Airport Art When You Are on the Run

Lately, I’ve been up in the air. A lot. Dallas. Denver. Houston. Change flights in Chicago (note to self: never do that again. Ever.)

Photo: Joel Kramer

Photo: Joel Kramer

There is amazing art in many airports. And then there is just weird art in some airports. Phoenix has a suspended bi-plane that looks like it might be crashing in Terminal 3. The plane is a SPAD XIII, one of the most successful fighting planes of World War I.

Above it is a stained glass window designed by Ken Toney. I thought it was related to Frank Lloyd Wright (whose winter home was in the area), but no. The colors reminded Toney of the Southwest.

Dallas-Fort Worth airport (which is a nightmare of navigation problems) has an ice castle in it. Well, it’s a sculpture of an ice mountain castle.

1917pwqgkq5upjpgI’m not sure, but I think Dallas has no mountains. Still, it’s fun to walk by it–or in my case, run by it.

Atlanta has a sculpture of a flying ear of corn. I haven’t been in Atlanta lately, so I borrowed this from the Gizmodo site. It’s too good not to share.

19190mkf0d9qajpgThe sculpture, part of the vegetable series by Craig Nutt, includes an air traffic control tower that’s a carrot. Sometimes an ear of corn is just an ear of corn.

Travel between the B and C Concourses at Chicago and you will be in a light show.  Luckily, you can hang onto the rail of the moving sidewalk while you gawk.

1917tw7zkp9lqjpg“Sky’s the Limit” has more than 450 neon tubes and there’s music playing. It’s overwhelming, but so is the Chicago airport.

Denver airport has a huge blue sculpture of a mustang in front. Not to put too

Photo: Len Borden

Photo: Len Borden

fine a point on it, but it is anatomically correct. Which I almost didn’t notice because the beast has glowing red eyes, too. Dubbed “Blucifer” by the locals, there are many dramatic photos of the beast. One of the best is here, complete with dramatic weather in the background.

A lot of scary stories surround “Blue Mustang”, too. The sculptor, Louis Jimenez, was killed when a section of the sculpture fell on him, severing an artery.

When I travel, I love to see the local art, especially if it’s in the airport. I don’t know how the art is selected, but you know that people argue over how to represent their city. Sometimes art wins. Sometimes the committee does.

And then, I’m happy to come home to some simply gorgeous gifts of nature. The clouds on the evening I came home:

Photo: Quinn McDonald

Photo: Quinn McDonald

And a cactus in bloom–more so this year than any I can remember in the last few years.


Quinn McDonald travels a lot. She is glad to see the world and always happy to come back home to the desert.

You Can Go Home Again, Maybe

Standing on the windy, cold corner of H and 17th St. NW in Washington, D.C., it felt both familiar and strange. The buses had destinations I recognized and could find on a map: Ft. Totten, Laurel, Pentagon. But I wasn’t home; I was on a teaching assignment and on my way to Farragut West Metro stop.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

Aerial view out of plane leaving Salt Lake City airport for Phoenix.

I’ve been here, but not in a hotel. I’ve taught in the same building, but not the same audience. And while I felt homesick for D.C. I also wanted to go back to my mountains and landscape and vibrant colors. And most of all, I was freezing because my jacket wasn’t a coat. I don’t own a coat. I don’t need a coat.

It’s difficult to come back to a town you lived in for years. So much of the behavior I remembered–the first question you are asked is “What do you do?” and if the answer doesn’t match what the questioner is looking for to advance their career, you are left standing alone, holding up the empty end of a conversation, having been dismissed.

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

Rug in the hotel I stayed in. It looks a lot like a monoprint collage!

But I also miss the vibrancy, the relaxed atmosphere of a town that is incredibly diverse in color, ethnicity, size, beliefs and approach to life. There is a different ethnic restaurant on every corner, (and so many I can’t eat in), but the buildings rise up in gray and glass and cement against a gray sky.

After two days of teaching, I stood on the windy, freezing street outside the hotel at four in the morning, waiting for my airport shuttle. A little sad and a lot happy to be going back. Because Washington, D.C. is a great place to teach, but my home is in Phoenix, and I wanted to go back home.

