Making mountains by addition

I have a pointy rock in the backyard somewhere.

It’s about 10 inches tall. I could draw and redraw it on a single sheet and produce a mountain range. Worth a try, wouldn’t you say? For idle drawing.

Sometimes it’s good to make idle drawings.

Where do your drawing ideas come from? Leave some suggestions in a comment.

Source of the Appeal

What is the quality I seek in mountain images? What features? Mass. Weight. Largeness. Diffusions of light. Rolling forms. Linear patterns, lines that snake through the whole scene. Sensation of near and far. I am guessing. I am not altogether sure what the appeal is for me.

I don’t live near any mountains. I get source pictures for mountains from internet photos or books. More and more, I begin to make them up. Or I alter a photo source until my picture looks increasingly unlike its original. I ask myself if it’s real mountains I want or pretend ones.

Mountains have time in them. They’re old. Even “young” mountains are old (to us). Mountains suggest permanence. Jesus compared faith to moving mountains. In every religious tradition the mountain top is the place of visions.

Artistically, the forms are closely related to drapery. The old masters with their drapery studies might have been inventing mountain ranges. Gravity is the key in both instances — and light.

You can, like Albrecht Durer, punch a pillow and create some mountain ranges to draw. Or like Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you can make mountains from your mashed potatoes. They are closer than you realize.


Finding the Abstract Details

I have been wondering, for myself and maybe it’s relevant also for some kindred spirit somewhere among contemporary artists, what happens if you begin in the place where Pierre Bonnard left off? How do you assimilate someone else’s insights, make them your own, and then take them in a personal, individual direction? I have loved Bonnard for a very long time, but I have always been a little timid about following him too closely because what if people thought that I don’t know how to draw?

It’s one of those silly thought patterns that interrupt one’s intention and disturb one’s courage.

The question about the path, however, is not exclusively about Bonnard. One could ask the question about any artist at all. You could love Botticelli or the Rohan Master and want to modernize them in the sense of reinterpreting the art through your own life and circumstances.

Anyway, to emulate one’s hero, there’s many things one has to learn. Also, you find the manner of learning that suits you. If you’re familiar with Bonnard’s art, for instance with the many drawings that lay behind his images, you’d recognize that the drawing above is not the sort of drawing he made. It’s too abstract. In this case it’s not a drawing of any thing: it’s a drawing (a further interpretation of) an abstract part of the painting I’ve been working on (below). It’s a scribble of some brushstrokes that were already without clear form. But for me it was simply a sketch I wanted to make. It was a way of thinking about the gestures of shapes.

The whole painting (above) measures 36 x 60 inches. I have made numerous drawings, some large, some small, for its design and I stole the initial motif from a famous artist who is not Bonnard. More and more I invent its parts, being guided by what’s already there. It’s like looking for objects inside clouds. I firm up things that seem to exist as hints.

And with thoughts about Bonnard I have become much more careless about the color too. As one sometimes does with drawing, I began painting parts of the picture with my non-dominant hand (left in my case). Using the non-dominant hand seems to break through much hesitation. I find myself not only working with a different freedom, but thinking about the picture with a noticable letting go.

The whole definition of a detail changes. The details are not leaves, grasses, tree boughs — or not exactly. They are instead blobs of color, dots, dashes, veils, strokes, various marks. Then you realize that there’s no obvious number of them, no obvious conclusion. You could continue dotting and dashing the picture forever in theory. (That was Bonnard’s problem actually.)

Of course one does stop eventually and at last. Whatever’s there when you do stop is the picture completed. I am not at the beginning of this process nor at the conclusion, but somewhere in between today — not sure quite where. But it’s an interesting development. It’s a change for me. And it’s nice to be continually learning.

Does anyone have a guess which famous artist I stole from?? If so, leave your answer in the comments. Other comments are much welcome too.

