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.


Finding your inner aborigine

It’s not quite the same thing as Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s painting, but I’m fiddling around with the idea of abstraction that is just lines and shapes (maybe later on just lines and dots) and that is still koi.  A koi dreamings.  Richard Diebenkorn meets Joan Mitchell and Emily Kame Kngwarreye and they meet Jennifer Bartlett.  Everyone, of course, tips their hat to Georges Seurat — let’s not forget him. Come visit my store on CafePress!

[Top of the post:  A Computerized Dreamtime (Altjeringa) by Aletha Kuschan]

Koi Mountain

These fish are vying to reach the center.  Something’s going on there.  Others of them swim around this activity, not participants exactly, yet aware in waves of concentric bustle.

Oddly enough, this used to be a painting of a mountain.  Now it’s fish.  The mountain just wasn’t working out.  An artistic real estate transaction needed to take place.  The mountain moved out.  Fish moved in.

[Top of the post:  A Study of Koi Swimming, by Aletha Kuschan, acrylic on canvas]

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]

My Fish in a Cosmic Pond

My fish want to feel they’re important.  Of course, they are to me.  But they want to belong in the larger scheme of things.  I try to assure them they are as significant as one could wish.  Still they are skeptical.  So, I’ve played around with the image trying to evoke the night of space, and put them into the cosmos more emphatically. 

They want to swim out into the stars.  (Didn’t Disney do that as a short film?)  Maybe my fish have seen the movie?  Everybody wants to be a movie star these days ….

[Top of the post:  Computer enhanced version of one of the koi paintings, by Aletha Kuschan]

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]


Ever since discovering, by golly, that our computer had photo collage software on it (who knew?), I’ve played around with images by combining things on the computer and then altering them via the computer’s many interesting graphic features.  This “fishwave” is one result.  A photo of a heavy drapery is blended with some pictures of koi swimming and all that has been run through the washer on the permanent press cycle until it looked as you see it above.  Sometimes I paint from images like this that I’ve created on computer.  After they become paintings, they can be photographed and rerun through the same computerized process again to be transformed into something else.   Metamorphosis.

Then, too, there’s the computer between the ears with which we can attempt daring things.

Smaller drawing

I used oil pastels for this one, messiest medium in the world, but great smudgy tool for creating color that is solid at least.  In each iteration of the motif, I find I have moved things around.  I’m still searching for the placement of everything that feels right.  I want my fish to seem to move.  But in fact they must stay forever still (wonderful paradox of art), and in that eternal stillness, I want everybody standing (swimming) in the right spot.

Digital Study

I have been making sketches for the second of the koi paintings, redoing the same motif over and over as a way of thinking about it.  I am like an actress learning her lines.  The lines I learn, however, are the ones I draw.  I rehearse the gesture of making these lines, of thinking about the composition as a whole, of thinking alternately about the shapes of the fish and about the shapes of the water in which they swim.

One morning while working at the computer, I thought:  what the heck, and I did this digital drawing using a paint program.  The motif is copied from the oil painting, which is still just blocked in.  So this computer “study” postdates the actual painting and develops simultaneously with it.  I’ll post the canvas in a bit.  Since beginning the lay in of the picture I’ve also made two drawings of different sizes.

It is much harder for me to control the lines on the computer, yet it’s interesting and challenging in ways that resembles playing a computer game.  I find that doing a picture in a paint program has a “technique” just as do other media.  I haven’t begun to master the use of the paint program with its switching between tools by grabbing them with the touch bars.  I didn’t always have the tool icon that I thought I had and was “undoing” as much as I was doing — something that not even the use of an erasure quite matches.

In the traditional media of the artist, there is usually not much of undoing that one can do — just a going forward or a beginning again.