Rule of Three

A friend of mine who’s in the cookbook business once told me that a general standard for deciding if a recipe is “new” is that it departs from another published recipe in at least three ways. Nature manages to get diversity from a lot less. According to one often repeated rubric, we share >99% of our DNA with our nearest ancestors on the evolutionary tree. (To find out how much you’re like a banana, click here –> Do People and Bananas Really Share 50 Percent of the Same DNA? | HowStuffWorks.)

Once I created a whole series of images based on someone else’s artwork. I liked the other artist’s composition a lot, but none of the rest of the picture appealed to me. So I took the abstract composition and overlaid it with entirely new material. When I was done, I am quite certain that even the author of the artwork would not recognize his picture’s offspring. The drawing at the top of the post is one sketch from that very fecund idea.

Ideas come from somewhere, and human beings are imitative creatures. Think of children and their make believe. When we send our kids to school, they act out all the family secrets. It can be amusing. In art one of the best ways to learn — from foundation skills to complicated master skills — is to imitate the work of someone else who has already been there. Sometimes imitation can lead to sameness, but imitation also plays a huge role in innovation. It all depends upon how imitation is managed.

The drawing above is a copy after a Pierre Bonnard painting in the National Gallery of Art. Being in a different medium and having lots of other novel visual features, it looks significantly different from the original. But if you know Bonnard’s work, you can recognize the subject. The drawing below is a partial copy of a portion of a living artist’s work, and it looks so different that I feel quite sure I could show it to the other artist and he would never recognize his idea inside this drawing.

I like to steal things. I’m a regular magpie. But I also like innovation and am always trying to find ways to create challenges for myself simply because it’s fun. I don’t like to do the same thing too much. Or, actually, that’s not quite true either since I took Degas’s advice very much to heart “you must redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times.” I love drawing and redrawing the same things. But I have found that you can redo the same subject and also change it. Both things are possible.

These days I do a lot of drawing from life, and I do a lot of stealing. When I steal, I consciously ask myself “how I can change the image?” since that disguise is where I discover the thrill of the theft. Can I isolate the elements of the image that I love best from other features that are identifying? How this challenge is managed varies from project to project, but here’s a few parameters to consider.

Change the color. The above drawing is a detail from a Monet waterlily painting, but where Monet had painted blues and greens, I drew in reds and oranges. I also changed the format. The book illustration I was looking at was vertical, I drew that vertical image in a horizontal format and began unconsciously stretching things to the sides. This sort of format change doesn’t work with all subjects, of course, but it often works well with landscape features (geology being what it is).

I also changed media. What Monet did with paint has to be thought through very differently when using colored pencils. The media themselves impose various limitations and aids. So far I’ve already hit the cookbook rubric. There are many other things one can change.

You can reverse an image. Crop an image. Crop and invent around the cropped feature. You can add elements or subtract elements (as Rubens did in a famous little drawing at the National Gallery of Art). You can change media. You can change the tonality. You can change the size and scale. These are rhetorical relationships, and looking at the tropes and schemes of rhetoric you may well find other ways that you can make jazz variations of existing visual tunes.

Across time through family resemblances you find out who your visual ancestors are. (Sometimes as with real ancestors, there are surprises.) The above drawing is taken from Constable, but run through some Degas, Bonnard and Diebenkorn (and others, including of course me) along the way. You assimilate skills by emulating the skills of other artists. Regina Carter said that early in her jazz career she learned by ear to play all the major solos of Charlie Parker on her violin. And through a careful sort of stealing you recombine the visual DNA and invent entirely new imagery.

IF YOU LIKE THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE IT — OR ITS IDEAS — WITH YOUR FRIENDS. AND LEAVE A COMMENT WITH YOUR REACTION BELOW. SPREAD THE IDEA DNA.

Enduring

Ideas should be used soon after purchase.

But they keep well too. Ideas can be very durable. I always have a few saved for a rainy day.

Have you diversified your idea portfolio? Gotta plan ahead!

Filters & Naturalness

When I log into my computer, MSN’s landing page appears, and I’m immediately informed about whatever MSN thinks is important in life, which invariably is either politics, crime, or disaster. Disasters vary, but politics is exceedingly predictable. Whatever MSN wants me to think regarding politics is reliably identical to whatever they wanted me to think yesterday — so much so that one can “predict” the “news.”