I drove home from the airport, directly to Anthem, to teach at the library. It was

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

A section of the wallpaper in the hotel. All the wallpaper had some kind of writing on it.

good to teach art journaling, because my trip had been so packed with work that I did not write one word in my own journal. I’m now trying to figure out if I should try to catch up, or just move forward. Always a challenge.

–Quinn McDonald is teaching in Tucson this weekend. Eventually she will catch up on her sleep.

Tips on Traveling with Art Supplies

If you teach, you probably travel. If you use your car, you can load it up, but if you fly, you are limited to sending the material ahead or taking it with you on the plane.

If you are traveling to class, you usually scan the supply list and balance your need to take the class with the ability to take the supplies.

It’s not easy either way. Over the past few years of taking classes and teaching them, I’ve found a few short cuts that may be useful to you:

The easiest rule is to take only what you need. It’s easy to take everything you like to work with, but thinking through your class and taking just what you need will lighted your burden considerably.

1. Make big items small. Once I learned the trick of cutting watercolor pencils in half, I transferred the idea to other art items.

  • Instead of taking six journals so I can show 12 pages in them, I do samples on loose-leaf pages and take just the pages I need. Strathmore Ready-Cut paper is already cut in sizes that fit in standard frames. And their watercolor paper is wonderful.
  • Instead of taking big tubes of watercolors, I buy small palettes and fill the pans with watercolor and let them dry. Covered with cling wrap, they can be reconstituted in class.
  • Instead of a many Micron or Pitt Pens, I take a Medium and a super fine. I can make broad strokes with the medium, and the super fine will do the rest.
  • I also take a brush pen, because with varying pressure I can get different widths of lines. Black is my go-to color, as I can use a water-soluble one and blur the paint with water for shadows.

2. Take multi-use items.

  • Matte Gel medium can be used is glue, sealant on collage papers, and can waterproof colored pencils.
  • Newspaper is a smooth surface to work on, protects the table, and is packing material.
  • Inks can be watercolors, worked with pens or brushes.
  • Beeswax can smooth thread for sewing, serve as a resist for painting, and rub over a surface for a shiny finish. Be careful of using beeswax in summer or on paper that you’ll leave in a car. Or anytime in Phoenix and other desert towns.
  • A pencil can be used to write, draw, shade, create an area of graphite to use as tracing paper, check to see if a surface is level (it will roll in the direction that is lower), or a line is straight. Pencils can make temporary lines that don’t smear or have to dry.
  • A travel iron can keep your clothes tidy, dry a watercolor page, melt beeswax, get glue to set. A hair dryer can do the same, but it won’t iron your clothes.
  • A cheap shower curtain will protect a table and can be used to line your shipping box to protect from potential leaks. You can also cut up the shower curtain to work wet at your table or to place between wet pages in a journal.

3. Use what you have at hand. Instead of a long, cumbersome ruler, take a soft measuring tape used in sewing. If you can be approximate, the length of your fingertip to nose is about a yard, the distance between the middle knuckle and the one toward the fingernail is an inch (any finger). I know that if I spread my fingers, the distance between my thumb and little finger is 8.5 inches (I have big hands)–so you can approximate sizes and distances.

Instead of a variety of cases, roll pencils, pens, inks or scissors in wash cloths and pack in ziplock bags. You’ll have wipe-up cloths ready to use. (Iron them dry them before you pack up again, wash between trips.)

You can take a pencil sharpener, but a piece of sandpaper will have more uses–everything from smoothing the surface of your paper or book corners to sharpening your pencils, watercolor pencils, and sewing needles.

Pack tiny items in bags or small boxes so they don’t disappear in a big packing box.

Separate items that won’t go through security at the airport and keep them out of your carry-on or roll-aboard. X-acto knives or craft cutters and their extra blades, sharp needles, spray cans, scissors with sharp or long blades–all can create long delays in airports if you accidentally take them along. The TSA will confiscate them and search you for other infractions.

Worse, the rules are enforced differently at different airports, or even the same airport by different personnel, and it’s not smart to argue with the inspectors. I pack them in ziplock bags that have the contents written on them in red marker. That way I pack what it says on the bag and put them in bags or boxes that get shipped.

