Something prompted me to draw the koi in pastel, a material that I haven’t used in a long time.  And I am making the drawings on a smoother paper than one typically uses for pastel.  And it happens that the fine Sennelier pastels I’m using are very crumbly.

It changes my relationship to my intentions to be using materials that impose so many demands of their own.  You think this, it does that.  I thought to place a color “here” and watched as the crayon crumbled under the pressure of my gesture.  Everything has become subject in an unknown degree to whimsical accidents such as a cake of pigment that breaks along an unseen mineral edge in response to pesky laws of physics.

It is abstract art.

I had decided to use pastels today for the sake of the unpredictable.  I decided to amuse myself with drawing, to have fewer specific expectations.  I am sent back in time, back to when I was short on experience and tall on desire.  So I’m drawing, and I’m just watching what happens.

I’ve sent myself back to school.


“The beginning is the most important part of the work,” said Plato.  I think.  I’d be more confident of his having said it, or written it, if I knew where he is supposed to have said it.  And instead I found these words at one of those Plato Quotes sites.

It does seem like something Plato would have said, sounds very Plato-ish.  If he didn’t say it, he certainly should have.  Well I confidently attribute it to him because it suits my purpose, and better to have him saying it than me.  He’s so famous and wise.
The beginning of art has the potential of being hugely important!  When a picture starts out in a bold, deliberative way, with the large elements presented in full, the artist builds an underlying structure as a strong foundation for everything that comes afterward.  Everything that the artist sees and presents later can be tethered to that underlying plan with invisible glue.
If you can imagine a bottle of Elmer’s Thoughts, those forms you pour out to which everything else sticks — rather like “Plato’s ideas,” then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The grass was greener in the Middle Ages

I have sometimes done pictures that tell or suggest stories.  Yesterday I found an unfinished panel where I was beginning to paint “Spottie leaping through the forest,” an as yet unwritten, untold legend of our now departed dog Spot and his astonishing and unparalleled canine athleticism.  What prompted my mind’s eye image of Spottie’s feat, I cannot tell.  Some epiphanies just come unheralded, you know.  But I’ll bet that one influence upon me has been King Rene’s Book of Love, Le Livre du Cueur d’Amours Espris.  Its vivid colors and enchantingly depicted scenes stick to your mind like honey.  Perhaps as I feel once again its spell, I can finish the story of the Great Spot and give the world a new canine hero who is the equal of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin combined!

Surfing the Ideal

When I was young, I thought that every centimeter of a work of art was supposed to matter.  Ah, youth!  I suppose I’ll still grudgingly admit that every centimeter ought to be trying to accomplish something, not just sitting there reflecting back photons.  But time has tempered an idealism that I was not in any case capable of attaining in my youth, notwithstanding how charming an idealism it might have been.  Today I realize that sometimes a drawing doesn’t get what you were after, no matter how earnestly you search or how boldly or sensitively you work, and that’s okay.  That’s the reason God made trees so that we’d always have more paper lying around to use for having another wack at it.

Even if a particular drawing doesn’t capture your goal, it may supply the experience you need to get where you’re going.  In drawing we learn stuff about reality.  If you draw flowers, you learn about flowers.  Often we think that we already know what we draw — even that we know what things look like.  Yet if we really look deeply, we discover something new about the familiar world.

I started a drawing as a study for a painting.  I work on it in sessions — but I figure that of course these sessions still count as “drawing a day.”  Here’s a few peeks at the parts.  This drawing doesn’t feel to me like it’s going anywhere, but I work steadily all the same because sometimes you just go along for the ride.  The moments spent looking are taking you somewhere unknown.

One More Little Squares Story about Beginnings


I can’t help it.  All my inner squares wish to be heard.  I remembered this story while noticing the tiles in the bathroom, as I wondered if my bathroom tiles could ever possibly inspire me to paint pictures as great as Pierre Bonnard’s fantastical tiles of paradise inspired him to paint Marthe in the Bath.

Anyway, while I pondered, I remembered a time when I was a little girl.  We visited my uncle and his wife and my cousins in Dobbin Heights at their little house on the edge of town.  My cousins were playing with tiles in the paradise that was my uncle’s quirky back yard.  They had tiles of all colors, and we quickly turned the handling of these tiles into a rich game.  Whether my uncle had recently redone his kitchen or whether it was for some other reason that he had all these tiles I never knew.  But they were small tiles about an inch square and there were all sorts of beautiful colors.

I played with my cousins the entire time of our visit, and when it was time to go home my uncle put a large bunch of tiles into a paper bag for me to take home from the family’s huge supply.

And I loved those tiles.  It was one of the earliest times that I became aware of loving color — just loving color plain and deep and pure.

