In front of Manet’s still life

Always something to  learn when retracing


the visual steps of the old masters through a careful scrutiny of their works.

I’ve always loved that ceramic cup in the corner with the lemons in front of it.  Here (above) I was making a copy using crayons, and I was mixing colors on the paper and getting slightly different color effects than one sees in Manet’s more subtle and monochromatic but beautifully colored canvas where silver gray predominates.  I was able to copy the objects almost the same size as they appear in the painting, but I chose just the right hand corner for my small notebook. Below you can see what I was copying and its context in the painting as a whole.

Some art teachers will pester you about getting ellipses correct. And I urge you, Reader,  to notice how out of kilter Manet’s plate and cup are!  And yet — for some mysterious reason, perhaps known only by Manet’s astute visual imagination, the painting as a whole is immeasurably better, more dynamic, more psychologically intriguing by virtue of these “mistakes.”  Clearly he knows how to draw things in perspective.  Just observe the wonderfully foreshortened fork.  But the plate and the cup are a thousand fold more lovely by virtue of the quirky perspective.  Trust your instincts.

You can draw Manet’s picture too, even if you’re far from the museum by using Gallery’s zoom feature at their website.  But not yet!  The links are redirects ….

EXCEPT — when you wish to zoom on the ceramic cup which ends up being covered by part of the zoom widget itself.  However, never fear — WikiArts to the rescue.  A large version of the image is available here — click on the picture to access:

Between the two sources you can get a lot of visual information about the painting.



Cezanne Shapes

I got to see an old friend


after many long years separation.  Cezanne’s Vase of Flowers is back on view at the National Gallery of Art.  For years and years it had its own special place and I visited it, studied it, drew it, copied it — and then it was gone.  But it’s back, and recently I made this quick and rough drawing in front of the painting, drawing a portion of its features approximately life size.

It’s not the sort of drawing for getting a likeness.  I was instead keen merely to make the gestures that I see in one small part of the painting. And I want to do many more such drawings in the future — private drawings that I make for my own use even if I do also afterwards make some of them occasionally public by posting them here.

The painting, for those not familiar with it, is reproduced below.


You can learn more about the painting and can use the zoom feature to see it more closely here:

I’ve drawn it many times before, as for instance here:

The portion of the painting I was drawing above can deciphered by comparing the same area from one drawing I made in the past.


Drawing in the Museum


Bonnard’s bright colors, his impulsive and sensitive rendering of paint into landscape forms are qualities that I’ve adored about his art for many years.  Some of his paintings  are on exhibit again at the National Gallery of Art after a long time spent in cruel storage. On the walls again, they light up the room where they can bring us much delight. I’ve intended to make some drawings after various favorite National Gallery paintings, and yesterday I got a chance to begin doing so; I started with this little crayon drawing, above,  after Bonnard’s “Stairs to the Artist’s Garden” reproduced below.


Making my drawing in front of Bonnard’s painting, I felt like I was in conversation with the old artist.  Copying also lets one see the image more keenly and experience it with more depth and immediacy.  Vicariously I stood with Bonnard in his garden.  I wanted to stay there longer, but sketching some of the large elements of the scene was a fun beginning.

My drawing measures 8.5 x 6.75 inches.  Bonnard’s painting measures 23 5/8 x 28 3/4 inches.  He painted his picture about 1942. I made my drawing about 4pm yesterday afternoon!

A sketchy sensibility can be very close to Bonnard in spirit.  In a gouache drawing of the artist’s own, the forms are put down through many delicate veils of color as illustrated here in a drawing “La Route, Paysage au Cannet” auctioned at Sotheby’s:


Lacking a brush and working with different materials, I made mine initially in the fashion of a graphic drawing and only afterwards used rubbing, smearing (and a bit of spit) to dissolve marks into tints. But I think I was able to manage some faithfulness to Bonnard’s general method-in-the-madness of big raw shapes.

To learn more about the Bonnard drawing, here’s a link to the Sotheby site:



Some suggestions for Drawing

Trace Elements

To do in class or between now and the next class, here’s some things to consider.

Find an old master’s drawing of a head (e.g. Andrea del Sarto, Giovanni  Battista Tiepolo, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Rubens, Albrecht Durer, Bronzino, Jean Baptiste Greuze, et al) and make a version of it in a medium of your choice (pen drawing, charcoal, charcoal pencil, graphite, etc.) being as faithful to the drawing as you can be.

Observe the main lines.  Ask yourself “what is the largest, most comprehensive shape that the artist has drawn?” This can be — may likely be an oval of some sort — but strive to capture the actual character of that oval — is it taller than it is wide?  is it wider than tall?  Does it taper?  Is it a “squarish” shaped oval? In any case, begin with that shape.  Copy the image working from the largest shapes to the medium sized shapes…

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Class Deux

by-matisse-still-lifeI told the drawing class participants that I’d post information about future class sessions on my blog, and that’s what I’m doing now.  I’m sharing it with all the other readers to this blog as well.  Hope you find something helpful.

