Outsider Artist

Outsider art is often shrugged off as the creative work of people with a mental illness. And yes, some art brut (the French word for outsider art) is done by a human being who happens to have a mental illness. But not all. And the idea that we need to separate art into a definition of the creator bothers me.

"Alchemy" © by Quinn McDonald. Ink on watercolor paper.

“Alchemy” © by Quinn McDonald. Ink on watercolor paper.

Would we say “the artist who dyes her hair”? or “the left-handed collage artist? Nope. But we sure would add the elements that create a frisson of fear–and that includes mental illness, a checkered past, and other facts that divide “us” from “them.”  I am an outsider artist. I don’t consider myself weird or worthy of being cast out. I just consider  myself dedicated to creativity.

Jean Dubuffet, the French artist who came up with the name art brut (rough or raw art) defined it as art created outside the mainstream of the established art scene. This includes artists who have not gone to art school, who do not have gallery representation, and whose art illustrates fantasy scenes, unconventional ideas and approaches.

The magazine Raw Vision, which focuses on outsider art, includes several other definitions, including Intuitive Art. My favorite is Visionary Art, which is what the museum of outsider art in Baltimore, Maryland, calls it.

Outsider art is the creative work of people who work on the edges of the existing, acceptable art scene, and often do not make a living from their art.

Nine years ago, I made a conscious decision not to have my art be my main income. For about 15 years before that, selling my artwork paid the mortgage and bought groceries. One afternoon, I had a great idea for a piece, followed by the idea that I couldn’t create it because it was not going to be popular. And at that second I also knew I didn’t want to make creative decisions through a profit/loss spreadsheet.

Now I make a living being a creativity coach. I also design and teach business writing and business creativity workshops. And I teach art and writing workshops and retreats. And I write books. All of those things contribute to an income. When one of them threatens to drain my creativity, I shift to working on another. It keeps me fresh and takes away the onus of income producer from any one of my niches.

Most of all, it frees me to do the art I love. Several times in the past year, I’ve sighed and wished I were one of the cool artists–the ones you see all the time on Facebook, with Etsy shops and classes and lots and lots of connections. Then I realize that, since childhood, I have always wanted to be on the inside, but rarely am.

And finally, I realized the power of being an outsider. You can see what’s happening inside, but not be ruled by it. (A space at the cool kids’ table wasn’t free in seventh grade, and it’s not free now.) You can frequently be more daring, create right-on-the-edge art, and speak your truth more freely as an outsider. You can, in fact, live your creativity. Your real expression. Out loud.

Yes, sometimes it’s lonely. But other times the wonder and glory of following your vision and creating directly from your soul is worth the loneliness which feeds you.

-Quinn McDonald is an outsider artist. She will be at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association) in Anaheim this weekend, signing her book at North Light books and demo-ing at the Niji booth.

QuinnCreative on the Road

In a month, I’m going to launching a series of classes in completely different

Fish done in drawing class, yellow stripe and blue face is done in Sharpie glitter.

places. The purpose of the classes are many–to gather information for my next book, to launch an idea that I think is both powerful and interesting, and to invite people to step into their own creativity. Particularly those people who have been working with kits and finding them unsatisfying.

Here is where I will be. If you are close, if you are far away,  if you want an adventure, please join me.

May 5-6: Valley Ridge, Wisconsin. Postcards from the Other Side of Your Brain.
Who it’s for: For anyone, artistic or not, who struggles with a loud, obnoxious inner critic. For those who love Monsoon Papers and want to learn how to make it.
What to expect: Two days of class that will help you work out ways to listen what the inner critic has to say, take the small hard truths out as raw material, and journal about them. (In guided visualizations). Use the writing to create your own wisdom in answering the critic.

You’ll make the popular Monsoon Papers and make a holder for your free-standing journal pages. To make the free-standing journal pages, you’ll also learn collage techniques with photographs, colored papers, and words.  You’ll also learn meditative ink-and-water technique and found poetry. You’ll create your very personal way to invite your inner critic into an open conversation with your inner advocates. You’ll be surprised at the reach, deep conversation. What you learn here will be a technique you can use for the rest of your life.
How to register: Go to the Valley Ridge website and register from there. Price: $310, or under $20 an hour. There are still several places left.

Dragonfly done in drawing class.

May 18: An event in Scottsdale, AZ. I’m still working with the details, so I can’t be informative. More to come.

