Alice, Olympic Yarn Ball

The stands are crowded to capacity!  Yarn Ball is the big event for Cat Olympics!  Indeed, not only are the stands filled to overflowing; security is very tight too.  You have no idea how hard it is to keep the fans out of the game.  When you’ve got yarn rolling in front of  150,000+ cats, you know the tails and whiskers are twitching!

Alice has gained an early lead, but there’s still a lot of yarn on the ball.  This is anybody’s game, and this year’s contenders are fast cats.  We’re rooting for Alice, of course, and it looks like she’s got a great shot at the title.

[Top of the post:  Alice and other Olympic athletes in the Yarn Ball Chase at 2008 Cat Olympics in Beijing, China as drawn by the younger artist of the household]


Making Difficult Pictures

One problem that artists have at the beginning arises from a misapprehension.  When seeing a painting in a museum, people often think that that’s it.  They see a complete, whole and finished thing and mistakenly suppose that the artist just painted it.  Such a task, anyone would acknowledge to be difficult, but to create ex nihilo — which is often what people mistakenly suppose artists do — would be really, very hard — perhaps impossible.  In fact most complex pictures have lots of studies that lie behind them.  Studies can take many forms, but usually they exist.  Typically they are not on display.  They reside in the background.  They lie stored in a drawer in the artist’s studio.

What defines a study?  One might say that it’s any work of art that takes a separate aspect of an idea and pursues it in isolation.  When you study old masters’ techniques, you find many such drawings that rehearse ideas that are later used in completed paintings. 

So, it’s “okay” to take an idea apart and pursue it in bits.  The drawing at the top of the post is that kind of drawing.  I was interested in the drapery and drew it in isolation.  To create this drapery I had first made a photograph — but even the photograph is part of the pursuit of an idea.  I’m still not certain where it’s going.  Or if it’s going anywhere.

The figure has no head or face and hardly any arms.  These details don’t matter at this juncture, and I left them out.  The details here are to drawing what scales are to music.  This is a drawing of riffs and phrases.  Such things have their own charms.

[Top of the post:  Drapery Study, by Aletha Kuschan, colored pencil on Nideggen paper]

Alice at Beijing: Fishing

Alice is doing well in the first rounds of Cat Fishing Competitions at Beijing.  As you probably know, the cats have to climb down the ropes, catch a fish at the rope’s end, and successfully carry the fish back up the rope to the end.  So far Alice has only dropped one fish and hasn’t fallen into the water even once.   (Cats hate that, you know.)

She’s been doing fabulously well at this Olympics!  I’ll keep you posted on her progress.

[Top of the post:  Summer Olympic: Fishing Competition, by the young artist of the household]

Riosriosrios drew Durer’s Owl!

I asked Riosriosrios to draw Durer’s Owl and here it is!  Isn’t this fantastic!  You ask Riosriosrios to draw something, and you get a drawing!  Drawing on demand.  I like that idea!

You may recall that last month I had asked Riosriosrios to draw Durer’s Rhinoceros.  (I’m kind of a Durer fan.)  The rhino was fabulous too!

[Top of the post:  Durer’s Owl, drawn by Riosriosrios of wordpress]

Alice wins at Mouse Tennis

Mouse tennis is not an Olympic sport with which most people are familar.  The name may mislead you.  It’s not a game for mice.  It is a game cats play with mice.  (Poor mouse!)  It is very much like regular tennis, only some unfortunate mouse has to be the ball.  Alice has made a very strong showing from the beginning, but had to earn her triumph. 

Alice the Cat beat Miss Callico and won the match in an 8-6 nail-scratcher. The match started slowly, with Miss Callico going up three games to none, but Alice the Cat came back to tie it 4-4.  Afterwards they traded games until Alice finally won two in a row to take the match.  As you can see, the crowd went wild.  Congratuations Alice!

For mouse lovers in the audience, you’ll be glad to know the tennis mouse escaped before the traditional, triumphant mouse “snack” could take place.   Consequently Alice celebrated her win after the game with a bowl of dim sum over at Sagwa’s house.

[Top of the post:  Alice’s Mouse Tennis match at the Beijing Olympics, by the young artist on the premises]

Summer Reading

Just finished reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  Won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it, but it’s kind of like Moby Dick — only a whole lot shorter!  It is really extraordinary what a great writer can do with a little bit of theme.  Basically a fellow goes fishing, in Hemingway’s story, and yet the tale reveals bits of an entire life.

