Urban Naturalist at Night

Night walking is very different from day walking, particularly in the city. Most people are home, so the porch lights are on, and most windows are dark, or lit by the light of screens. There is the literal feeling of being an “outsider” because no one sits on their front porch at night.

Moonplant: walking at night. © Quinn McDonald, 2018

Surrounded by people, you feel totally alone, but not necessarily lonely. There is much that connects us in the night.

The day’s work is done, the family is together. Or maybe that’s just what we would like to think. As I walk down streets, I have no idea what happens behind those doors. I am free to make up what I want to think. For now.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She walks every day, sometimes at night, in the invisible, visible world.

Creating Heart While Traveling

Being on the road is tough. Not whining, but opening the door of yet another anonymous hotel room, eating by yourself in another restaurant where the only thing on the menu that fits the diet and the budget is yet another Cesar Salad, and the reward after a day of teaching is driving two hours to the next venue–it makes you reach in deep and suck it up.

“Eating Bitter” is a Chinese expression of working hard for what you want, sucking it up and knowing that you chose this life and you are making meaning even if it is a lot more effort than you want.

One of the ways I get through the chore of eating bitter and find a bit of sweetness is creating routines–I make an effort to walk every morning, even if I am a thousand miles from home. When the world shrinks to classroom-restaurant-car, it’s important to have a camera. I photograph small moment that seem important and use them in my Commonplace Book. The photo is something that makes me smile, or that serves as a metaphor. I love doing this for many reasons–it connects me to a strange place and it is comforting to find some small shred of beauty in an everyday place.

From my most recent trip: photos and notes that I put in the Commonplace Book for further development.

cactus1Heart on a cactus. Look at that backlighting! Thorns make a halo. Combination of thorns and love.  Being tough can still work as soft. Being uncommon can attract the right thoughts.

cactusDamaged heart. Look at that texture! Damage is dramatic, but can be beautiful, if you look at it the right way. Even nature makes a collage of color and texture. A cactus will root months after the piece breaks off. Life after damage exists, can even thrive.

light1Love the texture on the mid-century lamp. It warms up the whole photo. The flatness of the photograph makes the cactus in the background look like it’s outside, but it is really painted on the window. Illusion of paint–make it work and you believe in it.

window1Even the very ordinary items in a hotel room can be given a new perspective. This is the bathroom window over the shower. The “grass” is a palm tree, and the light is from a passing car. The moment was fleeting, but perfect. Glad I was there to see it and catch it.

A lot of comfort on a trip is creating a piece of life that is comforting and interesting, no matter where you are.

–Quinn McDonald has made friends with the road.



Wonder All Around The World

Time for a jaunt around the interwebs to see fascinating sites we don’t get to see on our own.  Photographers Thomas Zakowski and Tom Gill found Lake Michigan to be magical. When the freezing winds hit St. Joseph North Pier,  and the blowing water coated the lighthouses, they both pulled out their cameras and took photos that rival the Wall in The Game of Thrones.

frozen-lighthouse-st-joseph-north-pier-lake-michigan-121-1You can see more of their photographs at eknol.

Lara Sanchez gathered a collection of headgear made of natural materials by Finnish senior citizens. I don’t know the whole story, but instead of laughing at the idea, I found the compositions beautiful and haunting.


OK, some I found a bit disturbing, like the seaweed below. At least, I think it’s seaweed. He  looks a bit like a Nordic Anton Van Leeuwenhoek. (Discoverer of bacterial life with his invention, the microscope.)








And one was so instantly recognizable as tidy rhubarb that it was charming.

hMxbvE9It made me wonder if this were a contest or just a lark. You can see more headdresses (and Lara’s work here.)

The photo below (which I posted on Facebook and asked for likely captions) was taken at Phoenix’s Biltmore Fashion Square. It was surprising to see this clever design in a place better known for carefully designed and fashion-appropriate decorations. Kathy Christian provided the link to the headresses, above.













The skirt is made from trimmings of palm fronds, something that happens this time of year.

