Night Squares

This sketch for a painting is more about night (and squares) than about fish.  (It’s a sketch for a painting.)  But, lo and behold, the fish snuck in.  I count five, maybe six along the bottom.  This is hardly more than a scribble, but I love this.  If somebody calls me on the phone and takes up a whole bunch of my time … friends … this is what’s taking place on my side of the conversation.

[Top of the page:  Study for a painting, by Aletha Kuschan, ballpoint pen]

Tree Cartoon, the School of Fish

Every once in a while here, I post a collage or a “cartoon.”  This cartoon (large compositional study for a painting) belongs to the Big Tree idea that I posted in mid-June.

Other collages I’ve posted include this abstract image, this idea for a child’s mural, and this study of a detail of a painting.  It’s fun to organize them so that they can be compared.  I’ve never seen them together except here on line.

For almost every subject I undertake, I do studies.  Some of these studies take the form of collage. Collage is such a free and expressive media.  You can organize large areas of a picture in one swoop.

I like to explore the possibilities and details of the images I design.  Often these studies vary enough from the original to suggest new projects.  This particular collage was supposed to help me figure out the tree idea, but became more about the fish.  It takes on a new interest for me now as I embark on a new round of paintings of fish swimming.  Meanwhile the fish in this collage have found themselves quite a nice little pond where they bob up and down like corks.

[Top of the post: Cartoon for the painting “Big Tree,” by Aletha Kuschan, Xeroxed pictures glued to paper with crayon drawing]

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]

Collage La Nuit

Abstraction is not always as devoid of subject as it appears.  There might be something that looks like this.  Lots of other artists have made pictures this one resembles.  And it resembles other pictures I’ve made that are pictures of something.  So, by following a trail of clues, being a visual detective tracking down myself, I might in time figure out what I was up to. One might in time discover what the other artists were up to as well.  If I am on the same wavelength as others, what wave is it?

On the internet once I found a wonderful website set up by two photographers, husband and wife.  They took amazing, high resolution photographs of the oddest things — bricks, stones, grasses, tiles, old rusted metal surfaces — anything with texture.  Their photographs looked like the most ravishingly beautiful abstract pictures you’ve ever seen.   And they invited anyone to use their work for free. 

I downloaded lots of their pictures, like a miser at a flea market.  Each image seemed more beautiful than the last, and I sat before the monitor for a couple hours, watching each image load and then copying it to use later.  My printer could not do the proper homage to their stunning imagery.  But I printed out some of the pictures to make a collage.  My printer started running out of ink, but I continued printing, letting the vagaries of the machine add a further layer of chance to the mix.

I had cut up some paper bags and glued them together to make a large sheet.  Grocery store shopping bags are incredibly strong.  Then I glued the prints of the couples’ photographs together into the pattern suggested by the moment.  I added a few pieces of gold foil wrappers from Lindt chocolates à la Bonnard, and voilà!

[Top of the post:  Collage, La Nuit by Aletha Kuschan, a collage made of borrowed pictures and whimsy]

Getting Squared Away

Squaring up: the technique of copying that uses a grid.  Comparing the squares of the source image to the drawing underway helps an artist draw the relationships between visual elements correctly.  It’s especially useful when an image needs to be enlarged. 

And that’s why I used it.  I was painting this bridge into a large portrait and needed to get the architectural structure right.  I made this little version from a photo, then enlarged this image by making a similar grid on the canvas I was painting.  So it had this very practical purpose.

Still I think the gridded drawing has a unique charm of its own.  It turns each square into an abstraction and heightens the abstraction of the image as a whole.  The order that it imposes is also comforting somehow.  Having these grid lines here, I feel confident that this little bridge isn’t going anywhere.  It’s locked down on the page. 

