The first step of practicing magic


“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

***

The first step of practicing magic

I was friendly with the master magician, Ricky Jay in my early 20's. Aside from the night he took me to The Magic Castle, my favorite memories are of random afternoons when Ricky would stop by and, standing in the back alley, toss playing cards across the 2-story building where I worked to particular targets he'd call along the boulevard on the other side. Those were early-ish days of a master practicing his craft and, while I had no desire to learn card tricks, it was a wonder to watch him practice. He was fully present and supremely aware.
In a documentary about his life and his own master teachers, Ricky 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."
I practice a different sort of magic and, though it is impossible to teach, I do my best. Teaching drawing and watercolor (and art history practicums!) involves watching people undergo processes of becoming aware. It's gratifying to hear people tell me that their minds are opening. The first step is always drawing because drawing helps you learn to see. It's the most challenging step, really, because to draw what you see requires you to bypass what you think you see; to bypass your thoughts.
Challenging because, on average, we think about 70,000 thoughts per day. That works out to almost 49 thoughts a minute. Quite a distraction from focusing on any object in our environment long or well enough to really see it.
When you start practicing seeing through drawing, you become more aware of the actual magical world that we live in. Becoming present and aware of the magical now is the first step of practicing magic.
***

"Learning to draw is really a matter of learning to see - to see correctly - and that means a good deal more than merely looking with the eye."

-Kimon Nicolaides

***

for early notification about my foundation course and art history practicums starting in January 2018 with special early bird value and bonus.
Or start now with Enter Here.

The difference between practice and habit


Practice, practice, practice.

Twyla Tharp composed a popular book on creativity, The Creative Habit. It's a wonderful book that I recommend at a certain point during my Foundation Course in Drawing and Watercolor and also to some creative coaching clients.


"Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits."  —Twyla Tharp


One thing, though. From my experience, if creativity is a habit, it's formed by practice. You don't establish any habit right away. You have to practice creating a habit, let's say drawing and watercolor until you rewire your neural pathways so that what you're practicing becomes a habit.

However, my experience is that with any creative practice, you are involved, to a large degree, in discovery. You have to be able to continually tweak what you're practicing, sometimes on a daily basis, in order to expand your abilities and understanding.

In other words, if you establish a particular way (habit) of doing a drawing or watercolor and then discover that you have to change that particular way in order to grow as an artist, you have to un-learn certain habits.

As a different sort of example, let's say you've learned a Mozart piano sonata so thoroughly that it's ingrained in your neural pathways and muscle memory and you can play it "by heart". Then you discover that click here to read more...



Back to the Drawing Board



















Ah... The industrious, productive Bee. Bringer of good luck and prosperity.

Not a bad subject to re-launch my daily practice blog. It'll take a bit to re-establish the habit and till then, it's practice.

Practice does not make perfect but it can establish a habit which, if it's a healthy one, can lead to all sorts of good things.

My 2016 daily practice was eclipsed by a big illustration project. This year has been all about creating three new art history practicum courses to follow on my foundation course in drawing and watercolor.

All personal drawing and watercolor this year has gone to rapid demos in live class and longer demos for the online course. I’ve been chomping at the bit to just sit down to draw and watercolor and post for … relief! (At the very least.)​

I'm still honing the online art history practicum course to make the best offering possible for early 2018 but am far enough along to putting my personal daily practice in gear again. This bee has been sitting in a saucer next to my drafting table for at least two months. I'm happy, at long last, to immortalize him (or to make him temporarily slightly famous) as he helps me prepare for two new courses online in the new year.

Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and it will do you a world of good. —Cennino Cennini

Bee positive. Pick up a pen or a pencil and draw something. Anything.​ Just for fun. Or for a meditation. Drawing is one of the surest ways to help you bee here now.  (You know I can't help myself.)

Click here to add your name to the wait list

for early notification about my foundation course and art history practicums starting in January 2018.

Truth and the Devil


I think truth is a layered phenomenon. There are many truths that accumulate and build up. 
I am trying to peel back and explore these rich layers of truth. All truths are difficult to reach. 
 -Sally Mann
Life. It's a series of experiences. Scenes of intentions and accidents.

