotional pratfalls, helps you remember how you got there and why, not just that they happened.

You can keep a journal in anything that feels comfortable and that’s portable–a spiral notebook, a rollabind book you’ve put together with lokta paper, index cards held together with a rubber band. You can use a computer, keep a blog, although that doesn’t work as well for me. I believe things on the internet are simply not private, password protected or not. And I like the feeling of flipping through pages.

To keep a journal on paper, pick a time of day to write. Keep it regularly. It makes it easier. I never stuck to an exercise program because I never nailed it into my schedule at a certain time. Writing works the same way. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, while eating lunch at your desk. Write with a good pen that feels good and whose color you like.

In the beginning, you may have to set a time limit. Three minutes is good. Just write whatever comes into your head. No editing, no crossing out, no reading it in your mind in front of the committee who lives in your head and judges your writing.

Journal prompts are ideas or thoughts to get you started writing. They help you focus on a topic. You can use one over and over for a week, to see your different answers, or you can use a different one every day.

That’s it. It’s not complicated and it doesn’t take a lot of time. And yes, I teach journal writing courses. That’s how I learned about the GPS of the spirit idea. From my own journal. My website contains a schedule of classes and events on the tab at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, some prompts to get you started:
I couldn’t start my day right unless. . . .
If I could change one thing about my job, I would. . .
Before I get too old, I’d like to . . .

You can also read about Commonplace Journals, 10 Ideas for a Commonplace Journal, or Five Things You Can Put on the First Page of Your Journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.