flower thoughts with pencil lines

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In odd moments between things sometimes I like to draw.  And for simplicity nothing matches the silvery scribbliness of a pencil.

I am painting flowers.  I like during the pauses to draw a flower too.  Even if it’s not the flower I’m painting, nevertheless the contact with petal thoughts, with clumped together, segmented, pearlesque-lovely, creamily reflective white silky petals provides a delightful end in itself.

Wandering through clouds might be more fun, but since I can’t do that I draw a white flower.


Teaching drawing at MPA soon!

MPA refers to the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean, Virginia, and I’ll be teaching drawing there during the winter session.  Here’s some of the things that class participants can look forward to doing.


Continuing Drawing
For both beginning and continuing students seeking to improve their skills. Hone your drawing and observational skills in this dynamic class as you draw from life and subjects of your choice. Gesture, line, proportion, mass, volume, value, tone, perspective, and shading will be covered. This class will provide a strong foundation for any level. Optional prerequisite: I’ve Never Held a Pencil: Drawing for Beginners.
Instructor: Aletha Kuschan
9 lessons @ 2 hrs, $260/235 MCC district residents
6607.317         Tu, 1/17-3/14              4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
The class features a systematic and fun introduction to many, varied ways of making drawings.  We’ll draw things from life.  We’ll draw things from memory and imagination.  We’ll make quick adventurous, exploratory sketches and we’ll do sustained and probing drawings of things.  We’ll create tableaus of objects to discover the theatrical side of art.  We’ll look for ways to reduce inhibitions about trying new things, and we’ll talk about how artists get new ideas for their art — both technically and narratively.  This class is the big buffet table of drawing, and I guarantee it will be a lot of fun.  Beginning artists will dive into a ton of interesting things to explore and experienced artists can find ways to advance their own goals by a careful reassessment of the foundational skills.
Some features of the class are outlined in more detail at this post, including what materials artists need to will need to have.
Here’s a link to MPA’s website.  Class registration opens on December 12!

someone else’s art

My daughter can draw really well


which is not surprising given that she was holding a crayon before she could talk. But she doesn’t really know she can draw. Modern schools have a way of persuading children that they cannot draw, so it’s difficult to keep a young artist’s momentum going.  A young woman now, she picks up a pencil now and then. She’s on the verge (I hope) of rediscovering her talent.

Yesterday she drew the plaster cast (actually it’s made from cement, but same idea).

She has given me permission to post her drawing here. It’s a lively drawing, if a mom may say so herself …

Time passing through pencil lines of daffodils swaying

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Yesterday was sunny and warm. We sat on the bank and I drew my husband’s daffodils.  My daughter reclined on the grass nearby.  The big dog came and leaned against my back. Throughout the neighborhood birds were singing. A persistent breeze moved the flowers, shook them regularly, reminded you that you’re here for the experience. They won’t pose.

I had decided to record time — or my thoughts as I swim through a passage of time. I was taking notes. Spring’s stenographer. I applied old skills to a new situation.  I’ve sat through many a lecture where I took notes. Why not apply that diligence to a session in the yard? With pencil and paper, you take pictorial notes. They  concern the edges of daffodil petals.

What shape catches your eye?  What line is most graceful among the scattered candidates? And how much of that grace can your mind follow?  Perhaps not much, but I’ll catch what I can.  I sought to register the contours of petals and the shapes of the spaces between petals and to capture some of the tonal notes where a dark shadowed patch of grass lay adjacent to a flower’s brilliant sunlit form. Very dark here, less dark there, very light here, almost like light in your face.  Too complicated — so many things everywhere – fonds of grass, bits of weed, leaves with internal segments like quilts, smooth bending leaves, heart shaped leaves, shadows of leaves, criss-crossing of leaves.

In truth there’s so much to see that, like an auditor of a mesmerizing lecture, I could only get bits and pieces while riding a wave of sensation. Okay, I tell myself. Yet, however much it might have been fine to get a life-likeness, I would limit myself to my specific task which was to notice these small parts — the shape of the flower, some element of its architecture, and to ignore as much as I could the schemes that run through my head, echoes of art school proposals and how-to book suggestions, systems of thought that might get you a semblance only.  A visual idea sifted through a pre-existing scheme.

You might produce a picture of flowers, one that seems like it gets the whole. Yes, maybe. And isn’t that a bright task for perhaps another day? But today is for surfing Time’s wave. I needed to listen to the birdsong while making pencil lines.  And lines must be lines. Theses pictures of flowers are like birdsongs.  One flower, one song. Breathe. Start again.

Do birds, like singers, think about breath control? To they sense the rests in the music almost equally to the notes?

Drawing with a pencil you have no color at all. But what of it? This is abstract.  I accept it. Color also for another day. Steely graphite will have to do like the charcoal mantle of the annoying Starling bird. I still see the color. Indeed, my pencil took my eyes through a lovely ant pathway of color sensations and macular cell excitations alerted as a grey traveling line focused my thoughts upon a changing cascade of shades of yellow, shades of green.

Now those colors are memories. In the brain cells remember firing at colors.