What, exactly, is going on during any of our experiences is wildly complex no matter what measuring devices we bring. We may have objective material evidence to empirically prove that a certain thing happened in a certain way but there are energies and histories and momentums of objects well out of sight and forces beyond our comprehension that are playing out within and without us all through this wonderful life.

A fact is a fact. The sky is blue. At least the part that I'm looking at now from where I'm sitting right now.

Truth is a matter of perspective and changes depending not on where you may have been standing in the midst of an experience but more often on where you're standing right at this very moment. Our perspective can change with time and distance.

It's interesting though that our understanding of the truth can be changed by facts and by our growth as humans being.

If our minds are open to the truth we have to be able to hold, at least temporarily, an opposing point of view from the one we're convinced by. At least several times a week while growing up I heard my mother say, "Now, just let me play the Devil's Advocate for a minute." Every time I heard that, a little part of my brain went into courtroom mode, examining a case from another perspective. She was probably speaking to my father but, still, it was good mental training for me.

Learning to play the Devil's Advocate has it's drawbacks but not too many. It is not training for simple judgement and definitely eliminates the possibility of herd mentality. Moo. It is always helpful to at least try to see anything from another's viewpoint.

In a few of my art history practicum classes, we examine artists' changing viewpoints on particular subjects. As you might imagine, except to explain where, when and why it arose, gabbing about one-point perspective drives me almost over the edge. It's is a construct designed to create an illusion. So is having a hard grip on one point of view about the truth.

On the road to self-realization we're forced to confront certain truths that we hold about ourselves. Some of these truths can be painful, shameful, destructive, worth disowning. In the process of self-examination, playing the Devil's Advocate can be a healing exercise. This is true about myself but that equal and opposite thing is also true.

Lifting up that paradox to the light with love and wonder is a way to develop true compassion. If we can develop compassion for the most challenging parts of ourselves we may begin to feel compassion for others who seem so shameful, destructive, opposite. It wouldn't hurt. Mmm... maybe it could at first.Opening our hearts can be scary and painful but just think of the potential.

Truth is a many-layered thing. Dense yet filled with light. Just like these leaves.

Truth does not belong to a particular team. Truth does not stand still and neither do we as we grow, change, and maybe acquire some wisdom and compassion along the way. 

Thoughts on Daylight Savings


The arrival of the first dark night
after the first short day
always brings a punchline.

What time is it?

Did we lose an hour?
(If so, where did it go?)
Did I lose sleep?
Yes, that's right...
Fall back.

But I had so much work to do...

Is it later than I think
or is it earlier?

I scheduled a household painting job today.
I didn't know that it would take two coats and 
three times as long as I'd expected.
Though, I could have counted on that
and that I'd have preferred a different color

and that I'd paint other bits and pieces
around the house that were nagging me. 
After all, the paint brush and friends
were out and up for exercise.

Maybe it's paint fumes
or the aggravation of yesterday's super full moon
but what's next on the agenda is vague.

I need brain washing.
I must go down for a good night's sleep
whatever time it is
and hope for clarity in the morning. 

Will it be light in the morning
or dark?

I'll just have to close my eyes
and wait to see.


©2017 Suzanne McDermott (All Rights Reserved)

Trick or Treat


The Wicked Witch of the West meets The Omen


"The idea of dying and coming back is what makes the Halloween films work.""The idea of dying and coming back is what makes the Halloween films work."
--Donald Pleasence

Trick

What can I say?

I must be a grade school stand up at heart. Here are some seasonal riddles for your mild amusement. (More mild amusements, please, these days, thank you.)


(Find your answers at the bottom of this post.)

1. Why did the skeleton stay home from the dance?
2. Why did the ghost go into the bar?
3. What do you call a witch's garage?
4. What type of dog does every vampire have?

Treat  

Picture
is a self-paced, independent course on drawing and watercolor pencil.
Includes all the basics of drawing and watercolor (specifically with watercolor pencils) plus an extensive set of exercises with detailed instructions plus videos to practice your basics using watercolor pencils for copying a rare Matisse painting.
It's fun and challenging! If you just want to dip your toes in the water or you're thinking of working with me for personal drawing, watercolor and/or art history courses online or live, this is the perfect place to start! 

