Light on the Intensity

Life is jammed with detail, color, reactions, music, noise–both visual and felt. I’ve been working on ways to re-write the past in a way that lightens the darks and fades the shadows. Could I do the same thing visually?

Today was a day of too-saturated color, too much high dudgeon, too vivid emotions. Dramatic clients, fierce news, people shrilling for attention, credibility, everyone demanding to be heard and admired.

Poppies. Graphite, watercolor, pen on watercolor paper.

At the end of the day I was exhausted without having done any heavy lifting. So I decided to draw some cheerful flowers. Poppies are always cheerful, breezy. But the colors were too much, too bright, too assertive on my retina’s rods and cones. (Rods distinguish light; cones distinguish color. There are more rods, but they are not as sensitive as cones.)

Looking for another way to tone my day down,  I did the equivalent with drawing. Using my monotone gray Art Graf Stix, I drew the poppies, using shades of gray and black. I added very faint touches of red-orange and blue-red. Just a touch.

The final effect is light and airy without too much burden of color or detail. For right now, that suits me perfectly. Tomorrow may be different.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to explore the drawing side of writing from time to time.

Two Artists Who Can’t Draw

When I begin any of my journaling classes, I explain that we will be doing more than writing. Before I explain what it is we will do, someone will say, “This better not be about drawing. I can’t draw.” There is a lot of fear about drawing. Most people have their creative play driven out of them by fourth grade.

They are told what art is, and lessons are generally about precision and not making a mistake. Instead, art is about seeing and being. And making mistakes so you can fix them and learn to see better.

My big fear is that to be considered acceptable as a teacher, I better have a lot of “stuff.” Stamps and UTEE and templates; cutters and vinyl and foam; printed paper squares and ribbons and stamp pads in pigment and dye and chalk. But I don’t. I don’t have all that stuff. I have colored pencils and inks and some handmade papers and great drawing paper.

I believe you can make art without a lot of stuff. Art comes from within you, not through stencils, transparencies and puffy paints. I’m not saying they aren’t fun, or that creative play should be sparse. I am saying you don’t need to break the bank and become an art-product consumer to be an artist. It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with what you have.

Preternatural Breakup by Justine Ashbee, (c) 2006

Here are two great examples of what I mean. Both of these people can’t NOT make art. They stand in the flow of time and art and the work pours out of them because there is no other choice. They have their own ideas of what art is, and the only tool either one of them uses is a Sharpie pen.

Justine Ashbee uses nothing except Sharpie pens and good paper. Her flowing lines and subtle use of color are incredibly beautiful art. She does it freehand. It comes from within her. It’s the flow of art. You couldn’t stop her creative work because it makes meaning. It doesn’t need to be supported with a million products.

Austin Kleon, the other artist, does a totally different kind of work. In this short video, he show you that with very little “artistic talent” you can draw recognizable emotions on faces. Austin shows you how in a simple, way.

Art isn’t about being able to make photorealistic recreations of horses (the most often requested animal), it’s about doing satisfying creative work.

Being creative is not about owning stuff, buying stuff, or having a fabulous studio to store the stuff. It’s not about taking classes (although that can be fun and useful) having a degree, or being perfect. Creativity is making meaning in your life. Anyway you can. No excuses. Get busy doing one thing that you love. It’s fine if you think you can’t. Just get into the studio and start. The rest will wash over you and sweep you away in art.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who helps people discover they can make meaning in many ways. See her work at

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.