Traveling light takes a bit of planning, but your arms and back will thank you.

-Quinn McDonald is spending two weeks teaching five courses in six days and two time zones.

PostCrossing Postcards

One of the people leaving a comment mentioned Postcrossing–the postcard swap site. It’s a work of genius–simple but lots of fun. You register, and are allowed to send five postcards. PostCrossing gives you the names and addresses and a registration number for each card. You send the cards.

This postcard from India has doodling on it--but doodling varies by culture! Who knew? And I love the quote, too.

When the cards arrive, the recipient registers it, and it counts for the sender–and the sender’s name is put into the “receive a postcard” list.

You can have five postcards traveling at any one time.

So you don’t swap postcards, you simply send them to someone and receive postcards from others. I’ve belonged a bit over a month and have sent 17 postcards, 12 of which were received. It took the one to Russia 43 days to arrive. I was afraid it wouldn’t for a while. I’ve also received seven postcards, the closest from Lake George, NY and the furthest away from Xi’an, China.

This delightful card from Finland came from a woman who sent it because she thought I might never have seen autumn leaves. I loved the sentiment, there is no way she knew about my life in Connecticut and D.C.

You can make your PostCrossing interesting by requesting direct exchanges or sending handmade cards. Your profile indicates if you’d like to do either one.

This cheery Czech sun wishes a warm and sunny soul.

I’m having a lot of fun with this–There is no pressure to send, but you should register the card as soon as you get it.

It’s a great way to connect around the world.

–Quinn McDonald is having fun seeing the world through other people’s eyes.

Travel Tips for Bottles

I’m at JournalFest, and that required getting up before I went to bed so I could leave for the airport at 3:45 a.m. Luckily, a good friend was driving. I’m brain-stem functional till later in the day.

We can send a man to the moon, but we cannot make a good travel bottle.

What’s a good travel bottle?

  • It is small, barely 3 oz.,and is clearly marked as such, to get through airports
  • It is clear so you can see what is in it
  • It is slender, so you can pack a lot of them in those little plastic bags the TSA insists on
  • It stands well upside down, so you can get your stuff out of them when it’s almost empty
  • It doesn’t leak
hard plastic bottles travel well, but still leak

Not leaking is the problem I’m trying to manage. Airplanes don’t pressurize the cabins nearly as much as they did five years ago, it saves the airlines fuel. (If you seem to get sleepy on flights, but are always awake as the plane makes that “final descent to your destination,” that’s why.)

Without good pressurization, there is a lot of contraction and expansion of contents. Most bottles have those tip-to-open lids, and the expansion of contents tips those lids open, just enough for hand cream, shampoo and conditioner to leak. After I check into a hotel, I have to rinse all the bottles and the bag as well. Welcome to Chicago, you have to wash your bottles, and everything else in that little bag.

Sure, I can tape the bottles shut with duct tape, and then pry it off when I arrive, and re-tape when I fly back, but there must be an easier way.

I can’t find small bottles with screw tops, at least not inexpensive ones. There are flip-tops, tilt-tops, and pop-offs, all of which simply don’t stay shut on airplanes.

So here is what I do to keep my sanity and the stuff in the bottles? I buy handcream in sample sizes, with screw-tops. I refill these. (More on that later) I don’t fill the shampoo and cream-rinse bottles all the way. I fill them about half way. I pack them into the bag top up. I then tuck a piece of paper towel on top–not enough to hide the contents, I fold it in a strip and top it right under the ziplock portion. It’s never been pulled by the TSA, and it absorbs the leaks.

I also tuck the bag into the carry-on standing upright, which keep the liquid from blowing out the top. When I get to the hotel, I take the shampoo and cream rinse bottles, make sure the top is shut, and put them, top down, into the shower. When I’m ready for them, the liquid has settled around the top and I can squeeze with immediate results.

A rubber band around the cream rinse bottle helps me tell the difference when I’m in the shower and don’t have my glasses on.

Refilling the sample size.