For the second class here are the things chiefly to bring:

  • whatever sort of pen you typically use to write with — I have recommended Bic Cristal pens because they’re cheap and wonderful and easily obtained almost anywhere, but any pen that you have on hand, that you like, will do as well whether it’s a ball point pen like the Bic Cristal or a marker pen or some other
  • bring a small notebook — recall I showed you mine last class — it measures 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches — 8 x 6 inches is another typical size.  The small one easily fits in a purse or a pocket.

Bring also an example of a drawing by an artist that you like.  I would encourage you to keep look out for drawings you like so that you’ll have specific things to emulate.  These things can include styles, techniques, approaches to subject matter, medium, etc.

I’d also encourage you to begin forming a sort of private museum of works by artists that you like, a “wonder wall.”  Perhaps you pin reproductions on a bulletin board, tape them to the cubicle wall in an office, save them to a Pinterest account, collect them in a scrap book or choose some other way of having and referencing them regularly.

And lastly and most significantly bring something to draw during the class — something visually interesting, something you’d enjoy looking at for 2 hours, something that’s not too valuable (not the family heirloom).  Can be ANYTHING.  You can draw your own shoes.


A word to the wise — “easy” things can sometimes be the hardest to draw — things that have clean, uncomplicated surfaces may end up being frustrating in their bold plainness and the wild and crazy plant sending shoots out in every direction may be much more friendly to your pen than you suppose. Look around — what’s portable, has lots of visual features, has personal meaning.  Bring that.

If by chance you have an artist’s drawing of the thing you’re bringing, you’re in great luck!

Everything about “Continuing Drawing” at MPA this winter

Class begins this afternoon!

Trace Elements

Continuing Drawing
For both beginning and continuing students seeking to improve their skills. Hone your drawing and observational skills in this dynamic class as you draw from life and subjects of your choice. Gesture, line, proportion, mass, volume, value, tone, perspective, and shading will be covered. This class will provide a strong foundation for any level. Optional prerequisite: I’ve Never Held a Pencil: Drawing for Beginners.
Instructor: Aletha Kuschan
9 lessons @ 2 hrs, $260/235 MCC district residents
6607.317         Tu, 1/17-3/14              4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
General:  This course is progressively arranged with topics that fold into each other.  You’ll get the most from the class if you attend all sessions.  If unavoidable absence is necessary, just jump bravely into the next unit.  However and unfortunately I won’t be able to explain or summarize missed portions of the class.
  • One Graphite pencil standard #2 (Dixon Ticonderogas or other brand) the…

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Good news, Kitsune

A little trip down memory lane …

Aletha Kuschan's Weblog

I solved the riddle! (Whew.)  The solution occurred while I was drinking coffee this morning at a McDonald’s restaurant after having fiddled with numerous trials and erroneous attempts.  I guess insight played a role in my solving it since I had “found” the solution without realizing it the night before and had rejected it — by which I mean that I had discovered the correct shape (thinking of this as a drawing exercise) but had the scale wrong (a common problem in drawing)  Thus a slight attitude adjustment was needed to capture the solution, requiring several hours of sleep as well as relaxing distractions plus a fresh morning perspective.  (No doubt the coffee was helpful, too.)

The work of solving the riddle presented many intriguing corollary questions.  While solving it feels nifty, I wonder who created the puzzle and what questions lead someone to an invention like this.  Discovering a puzzle requires a higher and brighter…

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Song of the Cicada


Gabe Feathers McGee

Some creatures sing until they die,
the cicada being one

blase insect
indifferent to fate

singing is what matters
to the cicada

to live life crooning
among the strawberries
in spring
then chanting in the summer,
resonating through the heatwaves

reverberating in the garden forest
like the wind on the sea in a shell

one is joined by many
and a choir of cicadas
roar their pleasure

feel their song
vibrate to the centre of your being

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The Architecture of Water – Book Release Day — gingatao

The Architecture Of Water, a collection of poetry written and compiled by the late and great Brisbane poet Paul Squires, is now available for purchase. Paul originally submitted this manuscript to the judges of the 2010 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript; the prize, had he been successful, $3000 […]

via The Architecture of Water – Book Release Day — gingatao

looking back, thinking ahead

Dark and light, night and day

— elemental themes appeal to me.  They beckon like dreams. I do a lot of traditional kinds of pictures — and I love the discipline of tightly focused imagery like a vase of flowers — very basic — takes you to the foundations of seeing — it is to pictorial art what the sonnet is to poetry.  But I also venture periodically into stream-of-consciousness kinds of imagery.

Sometimes I hear that call again. I am not sure what sort of thing I’ve a yen for just now, but winter’s long nights and cold clear days are great for firing up the imagination.

Not knowing what’s next, I’m watchful for ideas.  In just such moods I find that ideas arrive.  Someone told me once that I needed to pick a theme and create a consistent portfolio, and I am NEVER — DOING  — THAT.  I follow the river current of thought because I know from experience that it leads to good places.

You go off in some tangent, but later you find that the wild explorations allow you to bring back knowledge — knowledge of a sort that you can apply again even to the traditional things — to even the simple vase of flowers.

Everything you learn enriches everything that you know already. So be bold, be daring.