How to Make Magic

Epipelagic (rhymes with magic)
Suzanne McDermott

Out of thin air

On Saturday, I set up a booth at the local volunteer fire department benefit. As one new collector was selecting a few of my watercolors, I distracted her 4-year old son with a wet paper towel.

"Come on", I said, "I'll show you some magic!" and proceeded to wipe the blue syrup off his lips and cheeks.

"That's not magic," he said with some disappointment. "I want to see real magic."

"Look!" I replied. "I made the blue disappear from your face and reappear on this paper towel!" He was not impressed.

"Okay, fine. How about I make something out of nothing?" His older brother overheard and came along as I dug for a pen and piece of paper.

I proceeded to draw a square with 4 lines, added 5 more lines to make it a cube and one final line for a box.

"Can you put something in there?" I asked at each stage. Both boys played right along and were suitably impressed by the end. Amazing when you think about recent technology they may always take for granted.

Those who've taken my drawing workshop will recognize the box routine as part of the section in which I explain basic mark making used to create illusions. As Magritte wrote beneath his painting of a pipe "Ceci n'est pas une pipe.", ("This is not a pipe.") No matter how much his painting looks like a pipe, no one will ever be able to smoke it. No matter how much my drawing looks like a box, no one will ever be able to put anything into it.

Still, it's pretty cool to learn to create an illusion. But that's not the real magic.

The real magic is being present in the here and now in the process of creating the illusion. The real magic is in the experience.

Any great magician will tell you that first you learn the trick and then you have to practice.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
― Roald Dahl
Let me help you learn magic

I was friendly with Ricky Jay in my early 20's. He was a regular at McCabe's in Santa Monica where he'd give awesome performances but, aside from the night he took me to The Magic Castle, my favorite memories are of random afternoons he'd stop by to toss playing cards from the alley behind the 2-story shop over the roof top and into particular targets he'd call on Pico Boulevard. Those were early days of a master practicing his craft.

We all have to start somewhere. We all learn from others.

The new documentary film about Ricky, Deceptive Practice, is partly about his master teachers. In the film, he says:

"The real key to learning is almost like the Sensei master relationship in the martial arts. The way you want to learn is by someone that you respect showing you something."

If you respect my work and have been wanting to get started with drawing and watercolor, and are willing to put your trust in me as your teacher, register for my online course starting next Thursday evening. This is the last time I am working one-on-one with a small group for the full course.

Remember, my drawing and watercolor lessons are about more than making a picture.

I want to help you believe in yourself again.
"The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do, in this world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir.” It just happens."
― Robert R. McCammon, Boy's Life

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Why titles are good

Ah, rest periods. 

I've been sleeping most of this afternoon. It's a Sunday. I did the floors this morning. Took a brisk walk and swim at the beach. Read a bit of John Hersey's My Petition for More Space. Showered, shampooed and tried to color my hair pink but it still looks the same color as before. 

Sundays mark the beginning of my work week. I start my writing, planning and so forth. But after a long week of teaching and my regular weekly market, I worked a long day at an out of doors market yesterday selling my paintings.

It was fun but I need to rest. But I need to write, too. So, sitting down to write now, I am procrastinating by writing something other than what's on my agenda! 

Ah, creativity.

I realized that I haven't been posting my journal entries and as I set up to post the May 1st (a bit behind as you can see), I thought, I wish that I had a title for this...

My intention with this drawing and watercolor journal is to play without intention of outcome. Actually, that's oxymoronish because play is generally defined as action for enjoyment without serious purpose (intention.)

Come to think of it, I actually do have an intention with this play. Here it is. If I draw and paint in a journal, on both sides of the page, just for fun without thought of formal presentation or sale, what am I going to create?

This is a way of checking to see if I'm in a creative rut. But so far, it seems as though I've truly come to rest in my mature expression which looks, interestingly enough, much like the crayon work of my early childhood. 

Anyway, I'm going to start coming up with titles again to save myself the boredom of posts called journal entry whatever date it happens to be. That being said, without a title, I just warmed up my writing muscles!

So, off to my more formal writing assignment and preparations for my upcoming online course.


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5 Sure Ways to Gain Perspective

Suzanne McDermott
Journal entry, 28 April 13

Step Back

Perspective is not something we "get." Perspective develops, evolves. The need for perspective indicates a problem that requires a solution.

