I can't stand rooting through scraps of paper in search of a subject to draw and watercolor. I have enough pieces of paper all over my studio and office. They drive me crazy. No matter how many times I straighten up, the pieces of paper pile up and so I have to surrender at least somewhat.
About a year ago, I acquired a large stack of relatively recent National Geographics via Freecycle. These bound pages offer a much more orderly reference than miscellaneous scraps. Plus, I learn things.
For example, the reference photo of this Polar Bear comes from an article about Franz Josef Land. I'd heard of Franz Josef Land but was not sure where, exactly it was or that it is part of Russia.
My reference photo for this entry is by Cory Richards and the caption reads, "Polar bears eat mainly ringed seals and bearded seals, captured on sea ice. On land they scrounge seabirds, eggs, even grass. This animal grazed for days below Rubini Rock—then chewed up the remote camera."
So that I am not at a loss as to what to draw and paint when I sit down to this new sketchbook, I've been going through scraps of images I've cut out of magazines over the past year for just this very reason. Not many still hold their appeal but this one felt seasonal and doable so here it is, a branch with apples.
I turned around the other morning and spotted one of these darling Red Efts on my screen. Naturally, I had to go meet the thing and look it over, up close and personal. Yes, I picked it up and held it in my hand.
When I was a child at camp in the Catskills, we would catch these what we called Salamanders in the woods and probably took them back to our tents for pets. Then, I had no idea but just learned that this is not a Salamander at all but a juvenile Eastern Newt who spent its larva stage in the water, lives on land while a bright orange juvie and then returns to the water as an adult. These creatures live for 12 - 15 years! Amazing!
I had to commemorate this only find of my adult life in an illustration. I am so impressed and delighted that once again, so many, many years later, I am living in the vicinity of the Eastern Newt and that one came to visit.
Sometimes things just line up nicely.
I had a new neighbor over for tea today on what happens to be my birthday. Although she was unaware that it is my birthday, she brought flowers and, what do you know? It's her daughter's birthday, too.
I've been threatening to start a studio journal, just for fun. Just to keep my drawing and painting in regular action while I work on landscapes and commissions. So I took this opportunity to use the flowers as models to get me started. Nothing too special. No need for perfection.
Starting a new journal or book or painting or new composition of any sort usually seems daunting as the blank pages loom ahead. But here I've made a start and sometimes that is the most important thing. Just to dirty up the first page a little.
The next most important thing, of course, is to start filling the pages and then, ideally to finish something. I like the idea of a studio journal to fill for fun without worrying about the outcome. This Stillman & Birn hardcover Beta book is perfect. Excellent quality paper and something I've been saving for the perfect project.
I'll post images from this sketchbook a couple of times a month for the foreseeable future. Let's see what develops.
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.
30 August 20017
©2017 Suzanne McDermott/All Rights Reserved
after George Inness
"Drawing used to be a civilized thing to do, like reading and writing. It was taught in elementary schools. It was democratic. It was a boon to happiness." -Michael Kimmelman
I've started in on a fresh series of landscapes. The best way to start this sort of adventure is by looking. The best way to see what you are looking at is by drawing. And the best way to study is by looking at what others who've gone before have made.
So, I'm happy to be back to the drawing board at the very beginning of something I've been working at for many, many years. Keeping a beginner's mind is a helpful way to approach almost anything.
This summer, I'm offering an online foundation course in drawing and watercolor for absolute beginners and for anyone willing to assume a beginner's mind. Need a helping hand to start or get back to your own practice? Join us!
Stay tuned for more drawings.
“Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory - where it stays - it's transmitted by your hands.” —David Hockney
You are perfect just the way you are
and there's always room for improvement.
It's a human contradiction. But it's true for all living structures on our pretty planet Earth.
The ground is warming up. It's snake season. If I were a snake and my skin had become too stretchy or laden with parasites bugging me, I'd shed my skin. Begone! It might take some effort but molting is probably not that big a deal to a snake. I read that it's more stressful than painful because the snake is vulnerable during the molt. This makes sense.
Being human, I have habits of mind and behavior that obstruct the way of my personal growth. These obstructions really bug me. The more they bug me, the more power they seem to gain. Habits of mind and behavior (worth losing) can loom large and feel almost impossible to drop.
What if, in fact, habits of thought and behavior are as easy to drop as an old sweater? What if we're just giving power to habits so that we can stay safe (in a comfy little rut), or abdicate responsibility (for ourselves), or are so used to feeling powerless that any other way of feeling seems impossible?
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
There's a full moon coming up next Monday, the 16th. From what I understand, the full moon is a perfect opportunity to drop what no longer serves us and accept the power to make structural changes in our lives that can allow us to alter the course of our path a bit and feel better. Everyone knows (don't they?) that if we feel better within ourselves, it naturally follows that we can help others feel better, too.
It's the Flower Moon of May. Maybe her light can clarify your situation a bit so that you can see better and help you change your perspective. Change your perspective, change your reality.