I wasn’t trying to make a drawing of a group of flowers. I only wished to catch that passing moment with its passing thoughts. My flowers land randomly on the page as notes from the Lecture that Nature offered that day. Reality is so messy and chaotic — or so it seems. But perhaps Nature the virtuoso has a bigger logic that I couldn’t properly grasp.

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When in doubt, draw

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I think the best way to learn how to draw is to copy the works of great artists.  The practice of copying is better than an association with any living teacher (as wonderful as that might be) because you can learn aspects of what the great artist knew without having the great artist standing there nagging you.  (Degas does have something of a reputation, deservedly or no, for being a bit of a crank.)

Many, many years ago I began my habit of acquiring art books so that I would have good reproductions of paintings to look at, enjoy, copy, and study.  And now the internet offers an added opportunity to learn that is so amazing that it’s difficult to characterize how revolutionary it really is.

I just learned, for instance, that the National Gallery has updated their website and it’s possible to see enlargements of their paintings now online.  I made my drawing of Edgar Degas’s “Girl in Red,” using the enlargement at NGA’s website.  So I am able to peer right into Degas’s girl’s face in a way that I could never do in front of the actual painting.

sketch 1

I made some fast sketches too because I enjoy just putting down the visual ideas as they occur to me.  It’s fun.  There’s something very freeing about looking at something and taking aim.  Some people go to the Carnival and toss balls at the bucket hoping to win a prize.  I throw pen lines at a notebook, and it’s Carnival all the time.

sketch 2

The image changes in subtle ways.  Your hand goes to different places.  But then too, after a while, you have all these notebooks that you open, and have these faces that look back at you.

sketch 3

I make some drawings from memory too.  I think about the image after I have spent a long time drawing it, and the memory is physical almost more than it’s visual.  I remember the image in my hand.  Sometimes I draw with my non-dominant hand, though I didn’t yesterday.  Of course it’s easier to draw with one’s dominant hand.  My right hand has many more memories than my left hand.

sketch 4

I also think it’s good to draw late at night when you are too weary to fight yourself, when you can be persuaded simply to let a drawing be what it is, when drawing and dream meld together.

Can you imagine a person at the Carnival who just kept throwing balls at the target?  Someone would not give up!  There might be a hundred balls lying about that missed the target, but he was determined to win the prize!

Thought management for artists

pencil drawing after Bonnard


You have to find out what works for you — sometimes down to the very fine detail.  Should you stay up at night and draw into the late hours?  Should you get to bed early and rise with the dawn?  Do you need coffee to get started or a very cold bottle of water?  What kinds of notebooks are appealing?  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day going round with a small notebook drawing random sights?

Or perhaps you do that all the time, and what you need is to choose some very complex image and work at it relentlessly.  Do you work from life?  Make drawings from memory?  Have you investigated things that artists did in history and apply them to contemporary motifs?  Do plans and schedules keep you on track?  Or are you the sort of person who needs to feel spontaneous?

Whenever something isn’t working for me, I try something else.  Sometimes I just start drawing in medias res because I’ve lost the thread of my ideas.  Then I find that just moving my hands jump starts some thought process, like a dream remembered, and I rediscover the thing hidden in my mind.

Thinking about

I have to think about the stuff before I paint it — these days, at least.  Formerly I would set up the easel and have at it, but nowadays I typically must obsess over the thing some, fuss over it, sneak up on it, walk around it, muse, mess with, improvise a jazz riff or two over it.

So I have another painting on the “to do” list that’s been in a holding pattern since August, and I must go through the picture courtship ritual.  Decided that this time, I’d start with something simple and direct. 

Picked up the pencil.

And where I began ….

Many Versions of Me

The me-of-yore you all know so well.

My recent arrest photo when I was caught selling forgeries of a pink eraser on the international conceptual art market.

Me during my vivid Blue Period (move over, Picasso).

The “yikes!” me when I learned that our hamster had babies (nine!).

This is a pensive me when I was  39 years old.

And this is my basic everyday self, when I’m not in jail, not dealing with overly fecund rodents, and not feeling “Blue.” 

Naturally, you all want to see more of the myriad, many facets of me (I’m deep), but you’ll just have to wait for another post!!

My day at the beach of thought

I needed a day at the beach real bad.  So I went there in imagination by drawing my favorite object of nature.

This was mostly a left-hand day, too.  I wanted to be very carefree.

Looking for all the angles, I turned my shell upside down.  I think.  Actually, I’m not sure it has an upside.

Looked at the lines.

Looked at forms and shadows.

Tried one path and changed my mind.


And then I had to go home.  The beach of the imagination has less sand than a real beach, less of a wonderful breeze, but it still has magic.

Me of Long Ago

Before I let my hair grow very long and looked in profile toward the left, I looked like this.  This image is a photo of a xerox of a drawing that I made at an uncertain date long ago.  I don’t know where the original drawing is now, but since I inherited from my Depression Era-surviving parents a deep reluctance to throw anything away, I’m fairly confident it will turn up.

The blue is an exaggeration of a picture of a picture.   I think it’s very jazzy, very Miles Davis.  I was Kind of Blue, you see.

I have a whole box of ancient drawings.  Sometime, I need to go through them and do my walk down Memory Lane.