Photographer Nicholas Rivals plays with a flashlight in a dark room to create his photographs.

nicolas2He calls them Light Rorschach, which means the viewer can see whatever the psyche floats up. Are they masks? Imagined people? Rivals says his work:

…turns observer and observed through the eyes of spirited but ultimately see some of your own personality and therefore yourself. Cross between the work and the viewer as an introspection looks these masks seem to shout.  “Tell me what you see and I’ll tell you who you are.”

-Quinn McDonald is curious about the natural world in which she lives.


Saturday Dip in Creativity

It’s Saturday, so it’s time for a skip through the interwebs, looking for creative ideas and projects. The Wellcome Collection describes itself as: “Wellcome Collection is a free visitor destination for the incurably curious, exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. ” Sounds good. I was intrigued by an exhibition called Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan, which talks about identity and the relationship between names and letters.

Rome Rooftops by Isaac Tobin. Details below.

Rome Rooftops by Isaac Tobin. Details below.

There are many other areas on the site that I haven’t checked out yet, including High Tea, a game you can play on line, in which you try to make money in the teas and drug trade, 10 years before the Opium Wars. Before you wrinkle your nose, there are related articles including one which considers whether or not drug use is a sin, a crime, a vice,  or a a disease.

The Color Of is an app that shows you the color of abstract ideas. It does it by going to Instagram, grabbing photos that mentions the word, then creating an abstract by overlapping the images. Interesting.

The Graphics Fairy publishes hundreds of copyright-free images that you can use on cards or stationery. Sort of online ephemera, printable.

Nerhol is a two-artist collective who uses photography in unusual ways. In this series, subjects were asked to sit still for three minutes, while a camera clicked away, taking a series of photos. The photos were then layered and cut to show the subtle movement and facial changes of the “sitting still” subjects.

Isaac Tobin designs typefaces and works for Chicago University Press designing book covers. But the work of his I love are his minimalist collages. That’s one of them up there, but there are many more, some of them so spare, so not “layers on layers” we are used to loving now, that they are refreshing.

It’s the weekend! Enjoy your own creativity.

Quinn McDonald is working on a collage of her own. It’s done with letters and numbers. Again.

Saturday Creative Stroll

146-250Serena Barton has a just-released book on one of my favorite topics: wabi sabi. The Japanese esthetic honors the worn, the old and the weathered. Her book is on making art that honors wabi-sabi. It just arrived in my mailbox, so I have just glanced at it, but I’m already happy I ordered it.

You’ll find a nice selection of her art on her site, including some collages, encaustics and mixed media pieces.

Elizabeth LeCourt lives and works in London, creating quirky illustrations and some interesting fashions. After a fashion. She constructs dresses out of antique maps, and that’s always fascinating to look at. And wonder about.

One of Daniel Barreto's houses embedded in a tree.

One of Daniel Barreto’s houses embedded in a tree.

If you like small houses, you will fall in love with the art of 21 year old Boston, MA based illustrator Daniel Barreto. His houses are carved into hidden  trees deep in the woods. Their windows, glowing with light in the snowy forest night is mysterious and haunting.

If I thought I had trouble ginning myself up for a head shot, Wes Naman must have scared his subjects out of their wits. Naman is a photographer, and for this series on faces, he wrapped his subjects in Scotch tape, wildly distorting their faces before he grabbed the camera. It looks like collage of plastic surgery gone wrong, but it’s compelling. OK, just a teensy bit creepy, too. Art’s job is to upset the apple cart, not re-arrange the fruit plate.

Hong Yi works in . . . coffee. She does  detailed, realistic portraits in coffee stains. Prefer tea? No worries, she does those, too. Her name, Hong, sounds like the word Red in Mandarin, so her website is called Red. From her website: “Red is a Malaysian artist-architect.  She also loves how a colour can stir up conflicting emotions – one of love and passion, and of danger and sacrifice.” She has a big variety of art on her website.

Have a creative weekend!

–Quinn McDonald is at the Women’s Expo in Phoenix this weekend, demoing art projects for Arizona Art Supply.

What You Get Is What You See

In the last section of Raw Art Journaling, I use photographs as a starting point. I find something in the photograph that wants out, and let it out with pencils, markers, paint. You can do the same thing with words. Look at the photos below and use them as the starting point for writing. A photographic journal prompt. In this case, I wrote haiku, although you can use it as a journal prompt for a nature journal as well.