[Top of the post:  Little Bridge by Aletha Kuschan, colored pencils]

Adjacent To

Perhaps because paper was once in short supply, we note that the old masters drew on their rare pages with more joyful abandon than is typical of artists today.  And they were more thrifty.  Often a page of old master drawings will have several subjects on the same page, and they will not necessarily have anything to do with each other.  Often they are at right angles to each other.  And sometimes artists (like Ingres or Rubens) would even put more than the correct number of limbs on their figures — all presumably in the interest of deciding what the pose should be.  Four armed ladies?  Let’s not go there.  Save that for another occasion.

In our era of anything goes, it’s interesting that this conceit — this putting lots of things onto the same page hasn’t caught on as a revivified trend.  Heck, a lot of artists could do it and suppose that they were inventing something brand new (the ones who have not studied history, that is).

Besides things that happen to rent space on the same page are the colors that halo objects.  Everything in the world is colored and if you look really closely at all the color, it can drive you nuts!  There is so much of it to notice.  I didn’t peer too deeply in this drawing, but just enough to put some blue on top and green on the side of the marigold.

[Top of the post:  Studies of Plants by  Aletha Kuschan]

Feeling Arboreal (finding the inner tree)

If anyone recognizes what this is:  congratulations!  You might have a fine career ahead of you in psychology!

I made this drawing to obsessively reinterate an idea I’ve been working on — relative to a large mural sized painting whose subject I’m frankly at a loss to explain.  However, I’ve been around the art block enough times now to trust my instincts and to believe that a picture, whose meaning is baffling even to me, its author, may well hold ideas that can matter to the larger audience of my fellow human beings, 3 billion or so of my closest friends. (You gotta think big.)

It’s a tree.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to portray it this way, rather than to make it more conventionally tree-like.  But there it is.  And let me tell you, your subconscious mind is a fabulous, truly wonderful and remarkable thing!  I have stalled on this idea for well over a year, working on other things, and forgeting about this picture. 

However, last night as I was driving, I turned a corner and saw a large tractor trailer stopped at a light perpendicular to me at a street onto which I was making a right turn.  In the general darkness, as I turned, I noted the enormous shadow of a tree cast onto the side of the trailer.  Imagine that huge flat surface being like a canvas, here was the image I’ve wanted to portray in ridiculously large scale, here it was on the side of this truck as on a great, crazy moving canvas!  Sometimes you feel as though the great loving God and nature and your own mind are all meeting at the same intersection.   It’s a great shot in the arm, let me tell you!

Comments, explanations, psycho-analysis are all welcome.

[Top of the post:  the author’s small compositional drawing for a very large enigmatic painting.  By Aletha Kuschan]

Beginner’s Luck

Certain kinds of beauty come when the artist is a raw beginner.  I’ve pulled out old drawings and appreciate anew the memories they evoke.  I wish I had drawn more.  Would that I had drawn tirelessly.  Lack of confidence trips up too many young artists.  But the drawings I made when I  knew comparatively nothing have a raw, innocent candour.  And now I find I reseek the beginner’s mind.

I began drawing some years ago using my left hand (I’m right handed).  I wanted to get the awkwardness back, wanted it to slow me down and trip me up, and make me think harder about where my hand’s lines would go.  I have loved the wavy line that is the consequence.  The two kinds of drawings, right and left, seem to have slightly different personalities.  It’s like finding your alter ego.  There you are, long lost twin!

Do not have preconceived ideas about what drawing should be or how it should look.  Sometimes be an explorer of the uncharted world. 

You are living your life for the first time.  It’s all new.  Even when one is old, one has never been old before. 

[Top of the post:  the author’s high school drypoint of her Momma, scratched on plexiglass plate, based on a photograph from the 1940s.  Aletha Kuschan]

A beautiful body

I’ve been thinking I should paint her.  She’s so sleek and cool.  A Rhapsody in Blue.  I just wonder: could I really get a true life-likeness?  Too beautiful for art?  Oh, Matisse where are you when we need you?  Here’s a subject you would have loved.

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.]