What if the greatest journey of your life has yet to begin? Anything is possible. Some journeys are launched with just the tilt of a head. Try looking at yourself a little differently, at life a little differently. Put one foot in front of the other, do the next right thing, and wonder what new magic life might hold in store.
My suggestion is that you mark this full moon by deciding what it is you're going to shed. It's not a bad idea to write out your musings on paper and then write down (with intention) what it is you're deciding to shed. Then let it go. Burn the paper if you have to.
The power of a full moon is usually in session three days before and three days after the apex.
In preparation, you can spend some time collecting items for the trash or give away. It's absolutely true that clearing out physical clutter leads to clearing psychic and emotional clutter.
Make like a snake and shed some skin. Figuratively, of course. It couldn't hurt.
“Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” —Tom Lehrer
It's the 88th day of the year and World Piano Day.
I've never heard of this day before but spotted it sliding by on some social media this morning and decided to make a post because I love the piano and piano music.
I'm just sharing a quick list of my favorite pianists over the course of my journey and you might want to think of yours today.
My father was an early audiophile and bought records from Sam Goody at his first shop in New York. As I was thinking of my list here, I realized that I associate each pianist with either a particular composer or performance.
In the early days of vinyl, there were only so many recordings. Because my father was crazy about Beethoven, he brought home Artur Schnabel's recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as each volume was released on vinyl. I may as well have been breathing those recordings through my early childhood.
Once I was trained to properly handle LPs, the amplifier, turntable and diamond stylus, Walter Geisiking introduced me to Debussy, Dinu Lipatti to Chopin, and Van Cliburn to Rachmaninoff.
During the summers, my dad would take me down to the old Robin Hood Dell for evening concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The night that Van Cliburn performed, it rained. All of the Friends of the Dell in the excellent up-front seats scurried off under umbrellas and I followed my dad down the center aisle where we sat in the rain watching Van Cliburn play up close and personal.
Around this chapter of my musical life, Columbia Records placed a plastic insert in Time Magazine with a recording of Dave Brubeck's Take Five as a promotion for Time Out. I played that thing over and over until the stylus cut clean through the grooves of that flimsy plastic. I guess that was my introduction to jazz piano. Little did I know what riches were to come along those lines.
Once I came of babysitting age, I helped a couple of doctors with their children and after those children were asleep, I'd finger through their album collection. One evening, I found a recording of Mozart Piano Sonatas and put it on to listen. I kept thinking that I heard someone else in the house. It was dark and I was pretty creeped out. After walking all around the house, looking upstairs and down, I finally realized that the person I heard was on the recording I was listening to. That was my introduction to Glenn Gould and he introduced me to Mozart's piano work and J.S. Bach on the keyboard. In those days, he was a highly controversial performer especially in music school/audiophile circles. You either loved him or hated him. I loved him.
Briefly, I worked for John Sears who ran the music department at John Wanamaker's flagship store, downtown, Philadelphia. We mostly sold pianos there (I helped with the sheet music) and had a special, separate, beautiful room with high windows overlooking the streets below entirely dedicated to a grand Bösendorfer piano, or maybe two. I can't remember. Able musicians would often glide in to try it out with its extra keys under a hinged cover. One day a customer mentioned something to John about a Chickering piano. I remember John Sears saying "Chickering, Chickering... Abraham Lincoln once owned a Chickering!" It's funny the bits we remember.
That was during the phase I hung out with composers and record store managers who brought me all sorts of wonderful recordings. One of those was Robert Tear's recording of Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel with Gerald Moore providing the accompaniment. That was my introduction to Moore who wrote and recorded the The Unashamed Accompanist, a revelation and delight. Unfortunately, that recording has completely evaporated but, fortunately, Will Liverman and Jonathan King recently nailed that cycle magnificently.
In my early 20s, my then husband gave me one of my best birthday presents ever: season tickets to the Great Pianists series at Royce Hall. I remember breathlessly watching Vladimir Ashkenazy, and saw Andre Watts, maybe Byron Janis and Alfred Brendel. But I particularly remember Walter Klein's performance because mid-some piece or other, one of the ivories flew off into the audience and at the end of that movement or piece, Klein turned to the audience and asked if there was a piano technician in the house. There was. The key was repaired. The performance went on.
Except for a little Brubeck, the only jazz pianist I was familiar with was Mose Allison because he played the folk circuit and we became acquainted after I traced his hands on a sheet of copy paper with a ballpoint pen. I probably watched him perform more than any other jazz pianist aside from George Gaffney, and I loved his every gig although I hated his pick up drummers because of the way they smacked the cymbals and apparently didn't mind sharing my opinion with Mose.
Of course, there was (is) Keith Jarrett who's Köln Concert recording I wore out several copies of.
After I suddenly fell head first into the cream of jazz royalty, one day I found myself standing between Ray Brown and Joe Williams in the control room of a Hollywood recording studio with Norman Granz a little off to one side watching Tommy Flanagan warm up on the other side of the glass. What a lovely man and lovely player.