In my experience, I've learned that whether the problem I'm facing is emotional, technical, creative, or in relationship with another person, I am not going to find a solution by working at it head on, forcing my will, or figuring it out. I am only going to arrive at a solution by allowing myself time and space. Perspective requires time and space.

If you research the history of innovation and discoveries, you'll find that in many cases, if not by accident, they were arrived at while a person was not directly at work on a problem. I'm not talking about proven solutions to particular problems like one plus one equaling two. I'm referring to creative problem solving.

Creative problem solving is broken into four main categories: Mental state shift, Problem reframing, Multiple idea facilitation and by Inducing change of perspective.

So, how do we induce a change of perspective?

1. Step back. It's difficult to see the big picture when you're right on top of it. 
2. Turn away. Engage in a different activity. 
3. Move your body. Go outside for a walk. 
4. Alter your sensation. Take a shower. 
5. Take a nap. "Let me sleep on it" may be the wisest response in many situations.
“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis

Ronn Davis, my most awesome drawing and painting teacher at Santa Monica College, once told us to look at paintings this way: Stand as far as you can from a painting and then move towards it until it "falls apart." Until you can see the marks themselves and not what they compose. It doesn't work with every painting but does with many. Perspective in art work is not just about lines and angles on a surface, it's about the way we look at things.

I do not teach linear perspective. In the reading list for my online course, I recommend a great little book written in the late 30's but it's supplemental reading. Linear perspective is a construct, good for architectural rendering and some conceptual understanding but, in fact, (as Alan Watts once said) the world is wiggly.

I use circles, ellipses and spirals in my teaching method. I find that it helps students understand better how to see and represent form and value in the changing light and motion of the natural world. It's a more feminine approach. Enough already with roads and railroad tracks and skyscrapers.

As a lifelong lover of all things architectural and having spent a good decade of my life doing architectural portraits on commission, I do include a 3-part lesson on drawing and painting houses with watercolor in my full online course and include a lesson on How to Draw a House in my Basic Drawing Book. In fact, you can grab a copy for your very own at the top of the sidebar to your right.

One of the most interesting things about perspective is that it is not constant. Because of light and time, position and the process of becoming, our perspectives are unique to each of us and constantly changing.
“The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.”
― Brooks Atkinson
Do you have sure fire ways to gain perspective? Do tell.

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How to climb a mountain

Embroiled in several writing projects, teaching and wo-manning my booth at the local art market, I've been putting off posting at this site for lack of text. But I have journal entries to show! So, I'll post these between longer textual affairs.

This pen and ink and wash reminds me of one of my most favorite quotes by the Scottish explorer, W. H. Murray. In his 1951 book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, he writes about the beginnings of his expedition —
"But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"
Words to remember. Go for it!

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8 ways to cope when you hit a wall

24 April 13


We all hit walls. I've hit several in the past week. Obstacles in my relations with people, life situations, money. These experiences are part of what life is all about. We suffer, we let go (if we work at it) and run on until we hit the next wall.

Life is school for the soul. Each wall and obstacle is an opportunity for learning. But sometimes these opportunities can be overwhelming. Last week, for example, after a messy personal interaction, a golf ball hit my windshield (or a meteor fell from the sky... I have no idea) and I had to replace the windshield on Friday. This morning, looking at thousands of dollars worth of medical bills I thought were covered by my insurance but are not, I started to cry.

Crying is a good primer for breakthrough. We soften, become vulnerable. In vulnerability there is space for reconfiguring. If we're hard and willful, we're likely to keep smacking our head against the wall we face. Not productive.

In college, my senior advisor and friend was a classics scholar. He once explained the root of the word suffer. He said that it actually means to go through indicating that there is an end to the suffering. The etymology of suffer is to carry up or undergo. The modern meaning of suffering, since the mid-13c. is to tolerate, allow something to occur. Again, it's not explicit but this indicates to me that by allowing something to occur and not fighting against it we open ourselves to the potential of release. Which brings me to breakthrough.

Interestingly enough, the definition of the word breakthrough includes "A significant and dramatic overcoming of a perceived obstacle, allowing the completion of a process." There's that wonderful word again, allowing.

When you face what seems like an insurmountable wall, you don't have to fight, you don't need a sledge hammer or a ladder, and banging your head will definitely make things worse. Leave the wall alone and allow your circumstances to be what they are at least for a little while.

