Bird by Bird

Here is an anecdote told by author, Anne Lamott:

‘Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day… He was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird”.’

When I become overwhelmed with all the things I have to do, or want to do, I recall this sweet story. It doesn’t change the number of tasks in front of me, but I find it calming and encouraging. Around our house now when any one of us starts sinking beneath the load, we advise each other “Just take it bird by bird.” Sound advice.

Debra Mager
Living The Good Life

I framed this greeting card about 20 years ago. I put it where I could see it every day and be reminded set my sights on the life I wanted to live. Sometimes it made me feel hopeful, other times hopeless. Often it felt like an unattainable goal. Now after having lived two thirds of my life, not unhappily and with many blessings, I am finally there. I am truly being me and I am happy from the inside out. Grab a hold of your dream life and don’t let it go. It might take a while but the Universe is on your side.

Debra Mager
For the Love of a Good Tool

Aside from your basic screwdriver and hammer, I never really had a need for or paid attention to tools. If I had a need for anything more complicated than hanging a painting, I hired someone to help. They brought their own tools, unknown and uninteresting to me.

When I started making mosaic art, I found a virtual paradise of tools I never knew existed. Not just glass cutters, tile nippers and wire cutters, but scorers, dremmels, drills and awls and jigsaws. As I became familiar with what tools could accomplish and how easy they were to use, I acquired a new sense of power and independence. Tools liberated me from the frustration of not being able to get things to do what I wanted them to do. I could make new things, adjust and carve, screw in, hang, drill, you name it.

I had the power to do it myself.

I include adhesives in this group. I have found so many new adhesives, each with their own wonderful attributes. Some are good for fast drying, some for vertical applications, some for outdoor use, some for beads, some for heavy pieces; I discovered a glue for every need.

These days, there isn’t anything I can’t stick.

My message to you: you are not alone with your broken things, or your challenges to get things held together, or your quest to get your artistic vision into reality. Discover the wonderful world of tools.

Their power is yours for the taking.

Debra Mager
Watch for the Signs

My sister in law recently told me a story about the first time my brother brought her to dinner at our house. I was about 10 or 11 and, according to her, I was very excited to entertain my brother’s girlfriend.

Her fondest memory of that dinner was that I had decided to make the dinner “fancy” by covering the ketchup bottle with aluminum foil. I have no recollection of this but her story made me think how even then I had an urge to make the ordinary better, more beautiful. Even then I was trying to make mundane objects shiny and pretty. Even then I was trying to get noticed for my inventive ideas. Apparently that urge never left me. Now I’m creating beautiful art every day.

It was a meandering and bumpy road over the subsequent 40+ years since I covered that ketchup bottle with aluminum foil. Do I wish I had gotten here sooner? Maybe. But I believe it’s never too late to tap into that creative part of you waiting to blossom. Notice the signs and see where they take you. Do what you love and love what you do. There’s no better life than that.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.


Debra Mager

For the last 40 years, I’ve nurtured a career in advertising and marketing, the last 10 years as a marketing consultant to the restaurant industry.  By most accounts, it’s been a very successful career.  I knew what I wanted to do at a young age.  Pursuing my career goals was not hard. I thoroughly loved my work.

For the past year or so I’ve been straddling the gap between marketing consulting work and making art. One foot in each “job”.  In my heart, I knew hanging on to the marketing role was strictly a financial decision.  I just didn’t have the passion for it anymore. But the risk to fully commit to making and teaching art was too great, given our family’s financial needs.

I was constantly filled with angst and insecurity about how to manage this conflict.  Then a friend of mine shared a story with me that hit me like lightening.  She told me about the well-known opera singer, Beverly Sills, who after an illustrious career, left opera to become a producer and philanthropist.  She wore a piece of jewelry with the initials IDTA engraved on it. When she was asked about anything she was doing that represented change, such as leaving the opera stage in favor of producing, she explained the inscription, which translates to I Did That Already.

Everything became clear for me when I heard that.  I suddenly knew it was time to let go of my marketing business.  It’s not a failure, or a loss or a cowardly move.  It’s simply a change.  How do I know it’s right?  Because I Did That Already.