Then there was the time I was sitting in the dressing room somewhere near Santa Clara, California while Sarah was making up before a performance. I heard the pianist running through some rehearsals on stage and said, "Wow, Sarah! Who is playing piano out there!? That's fantastic!" Honestly, sometimes Sarah would look at me as though I had just fallen off the cabbage truck. This time, though, she looked at me in her make up mirror and then turned around to look at me directly to make sure she could believe what she had just heard me say. I don't know how she told me but she did tell me that it was Count Basie out there. When Basie came back to visit, I gushed like, Oh wow! I've never heard you play before! You're so great! Something to that effect. He looked me up and down, walked over, poked me in the sides and said, "Yeah. You're just a young chicken." Just one of the more ridiculous moments of my life.
In the mid-80's, I had a box seat just behind and overlooking Murray Perahia at the old Asolo Theater in Sarasota, FL. I was not familiar with Perahia but watched and listened in stunned silence and gratitude to behold such magical command of an instrument. His recording of Schubert's Impromptus is one of my favorite listens.
I'm sorry to leave out the mighty women like Alicia de Larrocha and Martha Argerich (who is a monster at the keyboard!) but I did not have first hand experience with either. I did see one or both of the Labeques perform and I'm pretty sure that it was with John McLaughlin but the details are murky at best.
The last great piano concert I can remember is Emmanuel Ax performing one of Brahms' Concertos with the Nashville Symphony.
The last piano recording I became obsessed with was Igor Zhukov's live performance (and possibly arrangement) of Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variation in B minor.
I've left off beloved pianists and recordings, like Ellis Marsalis, Jr. and his Loved Ones album with son, Branford. But enough is enough. (Except that, thinking of Ellis Marsalis, Jr., I have to say that I'm a fan of Harry Connick, Jr.'s playing, too.)
I'm going to go walk now and listen to that Zhukov recording which I can't seem to get enough of.
More on World Piano Day.
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” —Epictetus
This past week I've been looking at and learning about traditional Ukrainian embroidery patterns. Personally, I favor the plant and floral over the geometric patterns. I found an antique example and copied that in watercolor. The project was challenging, time consuming, hard on the eyes after many hours, but there it is. Once I moved from pencil to watercolor, I kept feeling as though I was working on a coat of arms. In a way, these two forms of design are similar in that they both employ coded patterns representing in one case families, in the other, cultural regions which represent a type of family. While shields offer physical protection, the embroidered patterns offer magical or energetic protection.
I dove into these patterns and related clothing art because I like them and have never before been prompted to learn about them but also because as a result of watching the unfolding assault, murder and destruction in Ukraine, I arrived at a decision.
While I do feel it's necessary to stay abreast of developments on that front, my personal life is just fine now after a long stretch of it not being fine. So, while everything is in order in my life, I am focusing on everything I have to be grateful for and am committed to appreciating the beauty I am surrounded by and to creating beauty in every way that I can. Ideally, in thoughts, words and deeds though I am having a human experience after all and do forget my high ideals at least several times a day. Fortunately, I've had a lot of practice creating beauty so that's mostly a matter of sitting down to do the work.
It is work to keep our thoughts and attitudes properly adjusted in the face of so much information coming at us so fast and so relentlessly. And so much of this information is horrific because, frankly, that's part of what is happening and, traditionally, is what sells soap.
I had an antique book of murder ballads for a while and the editor wrote a fabulous introduction in which he described how the reports and tales of heinous murders and crimes were the subjects of a large percentage of early broadsides. He also shared that as young child, his mother would hold him on her lap while singing a vast array of murder ballads.
But I digress. Slightly.
We may not have control over war and politicians and the planet, weather and life and death but we can have control over our thoughts and what we choose to focus on. As with most things, this is a practice.
My go to remedy for refocusing my attention is to stop what I'm doing and to go outside for a walk in nature. Fortunately, I'm steps away from wooded trails filled with plant and animal life and bird song. But you can find the beauty of nature even in the most urban experience if only with plants pushing up through cracks in the sidewalk or in vacant lots, even just by looking up to see the sky. If you know what you're looking for, you can find it. I suggest you look for beauty.
"The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature's beauty and simplicity.
If you can't go outside, bring beauty into your home. Surround yourself with as much of what you define as beautiful as you can. It's worth every penny though it doesn't have to cost a cent.
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. —William Morris
It's challenging to keep reports of the misery of the world at bay but it is not helpful to dwell on these miseries. That is not to say that we should ignore what's happening or not help those in need in any and every way that we can. However, we may not be in a position to help in any concrete form.
"At such moments I don't think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: "Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you're not part of it." My advice is: "Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy."
Thoughts have energy. Thoughts create things like bridges and houses and families and farms and weapons of war. Thoughts create your perception of everything around you. So, how do you want to use your thoughts?
"The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking. If we want to change the world we have to change our thinking...no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew." —Albert Einstein
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