The beginning of learning is wanting. Learning begins with wanting. When I first wanted to paint I was a child and I wanted something from art that a child craves. Desire was composed of bright pretty colors, realism, things that looked bold and compelling.
Remember that when you were a child no one needed to tell you how to be creative. No one could.
You already knew the basics. You’ve always known them. They haven’t changed. It’s just a matter of putting knowledge into effect. It’s a matter of growing up, of being human.
[This post is dedicated to the life and memory of Paul Squires of Gingatao, a great poet of the early 21st century.]
I wrote yesterday about being a lazy draughtsman, how drawing from photos and searching for my inner Xerox machine lets me tune out everything except the color patches before my eyes. It’s an uncomplicated kind of art in which I sometimes find refuge. And, well, I went refuge seeking again today, having enjoyed it so much yesterday, and made a couple more drawings of my daughter in her “princess” dress. She was playing with caterpillars.
Sometimes I just want to draw, and I don’t want to have to think. I want to look and copy. I get lazy sometimes. Working from photos can provide that kind of idea off the shelf, and I use photos sometimes to satisfy my craving to record and describe. So today I browsed through some old photos of my daughter when she was young enough to dress up in gauzy princess dresses. In the photo, she’s gazing at a caterpiller on her arm (less evident in my drawing).
When she came home from school today and saw this sketch, she quizzed me about why the arms look “funny.” It’s tough being an artist. Everybody’s a critic — even your kid! So I happened to have an out-of-focus photo taken on the same occasion, and I used it to show her how funny and “abstract-looking” things appear when they are less acutely seen. Certainly my drawing introduces distortions too. But distortion in art often has meaning, more so than artists typically realize, I think. The drawing is, after all, a record of one’s visual thoughts.
I wasn’t able to “finish” this drawing. We had to hop and be on our way, errands to run. But the moment of suspension — ah, that too — often adds a telling something-or-other. I liked how the edges of the picture angle in a raucous this way and that. It has a bit of caterpiller zig-zag that befits my theme.
It’s also fun, as a mom, to use a photo to reconnect with memories of my daughter’s girlhood. Childhood sweeps past us so quickly, too quickly. And it’s important to catch whatever you can, when you can, and hold it, and amaze yourself with it.
Like a caterpiller crawling on your arm.
When my daughter was just a crawler and I was recovering my artistic chops after long days of being exclusively maternal, I began to resume drawing by making drawings like this. I used colored pencils because they were child safe. I drew on the floor because that’s where my little crawler lived. The pattern of the floorboards came through the colorings as an accidental rubbing while I worked up the form. I copied fishes from a book. (My love affair with swimming creatures was already beckoning in nascent form.) I drew as carefully as the moment allowed, rusty draughtsman that I was, my drawing muscles all linearly out-of-shape. And I worked especially carefully at that aspect that looks back at you — at the fishes’ eyes. And this bothered my little crawler. She did not like drawings that look back. So she just as carefully scribbled over each of the fishes’ offensive eyes.
Wish I could have asked her what she was about, but it’s a wise secret she kept to herself. She was too young to talk! And now she no longer remembers.
In the previous post I showed just the eye. Here is the entire fish. We caught him on paper about ten years ago. We caught him and now he just swims in this one spot forever. Immortal fish.
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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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]
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]
Some people complain about the summer heat. I’m not one of them. I bask in summer heat like a turtle. For me summer has always meant freedom. It began, no doubt, with the childhood experience of being released from school. But it culminated with the myriad experiences upon which a summer is actually composed.
In childhood I had my backyard to explore, but fittingly too I had at the beginning and end of every summer the experience of traveling to visit North Carolina relatives to the rural south, where I could explore wild nature. Mostly I climbed a single chinaberry tree, which was universe enough for an eight year old girl. To this day the branches of a tree seem like welcoming arms, and a tree is almost as good as a person for company.
And so a path through foliage or trees marks out for me life’s great events. A path tempts you to take it. Walk this direction, oh brave ones, if you will. Who is the adventurer to take this road and see its great delights?
[Top of the post: Great Oak, by Aletha Kuschan, acrylic on canvas, 50 x 44 inches]