May 31-June 2: Great American Scrapbook Convention, Arlington, TX. (Dallas Area)
Who it’s for: Anyone who already works on scrapbooks but wants to try something that incorporates their very own creativity.
What to expect: This fast-paced class will help you learn how to fill journal pages with fresh ideas, big ideas, tiny ideas–all in great fun and color. You will walk away with your own masu-box of magic words, and a skill that you can use to add sparkle and punch to your journals for years.

How to register: This takes you directly to the registration page. This takes you to the home page of the Great American Scrapbook Convention.

Flowers done in drawing class, tulips done in Sharpie glitter and Twinkling H20s

June 22-23,  Great American Scrapbook Convention in Chantilly VA.
I’m going to Chantilly, Virginia, too, and teaching One Sentence Journaling there, too! So if you can’t make it to Texas, click on the link to Chantilly and join the class there!

Quinn McDonald is excited to be teaching and meeting a whole new group of people at scrapbooking conventions! Come and say hello!

On Being Different

There is a certain frisson in being different. Most of us really don’t want to be. We want to think we are different, but not actually be different. Different enough to still be interesting, maybe eccentric, but not stand-alone different. There is fear in having to explain ourselves—and failing.

When communication is too different, it requires a lot of translation.

There was a recent uptick in “be different and proud” quotes on Twitter and it set me to thinking. As an artist, there is a certain threat level to being different. There are fads in supplies and techniques.  Several years ago, anyone who could push a thread through a bead became a “jewelry designer;” those with more patience and talent made amulet bags. If you didn’t make them, your talent was suspect—as if you hadn’t reached an expected artistic developmental stage.  In the collage world, there was a huge surge in illustrations of big eyed women with bent necks. Adding a bird somewhere in the collage was close to a requirement. . The bird was first a sign of individuality and moved to cliche, with defenders and detractors.

“Different” varies from “early adopter” to “outsider artist. It’s hard to feel connected to your path when you are alone and a large group of successful others are pouring out the fad of the minute.

Being different in the corporate world doesn’t often win awards, either. I once refused to fire a writer who was labeled as different. He was serious, bright, and had a talent for concise, image-rich, clear prose that drove home a point.  He was also an introvert and overweight. The department head pointed it out as “not fitting in with our image” and urged me to fire the writer. I refused, pointing to the employee’s serious talent. Suddenly I was the one who didn’t fit in, Within six months, I was called in for a review and told, “You are different and seem to enjoy it.” It wasn’t a compliment, and I was pushed out of the company. To my satisfaction, the good writer remained.

It’s hard being different if it affects your livelihood or your ethics. It’s easier to go along to get along. Being different isn’t a label; it’s is a daily decision-making process that balances providing for your family, being accepted by your friends, and standing up for what you believe. Sometimes that can be quite lonely. It can cost you a client or friends. You doubt yourself. You struggle with the possibility that you are simply wrong.

We live in a world of image, driven by consumer values. There is huge pressure to be accepted, to fit in, to have supporters, successful Facebook “Like” pages, Re-tweets. Do you express your opinion if it is different from your client’s and she is expressing hers as the right opinion? Do you stay silent? What about a friend’s veiled slur against a religion?  What if it is your religion? What about a snarky remark about looks? Weight? Who do you defend, except yourself? We make small decisions every day, and they shape our character, our jobs, our lives. Be careful of the little ones. They change the shape of your soul.

–Quinn McDonaldis a writer, artist, and life- and certified creativity coach. She is the happy author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

Journal Pages: No-Layer Backgrounds

An image becomes recognizable when they eye sees 30 percent of it.

Put down the paint–all of it. Acrylics, watercolors, pastels. Lay down your  sizers, distressers, macro- and micro-glitter,  mica shards and flower petals. Put them down. Now. You don’t need them to journal.  Breathe. Clean off your desk.  Breathe again. Just for now, we are going to keep it simple. You can go back to layers-upon-layers tomorrow.

You don’t need “layers upon layers” in your journal pages. Just for today, allow your journal to be a quiet discovery of what’s in your heart and soul. It doesn’t need six layers of paint, crayons, punchinella stencils, gloss varnish, sprinkles and hot chocolate sauce. The last dozen journals I’ve seen were heavy and colored and had ephemera stuck all over them, but not a single word that helped the owner make sense of her life.