I was wondering about ways to subvert that morning filter. The idea popped into my head that perhaps I could just make a list of “things to think about,” pleasant things that I might adopt like cognitive trampolines to hop from “whatever I’m supposed to think about today” to something I’d prefer to think about this morning. So, let’s say I decided that for morning I’d think about flowers. Whenever computer surfing seems aimed on getting me to fall into the propaganda filter, I would hop onto a flower instead — rather like a bug. Flowers are a good topic for me. I love drawing them. They feature prominently in my art. The thing would not be to hypnotize myself into only thinking about flowers — though nothing wrong with that — but more just a way of distracting myself from the recipe that is “supposed” to construct my thoughts.

The point is more about CATEGORIES. If one were to make a list of OBJECTS OF THOUGHT, rather like a STILL LIFE of words and ideas, what sorts of things would you choose for yourself? Reading around a bit in Buddhism I’ve lately come into acquaintance with the notion of clearing one’s mind. That seems like an interesting phenomenon too, but tricky to manage. So if you cannot clear away the cobwebs, what about merely choosing the categories for yourself? If one’s mind were presented with a buffet table of interesting items — an organon, a taxonomy — that you prepare for yourself — what items would be there?

Okay. Maybe one is not Aristotle and you don’t want the bother of inventing the system from scratch — rather like someone who isn’t much of a cook and needs the help of various things that come readymade in boxes — but still you go shopping and you select the span of things.

If you select things to think about — even by merely pointing and choosing — you’re mapping out territories in your mind. And what if, moreover, you say to youself, “I’d like to think about something a bit different today,” you have to go looking. You have to FIND new territory. What might that consist of? How do you search out new objects of contemplation? One wants a dictionary. Nature’s dictionary perhaps.

They might be things with names. They might be percepts that lack names. It doesn’t matter. They might be words, in a writerly way of being. They might be sights or sounds … or tastes or aromas, actions, distant memories, reconfigured bits of the past. For some people it might be math — not for me, alas.

Leaves, clouds, shadows, contours, hatchings, buzzing cicada song. Maybe I will contemplate the folds in a cloth and whatever they have to tell me about gravity and light. Maybe a doll in a fancy dress.

Maybe I will think about large amorphous landscapes of places I’ve never been except in dreams or drawings, vivid places composed of the colors I like, dramatic scenes bright with light that would be breezy and clear if I walked there.

Or maybe I’ll think about creamers and tabletops and past conversations and tea times with old friends. Creamers rendered into bright blue lines that curve or intersect in ragged ways. Creamers decorated with flowers.

If you were creating your own taxonomy of thought and feeling, how would you find the categories? How set that table of contemplation? If your mind wants filters, why not choose the filters yourself? The act of choosing is expansive — it enlarges experience, one choice prompts another.

Set that table with the items that suit you, that put you mentally where you want to be.

And if you like this post please SHARE it — particularly so that others might go hunting for items, that they might consider creating their mental schemata to compete rigorously — possibly triumphantly — against the massive social hypnosis that pop culture offers tediously and daily.

Enlarge the cosmos!

Mountainous

The earth has a slow process for creating mountains. My process is relatively slow too, but not as slow as Mother Nature’s process. The mountains I make on the canvas seem to emerge slowly, however I can happily report that so far none of them takes millions of years. That’s good news since I’m not convinced my patience would ever stretch to accommodate that timespan.

My mountains emerge across weeks of time. They begin usually as images I find and manipulate in photographic form, which afterwards get translated into a variety of drawings, and from the drawings at last a painting begins. The acrylic painting above measures 30 x 40 inches and began as quite a small drawing in color pencils (below). My mountain’s got a little tweaking still, but that’s all and it will be ready for installation.

How about you? How’s your patience managing? Does your patience keep pace with the demands made of it?

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.

IF YOU LIKE MOUNTAINS AND LIKE THIS POST, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA. THANK YOU FOR READING!

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 (fineartamerica.com) 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?

If you like this post, please consider sharing it on your social media: thanks!

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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