Beautiful Dreamer

Her face has pale violet and a light, apple-green like you find on a smooth Granny Smith.  Her hair and eyebrows are the warm brown of early autumn leaves.  Cobalt blue outlines around her nose and cheek and mouth are like the first brisk mornings of late September.  And her head and hand are drawn in dark lines like the stark shadows of shortening days.

A summer dream that dreams of autumn — of school and playground adventures.  The coming of Halloween with its fabulous costume parade and sacks of candy.  Studies and books, school supplies and standing in line, and raising your hand eagerly, hoping to catch the teacher’s eye.

The same motif that was a pencil drawing in the previous post, I drew with crayons here.  These are oil pastel crayons, and the colors are “out of the box.”  I mixed some passages, but I also let the exaggerated color happen that goes with using the crayons unmixed and as you find them — I just let that happen.  Cools and warms create the dimension.  And zigzag lines jazz things up.  I also made no effort to “finish” anything.  Those out of the box colors, well, they lead to out of the box ideas.  None of the colors are quite real, yet they are evocative of real things.

I don’t know quite how to explain it, but I like a drawing that follows your attention wherever it goes and for as long as it goes.  And when the thoughts stop in mid-stream, the drawing just stops in its stream too.  And the empty spaces seem to say something.

This drawing, like so many of my studies, was like being in a dream.  And then something wakes you up.

And you stop dreaming.  You are awake!  Time for school!

[Top of the post:  Child Sleeping (study for a painting), by Aletha Kuschan]

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Sleeping and Dreaming

This drawing of a sleeping child is a study for a painting.  I have made so many drawings of this face and her hand and this pose!  I have tried so many times to dream her dreams.  Drawing is partly a way of entering into other worlds.  Like a novelist creates characters and actions for them to be living, an artist has to create the whole pictorial world of the painting.  But unlike the novelist’s, the artist’s world is one scene only that forever plays again and again before the spectator’s gaze.

There are actions in paintings, but they are frozen and stilled.  I love the stillness of art.  I love the stillness of a scene that never changes, of a child who forever dreams, of a summer day that is eternal and always wonderful and bright.

[Top of the post:  Study of a Sleeping, Dreaming Child, by Aletha Kuschan]

My little trees in a row

On a bright spring day of this century, I drew this row of young trees.  They are clothed in pink veils of flower-before-the-leaf.  And much of the silvery bark (that will soon disappear in leaves) is still visible and bright.  Their own branches and the variegated greens of more distant trees mingle on the page.  You can sense the space between near and far, yet everything is depicted in spare lines and haphardly rubbed tones.  It’s all very abstract.  Yet it’s all very “there.”

Whenever I draw something like this, it’s like taking the whole morning home with me and having it forever as a keepsake.  Spring morning-to-go!

[Top of the post:  Row of Trees in Spring, by Aletha Kuschan]

Scribbly and Leafy

Art is an interpretation of things.  Whenever we draw from life we confront one idea of reality — that highly acute (thanks to optometry) clear world with sharp edges and infinity of focus.  Our eyes light upon different things and the mind blends them into one continuous idea of what’s “out there.” 

In the arts of drawing and painting, by contrast, the world exists in two dimensions, and it has a finite size.  Maybe it’s just 11 1/4 x 8/7/16 inches like Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  Maybe it’s 1.50 x 1.97 meters like Monet’s Nympheas at the Musee Marmottan.

However big or small it is, a picture represents a little world in itself — very much in finite and usually rectangular terms.  So the artist always needs to be aware of the differences between the world as he sees it before his eyes, verses the world as it exists in pictorial imagination.  Then too there’s the difference between the artist’s intention and the picture itself, which sometimes takes on a life of its own.

And the artist needs to be alive to the qualities of the medium used to make the picture as well.  Not all media are equal to all tasks.  Letting the picture travel to those ideas that the medium itself suggests (by virtue of its unique qualities) is one way that artists learn to invent ideas.  Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention.  Sometimes the medium limits what is possible and thereby creates the forms the picture will take.

Crayons are scribbly.  They can produce continuous tones, too, of course.  But line is their hallmark and their characteristic virtue.  And nature too is composed of a great many lines.  So the marriage of material to subject, where crayons are concerned, often leads to scribbles of one sort or another.

And one needn’t resist this.  Because scribbles can actually be quite beautiful.

[Top of the post:  a quick study after nature, Scrubs at the Arboretum, by Aletha Kuschan]

A Real Mountain

The folds of the cloth in the previous post have become a true mountain here.  You could almost just invent a landscape from start to finish by laying out some heavy cloth on a table, letting it pile into a crest, watching the daylight from a near by window carve out its fissures and cliffs while changing the colors a little to something stony and grey.

The forms of nature bear resemblances that are more than just skin deep.  In the mountain as well as the drapery, what the artist really draws is gravity and light!

[Top of the post:  Mountain of Imagination, by Aletha Kuschan]

Different wrinkles of the Cloth

In an earlier post I wrote about Durer’s pillows and about drapery as a path to innovation and metaphor.  You can take a simple piece of cloth and redraw it numerous times, each time rearranging its folds and find endlessly lovely new patterns of line and tone.  Such a subject combines realism, observation, invention and abstraction in a delightful cooperative game.  From a drawing point of view, it opens up myriad new subjects.  However, from a narrative point of view, it presents a serious challenge.  While I can draw and redraw the drapery folds with fascination, I’m not quite sure how, going from one drawing to another, I am supposed to describe the differences in words.  Telling the story of folded cloth presents a challenge.  Still I’ll give it a shot.

