Every small thing has its name, English being a luxurious and commodious language. I am restarting my koi pond with some fry. I drew these fry using children’s crayons which, though impermanent, have a certain je ne sais quoi.
The fry are stock for the big pond. The big pond gets painted in acrylic paint. But first the fish need time to grow.
How do crayon kois grow? They get drawn and redrawn. Colors change. Heightening occurs. Highlights appear. Dark accents collect. The spaces between the koi take shape as well. The water asserts itself. Its form sharpens. The depths get deeper. The surface gains reflectivity. Air breezes into the picture. Light vibrates.
A friend of mine who’s in the cookbook business once told me that a general standard for deciding if a recipe is “new” is that it departs from another published recipe in at least three ways. Nature manages to get diversity from a lot less. According to one often repeated rubric, we share >99% of our DNA with our nearest ancestors on the evolutionary tree. (To find out how much you’re like a banana, click here –> Do People and Bananas Really Share 50 Percent of the Same DNA? | HowStuffWorks.)
Once I created a whole series of images based on someone else’s artwork. I liked the other artist’s composition a lot, but none of the rest of the picture appealed to me. So I took the abstract composition and overlaid it with entirely new material. When I was done, I am quite certain that even the author of the artwork would not recognize his picture’s offspring. The drawing at the top of the post is one sketch from that very fecund idea.
Ideas come from somewhere, and human beings are imitative creatures. Think of children and their make believe. When we send our kids to school, they act out all the family secrets. It can be amusing. In art one of the best ways to learn — from foundation skills to complicated master skills — is to imitate the work of someone else who has already been there. Sometimes imitation can lead to sameness, but imitation also plays a huge role in innovation. It all depends upon how imitation is managed.
The drawing above is a copy after a Pierre Bonnard painting in the National Gallery of Art. Being in a different medium and having lots of other novel visual features, it looks significantly different from the original. But if you know Bonnard’s work, you can recognize the subject. The drawing below is a partial copy of a portion of a living artist’s work, and it looks so different that I feel quite sure I could show it to the other artist and he would never recognize his idea inside this drawing.
I like to steal things. I’m a regular magpie. But I also like innovation and am always trying to find ways to create challenges for myself simply because it’s fun. I don’t like to do the same thing too much. Or, actually, that’s not quite true either since I took Degas’s advice very much to heart “you must redo the same thing ten times, a hundred times.” I love drawing and redrawing the same things. But I have found that you can redo the same subject and also change it. Both things are possible.
These days I do a lot of drawing from life, and I do a lot of stealing. When I steal, I consciously ask myself “how I can change the image?” since that disguise is where I discover the thrill of the theft. Can I isolate the elements of the image that I love best from other features that are identifying? How this challenge is managed varies from project to project, but here’s a few parameters to consider.
Change the color. The above drawing is a detail from a Monet waterlily painting, but where Monet had painted blues and greens, I drew in reds and oranges. I also changed the format. The book illustration I was looking at was vertical, I drew that vertical image in a horizontal format and began unconsciously stretching things to the sides. This sort of format change doesn’t work with all subjects, of course, but it often works well with landscape features (geology being what it is).
I also changed media. What Monet did with paint has to be thought through very differently when using colored pencils. The media themselves impose various limitations and aids. So far I’ve already hit the cookbook rubric. There are many other things one can change.
You can reverse an image. Crop an image. Crop and invent around the cropped feature. You can add elements or subtract elements (as Rubens did in a famous little drawing at the National Gallery of Art). You can change media. You can change the tonality. You can change the size and scale. These are rhetorical relationships, and looking at the tropes and schemes of rhetoric you may well find other ways that you can make jazz variations of existing visual tunes.
Across time through family resemblances you find out who your visual ancestors are. (Sometimes as with real ancestors, there are surprises.) The above drawing is taken from Constable, but run through some Degas, Bonnard and Diebenkorn (and others, including of course me) along the way. You assimilate skills by emulating the skills of other artists. Regina Carter said that early in her jazz career she learned by ear to play all the major solos of Charlie Parker on her violin. And through a careful sort of stealing you recombine the visual DNA and invent entirely new imagery.