->Discount Code: ENTER10 for $10 off<- 
Regular price $47. With discount $37



Answers



1. He had no body to go with.2. For the Boos.
3. A broom closet.
4, Bloodhound!
Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.
You're welcome!

Can you dig it?


"If you're concerned about what's going on today, read history and figure out what to do because it's all right there."—Tom Hanks


Unearth what matters most to you.

If you're an artist (or a "shadow artist"), and overwhelmed with life at large right now, I encourage you to think about doing something creative, hands on, mind engaged, right now. Join me online in January. Just put your name on the wait listNo obligato. Space is limited.

As I compose the three new courses I am teaching and developing this year, I'm up to my neck in the history of painting, the lives of individual painters, their particular social and economic situations, patrons, culture, religion and serendipitous changes of fortunes; their contributions, output and influence.

I've spent other years of my life doing much the same thing but rather focused on histories of music, song form and themes, architecture, cities, people, legends, and places and things I've forgotten for the moment.

Looking at ourselves as a species, or even just a civilization, through the lens of being creators, is far more enlightening than our political and military histories. Although, that being said, it is exceptionally instructive how creators have interacted with politics and power down through the ages.

As an artist, I resonate, of course, with the painters and poets and composers of music who have come and worked before me. And now that I'm old (though it doesn't really feel like it!), it's interesting to look back to see what I've done.

Which brings me to my personal funny pages this morning. I was going to take this post in an entirely different direction when my dear, dear, long time, steadfast friend, Carole, forwarded me a blog post featuring napkin art I made in 1982 at the Seagull Bar in Mendocino when that particular block of, I guess it was Kasten Street, had been taken over by the production team for the filming of Stephen King's Cujo.

Anyway, the Volunteer Fire Station (thank you) on Kasten Street was re-dressed for the film (I have photos in storage), and, at the time, I happened to sit down at the bar with a napkin and pen. I remember, distinctly, making this drawing and what fun it was. But I have not seen it in 35 years.

If I had not been reminded with the image, I would have forgotten altogether the expression of this experience. The amazing surprise is that it's survived all these years and has featured as headline image in the original Seagull owner's current blog. What a great delight!

My friend, Carole, recognized the "e" of (the first name only) of my signature and forwarded the image and blog post to me. This is the stuff of history. Personal history. The history of drawing and painting. This history of personal memories.

Looking through the long lens or the personal scrapbook, we learn something ephemeral but vital.

We are who we are. We learn by self examination.

And, of course...
The unexamined life is not worth living.—Socrates



Plan for the Future

Suzanne McDermott 
after Gentileschi, watercolor detail


​"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done."
— R. G. Collingwood
 Last Novemberthe 9th, to be exact, I made a vow to myself.

I'll read deep history and make magic (something out of nothing).

Turns out, I made more of that vow than I could have imagined and have been working away at it ever since. I mean, every, single day.

I've created a three-part series of courses on the history of painting and will be offering it online starting in January. I'll write more about it in the coming months and you can read preliminary info on it here but wanted to mention it now so that, if you think you might be interested, you can add your name to the waiting list and be notified of more details as they arise. Small groups, as usual, and limited space.

I've been (mostly) down with a debilitating infection for the past six days so I'm going back to bed now with my new cozy murder mystery (author's description, not mine), Graham Norton's HoldingIt's good company.

Is that so?


Suzanne McDermott
Tree Glow, Watercolor

You just never know.

It's hard to not judge an experience or situation that, on the surface, in the context of our present culture or personal emotional life may seem like a horrible blow or a tragedy or a major pain in the butt. Something "bad". Or, something "good".

These small and large interruptions in THE WAY THINGS ARE have potential to change us within, and the course of our lives. But only if we let them. Only if we do not try to resist the situation, control the outcome, or cling to any solid thing or certain thought about THE WAY THINGS ARE GOING TO BE NOW. I mean, really, nobody knows what's going to happen next.

My favorite stories illustrating this, the ones that my mind turns to when I find myself reverberating from an unexpected "bad" or "good" situation is as follows:

Is That So?
(Zen Story about Hakuin)

The Zen Master Hakuin lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was Hakuin, the Zen master. In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with much shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”

News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin, “You are the father, so look after him.” The Master took loving care of the child. A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at the butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.” “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.

