Facing Things

“Face it” was what he often said.  It was one of his expressions, his way of making something emphatic.

Now with cleaning house, with making this wonderful transformation, this transformation that will lead to yet other new and even more wonderful transformations, I am facing things.  I take a last glance over a certain landscape that was the past. I will always remember.  But life is utterly new now.  And our life is so beautiful and so bright.

I feel a great surge of optimism.  It is like a wave at the beach that almost topples you while you stand, that makes you turn and smile and laugh in the spray, catching the gaze of your companions.  It’s like brilliant sunlight blanketing a field.  It’s like every lovely expansive day that you’ve ever lived.

notes to another painter

I have been trying to say many of these same things too. So it’s strange and wonderful to 3194434943_1_8_IB5WE2JU

read your essay and find my thoughts expressed in another voice, another circumstance. Empathy connects us to the desires and troubles of other people. However, you should carry through with the ideas and plans of your narrative. Visual art is, after all, fundamentally about seeing.  We have to go back to the hand drawing the line that the eyes follow.

Meanwhile it is “hard to judge how the painting will be received,” but you only thought you were worried about how other people will judge it: you didn’t realize it was your own judgment holding you back. So how do you press on to realize the things you have glimpsed?  What else is there but persistent trying, always going back, always recapitulation, always and again.  You must simply never give up.  And more than that you must have an endless supply of hope.  If you turn the hope to desire and longing, you will find determination.


Drawing is a gamble. You must have a “gambling addiction,” always telling yourself (while you hold the pencil in your hand and are actually drawing lines) that this time you will get it. And if this time it doesn’t work, that’s where the gambling comes in, and the addiction — you tell yourself — ah! but next time. You commence drawing again.  Degas said you must draw a thing ten times, a hundred times. He was a great gambler. Yes, indeed. Degas was a gamblin’ man.

degas notebook sketches

And sometimes people don’t get it. You work very long and think deeply upon a picture and it just falls flat with “the audience.” Ever had that happen? Yet you still have to be brave and show your ideas to people. The reactions should not, I agree, cause you to bend toward trends. Paint for yourself first — that’s your most true and authentic audience. But in giving other people a chance to see your painting you can learn a great deal. Other people see different things in it. And these differences can be revealing and wonderful, and possibly terrible also, but nothing can be done to escape the terrible.

Also people get used to pictures. After an image is familiar, we actually learn to see it better. When the large aspects are assimilated, we’re more atuned to the nuances. Letting people see your work gets them acclimated so that later they can notice the finer points.


I think if one learns something new that is an amazing reward for work. I know that drawing has connected me to reality, to the light that glances across my path.


What am I saying! Of course, we have “let” people see our work! But you know what I mean.  I’m talking about the secret things. Yes, even those.

They see them now, don’t they …


Feeling Catty

Sometimes (as now) a blog is a good place to gripe.  Imagine me on the other side of your fence.  You ask me how I’m doing, so I decide to give you an earful.  (Nice weather we’re having, though.)

Yesterday I saw a spread in a North Carolina newspaper (I’m still here, but should be getting home soon I hope).  Anyway, it was a whole page devoted to art events.  It consisted almost entirely of photographs.  One particularly caught my attention, and if it didn’t bring out the nicest side of my personality — well, perhaps I can be forgiven.

A fashionably dressed young man was posed sitting in a wingback chair.  Behind him stood his even more elegantly dressed and very attractive wife.  The two were pictured inside the premises of what the paper said was a “cutting edge” gallery in town.  And to one side, one could partly make out portions of the young man’s “art.” 

My first thought was “congratulations to him for what must obviously be some exceptional marketing skills.”  My second less kind thought bubble was: “too bad he can’t paint worth a damn.” 

It grates on my nerves (might as well be honest over here at the fence) that I feel an unseemly bit of disgust at a young artist-in-quotes getting this kind of attention when quite clearly (to me at least) his “work” doesn’t merit it.  Work.  Geeze.  It was the old cliche of “I could do that” and then some.  Anyone could do what he does.  Take heart all ye beginners!  That’s assuming his “work” has anything in it worth emulating.

Few of us get our pictures in the papers. (Didn’t I just moments ago say artists are shy?)  I’ve been in the newspaper once, but in my case, thank goodness, I actually had to compete with my painting for attention.  We were posed together like sisters.  But even then, it was the subject matter of my painting that got the attention not the art of my painting.  I’m still waiting on the art thing … I’ll let you guys be the first to know when my ideas are getting the publicity.

So, why does one feel a grudge?  Sour grapes?  I don’t think so.  It bugs me not because the young man is doing well.  It bugs me that he is doing well when so many more deserving artists are being ignored.  It bugs me his not having to pay any dues.  More than that — it bugs me that he evidently has no interest in the dues.  I would never have consented to have myself and my painting prominently displayed in a newspaper if my paintings looked like his.  Sometimes it is meet to be demure.

The whole point of art is the art.  The artist is the first and chief beneficiary of that, let’s be honest.  What you learn in looking at the world, what you learn in making the true attempt to record life (regardless what your level of ability), what you get from the act of seeing and drawing, all those things become products of your mind, parts of your soul.  They compose the memories you will carry around with you in life.  They are hardly trivial!

But what, I ask you, is the point of anyone’s striving when the trivial attempts are trumpeted abroad? 

Well, what you see is what you get.  Quite literally.  Though the papers be filled with the cheap and easy products of fake effort, no one who really loves art should ever lose heart.  What you see is what you get.  And the seeing of it — that’s life — that’s the living of it.  In art you can live ideas.

Art is not for the faint of heart.  If it matters to you, go blindly down the road.  Just do it.  (Not like a shoe commercial, but for real.)

Meanwhile, here at the fence, do you think we’re likely to get any rain?

Second Resume Bullet:  I griped to my neighbor and drew a picture of an annoyed cat.

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]

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]