Debra Mager
Rest Easy

“When at rest, I’m not at ease.  To be at ease, I cannot rest.”  Bruce Springsteen.

I guess it’s the fate of all artists. It can be a great gift or a ball and chain, this drive to be in creative motion always. We hear endless suggestions and pleas to breathe, do yoga, take a chill pill, for God’s sake, and just rest.   These are attempts to quell what, on the surface, might look like stress or, at the least, a sort of non-stop frenzy we all feel to keep creating.  Why don’t we just slow down a little, our friends, our spouses, our children ask us?  They are very likely right.  It’s probably quite good for our health, mentally and physically, to give it a break every now and then.  But, they don’t understand how tall that order is for creators like us, when our happiest, most stress-free, most relaxing, even most euphoric moments are in the act of creating our art.  For now, I’m with Bruce.  I won’t be resting any time soon.

Debra Mager
The Urge To Create

I recently heard an artist say she has a “bursting cabinet of ideas” that, if not regularly opened and emptied into her art, she would go crazy.  Another artist described this same feeling as a ceaseless “urge to create”.  I know what this feels like, I feel it every single minute.  I’m discovering this overwhelming drive is common among artists, musicians, writers, and creators of every sort. It’s probably not unlike what is described as a “calling” in religious circles, the absolute conviction you are meant to do this.  You are encouraged, driven, pushed from some higher place in the Universe to express and share this incredible gift you’ve been blessed with.  It’s not even a choice really, because if you don’t find your creative outlet, you will go crazy.  I thank my lucky stars every day that I have the chance to create my art.  And thus, remain semi-sane.

Debra Mager
40,000 Hours

Last night at dinner, one of the gentleman at the table who has a deep passion for music, said he read it takes 40,000 hours of practice to become truly proficient at any instrument. I have not added up the number of hours I’ve spent learning and practicing mosaics but what I can say is that it’s only putting in the hours and practicing like crazy that has made me any good at it.  I often hear my students say, “I can’t cut the glass right” or “I’m not good at cutting the glass” after their first or maybe second class. What’s that, about 24 hours?

The wonderful benefit of working in mosaic art is that it doesn’t require precision.  Its meant to be seen from a distance so the parts and pieces you’ve puzzled together form the whole beautiful piece.  Do we want to improve our skills?  Yes.  Do we want to become better artists? Yes. But it takes time and practice.  If you love mosaics like I do, those 40,000 hours are a gift.

Debra Mager
Why We Do It

I have been searching for the reason I have this new found urge to create art, having never done it to this degree until recently.  I’ve read many artist statements in which artists have expressed the deep meaning behind their art, or the deep rooted reasons they make the art they make. Until now, the only thing I’ve come up with is that I make art to make the people who see it happy.  I like whimsy and bright colors and joyful happy art.  But, when I read an article by Isadora Paz Lopez about her reason for making art, I identified strongly with what she said.

“Two of the principal energies that move my life are art and love. Art is the expression of my spirit, what I try to give… and love is the necessity of my heart, what I try to get. It is not just the money I get paid for my work, it is also the love and gratitude I receive from people. That is food for my ego, but mainly, it is love healing my heart.”

This captures it for me, too.  Artists, no matter how confident or even arrogant they appear, are often in search of some kind of healing.  Some part of them needs the validation, the accolades, the love they get when their art is applauded, cherished, appreciated, welcomed into someone elses life.  It is a salve for what ails us. That’s why we do it.

Debra Mager
Is "Different" Good, Bad, or Both?

I find it so curious that I often get comments that my work is “different”.  Sometimes this is delivered with a big smile, sometimes with an awkwardness, sometimes with a look that says “I don’t quite understand this art but I feel like I have to say something”.  So is “different a positive or a negative?  I guess it depends on the viewer.  I have fans who say they find it so refreshing to see something unique in a sea of sameness.  For them different is better.  They relish the surprise, the difference from what they are used to seeing, and they can’t wait to bring something home.  As for the others, they are not quite sure what to make of it but I think they like the uniqueness in the end.  Maybe not enough to take it home, but enough to enjoy the few minutes looking at something they haven’t seen before.  They like the intrigue.  I’ll take that as a compliment!

Debra Mager