The Farmer's Son
(Taoist variation on a theme)​

An old farmer who had worked his crops for many years set his aging horse free to pasture. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors said, "Such bad luck, to lose your only horse." "May be," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May be," replied the old man.

The following day, the farmer's son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "May be," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "May be," said the farmer.

And then, of course, the young village men were killed in the war and the farmer's son, limp and all, was the only able bodied man remaining. The farmer and his son prospered. When his neighbors praised his fortune, well, you know how the farmer replied. "May be".

Here's Eckhart Tolle’s commentary on Hakuin’s Zen story and its Taoist variation:
“The story of the Zen Master whose only response was always “Is that so?” shows the good that comes through inner nonresistance to events, that is to say, being at one with what happens. The story of the man whose comment was invariably a laconic “Maybe” illustrates the wisdom of non-judgment, and to the fact of impermanence which, when recognized, leads to non-attachment. Nonresistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”

― Eckhart Tolle (A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose)

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute


Suzanne McDermott
Backyard, 2006, Watercolor

“There is a long time in me between knowing and telling.”
― Grace Paley, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute



What is happening

There is no question about it.
​Some changes are predictable,
Expected.
Sumer, Fall, Winter, Spring,
with plenty of time to
turn, turn, turn.

Lately, though, change arrives in a flash.
A drop dead, earthquake, bomb of a moment.
Crash.
If you're still upright,
the resonance alone is enough to knock you down.

Time stands
Still we keep revolving around the sun,
the moon orbits
and breezes sweep us up with their
demanding, obligating pals:

Sleep
Wake
Eat
Wash

While exploding now onto
new playing fields we did not imagine.
Why would we?

Just last year, (or was it the year before?)
There was only fall around the corner
coming with dry, bright leaves,
crisp, fireplace air,
fleecy sleeves and scarves,
more moisturizer.


—Suzanne McDermott
21 September 2017

©2017 Suzanne McDermott/All Rights Reserved

Straighten Up and Fly Right


As I was thinking about tonight's full moon (technically, tomorrow morning at 3:02 am), I could not get this song title out of my head.
The general consensus in the astrology world seems to be that this a) this is a good time to clean up and clear clutter out (Straighten Up!) and b) it's an auspicious time to buckle down, focus on, and do exactly what needs to be done for important long term project (Fly Right!).
It's always a good time to clean and de-clutter and I must be in alignment with the moon as I am as buckled down, focused and hammering away at a long-term project. You?
As for the song title, I looked it up and did not know that Nat King Cole wrote the song with Irving Mills (the publisher, et al) and that it's "based on a black folk tale that Cole's father had used as a theme for one of his sermons." (I love Wikipedia.)
I have to get back now to buckling down and flying right... 

The last days of white linen



The last days of white linen

The last days of white linen,
of wide brimmed hats
slanted against the sun,
stroll into the long weekend bookend of summer—
Toes in salt water and sand (if you’re lucky).

The last days of white linen
flap against still summer breezes and
wrinkle into sun-kissed skin
lined with all of the preceding seasons of stories
and marbled with yumminess, forgiven in the moment.

The last days of white linen
whisper of gentle folding and tucking away
with trust in the future.

This will be good next season.
I will be here to wear it.

Acrid, smoky, nearby smudges of fire will expire
with the rising of crocuses, daffodils.
Damp from the floods will evaporate after the
ice and snow (if you’re lucky).

The last days of white linen
will resurrect their fabric and form
early next summer,
as they always have

In seasons of heat
and bare shoulders.


—Suzanne McDermott
30 August 20017

©2017 Suzanne McDermott/All Rights Reserved

©2017 Suzanne McDermott/All Rights Reserved

Beauty begets Beauty


                                                                                                          

"Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love... Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding."

—Martin Luther King, Jr. 

                                                                                                          


Because my mind was going a mile a minute when I sat down to meditate this morning, I plopped a vase of mums directly in the line of my meditative gaze. I'm not sure that this helped me step out of the thought stream but they sure were beautiful to look at. Before I stood up to move along with my day, I gathered them between my hands, buried my face in them and inhaled deeply. I love the smell of mums!