I believe in slow art–and I call it Raw Art. It’s yours. It has your fingerprints in it and your mistakes throughout it. Because it is original and raw. I believe that the original digital art was done by hand–ten digits, including an opposable thumb– with a pencil on paper. After that, pens and maybe watercolor pencils were added. That’s all you need to make meaning. Meaning might not come from words alone, but it doesn’t comes from pressure to buy pounds of tools to create busy, color-laden, thick, but word-empty pages, either.

Below are some pages from a journal I made without a painted background.  Simple. Spare. With words. If you feel that your journal pages have become the boss of you, and meaning has taken the back seat, throw everyone out of the art van and rearrange the seats.

Put creativity and your good common sense in the front seat. Everyone else who is clamoring for attention (“But X puts paint in her hair and puts her journal on her head to get color!” “Be like Y and use that new archival peanut-butter-and-jelly stain to create an inner child page!” ) has to sit in the way-back and be quiet. Give them a coloring book and ketchup packets.

Now you are ready to drive. Here are some pages that use only Pitt pens and watercolor pencils and my own weird handwriting. I loved making every page. Remember when you loved making things? Go back to that time. It was rich in content, satisfying in the doing. Here are 4 examples of raw art.

Use simple lines. Write with your own handwriting. It's yours. That's enough.

Lines make perfectly good backgrounds. And your pen isn't lumping over paint.

Stick with black and white. Or use color. In some places and not in others.

I created these flowing, intersection, organic lines. They leave space for writing divide up the page and let you meditate as you fill a page.

–Quinn McDonald writes and creates journal pages with raw art journaling. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art is now available.

Raw Art Journaling with Poetry

Raw-art journaling is the combination of abstract art and words. It’s an art form for everyone, from writers to artists who aren’t illustrators. For those who love the written word in content, but aren’t calligraphers, raw art is a deeply satisfying journaling experience. You can work on it for minutes or hours, add color or leave it in black-and-white.

Here are two recent journal pages from my raw-art journal. The one below is a quote from

The quote is from Anthony Machado, about the road you create and can look back on.

The quote says, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, nothing more, there is no road. the road is made by walking. On glancing behind, one sees the path that will never be trod again.”

The second one is a quote from Lorna Crozier. Also about walking, but in a completely different way. The vertical orange lines are the book binding stitches holding the signature in place.

Poem by Lorna Crozier. Art by Quinn McDonald. Pitt Pen, watercolor pencils on paper.

The poem is called “Plato’s Angel” and is from her book, “Inventing the Hawk.”
It thinks the world
into being
with its huge mind
its pure intelligence
On the curve of its crystal
you see yourself,
you see your shadow
One of you will put on shoes,
will walk into the world.

Quinn McDonald is writing a book to be called Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art. It will be published in 2011 by North Light Books.

Channeling Klimt

In Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in This World, she suggests an interesting exercise–channel a dead artist, any artist, not necessarily in your art medium–and write down what the artist has to say in your morning pages. Interesting idea. So last night, before I went to sleep, I called upon Gustav Klimt, the expressionist artist. I had found this quote of his:

I have the gift of neither the spoken nor the written word, especially if I have to say something about myself or my worik. Whoever wants to know something about me—as an atrist, the only notable thing—ought to look carefully at my pictures and try to see them in what I am and what I want to do.

This seemed to be a well-found quote. We artists often become inarticulate when discussing our own work, and so detailed and powerful when we use our work to express our ideas.

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

Klimt challenged the viewer to decipher his work, to put effort into understanding what he meant. Each viewer brings personal and intimate ideas, dreams, and preferences when they look at a work of art. The artist has no idea of what those ideas are when he is producing the work.

Klimt painted women, and in his most famous series, he made extensive use of gold and silver gilding.

Gold and silver gilding was nothing new, it had been used for hundreds of years when he started. Klimt used the color to infuse light into his work, and more than that, he illuminated his very different work in which he used repetitive geometric shapes to bring life to his subjects. And that’s what I channeled–the personal use of old technique applied with new meaning. How we have to use what we know to create what we are just discovering. How what we don’t know is what we explore and understand through our work.

Oh, I know Klimt wasn’t personally talking to me. I’ve been struggling with this issue for a few years now–what is a new idea? Are there any? To my relief, the answer is yes–but you have to dig for them.

–Quinn McDonald is working on a book to be published by North Light Books in 2011.

Call for Art for Gallery in My Book

Background: I’m writing a book, on Raw Art Journaling–a way for people who don’t know how to draw to keep an art journal. The book has a strong focus on making meaning from the journey you are on,  not drawing pretty pictures.  I’m asking for volunteers for one of the Example Galleries in my book–the one after Found Poetry, Chapter 3.