  • Take a full tube/bottle and turn it upside down until the hand cream settles in the top portion.
  • Take the smaller bottle/tube and squeeze it until most of the air is out of it, or until cream appears at the top. Maintain the pressure with one hand.
  • Push the two openings together. If you are doing small tube to big bottle, the entire opening of the bottle must be closed by the tube. Then slowly release the tube and it will successfully suck the cream from the larger bottle/tube.
  • Repeat till the small tube is full.

Use happily till both are empty. When the small tube wears out, buy a new small tube.

Small thing, big results. And you have enough trouble traveling without all the problems in your makeup, shampoo and liquids.

Other quick trip-tips:

  • Wear slip-on shoes. Trying to retie your shoes in the security line encourages people to bump into you.
  • Wear a shirt or pants with pockets. Use a pocket to store your license and boarding pass while you are shepherding your stuff through the X-ray machine.
  • Put the plastic bag with liquids in an outside pocket of your carry-on, so you can find it easily. Once you are through security, you can put it somewhere else.
  • Print out and take along a Google-Map direction from the airport to your hotel or destination. In large, spread out cities like Chicago and Houston, taxi drivers often don’t speak English and won’t understand you. This is not the time to sort through your feeling on immigration. Hand them the directions. Even if they have a GPS system, it shows them the name and address of the hotel, and you’ll get there.

Happy travels!

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and life- and creativity coach. She helps people get through transitions, change and find the opportunity in difficult situations. See her work at

The End of the Earth in a Journal

My brother keeps a journal. Who knew? He travels a good deal, and he keeps track in his Moleskine. Ever curious, I asked him why a Moleskine–and he gave some excellent reasons. He uses a 5 x 8.5 inch lined journal. He likes it because the quality of the paper allows him to use a fountain pen to write, the paper is smooth for fast writing. The folios are stitched into the spine, not glued in, so it’s sturdier. All good reasons.

I just ordered a larger Mokeskine with watercolor paper for some larger raw-art journaling work. It just arrived, but I like the watercolor paper a lot already. You can write, draw and collage on it successfully without leaking through. Oh, and watercolor in it, too.

Stamps from the end of the earth

My brother and his wife just came back from the End of the Earth. No kidding. They were in Argentina, in Patagonia, at the sourhernmost tip of the continent, which is the Southernmost city in the world—Ushuaia.  The passport control there volunteered to stamp people’s passport with the official stamps. My brother had his journal stamped. This is the place where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. The very edge of the earth–the end of land.

We compared translating the stamp as either “end of the earth” or “the end of the world” and decided that “end of the earth” was a geographical location and “end of the world” was a time stamp–one you wouldn’t be bringing back anywhere.

If you are wondering why this canal is called “Beagle” —it was the name of the boat Charles Darwin was on when he did his research on evolution and he sailed through the canal on his way to the Galapagos islands.

I haven’t seen my brother and his wife in more than five years. Not to put too fine a point on it, but at a certain age, waiting that long is taking a risk. So now that we are together, I keep thinking of what I should be showing them, or where we should be. It was a huge effort today to pull myself into the present, to stay right here with them right now, and not try to think about the next thing to do or how soon they are leaving. I want each moment to last forever, and yet I keep planning and thinking about dinner, or the next day. This is an important lesson, staying present. It’s easier when I’m doing work then when I’m having fun. Meanwhile, I hope the end of the world won’t happen just yet.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach.

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Yesterday, I complained about the heat in Arizona. Today I get a note from my son who is backpacking through central Asia. He’s seen the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan. He was in Darvaza, in the Karakorum Desert and saw the fire pit.

In 1971, a drilling rig looking for oil found natural gas instead. The entire rig, drills, trucks and people suddenly sunk into a giant sink hole. The hole was part of a cavern that was bottomless and filled with gas. To prevent the entire area from destruction, the remaining crew set the pit on fire.

It’s been burning for 37 years, adding even more heat to the Turkmenistan desert. In the daytime, it’s a crater in the flat and seamless desert. At night, the fire in the pit can be seen for miles. The photo below is by John H. Bailey, who is a photographer, and not my son.

Gates of Hell

Gates of Hell

Travel Troubles

It wasn’t that hard a trip. Frontier Airlines from Phoenix to Denver, United Airlines from Denver to DC. I’m running a training program tomorrow and the books are in the carry-on, along with notes. I arrive in Denver and switch carriers and concourses.