It is too, too easy to be sucked into the virtual world of (often) horror and mayhem. Make it a practice to focus on the beautiful objects in your space. After all, you put them there, didn't you? If you haven't filled your space with objects of beauty that the light can find, please, do yourself a favor and do so now.

The objects that the light finds and illuminates will illuminate your mind, whether you love them or not. Practice seeing what the light illuminates. Practice loving that.

Short post. I'm looking away now. Looking for the beautiful in my immediate vicinity.
                                                                                                          


"I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains."

—Anne Frank


What matters are tomatoes.


Let's get our priorities straight.

Our government and much of the world seems to be in utter chaos if we take the major news outlets as our source of information.

But if I move away from the computer or radio and tv news and look around my rooms, there are so many more interesting and wonderful things to behold, to read, to make beautiful things with.

If I step out my door and bump into neighbors (and often, their dogs), happy transactions (and often, lickie licky? kisses) await.

A few steps more around the corner and I find my fabulous garden, exhausted from the heat but still bringing forth peppers, collards, leeks, herbs and, yes, tomatoes!

I just read an essay by Garrison Keillor and the line that jumped out at me was "What matters are tomatoes". Well, I thought, that's it.

And it's true.

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.
--Lewis Grizzard

Happy full moon. Think pleasant thoughts. Enjoy your tomatoes. 

Read more...

The Value of Practice

Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), 
Chair, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, April - May 1890 
chalk on paper, 33.0 cm x 24.7 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Why bother practicing anything?

Isn't it enough to just get out of bed in the morning and go through the motions of your well-planned or follow-your-nose around day? I guess that depends on who you are and what you want out of this all-too-brief life. For the sake of argument, let's just say that your answer is, no. That's not enough.

Also, for the sake of argument, let's say it doesn't really matter what you practice. You could be practicing law, tennis, meditation, a musical instrument, sobriety, writing... usually, when I talk about practice, I'm talking about drawing and watercolor. And I'll get to that shortly.

Whatever you practice, you're usually going after a result. Generally, you want to "get better" at or master an activity or experience. Maybe you're in it for the competition, with yourself or someone else. For a score or an accolade or, simply, just to do it.

If you measure practice on a graph, you are not going to see a straight line ascending at an angle. That graph line will shoot up one day and plummet the next. Or plateau for long periods of time. Again, that's generally speaking. If you're Federer, with a lifetime of discipline, your calendar planned at least a year out, surrounded by a support team and trainers, your results might look different but even someone at the top of whatever game they're playing has to manage daily practice and deal with daily results.

If you're not a pro and don't expect to master whatever you practice, why bother practicing anything? Every discipline has its own set of rules and regs and quantifications, but just consider your personal experience and level of satisfaction with a practice.

No matter how long you've been practicing, you're not always going to be happy with your results. Which means that you're not always going to be happy with yourself. You're going to succeed sometimes and you're going to fail. A lot. You're going to trip and fall and hurt yourself. Even if it's just with the thoughts you think about yourself (which can be more damaging than a broken bone). Like it or not, that's just the way it is.

But the true value of practice is that every time you set out or sit down to do so, you meet yourself. You show up to practice, you meet yourself in whatever condition you find yourself, and that, right there, adds up to a lot. 
"Exercittio potest omnia." *
(Practice makes all possible or Practice is everything.)
—Periander

*Often (almost always) mistranslated as "Practice makes perfect."

As you succeed, fall down, get back up, fail, succeed, fail miserably... you learn about your weak points and strong points and get to know yourself. If you keep on going, practicing, you have the opportunity to accept your weaknesses and appreciate your strengths.

Contrary to popular belief, it is your weaknesses, your limitations, that give you your personal style. No one else in the world has your particular set of strengths and weaknesses. If you can learn to embrace your weaknesses, you can turn them into strengths.

Above, the simple, charming, kind of wonky, drawing of a chair was made by Van Gogh during the last four months of his life, after many, many years of practice. It might not hold you up if you tried to sit down on it, but it certainly is alive. And unmistakably Van Gogh.

What do you practice that makes you feel alive? What have you learned through that practice that makes you unmistakably you?