My Cheat Sheet

Sometimes I have a little drawing off to the side while I’m painting. It’s there so that I can talk to myself, as it were. I rehearse in thought — and with actual tools — aspects of the painting that I’m going to be changing. It’s like a visual “to do” list. Sometimes I have written notes too.

I go back and forth between these alternative versions and the actual painting. The purpose is not to spare me from making mistakes. The painting is fluid. It changes. I accept that readily enough. The cheat sheet is more a matter of discharging thoughts. I have these ideas about maybe this, maybe that, and the ideas are more quickly traced through more direct tools — these being my notions of immediacy — everyone is different.

As a river has little tributaries that pour into its current, these alternative tasks are just what they are. They are part of the enjoyment of the moment.

portion of the painting roughly corresponding to the cheat sheet, detail of a landscape in progress

Enduring

Ideas should be used soon after purchase.

But they keep well too. Ideas can be very durable. I always have a few saved for a rainy day.

Have you diversified your idea portfolio? Gotta plan ahead!

Throwing rocks in a bucket

I have been watching how-to videos on Youtube.  There’s a great variety of them to choose from, some of which have the potential to teach genuine ideas and some that are awful, but amusing in unintented ways.  As for myself, however, I was always a reluctant student.  I took lots of art classes when I was young, of course, but I had such strong notions of what I thought mattered and very little patience for being led down someone else’s path that it’s only in my maturer years that I have any interest in art instructional methods.

Perhaps I might have met with fewer hard knocks had I just listened to others.  But to tell the truth, I am glad I was a poor student, and I’d do it all over again: for confronting the world’s resistance does in itself teach a powerful lesson.

One gathers that lots of people want to know how to do art, but the real way of art is simply to work.  You want something.  You try for it.  You fail.  You try again.

If I were to give one bit of advice it would be this: go about the business of art as a child plays at a game.  Let’s say there’s a bucket over there and you have a pile of rocks.  Throw the rocks at the bucket.  How many make it in?  That is the paradigm for success in drawing: how many rocks make their way into the bucket?  And how many of the lines that you’ve drawn resemble the thing?

There is no short cut nor should you want one.  The beauty of throwing rocks in a bucket is that you throw rocks in a bucket.

Starting and stopping

You don’t always know what you’ll do and what you won’t.  Sometimes you start something, fully intend to finish it, but something stops you.  And truly not every drawing is one that you can go back to — even if it had good ideas, or you liked it a lot — not even if you’re a workaholic can you finish everything. 

But the drawing that you stop, doesn’t just arbitrarily end.   It has a certain identity, a certain something that was the sum total of what you were thinking by that point in time.  It holds suggestions in it of what was coming next, I think.  It’s a fingerprint of the mind, a trace of a cloud, of an emotion or a will.

I’ve been drawing lots of flowers lately.  I wake up, I start drawing.  And the drawings are sometimes like dreams, and sometimes of course you wake up before the dream has concluded, and yet your mind has not exactly created a fragment, not entirely.  The brain is still sending you messages even in the unfinished thing, like smoke signals.

the Bowling Alley

You could roll your thought up, press it down hard, hammer it until very dense, burnish it (or them, if you’ve a few), and then bore holes for the fingers, hold it then brightly, confidently, let your arm swing back, then forward concentrating, and aimed well, released with powerful force,

it sails down the alley and maybe overturns the bright jazzberry jam colored tree there in the distance!

And when the bowling ball reaches the horizon sometimes it scatters into fluffy clouds.

Painting is a slow path

I let a bunch of time go by without posting anything.  Like many bloggers, I spend some time musing and pondering this new medium called “the blog,” and wonder aloud about the different genres of writing that it can evoke.  For me as an artist, I would have to say that it’s impossible — or nearly impossible — to write about the work I’m actually doing —  at least when I’m doing it.  Art doesn’t make good journalism.  Art is not an “every day” kind of topic.  No “breaking news” going on.  It’s mostly quiet stuff.

I mean I could write a narrative of how I actually work.  But would anyone read it?  And survive?  Awake?

Painting is a slow art form.  Sometimes it’s like watching an ant parade.  You make all these abstract decisions: how large is this shape?  what color is this exactly?  should I put this here or there? should this line be wider?  lighter?  should it taper? or should it be bold?  or is it okay — even wise — to fudge?  to guess?  to be in doubt? Should an edge be hard or soft?  Do I draw today?  Or should I paint?  And for me, lately, my questions are ones like “do I finish the koi or begin the flowers?”