IF YOU LIKE THIS POST, PLEASE SHARE IT — OR ITS IDEAS — WITH YOUR FRIENDS. AND LEAVE A COMMENT WITH YOUR REACTION BELOW. SPREAD THE IDEA DNA.
I had a Fine Art America site but I deleted it, And today I created a new Fine Art America account. I deleted the old one since my aim is the fill the world with original art rather than with reproductions. But the site is useful in other ways so I renewed my presence there — with a much smaller number of pictures — to use the site as an art tool.
I use a lot of tools to summon ideas. In the case of Fine Art America, it’s one of the places I use to envision works in large scale. It helps me as well as helps potential collectors to see how an image looks when it’s big (I like big art). The platform is only one of many tools I use for this purpose. I find “rooms” on the internet and insert my pictures, actual or simulated, into them, as here ….
Lots of things are tools. Notebooks, photographs, computer illustration programs all play a role. My favorite thing is simply to draw. I want to develop a drawing style that works well enlarged for original art.
Anyway, if you’re interested in the Fine Art America site, you can find it here. Aletha Kuschan Art (fineartamerica.com) The images will rotate: so as new things develop, older images will disappear.
I painted this still life in the first studio that I ever had outside my house. The room had very dim interior light and huge ceilings. The vault of air above my head was enchanting. The room was badly lit and people coming by to say hello often asked me why I was sitting in the dark. But my still life and the canvas were lit well enough. I loved the diffuse light of that quirky place.
The painting became the DNA for several pictures. Over the years I’ve made versions of the idea. They all bear some resemblance to their parent and yet each one has its own identity too.
I need to get some more flowers so that I have some for the new painting. When I get them, it’s going to be wonderful making another painted study. While I was looking for something else I found these above by Bonnard. Found them at a wonderful site, link below.
I discovered the flowers while I was searching online for a painting from the book “Pierre Bonnard: Observing Nature,” the exhibition catalog for a 2003 show that took place in Australia. The painting is “The Green Path and Canal,” c 1919. Somehow looking at the picture made me wonder if the view through the window (in my painting) should be a storm. Bonnard’s painting is very dark and ominous looking. We’ve been having lots of storms lately. Summer storms can be so incredibly beautiful for color. Then there’s the further heightening of contrast between indoor and outdoor, warm and cool, man and nature.
It’s not that I want to imitate the picture that I cannot show you here. It’s just the source for an idea that popped into my head, which I’m not even sure I’ll use at long last. An idea about blue-green and darkness.
I’m putting violet around the edges of the picture.
I have to find more flowers for the bouquet. I go in search of pictorial flowers. I look for them in the pictorial gardens. And a lot of things are beginning to bloom now that spring is here — even pictorial things.
Under the bright pictorial sun, with my face toward the pictorial wind, I walk through the pictorial field to pick flowers that I can bring back to my still life.
I have been looking for butterflies without much success. We used to have a garden that attracted butterflies, but not this year. And the few I have happened upon accidentally have flitted away before I could fetch my camera. They are known for their flitting.
However, in the absence of actual butterflies, I see no reason why one couldn’t invent one’s own. So now I’m hunting things that are like butterflies and the first items that have answered my search are these two leaves that are early in their transformation, anticipating autumn.
Like the inventor in The Artist of the Beautiful, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting short story, I’m out to create my own do-it-yourself flitter critter. My version of the quest is less haunting and romantic, more optimistic and can-do in spirit. But mine is also less actual in yearning for painting is illusory from the outset — my quest more so, is unreal two-fold, an illusion of an illusion.
One of the ways that I get ideas for new works is from chance occurrence. While I was looking through image files, I found these two pictures side by side — rather as they appear here. The image on the left is a notebook drawing of the koi. The picture on the right is a scene from an old studio where a large drawing was nearly complete.
Seeing the two works together like this, the one on the left could almost seem to be the same size as the one on the right — and that gives you an idea how it would look enlarged. Making large works is not merely about enlarging small works. The large picture ought to seem as though it is simply “the right size” but seeing this small drawing in this context does suggest that it might look good on a much larger scale.
The process could as easily work the other way. You could see some huge painting in a museum and realize that it offers you a subject that you could do on a smaller scale. The key, whatever the circumstance, is to be open to new ideas.