Random insights

two trees in the gardenI am learning about the ebb and flow of days. There is always something to do, and in art especially one can always draw.

I realized late last night that it doesn’t matter whether I work from a photograph, or from life, or from drawings, or imagination, or memory, or invention, or whatever.

What matters is the sense of conviction — when you feel that each decision is “true” then you put things together using your unconscious skills.  The picture will have cohesion because the ideas in your head will have cohesion.

I like to work from life most of all because in that instance I am least aware of making the choices and am most caught up in the motif so that the unconscious can have complete sway.  It is the very opposite of slavish imitation — it is a complete freedom from imitation that one finds inside imitation.


I get perhaps the greatest increase in drawing skill in the waiting room — during those odd occasions when I draw something to pass the time because I am planted somewhere with nothing to do.  To avoid disturbing the other people who are waiting, I refrain from drawing them.  Instead I draw from photos I carry with me, or sometimes I draw from memory.  There is no pressure to have the drawing conform very much to anything and I let myself draw fast or slow, this element or that one, and I find that extremes of not caring often provide felicitous awakening of the senses, freeing the hand and the mind.  I learn from these episodes more and more to just toss down the line.

Dreaming in the daytime

In the veiled and imminent dawn you can dream a different kind of dream.  In this soft light, inside these paled thoughts, everything is so much more possible.  The quiet haze of heavy thoughts amorphous holds inside its fuzzy boundaries ideas whose exact shapes are unknown, and in their uncertainty offer possibilities too many to count.

How I try to use these dreams of semi-wakefulness.  The half actual shapes, the lines whose endings cannot be imagined.  When asking questions is like holding the pen, and the words that your mind speaks back to you in halting phrases are lines whose character the time has yet to determine.

Junk Art

If you want to increase your freedom in painting, sometimes it’s useful to designate a specific painting as the official “junk” painting.  The junk painting is one that doesn’t matter.  It’s the canvas upon which any liberties at all can be taken.  You can use cheap materials, you can paint in poor light, you can have a headache, you can change your mind as many times as you want.  Expend the last dregs of your palette, all the half dried and sticky mess that remains behind from your “real” painting sessions on this unfortunate canvas.  The canvas you might have thrown out is wisely saved to be used with the paint you should have thrown out.  And with these junky tools allow yourself to take chances, to draw freely, to rehearse any idea.  Here you can be a completely free spirit.

Everything you learn you can later use in a serious painting.  The junk painting can also be a way of warming up.  You can get started thinking visually with great freedom on the little canvas that doesn’t matter.

The photo above is sort of like “finding Waldo.”  How many versions of the picture do you see…?

If it should happen that you find yourself typically doing better in the junk art — with its expansive freedom — than in the “real” arena — with its more expensive materials and greater sense of duty and its various crippling “shoulds,”  then some fine morning just switch them — only forget to tell yourself.  On that fine day, use the expensive canvas and the choice paints for the “junk” picture du jour and worry yourself silly with the cheap canvas and the palette scrapings.  Just don’t tell your brain about the switch!  Mum’s the word ….

Top of the post:  a “junk” painting in progress ….

Putting round koi into square holes

Someone says you can’t use a grid, it’s too rigid or it’s been done.  Or it was modern, but now it’s not anymore.  I heard some of these things, but I have ignored them. 

I want a grid because the fish have gotten rowdy.  They swim all over the place and don’t listen to me at all.  They do whatever they please.  They’re out of control. 

They need discipline!

So I fitted this grid over them and it’s like putting a leash on each one, and forever I was to take them out for walks like obedient canines.  For a while, but they found a way around that plan, Clever Koi.  I have begun gradually to discover that each square of the grid had changed into its own new and separate picture, and inside these smaller pictures the koi found just as much freedom as before. 

Each square opened like a window into space and time, and it turned out that, though the squares are smaller, each one has as much stuff packed into it as the one picture had held alone!  Indeed, somehow the parts grew to more than the sum of the whole, and I find myself fooled by a weird new math invented by the koi.

I imposed the grid to be their discipline but they swam around anyway and now they have more space and more freedom than ever!  What Descartes didn’t know!  The koi devised!

I built a little gridded space-time bridge I use to walk above the pond.

One at a time

Been thinking about Bonnard today.  The freedom of his little notebooks comes back to me, and I am astonished at the obviousness of what I realized.  Why didn’t I think of it before?  If you want that sort of thing, you must simply try it.  I don’t say my little sketches will compare with Pierre’s.  But if I ever hope to make the drawings that do, I must first try.

Try, fail.  Try again.

Succeed, enfin.  Succeed at last!

Swimming up through the bounds

We need boundaries, and we need to defy rules also. No edges, no defiance. Yet one wants to be more than just defiant. One wants to create, and creation is sometimes all cooperation. Sometimes creating “goes with the flow” and resists nothing. It’s all very complicated.

Nous avons besoin de frontières et nous devons aussi defier les règles. Pas de limites, pas de défis. Et en même temps on veut être plus que simplement rebelle. On veut créer et quelquefois, créer c’est coopérer. Quelquefois créer c’est aller dans le sens du courant, se laisser aller sans résister. Tout ça, c’est très compliqué.   [translated by Bénédicte of Carnet de Dessins]

The image above comprises three paintings, as they would appear stacked one above the other.  Each canvas is 40 x 60 inches, so the overall dimensions would be 120 by 60 inches if they were displayed this way.  Alas, they never have been so far, but the fish and I are both hopeful.  These are the first koi I painted.  They have lots of friends now.  My studio looks like a fish tank.

The comment and its translation originally appeared at the end of a different post.  I made the comment, and Bénédicte was kind and adventurous enough to translate it.  Uttered in French my observations sound ever so wise!  Then it dawns on me (later) that the koi express this idea about boundaries.  The fish live in water and never leave it.  They can’t exist outside it (not for very long).  And so they are very bound, and yet within the confines of their pond they do amazing things.  They swim with the utmost freedom and beauty.

I Drew My Hands, Too

Would that I’d had a model, but I couldn’t afford to hire someone.  So, I became my own model for hands too.  I sometimes used a mirror and sometimes photographs.  Regarding these drawings, I don’t post them as exemplary of good drawing, but as instances of everyday ideas being tried like scales and riffs on an instrument.  They were casually and quickly made.  And they, too, offered me freedom.

I was painting a commission, the kind of thing that pays bills.  But in the studies, I could explore ideas.

[Top of the post:  My hands, by Aletha Kuschan, pencil]

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]