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Art Tools

I had a Fine Art America site but I deleted it, And today I created a new Fine Art America account. I deleted the old one since my aim is the fill the world with original art rather than with reproductions. But the site is useful in other ways so I renewed my presence there — with a much smaller number of pictures — to use the site as an art tool.

I use a lot of tools to summon ideas. In the case of Fine Art America, it’s one of the places I use to envision works in large scale. It helps me as well as helps potential collectors to see how an image looks when it’s big (I like big art). The platform is only one of many tools I use for this purpose. I find “rooms” on the internet and insert my pictures, actual or simulated, into them, as here ….

Lots of things are tools. Notebooks, photographs, computer illustration programs all play a role. My favorite thing is simply to draw. I want to develop a drawing style that works well enlarged for original art.

Anyway, if you’re interested in the Fine Art America site, you can find it here. Aletha Kuschan Art ( The images will rotate: so as new things develop, older images will disappear.

I post information about the changing array of pictures on twitter, here: Aletha (@ModAmerArt) / Twitter

I do consult Nature also, please be assured! Mother Nature is actually my FAVORITE tool to use. What sorts of tools give you ideas for the visual adventures of your life?

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Finding the Gesture

Work on a painting takes many twists and turns. In the beginning I think about the largest shapes, those passages that will determine the whole painting, its effect, its unity. As a painting progresses each thing gets blocked in, and the most generalized form of each part starts to become gradually more clear.

But as the painting becomes very advanced, especially with a large painting, the question arises as to what the textures and details should look like. The acuity or image resolution is a little different with a large canvas. You can see the paint as paint, and you want all that surface to hold some interest of its own.

To get ideas about the surface of the painting, I turned to Claude Monet. Looking through a book on the waterlily cycle, I decided to make a “scribble drawing” using colored pencils. I chose the pencils simply for convenience, but their distinct difference from paint also adds an interesting complication as I began examining Monet’s gestural marks in a detail of his painting of wisteria.

Drawing with the pencils, I gave myself the liberty to make the broadest, most intuitive and least controlled gestures imaginable. I simply looked at the picture and interpreted it very freely. As you can see I changed the color — the color changes conform more to my own painting, the one that is the subject of my inquiries.

A close up of the drawing reveals how scratchy and random the lines are. They have their own sort of material beauty, similar in kind to Monet’s patches of color, but unique to the colored pencil. (Each medium has its own peculiar beauty.)

The scribble drawings (there are others besides the one featured) are a bit distant from the painting in appearance, but they are good practice for thinking about gesture. Though they look different, the gesture of arm, hand and idea are similar to what goes on in the painting. And it’s good to remember that one is not just drawing on the page, but drawing also in the mind.

The images that we make in our memories come back to assist us later on when we paint.

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Strategies for Invention

Making small colored pencil drawings is one of the ways I get ideas for my large paintings. The painting on the easel right now is 48 x 60 inches, and it’s well under way. But figuring out the details of the painting is a problem in invention, particularly as this is not a realist painting. It won’t be finished when it “looks like” the scene because the actual scene no longer exists. However, change can be a good thing. Not being able to revisit the real place offers up a great excuse simply to paint. But even when you’re “just painting,” you still need to get your ideas from somewhere. So I use the qualities of the various media as suggestions for surface details. My aim is to make the painting into something like a giant drawing, so that it might also possess all the freedom that drawings have.

So I make many drawings. Through much drawing, the forms of the image begin to fix themselves in my memory. And the drawing media, by virtue of their own innate qualities of beauty, offer something to “imitate,” since imitation is always one component of painting.

Small colored pencil drawings, like the ones above which measure smaller than 8 x 10 inches, are one way to think about the image. Neopastel (a Caran d’Ache product) offers another method on a slightly larger scale. The following Neopastel drawings measure about 18 x 24 inches. The larger drawings are getting closer to the gesture range of the large painting.

