on the easel

red still life of flowers in progress

I started with the red.  Because — red!  Just putting the paint down straight from the tube, I enjoy seeing it so beautiful, luminous.  This is why I love painting — because color transmits wonder just in itself, even before you do anything.

I’m making a painted version of the pastel still life with flowers, the one with the red cloth.  It’s one of my favorites from among the group of pastel still lifes that I did in the fall.  I’m thinking that I may do painted versions of my three favorites.  Time will tell.  Certainly I had to paint the ruby red one.

art marketing workout


We took a walk, a companion and I, through part of Capitol Hill in Washington on route to one of our favorite eateries because you must eat and you must get exercise.  Spring’s first flowers and lovely city architecture are fine things to behold along the way.  (Ah, there’s the house with the cobalt blue shutters!) And then too it’s beneficial to do a little marketing.

I used today’s journey to leave some of my cards along our path.  Some of the cards are expressly designed to direct people HERE to this blog.  And if you’re finding this post now because you got one of those cards, I welcome you!  I hope that you’ll find ideas and pictures that bring you joy.

It’s really important for artists to share art. I’m marketing beauty.  While I offer my paintings for sale, I’m also marketing beauty itself.  Part of my aim is to persuade whoever will listen that we are surrounded by beauty.  The sky alone has tons of beauty in it.  Don’t even get me started talking about the earth.  Beauty is everywhere.

I am continually searching for beauty in my art — in shapes, lines, textures, colors, and in patterns of darkness and light.  I look for it in ideas, too, but that gets a little tricky.  I don’t know how to define what beauty is.  I do recognize it when I see it.  And I see it often.  And I’m always striving to imitate its appearances in pictures.

So welcome visitor.  Welcome long time reader.  Welcome silent guest. Welcome to whoever you are.



Some complicated things are quite easy.  Interesting paradox.  In the previous post I wrote about my dream of a drawing discipline that seeks complexity.  I’m looking for a Few Good Artists!

Well, I’ve got to tell you my reader stats fell into the basement.  Readers, come back!  I’m not talking Everest here.  You already do a highly complex eye/hand/brain coordination task that has become so easy, you hardly notice that you do it.  You write!

Cursive.  Beautiful cursive.  Don’t the words alone transport you back to second grade?  Cursive involves eye/hand and small motor coordination that is far more demanding than what an artist uses in a typical drawing. 

You’re already doing really hard stuff, guys!  So, now I’m sending you on a new mission:  a Mission Possible!

Draw. Draw wonderful and challenging things.  Draw, darn it! (And that’s an order.)

Life Class

     In life class you have a model sitting there, someone who is alive!  It can be very personal.  You talk to fill in awkward silences.  Then as you draw, rather haltingly at first, strange event: you notice a soul.  In the ineluctable silence that reasserts itself, you watch someone’s self as it registers in the face, the hands, the posture, in a thousand small disguises.  Personality is a powerful thing.  It projects itself quietly but relentlessly.  You begin to notice, also, evidences of your own life passing quietly and slowly before you — like a movie playing in slow motion, this latter motion, this empathy needles and prods you and makes you squirm.  Watching someone, who is not doing anything at all, because you specifically ask her not to do anything at all, is most discomforting.

You feel scruples about the model’s comfort.  Is she getting tired?  Is this session too long?  Do we need a break?  And all this, only moments into the model’s pose.  Such scruples arise from the keen observation that feels like an assault on someone’s privacy.  And maybe it’s your own, the artist’s privacy, for which you fear!

Models are really wonderful people to put up with having you stare at them.   Doing a life class is the opposite of working from imagination, copying history’s motifs, or creating something from a photograph.  Drawing from life, you are allowed the most direct experience of portraying other people, unmediated by anything except your perception and skill, and your quickness at emotionally uncoiling and unsquirming.

But doesn’t the name conjure up other associations as well?  What would be the curriculum in a class on “life”?  What should we learn first?  With what insights will we graduate?  It seems to me that the artist’s occupation brings one very close to the discovery of life’s curriculum.  You can paint any subject.  You strive to discover and to reveal meaning.

What are some of the topics?  In the floral bouquet: botany.  In the nude: anatomy, psychology, passion.  In landscape: geology and topography.  In history painting: human drama and fate.  In the interior — in the scene that takes place in a room: the private life and decor. 

Animal pictures, cabinets of curiosity, insects, inanimate objects of still life, dress, fashion … the list is endless.  We can study the ant at our feet or the stars over our heads.  Or we can study the quiet self that sits placidly before our eyes, that makes an artist uneasy by the fact of her wonderful aliveness!

[Top of the post: Woman in white by Aletha Kuschan, oil on canvas]

Finding Treasure

What I’ve discovered about fortunes and getting them is that, just as in wise fairy tales, the fortune is always located right under one’s nose.  It is in managing one’s surroundings that one finds one’s purpose.  Mind you, I’m not arguing against travel or change.  I’m just asserting, as Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz, while clicking her heels, that “there’s no place like home.”