Interesting to notice now that the tiles were a gift.  People often give us the very things we need before we’re even aware of needing them.  My uncle (who has always loved to build things) was thus one of my earliest art teachers.  He gave me a bag full of tiles.

I wonder if some of my readers would be willing to share your art stories?  What got you started along your path of color and line?
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Into Paradox


I’ve continued working on this drawing.  None of the changes and additions that I’ve made to it are even noticable so far, and I haven’t taken a new photo yet.  But I post it again to illustrate what I notice about my thoughts as I continue drawing, trying to go deeper into the image.

One  thing I notice is how difficult it can be to look at the same things — the same still life, the same drawing — day after day and try to find the “new” in it — the present moment.  One’s thoughts can get so crowded with extraneous ideas.  I sit down to draw, but I might actually be thinking about something else.  It’s not that it marrs the drawing to think about other things, because it doesn’t necessarily do that.  It’s just that one might as well have the experience of seeing the things!  That’s what it’s for, isn’t it?

As with playing a musical instrument, once you have learned to play a piece you can reproduce it — almost mindlessly.  But, where then, has the music gone?  One wants not only to hear the music, but to feel it also — to be swept up inside it.  And the challenge in drawing is to be swept up in that.

There’s a paradox about art (perhaps true of all the arts?).  When you are very new to it, it presents lots of technical difficulties.  In painting, learning to draw or to mix color or, in piano learning to read music and to manage ambidextrous fingerings of lots of notes!

Eventually one gets increasingly comfortable with the difficulties — so much so that eventually they aren’t even difficult.  While a beginner, though, one has so much raw desire.  And after one has become more practiced, some of the desire has perhaps been unintentionally tamed.

One needs to find the desire again — even the difficulty needs to become a new discovery.  The uncertainty one fought against, the feeling of failure or the fear of it, the absent confidence — ah, they were friends if only one knew!

To not know how to draw is the most marvellous thing!  In not knowing, one is searching and striving.  Would that make all beginners masters? And are masters all washed up?  No, of course.  But the spirit of beginning is always something to strive toward no matter where one finds oneself in a continuum of “skill.”

Truly the beginner spirit is more realistic also.  To suppose that one already knows is inaccurate.  Reality is always bigger than we are.

I have been looking at my nearly “finished” drawing of flowers and finding a blank slate inside it.  So much about it is still tentative, I think.  Like the edges of the flowers in the vase where they juxtapose the flowers in the textile.  Where does one begin and the other end?  How does one put this into the drawing?  And space and dimension, how are they to be represented in this flat image?

I find that I am almost more interested in ways of thinking about appearances than strictly in depicting appearance. Sometimes my pictures have a strong life-likeness (you see the vase and the flowers, right?) and sometimes the features I find most intriguing lead to decisions that break the illusion.  If you discover a wonderful line, let’s say, and put emphasis on it, the line may bring the whole thing forward, making the picture flat again. And yet one discovers all kinds of beautiful things in the motif — percepts that are hard to resist.

There’s still so much that’s possible in a drawing like this one.  How much more so in the blank page.  The beginner mind is desirable — it is the continual possession of the newness of the moment.

Not enough hours in a day

Today’s been kind of busy!  I don’t have time to comment at my own post.  But it’s been a fabulous day here.  Hope you’ve had a fabulous day, too, wherever you are.  Sometimes there’s not enough hours in the day — in a wonderful sense.

Just like a kid.  I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight because I just want to keep playing.  Been drawing my flowers, as you can see!  They’re beginning to get there.

Can’t wait for the sun to come up tomorrow!

Beloved Chicory

Sometime or other around the time I was in high school (dates for which are kept in the secret vault), I was flipping through the pages of a magazine — most likely Ladies’ Home Journal or Women’s Day or McCall’s — and found a sentimental painting of a rural fence post with a stand of chicory growing next to it.  I fell in love with that picture and decided to copy it.  Though I had already been a frequent visitor to the National Gallery of Art and was already a young enthusiast for French Impressionism, it was the not-famous picture of chicory that I copied rather than a work by a master (even among master paintings there are ones that wouldn’t be so difficult to copy). 

Cannot say what it was about that image that caught hold of me, but it’s overt sentiment didn’t bother me.  I was reading McCall’s after all.  It was like a Hallmark card.  And I loved it.  (You don’t explain love.)

Feeling very nostalgic now, I was looking round the internet for similar kinds of imagery and stumbled upon this picture by artist John Alexander.  All it lacks is the fence post.  These things have perennial appeal, and I’m happy to report that another artist does something similar Richard Tiberius.  He’s got chicory!  I think these flowers in the Alexander are actually violets.  But close enough for jazz ….