Also in recent weeks, I’ve read John Hilton’s Lost Horizons and Ursula Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven — both wonderful stories.  I had not meant to become seriously diverted with reading, but I’m on a roll.  One trip to the library netted me a pile of books (still thinking in fishing terms), and they chanced to be so good that once I began a story, I couldn’t quit!

Back to Hemingway’s tale though, if you’ve read it you know it’s very visual.  And if you’ve read this blog, you know that I’m often preoccupied with the topic of fishes.  So, diving deep into this story I was confronted with some issues of my own life.  Was beginning to wonder if I’d need to illustrate something from the story. 

I like monumental art.  But would I really do a fish that large?  Are all fish stories questions about magnitude?  Does my fish affectionately named Pixel need to grow?  And would my apartment studio accomodate him?  Would anyone ever purchase his picture if I did it?  Or would I live with a giant painting of a fish the rest of my life?

Got to mull over these and other questions.  Meanwhile, I’m moving on to the next book.  My next Hemingway selection will be Moveable Feast.  I can manage that much.  Food. Still life.  Been there, done that. 

Meanwhile, wishing you safe seas.

[Top of the post:  Two Men in a Boat, by Aletha Kuschan, aquatint]

While on a spider theme

While on the topic of spiders, I should mention that I like to insert them into pictures (when they fit).  Here’s one that crawled into a children’s mural.  She is named Charlotte, just like the spider in the famous book by E. B. White.  And I can happily report she was based upon an actual spider that we (the child and I) found somewhere out in the garden, captured and photographed.  Afterwards, she was released back into the wild, and thus no spiders were injured (only temporarily inconvenienced) for the making of this painting.

Spiders as draughtsmen and draughts-ladies

plastic tavoletta drawing of a spider


We have a spider that lives on the front porch.  One supposes her to be the great-great-great-great-great grandspider of her tribe, for many of her kin have similarly taken up residence on the porch and eaten their fill of our many flying insects attracted to the bright porch light that illuminates the doorway until dawn.

Like a lot of people I suffer from a mild form of arachnophobia.  I used to suffer really badly as a child, but with age I’ve mellowed, and at one period of my life I actively sought to overcome the fear by observing spiders at a friendly distance.  Thus I began to get better acquainted with one of the ancestors of the current porch spider and would routinely exit out of doors around 8:30 pm to watch her spin her web.

a black and gold garden spider


Orb weavers like the one I watch are a particularly gruesome looking species seen at close range.  It’s a wonder they don’t scare the begeebers out of each other — indeed, perhaps they do.  One notes they aren’t particularly social.  And if you could somehow manage to get a mirror in front of one of them, we might find that humans aren’t the only ones who suffer a little arachnophobia.

They are not social.  They are chiefly gastronomical.  They will eat anything that crosses their paths that is small enough to eat.  Spiders, it would appear, live to eat and are nothing if not dedicated, relentless predators.  Even a mate becomes, ultimately, a gastronomical and not a romantic adventure in the last.  A spider does nothing but sit at its web’s center (the original website) waiting serenely for the chance to kill.  And what an errie spectacle indeed to see the pivotal moment unfold.  A formerly immobile, passive looking creature snaps into sudden killing-machine frenzy.  At such moments, one is grateful that they are so small.

painting of the porch spider, a species of orb weaver


But the web seems to be a whole universe to a spider and doubtless they have no thoughts about anything that lies beyond its borders.   So they make nice symbols of a contemplative life — even of an artistic life –since a spider builds her web and occupies it and gathers her everything into it.

When you watch a spider spin a web, especially if you are an artist yourself, I think you find reassurance that the drawing life has its definite touchstone in nature.  The ordinary normal web is a beautiful artifact.  And a web glistening with dew is like a priceless, precious, fragile necklace to adorn the small corners of the world.

The impulse to draw is something that connects us to the natural world, not only because of what we observe while drawing but by the very act of drawing.  One becomes like a spider — one who builds a web meant to catch not bugs, in our case but to catch ideas.


One Got Away!

This guy was determined to swim in the stars.  Call him the “fish that got away.”  Big time!  He wanted to be a cosmic fish.  Pisces.  The night is his ocean.  His stream is the Milky Way.  (Got milk?)

[Top of the post:  Crayon drawing of a fish photographed on a black enamel surface with speckles, by Aletha Kuschan]