That creates some trouble, as I don’t have a boarding pass for the second part of the trip, although I have an itinerary from Orbitz. The gate attendant tells me there are no more seats, so I have to stay in the middle.

We board the plane, and the gate agent decides that my purse, my laptop and my carry-on is one item too many. The man ahead of me got through, and so did several others, but I was in trouble. I tried the carbon-exchange program, brightly pointing out that there are several people who only have one bag, and mine could make up for that. No dice.

suitcase with wingsI plead that all my class materials are in this suitcase, but the heart of the gate agent is hard. I have to give up the suitcase. I double check that it will be on the same plane. Sure. I give up the suitcase.

My suitcase is still traveling, although I arrived in DC seven hours ago. There are no clear answers, although I do know it went to Chicago when I did not. I’ve talked to automated voices, a heavily-accented woman who told me I should never send materials in a suitcase, I should have them with me, and another person who said that “they were doing their best” –obviously not quite enough, as I have nothing to wear except what I have on. The idea of teaching in slacks, a T-shirt and sneakers is not at the top of my favorites list.

But that’s where I stand. At the mercy of those who have a tiny bit of power and can use it all up on one suitcase.


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

Travel: No W00T for You

Travel isn’t the joy it used to be. In many cases, it’s no joy at all. That line of people, shuffling through the metal detector in their socks or winter-white, calloused, bare feet do not inspire confidence. Neither does the person (inevitably in front of you) who feigns complete innocence of the fact that they cannot take water with them or the person who decides to have an emotional melt-down when they have to give up their heirloom gun replica. Anger is contagious. Keep it to a minimum.

cloud layersSo, since we all wind up with each other, let’s make up some rules to make travel more pleasant for everyone.

1. If you know you get airsick,  take your medication. And still bring a sturdy plastic bag with you. It shouldn’t be transparent. It shouldn’t be weak in the seams. And you should have tested it for capacity before you need it. Here’s an additional hint: paper bags make lousy barf bags.

2.  If you have a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or any other communicable disease, please do not think it is your right to fly. Airlines don’t use fresh air, they recycle whatever is in the airplane, and the other 299 people on your flight to whom you give your cold will not think it was brave of you to fly, they will wish you to the darkest corner of hell. If you believe in The Secret, think about the consequences before you fly.

3. I know your children are precious to you. I once had small children of my own. Surely it is not beyond your control to keep them from kicking the back of my seat non-stop, Atlanta to Phoenix. And when I ask in a nice voice if you could please stop the kicking, telling me that I am fat is not a logical response. My fat doesn’t like being kicked anymore than my skinny. Standing your children on your lap and letting them wipe their fingers in my hair is not really as funny as you think.airplane.jpg

4. The waiting area at the gate has fewer seats than the airplane does. Some people may have to stand, and some people may choose to stand, but your bag, baby seat, backpack,  computer, and purse do not all need to have a chair of their own. Pile your stuff at your feet, or better yet, check it through to your final destination–Me-ville, where it truly is all about you. At the gate, everyone is tired and has traveled a long way. Pretending to be asleep is no excuse.

5. Bringing your own food on the plane is a great idea. Healthy food is wonderful. But that broccoli-fish-onion soup with garlic bread will circulate its fumes for as long as we are flying. Maybe something a little less pungent.

The idea is simple–lots of tired, cranky people are flying. You are one of them. Don’t do anything to make anyone crankier or more tired and the air will be a lot happier for all of us.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and seminar leader on business communications. See her work at (c) 2007 All rights reserved.

Suitcase cats

When I left DC to move to Phoenix, I left my three cats behind with my husband. Luckily, the place I’m staying has another two. They have decided to like me–they sleep on my bed and want to be scratched, often and thoroughly. suitcasecats.jpg

When I came back from running a seminar in DC, both of them immediately climbed into my unpacked suitcase and made themselves at home.

I’m back home, happily brushing cat hair from my clothing!

—Quinn McDonald runs seminars and trainings on business communications. She seems to collect cats in her suitcase. (c) 2007 All rights reserved.