Here's what I did this morning. Use this as a prescriptive guide for what to do when you hit a wall:
  1. Allow yourself the time to suffer temporarily.
  2. Cry if you can. It's good for you.
  3. Call a friend who's willing to listen. 
  4. Take a walk outside. Look out at the distance, the sky. Get out of your head.
  5. Smile a few times.
  6. Treat yourself to a tall glass of good water.
  7. Express gratitude for all the things in your life that are going well.
  8. Put a timer on for 30 minutes and get to work on the next right thing.
When I called my friend, I said out loud "This particular problem is matter-of-fact. I have a situation and a variety of solutions. I'm just feeling overwhelmed. I don't like it but I know that it's temporary." Then I went for a walk. 

Now I've written this post and I feel much better. 
"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming."
—Helen Keller
Once you've taken your attention off your particular wall, the facts will rise above the emotion and, eventually, a solution will arise. I promise. Life always seems to work that way.

That's breakthrough. 

Tell me what you do when you hit a wall. Leave your comment below.

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Where to begin...

23 April 13

Where to begin, where to begin?  What lofty words did I smear on that page?
"The dilemma of where to begin requires faith that there is a path that presents itself as we take action, step by step, one foot and then the next."
As I said... lofty.  

I've been away for a while, changing big things in my life. Last week's agenda included getting back to my own drawing and watercolor. This week's agenda includes getting back to blogging.

Hah! In the middle of the word "blogging", the power went out and my iMac went down! (As if I don't have strong enough procrastination skills myself.)

I'm living on a remote island and it's raining. Technology is delicate out here. The weather is not. More on all that another time. 

Even though I am a relatively highly disciplined soul and tackle new things regularly, I become confused and resistant, distracted and cranky when I choose to embark on a new endeavor. And though I take action, I reach for any distraction that will work to help me procrastinate. It's ridiculous.

So, I'm starting. I've started. I plan to create a new site, a new blog platform, I'm working on a book and am writing it via a public blog. But if I waited for a new site to be constructed, or a new blog platform, I'd have to wait till next week or the week after and I'm not willing to do that. I teach people to allow themselves to create imperfectly so I'm walking the walk.

I sold my studio last summer and decided to not create anymore product for sale. I have plenty of beautiful watercolors, beautifully presented and you may review and adopt one or more for your very own by clicking here.

That being said, I make drawings and watercolors as demos for students several times a week. But they're not always good and ultimately, not very satisfying.

Over the many decades of my creative life, I've discovered that putting down a particular creative discipline for a while (years in some instances) can have a curiously constructive result. While that, too, is a subject for a considerably longer, separate post, I've discovered that putting down, for example, the guitar for years, allowed me a rest period during which certain habitual patterns were cleared or forgotten physiologically or mentally. Maybe, maybe not. But certainly, a measurable amount of growth occurred during the period I was not playing that instrument.

Wow. I was just looking for a quote by Jeanne Carbonnetti from The Tao of Watercolor that I'd used at least once before in a post and found it on the final entry of my Landscape into Art blog. Uncanny, fitting, perfection.
"In the section The Spirit of Effortless Effort she tells of having moved from New Jersey to Vermont where she and her husband built a home with their own bare hands. She then goes on to describe how, in her exhaustion, she made watercolors in a haphazard way and felt that everything looked awful. But she let herself off the hook and allowed herself to "just play, no matter what."
Lately, I've been becoming a little too cranky for my liking (or anyone else's for that matter.) This usually indicates that I am not properly expressing myself or on the brink of a creative breakthrough (or both.) 
“Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”
— Thomas A. Edison
At the moment, I don't have the space or set up for easel and drafting table and shelves and side tables and whatnot. Fortunately, I've discovered Stillman & Birn sketchbooks. OMG.

I unrolled my Rosemary & Company brushes, opened my boxes of M. Graham and Daniel Smith tubes, grabbed a white ceramic platter and some glasses of water, one of my Lamy Safari pens and started to play.

Now I can't stop. I'll show you what's unfolding in the sketchbooks with each post. Here's my favorite detail of the first two pages:

An archway, an opening, an aperture. A way for the chi to move.

I'll get to the techie stuff and more formal book concern maƱana.  The most important thing is generating this content. The most important thing is starting. Playing. 

The flow is in motion and so am I. It feels good.

Talk to me! Leave a comment. Let's get acquainted. Tell me what you think. ____________________________________________

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