Water: smooth. Danger?
Frozen, biting, hot and cold.
Holding time in check.


Earth waits for water
Water waits for freshing wind
Wind waits for no one.


Light years cool fire’s heat
Less in the burning desert
Even the moon is hot


Dust hangs in the air
Reflecting heat and cactus
Glass is dust, is air

Haven’t bought the book yet? It’s time. Here’s a free shipping bonus!

Get free shipping on Raw Art Journaling at www.shop.mixedmedia.com! Just use promo code RAWART2011 at checkout to get free shipping in the US.  Of course there is fine print, but not a lot. Here it is:

The Fine print:
*Code RAWART2011 is valid until December 31, 2011 at 11:59PM EST. Free shipping offer on US orders only. Price discounts are available for a limited time on some items. Please note that discounts are not available on products that ship directly from the manufacturer: see product pages for details.

–Quinn McDonald is the author of Raw Art Journaling.

There is a reason

Roses do well here in Arizona. But not for long. They seem tragic, somehow, working so hard to put out leaves and blooms and then the sun scorches them to nothing. We have our share of people in the desert who want their roses. Want to say they grow roses in the scrub-brush land of purples, grays and browns.

The same people who say, “There is a reason for everything,” do not want to accept the reason that some plants don’t grow in the desert on their own.

They want to prove they can outsmart the weather, the climate, the plan that doesn’t suit them.

But in the end, the climate is part of our lives, part of the big circle of life that brings us birth and brings us death. And there is beauty in both, whether we want to see it or not. Because the desert climate believes in us, even if we do not believe in it.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and journaler who is a life coach because she believes in putting down roots where you thrive.

Raw Art Photography

Maybe you could call them altered photos, but they aren’t really altered. They aren’t as much altered as they are found, like found poetry. When I see something more in an ordinary photo, it’s found art photography. I take the photo, and then print it out. Using colored pencils, markers, pastels, I bring out what I see. Sure, I could do this with Photoshop or some other digital program, but there is something profoundly interesting in using my hands and colored pencils or markers to bring out what I see in a photograph.

Art photographers show the world what they see through their viewfinders. I take photographs to document something I don’t see. . .yet. And then I allow it to appear. Camera as art tool.

Here is the photograph of the crack in the pavement–note the small vertical line on the middle and the slanting dark line on the right.

It looks like an ordinary crack in the pavement, until you take a closer look. . .

Here’s what I saw when I took the original photograph. I just coaxed it out with pencils and markers:

. . . and see the lightning storm and the washed out road.

What’s hiding in your photographs that needs to be seen and let out?

Quinn McDonald is an artist and certified creativity coach.

Fear and the Photograph

Check out your rights as a photographer: http://tinyurl.com/4neyed

Washington, D.C. in the summer. The humidity is a given. So are the tourists, camera clicking away. But times are changing. While the public is getting used to less privacy as video cameras watch them from street corners, parking lots and store security stations, the police and security guards and chasing photographers away, telling them that photographs taken in public places, while standing on public property, is illegal.

It isn’t, of course, but who wants to argue with an official with a gun? Jerome Vorus, a 19-year-old college student was detained by police after he took a photograph of a traffic stop in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. Although he stood 20 feet away from the scene, the police accused him of photographing the inside of a cruiser, and claimed this was illegal. (It’s not, according to the police guidelines.)

The Washington Post recently ran an article citing a number of cases where ordinary citizens were prevented from taking photos in public places. Often, the photos were of federal buildings, and images of those buildings were posted on the governments website.

This is another case of fear. Once fear is set lose, the reaction is more fear. Tourists are seen as terrorists, citizens as threats. Non-citizens are seen as bigger threats. Courts have ruled that anyone standing in a public area have no expectation of privacy, but it’s hard to carry around a court ruling and reason with someone who has seized your camera and is deleting your photos.

Fear of strangers, fear of your neighbor, and fear of people and ideas we don’t understand have risen considerably since 9/11. We create our own reality—if we see harm and malice in every photographer, we become a nation that makes decisions out of fear, that reacts in fear. That leads us to a nation that abandons the First Amendment or allows security guards to define the law as they see fit, and enforce it in any way they choose. Let’s put down the fear and settle for a little thinking, instead.