How does one make these questions interesting for a reader?  Even my mother is not holding her breath waiting for the answers, yet these choices are — they really are vibrant, living questions.

To be able to describe the act of painting and all its attendant thought processes would be a fascinating project if you could truly put the reader into the same relationship with things that you’re in when you paint.

That’s one of the things I try to do, but it’s hard.  We are the heros of the dramas we live ourselves.  Yet it doesn’t always look so exciting to the outside observer.  To capture the authentic excitement of quotidian existence ain’t easy!  Especially when its small and it unfolds slowly.  Like molasses leveling.

But I try.

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]

To Mike

          I’m glad my comments were helpful.  Commenting on your drawings helps me as well, since it prompts me to consider how and why I draw.  I guess I want to teach drawing.  I’ve thought about it certainly, but I cannot do so in a traditional studio setting for various logistical reasons, my schedule, family obligations and so on.  But through writing, perhaps I can find an outlet for teaching the ideas that I wish to share. I see drawing as being a wonderful tool for observing life, and through observing things I also see a path to knowledge about life, even to wisdom. 
How perfectly lovely to have a wife who encourages you. Listen to your wife.  (I’ve already written about marriage here, so isn’t that apropos?)  Her advice to keep your drawings, heed it well.  Okay, maybe not every single scrap.  But certainly the ones she tells you to keep!

I know the feeling of being dissatisfied, but you can learn a lot from past drawings.  People think “yes, I’ll learn to recognize my mistakes.”  That’s not what I mean.  If the drawings bother you, stick them in a drawer and get some distance from them.  Later after you gain skill, you’ll gain confidence and then the drawings may prove helpful.  I had ideas from my earliest inkling that I wanted to be an artist — a beautiful shifting mirage of things I saw that held great meaning for me.  I tried to draw them, but lacked the skill.  I was dissatified with those drawings, but I kept them anyway.  Looking back at old drawings now, ah, how  revealing!  To find ideas that I had forgotten — oh, some of them good ideas!  I have the skills now to pursue these thoughts, and because I kept the drawings, I have the reminders of these perceptions, these appearances, that I once wanted to do.

At the time of their making, you may not have recognized that these things you sought even were ideas.  Time of itself provides a means of observing life.  Seeing events through the perspective of time, we see differently than when events are actually taking place.  Time is not just a theme for the novelist.  It has meaning in the visual arts too. 

Well, anyway, you want to spend some of your regular working hours — your art hours — drawing from life.  Even though it’s far more difficult than copying, drawing from life is incomparable because in this direct perception of things, you have no intermediary.  You copy drawings to learn different ways of thinking visually, and you draw from life to learn to carve your own path. 

 
I liken it to target shooting.  You aim your pencil, point and shoot.  Sometimes you miss.  You try again.  But it involves you in a very precise way of thinking and also a personal one.  If you draw what you notice then the drawing becomes a map of your attention and perception.  And that can be really marvelous, and again also provides reasons for keeping the old things — because you may lack the skill to record all that you notice, but even the imperfect attempt gets at parts of it — so, you see, by keeping old drawings you get to bump into your past self.  Another form of time travel.
 
Getting a job as an artist — that is very tricky, I won’t kid you. If you get one, put in a word for me too!  How good are you at self-promotion?  If you’re a strong self-promoter you might find employment as an artist before you’re really “ready” in which case you can (hurray!) learn on the job.  Being unsatisfied with what you do, of course, makes self-promotion complicated.  So, some employment related soul searching is wise.
 
As a hobby, art is a fabulous thing.  Winston Churchill painted to relax so you’d be among quite dignified good company. Perhaps you cannot be an artist full time, but have you considered becoming prime minister?  As to formal training, I was in lots of classes in my youth, but honestly everything I know about art I learned by trial and error and by very careful study of old masters’ pictures. The best art is personal, and the lessons that really count come from inside your head.
 
Well, I’m glad to be able to give advice and especially where your wife’s concerned.  Listen to her.  A man always does well to heed his wife’s wise counsels.  Don’t be “super” critical, just self-critical enough to move forward.  Let your love of drawing guide you.  Love is a good teacher.

[Top of the post:  Winston Churchill painting in 1946.]