It’s good to let yourself fall in love, and you really cannot argue with love either.  I don’t make copies of sentimental pictures anymore but, oh boy, what a debt of gratitude I feel to — somebody — whoever it was who painted those flowers by the sentimental roadside of  imagination — because that’s what got me started in the year 19**!

I saw a large patch of chicory this past week in front of a frat house of the local university and was thinking today that I should photograph it and do something with it.  Alas!  The lawn mower!  So, once again one learns that you have to seize the day!  But I’m on chicory alert mode now.  The world has more chicory in it, and I won’t be mowed a second time, by golly.

[Top of the post:  Moonlight Garden 2004, by John Alexander, b. 1945]

Blank Canvas

Lately I’ve been reading books about writing, among them Ralph Keyes’s The Courage to Write.  I was wondering when I saw it why writing would require courage.  If you are writing a powerful exposé on a dictator and you have the misfortune to be a citizen living under the dictator’s rule, I can understand why writing would take courage.  But why would the writing of ordinary books evoke authorial fear?

The blank page has something to do with it.  Mr. Keyes has a nice quote by James Baldwin: “You go in with a certain fear and trembling.  You know one thing.  You know you will not be the same person when this voyage is over.  But you don’t know what’s going to happen to you between getting on the boat and stepping off.”  Seeing writing described in that way makes me want to get on the boat.  It provokes such longing.  Doesn’t Baldwin make writing seem like an breathtaking adventure?

Certainly various kinds of self exposure can evoke fear.  And embarking upon a project which has no predictable end to it could definitely seem daunting.  But in other respects I like the idea of the blankness of beginnings.  I am never afraid of starting a picture.  I am sometimes afraid of “wasting”materials.  I worry that the canvas I’m using is too expensive and maybe the painting will be a flub.  But the pursuit of a new idea always makes me feel like a kid — it’s better than childhood because I have ever so many fewer qualms than I had when I was a child.

The first lay-in of an idea seems like the most open and vibrating moment.  In those early steps, anything is possible.  A painting closes down as choices follow upon each other.  It comes to be more definitely “this” or “that.”  But even the narrowing of the path doesn’t faze me because by the time I arrive there I find that different kinds of new possibilities arise.  The surface lends itself to a million interpretations.

It’s not that I’ve never felt this artistic fear.  I used to approach a new project with fear and trembling.  But these days my worries run more toward concern whether I will succeed in finishing the many things I have started.  The starting of things is so delightful that it’s hard to discipline oneself to stay the course with any particular one.  I have, however, one painting that is taking me years to finish.  It is full of details, and I can imagine a circumstance in which the details keep yeilding to others more minute.  Yet I have no reluctance to work on the picture.  Indeed, it’s one of my favorite pictures.  With it I experience the opposite of my financial qualm:  had I known it would become so complex I would have used a better canvas!

I don’t quite understand the whole “fear” thing.  I have no wish to denigrate it, though.  Perhaps I should write a book.  Maybe then I’ll know what they’re talking about, they who say that writing takes courage.  But of those who say that painting takes courage — and we have our fair share as well — I cannot understand them, I have to admit.   I only used to feel that way when I was younger, and I had so many things that I didn’t know how to do.  I was afraid of getting everything “wrong.”  I feared making mistakes.

I have none of that fear now.  It is not that I know how to do everything!  My ego is not that big.  It’s just that I’ve learned how to learn.  When I don’t know how to do something, I find that some path toward it appears, and I just start going down that path.  Anyway, I’m much less hung up about “mistakes.”  A mistake is such a subjective thing.  Sometimes “mistakes” have such lovely ideas hidden inside them.  They are still mistakes, mind you.  They are those parts of the picture that look out of place.  But I find that a willingness to live with them can open all kinds of doors of thought.

After all “reality” in that sense of what an optician means when he says you have 20/20 vision is all around us, and we can look at it all day long.  But thoughts are so personal.  I like a picture that is full of thoughts.  And we so often find them in our mistakes if we will but look, for what is a mistake except something one aimed for and missed?  Or did you even miss?  Do you know what the idea even is?

Contemplate your mistake a little, and you learn what it was you aimed for and what you desire.

[Top of the post:  Early stage of a painting posted earlier in this blog, Woman in White, by Aletha Kuschan]

Dream Fishing

When artists go fishing, it’s a little different sort of thing than when most people fish.  I’ve begun a series of koi paintings that occupy most my time.   Of course, the fish in the drawing are obviously not koi.  They are just fish.  They’re friends.   My generic fish that swim in the notebook in search of a fine blue stream.   They are rambling fish of imagination and dreams.  They come to cheer me on in my larger project that I’m just now beginning.Come visit my store on CafePress!

[Top of the post:  Swift Swimming Fish of Dreams, by Aletha Kuschan, drawing in a notebook]