In the earlier example, I had a drapery that shared something in common with a woman’s hair bound up into a bun.  This drapery, though, is surely a mountain landscape like those solidly built-up cloths of a Cezanne still life that were one quick morph away from being Mont Ste Victoire.

However, not simply the directions of the folds, but the textures of the pencil become the subject of the picture.  In the drawing above, I made my tones with hatch marks and their directions create a kind of movement within the details.  Through the different tones, allowing oneself to study the fine nuances between one layer of darkness and another, you can enter into the music of the image.  What bass or treble are to music, light and dark are to drawing.  A drawing like this one is not something you make in a rush — but more something that you let yourself savor and enjoy. 

If the cloth was metaphorically a mountain, then in drawing it I was climbing.  And each small pencil stroke is imaginatively a foot step.  And the whole is a meditation.

[Top of the post:  Drapery Study, by Aletha Kuschan]

Dialing for Still life

I write to you from afar — I guess that doesn’t really quite make sense on the internet does it?.  Suffice it to say I’m not at my usual post, I write a dispatch “from the field,” and moreover I’m doing it with dial-up.

This picture above was something I found wedged inside one of my drawing notebooks.  I’d forgotten all about it.  But here it is.  It’s a little still life “painted” using artist’s crayons on linen.  I’ve both seen and read about some of Edouard Manet’s pastels that he did on canvas and decided to make this picture on cloth just to be doing the same thing Manet did.  It goes along with my theory of walking a while inside the old masters’ shoes.

After having made trial of it myself, I’m afraid I cannot report back as to why Manet chose to do pastel on cloth as though it were a painting.  In my own picture, perhaps the chief effect is that the colors stand out against the warm brown-grey of the linen, which one must admit is kind of nice.  But overall I suppose there’s no advantage in doing pastel on cloth (rather than on paper) that is immediately obvious.  It’s one of those things to do, I guess, “just because.”

So “just because” — here  it is.  Nothing ventured nothing gained.  The objects are ones that held a special warm place in my heart.  The aluminum cup is one my mother used to measure sugar.  Its battered interior catches all kinds of silvery glimmers of light.  The other principle object is a bottle of mercurachrome, once used in quainter times to treat small cuts.

You can make a still life of the most unpreposessing things.

When you need something to draw

When you need something to draw, you can always try punching a pillow.  It worked for Durer.  He punched a pillow and drew it.  Punched it again and drew that.  They made charming drapery studies.

If you compare the still lifes of Cezanne with their heaped up folds to his landscapes of Mont Sainte Victoire it soon becomes obvious that the two have much in common.  Cezanne’s still lifes and his pictures of the mountain are versions of the same idea.

Sometimes I go on a drapery spree and make oodles of drawings of drapery.  Drapery turns out to be very expressive.  It’s filled with moods — like clouds.  No psychological depths exist that cannot be summed up in some manner by folded textile.

Even now revisiting my drawings made after Picasso’s Corina Romeu, I have to admit how much her hair is like this drapery study above.  And it is not just a consequence of my personality and my drawing.  It was in Picasso’s version too.  He was just as much swayed by the effects of gravity upon cloth in shaping ideas of dimension and form.

It all started with the Greeks.  They really were onto something.

[Top of the post:  Cloth mountain (drapery study), by Aletha Kuschan]

First Versions

I believe this was the first version.  The more detailed version came later (see previous post).  I like this one better.  It’s the more psychological of the two.  Eliminating all the “stuff,” I focused completely on her face.  All the territory I tried to understand could be found around the eyes and nose and mouth and jaw.  Lights and darks appear with the logic of a flashlight beamed toward something.  It is all incomplete.  It’s a random visual journey.  Except that it isn’t random, rather only seemingly so.

When your mind wanders, it doesn’t take a random journey.  It journeys to where the interest lies.  My eyes moved through the picture, and my hand drew whatever had caught my momentary attention.  And my attention kept coming back to the interior of the face, searching out the interior of the woman’s painted thoughts.

Isn’t that the amazing thing about Picasso’s picture, that he painted someone thinking?  And in making a copy of his painting, I caught a few of the lady’s thoughts too.  Her thoughts, Picasso’s thoughts, my thoughts are all somewhere in the mix.

Who says that making a copy is just an exercise?

[Top of the post:  Drawing after Picasso’s portrait of Corina Romeu, by Aletha Kuschan]

Redoing it

The National Gallery of Art in Washington (my favorite hangout) had a fabulous exhibit on Picasso about ten years ago.  The exhibit’s appearance was especially fortuitous for me — and I’ve got to tell you, I love it when the big institutions do things especially tailored to my needs.  I had always been fascinated by certain of Picasso’s early works, and the paintings I loved most happened to be among the ones exhibited.

I went through the exhibit almost daily, for a season, and often I made drawings from the paintings. There were lots of drawings exhibited too, which was wonderful.  Seeing Picasso’s drawings side by side with his paintings gains you insights into how he made his pictures.

This drawing was one I made from a Picasso “blue and rose period” painting.  It’s a copy of Picasso’s Portrait of Corina Romeu, which you can find at a comprehensive website of Picasso’s works.

When I made this drawing, I wanted some memory of the light and dark relationships between her face and the background.  In a later drawing, I focused solely on the face.  I’ll post it up next.
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[Top of the post:  Drawing after Picasso’s portrait of Corina Romeu, by Aletha Kuschan]