The Book: The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. The book  answers the question “How can you make art with no skills?” Ah. That’s raw art. We are all born to create. We are all born creative. It’s not a skill, it’s a right. We have to reclaim it. The book shows how.

Who: Anyone who is sparked by the idea of Found Poetry. (A link to example is just below). You do not have to be a poet, an artist, or a writer to contribute. The entire purpose of my book is to show that people who have never considered themselves artists can enjoy doing meaningful art.

What: Your task (should you decide to play along) is to create a Found Poetry Collage. There is an example and a how-to at this blog post. There are two methods shown, you can use either one.

When: Before May 1, 2010.

1. The entry can be any length between 3-12 lines. You can use either method shown in the link. This means you don’t have to draw or decorate the page unless you want to. If you want to, you can do that, too, but keep it flat, please. Mixed media comes later in the book. The finished piece should fit comfortably in an 8 inch (20 cm) X  10 inch (25 cm) space. (You can make it smaller in any direction, just not larger).

2. There is a deadline for sending a photo or scan to me, and a separate one for the editor to make her choice for the book. I need a photo or scan before May 1, 2010. The editor makes the final choices, but not for a while–based on the number of choices she has.

Until the final choice is made, you cannot publish your entry anywhere–not your blog, not on Facebook or Twitter, not in a magazine. If you are chosen, you cannot publish it until the book comes out in July of 2011.

3. Send in a scan, or a pretty good photo (72 bpi is fine) to Quinn@RawArtJournaling.com  Put “found poetry” in the Subject line. Do NOT send me the original–I will lose it. If your piece is chosen, you will be asked to send the original to the editor for professional photography at the publisher’s, so please create it on a flat sheet of paper, not in a journal.

4. If your found poetry gets into the Gallery, your name will appear next to the photograph, and that can be a good thing for your resume or just for bragging rights. There will be two or three Galleries in the book, so I can’t pay real money, much as I’d like to heap cash in your lap.

5. Participating in this Found Poetry Gallery doesn’t keep you from being in the other Galleries in the book. You can get in more than once.

5. The deadline to get your found poetry scan or photo to me is before May 1, 2010.

Questions? Stuff I didn’t mention? Write me at RawArtJournals@Gmail.com

Have fun making meaning!

Quinn McDonald’s book,  The Raw Journal: Making Meaning, Making Art. No Skills Required. will be published by North Light books in the summer of 2011.

Graffiti: Raw-Art on the Street

People often ask me where the inspiration for raw art comes from. For people who can’t draw, a repeating pattern, a fluid line, or an easy curve catches the eye and pleases the soul. Graffiti often captures that mood and spirit–strong, free, easy to like.

In one of the places I teach, there is a great strip of colorful, well-designed graffiti. You can See the start below.

A whole block of graffiti in Phoenix. © Quinn McDonald, 2010 All rights reserved.

I found the middle section intriguing. There is something familiar and artful in that piece.The colors are bright, the design strong. I like the graceful curves.

Part writing, part art, it's the perfect raw-art piece. © Quinn McDonald 2010

This is the section that looks most artful to me. What do you see? Is it an ‘e’? Is it sunrise over water? Is it an angel in a circle?

Floating pieces of sky. © Quinn McDonald, 2010

Quinn McDonald is a writer and communications trainer. Her book on Raw-Art Journaling will be released by North Light in June of 2011.

Noticing (Found Art)

Last weekend, I went to the giant Tempe Art Festival. Lots of tents, lots of people, lots of art, food, sunshine. It was cool, but perfect weather. Hot is not as good as cool for an art festival.

Out of habit, I parked in the shuttle lot and waited in vain for the bus. No shuttle. Cutbacks. I decided to walk the mile and a half to the show. I joined a stranger who looked at her Blackberry most of the time. Meanwhile, I watched planes lining up for landing at nearby Sky Harbor,  noticed you could see Tempe Town Lake from some places and not from others, that an old bridge had been repurposed for the light rail, that the sidewalk changed to blocks that fit together.

The entire walk, I felt like I was picking up information, feeling my internal GPS system adding information, feeling centered and rooted. My walking companion was fussing and texting. Finally she said to me, “This is a long &*%! walk, I should have taken my car.” She was easily 10 years younger, and a good deal slimmer.  She was doing too much work, and it was wearing her out.