Recognize that the seeds of even the wildest ambition begin humbly at your own front door.  Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson became an astrophysicist in potential at age 9 in the most brightly lit city in the world, home to just “12 stars.”   So it turns out all the stars he needed were found in books and in the Hayden Planetariun.

I have a secret house in one of the mid-Atlantic states that has a secret closet.  I have a secret garden, too.  And at the Arboretum and Botanic gardens, I own great and vast estates. 

Look beneath the soles of your feet.  Search the clouds over your head.  Look to your right and to your left.  Your treasure is right before your eyes, and has been there all along.

Choosing Color

People wonder how to put colors together when choosing furnishings for their home.  While you can find many books on the topic, I want to add some advice that’s very compact.  Go out into the garden and gather some flowers that are in bloom together and plop them into a vase without a whole lot of fuss.

The colors that we find in nature look good together.  The quantities, the varieties, the degrees of contrast as well as the degrees of commonality produce a lovely effect.  Too often people succumb to rules to bolster a choice.  Too often the rules lead to a sterile sameness.  The commonplace notion is that colors should “coordinate.”  But in nature we find plenty of contrast.    Often the most beautiful spectacles in nature arise amid great contrast such as the colors of a landscape under an approaching storm.

Think of the dark cloud, the pale blue-green cerulean of a luminous sky, the rich dark green of shadow and the lush powerful verdant of a brightly lit lawn.  Imagine the mirror reflections of a landscape seen from the water’s edge.  Imitate the dapple of the shadows from a tree’s thick foliage.  Let the bright tones of a bird’s wing alight in your mind, and you’re well on your way to finding the color scheme for your life, your rooms, your home.

Arrange a little still life with flowers and let it be a microcosmos for your color ideas.  Imitate nature and you cannot go wrong.

[Top of the post:  Bouquet of Flowers by Aletha Kuschan]

A Path Leading Somewhere

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]

Less than perfect

If I were giving a prize for the most overrated artist in history, it would be Ellsworth Kelly, who in truth deserves not to be rated at all for his oeuvre is painted in the purest snake oil.  (For an interesting opposing view click here.) Chief among his vices is pretentiousness, for if Mr. Kelly is an artist then so is the person who lays out the paint cards at Home Depot’s paint section.  Indeed, I would argue that the latter work is more fulfilling since one) it’s interactive and two) you can take the little cards home and arrange them to your heart’s delight for free.

However, more than one friend has said to me, “I hate it when somebody sees a work of art and says, ‘I could do that.'”  My feeling in sharp contrast is a great sigh of pleasure in the candour of the remark.  Yes, anyone could do that.  So true.  Moreover, I feel that when anyone can do a thing — supposing the thing has value — one should probably just do it oneself.  If Mr. Kelly does this on our behalf, mind you, I’m perfectly content to pay him a decent wage not to exceed whatever they’re paying the guy at Home Depot.  But if I am supposed to pretend that his achievement is equal to, say, Rembrandt’s or the Rohan Master’s or Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s then, no.  I will not play that game.  My own painting is far superior to Mr. Kelly’s and I make no bones about it.

I can do what he does — easily.  He cannot do what I do.  Not at all.  (Let him try!)

Kelly is a cheap Matisse knock off.  (Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.)

UPDATE:  A second post on Ellsworth Kelly can be found here.

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Got a hero?  I do.  Lots of them.  Richard Diebenkorn, the great 20th century American painter of life and abstraction, is one of them.  I went through a whole phase of studying Diebenkorn’s painting about eight years ago.  I poured over every book I could find and visited as many Diebenkorn paintings in collections as possible.  Thanks to new motherhood, I had missed a huge Diebenkorn show in Washington.  That’s okay.  I’m happy with the kid.  But perhaps to make up for the missed opportunity, I studied him in this other, vicarious way.

While my baby daughter was asleep, on a few nights when I was not, I rolled out large sheets of paper on the floor and made my own big abstractions using kids’ tempera paints!  I was just like Richard Dreyfuss with the mashed potatoes (mentioned a few posts back)!  What a lovely obsession it was to feel this thrill of the pure beauty of paint itself and the aching search for forms that are untied from things and thingness.

The painting above, however, comes from Diebenkorn’s figurative phase in the 1950s and early 60s.  It shows a limp girl who seems to be feeling somewhat like I felt (after a night of tempera painting while baby slept).

[Designers take note: I make copies!  Commission me to copy a Diebenkorn.  I’d love it.   Just like  Rubens, I still make copies.]

My Cezanne

There’s no better way to understand an artist than to walk a mile in his shoes.  This is one of many studies I’ve made of Paul Cezanne’s Vase de Fleurs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.