As you can see, I have taken the image apart and once components are separated this way they really do look more and more “abstract.” It’s good to remember that the whole surface of a painting matters. Even when you’re striving to produce realism, the details are still just shapes, colors and tones. The composition is the pleasing arrangement of all these bits of the picture even when the part does not directly correspond to something we can name.

The whole painting at present looks like this:

Those flower bunches in the sky need to be connected to the plants. And there’s much tweaking available in the large expanses. Some of the development of this surface really does wend into pure invention. So there’s lots of opportunity to “push paint around” and look for beautiful surfaces.

Ideas for this kind of work can start from small simple beginnings. Making broad gestures with big shapes gets you started and can provide a wonderful meditative way of musing about possibilities.

So if you take up drawing in colored pencils, beware. You never know where it will lead. Better get a supply of large canvas just in case.

In the meantime, enjoy your mark making.

No gaining

Without knowing anything about Buddhism and with no particular intention to learn about Buddhism (except indirectly) I have been reading and rereading Shunryu Suzuki’s little book “Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.” I’m on my 4th reading, and truly I find new things inside his simple commentaries with each rereading.

I got the book with the intention of seeing how it might apply to art. The application to art turns out to be very direct and useful. So, one notion found in this philosophy is to become fully active and aware (as much as possible) in doing whatever you are doing in the moment you are doing it. In art this can include the desired elements of focusing on the drawing, but it can also incorporate incidental elements like opening and closing tubes of paint, cleaning brushes, or standing back to look at the painting or at the motif.

Whatever you are doing, be inside it. Notice that you are here now doing this. The idea of no gaining is to let go of results, which is not the same as not having a plan or abandoning a plan, or abandoning standards or any of those negations. You can still have a plan, have standards and ideals, and want to paint a nice picture. However, you make yourself aware how future oriented all those tasks are, and thus focus your attention upon what you are doing now — this line, this color, this impression, and so forth. In doing whatever you are doing now, you can let go of the gain. It’s not that the gain is bad or unimportant. It’s merely that the gain is somewhere that is not “now.”

So one is simply focused on now. It is more focus, not less focus. It is to become part of the line, the color, the materials, the thought process — only in its unfolding rather than in its abstract and hoped for future manifestation.

Or, that’s my understanding at least. My understanding right now. I might understand it differently at some future moment, who knows ….

Time’s relativity

I abandoned my blog. And today I return. It’s been about a year. Well, Delacroix’s notebooks include a 22 year hiatus, I believe, so my neglect is not as bad as his was. Whether I’ll resume regular posting or not matters not. I am living inside the moment!

Above is a little drawing made from a photograph. And below is a little painting I made from the above drawing.

I have a plan. It’s a continuation and elaboration of an experiment I have pursued for a while. The plan is to use photography to practice making landscape drawings, and afterwards to paint using exclusively the drawings. Then once the warm weather returns I hope to venture out into the spring and draw very quickly from life — since I will have practiced beforehand using the photos — make many quick landscape drawings and afterwards paint the landscape from the drawings. Hence the practice is meant to develop a better quickness.

Then I can paint landscape “from life” (so to speak) without painting en plein air and lugging all the paint paraphenalia to some location. It’s much easier to draw from life than to paint — much quicker, much lighter, much less cumbersome and even much more direct.

Does it sound like a good plan? We’ll find out! Until spring I am making many small landscape practice drawings and paintings as well as continuing various larger projects.

Always learning.

Autumn Apples

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Three Apples, 11 x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas


I’m wondering what will happen if I just let the ideas appear, not judging or interfering in the perceptions. I think it would be delightful to be surprised by my own painting. Sometimes that happens. It is as though someone else painted the picture. If you know you’ve got a certain measure of skill, what if you just forget about all the “shoulds” that you ever heard, and instead use the skills you have (whatever they are) to respond to the motif, and let the chips fall where they may?

Then what happens? I am wondering what it’s like to do painting as a form of inquiry, as a way of asking lots of questions, following the thoughts with the colors of paint, and then be as surprised as the next person about the results.

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