It that very act of being OK with doing nothing, with “noticing” that lets you make great discoveries. I call them Found Art, because they are a lot  like found poetry. You notice something, look closely and there it is.

I saw this petrified jelly bean on the sidewalk, worn shiny from being scuffed over by many shoes:

Stepped-on heart. Photo © Quinn McDonald

It looks just like a heart. It IS a heart. And that made me think of all of our hearts, unseen, scuffed over, but made all the more beautiful for the discovery.

I stopped my companion and pointed, but she showed me the hand and continued to talk into her phone.

The moment was exquisite all by itself. I felt happy and light. Over what? Seeing a squished, petrified jelly bean embedded on the sidewalk. Yep. That sums it up.

Taking photographs of perfectly ordinary items helps me create a world I inhabit out of noticing. It is a very different world from the one my walking companion inhabits.

Here is a photo of a block wall with a big, top-heavy climbing plant. I’m interested in the hard-water stain, though. At the bottom of the photo. It’s not a chalk line, it’s chemicals from the water that have been sucked up into the block wall. To me, it looks like a mountain range, the plant could be a big thunder cloud.

Chemicals in the hard water make a mountain range.

This one is even more ephemeral. It’s a spot on the sidewalk–some stain, coffee, maybe, that someone splatted down. At first glance it looked like a dragonfly. Later on, I could see a dove in it. It’s a little hard to describe the dove, so below it, I’m including a drawing of a dove I did. You can sort of see the relation.

Found Art: dragonfly? Dove?

What’s the purpose in all this? Exactly nothing. It’s simply noticing. It doesn’t make money, it simply pleases me. I find it fun, interesting. I find it part of meaning-making. Seeing one thing in another can come in handy some day.

Flight. Reductive charcoal drawing © Quinn McDonald




–Quinn McDonald is an artist and writer who teaches writing and journaling, including raw-art journals for people who can’t draw.

Raw-Art Journal Cover-to-Cover

After years of keeping a journal, I decided to try something new–to make an art journal from the ideas, sketches, and fun parts of my journals. Instead of keeping notes, images, sketches as I do in my journal, I made this one deliberately, cover to cover.

Here are some of the images.

The front cover is made by covering Arches Text Wove with gesso, writing in it with a corner of a credit card, then adding India Inks in black and brown. After drying, I used purple pastels and another coat of gesso. When it was completely dry, I rubbed it–hard–with a cloth. It looks like leather. I’ve never been able to make purple come out well with a camera, and this is no exception–the band looks blue, although it is the same purple as in the cover, which is a good deal more subtle than it looks.

Book Cover with buttoning closure band © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved, 2009

Found Art starts as a photograph. It’s of something ordinary, that I can see something in. I then print the photograph and alter it using colored pencils or watercolor pencils. You can see the after and before right under it. On the right is a great way to keep your journal writing secret, if you aren’t keeping a journal for fear someone will find it. Write, cut into strips, weave the strips into a design.

Found Art ©Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved 2008-9

This is what the original photo looked like.

Photo of vine on brick wall, © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved, 2009

The second spread has raw art on the left that serves as a pocket for an accordion journal. The opposite page has found poetry on it.

Raw art on left, Found Poetry on right © Quinn McDonald, all rights reserved 2009

The next spread has found poetry on the left and a gate-fold page on the right.

Found poetry on left, gate-fold mountain page on right, pierced and inked

The gate-fold is pierced so there are patterns on the front and back. It is also inked, raw-art style and one of the lines serves as a guideline for journaling. The image is done on both sides.

The next spread is another version of found poetry. I cut a page from a book, circled the words that created the poem, colored in the rest of the page. I then cut holes in the page and applied it to an inked and painted journal page.

Found poetry on left, Rorschach on right. © Quinn McDonald, all righs reserved 2009

The right side is a Rorschach-like paint blot. I cut out the sides and placed them next to each other. There is a fire-like design in the interference gold and the blue part.

The closing band is held onto the back with a button that I attached while sewing the binding into place. There are two buttons sewn into the paper of the band. To keep them from pulling out, I lined the ends of the band in Tyvek–an polypropylene paper used in Fed-Ex envelopes and house insulation.

The fun parts were the gate-fold and the accordion-fold book that make up the entire book. The whole book isn’t shown, but you can see it on Flickr.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who works at the intersection of words and illustration to create raw-art, available to people who think they can’t draw but want to create art journals.