Yellow and Orange

When you paint as much blue as I do

squash wc (2)

sometimes you need some yellow and orange. The koi pictures that feature so prominently in my life and studio make one need strong warm colors from time to time as a foil to the watery blue reflections of sky that dominate those works. Since I have an ancient squash that’s been sitting on the kitchen shelf for longer than I’m willing to admit, and as I don’t think I’m interested in cooking it anymore, I decided that it’s perfectly suited to the still life table where it sits very nicely.

squash and shell oil

I painted it with watercolor in the picture on top, and afterwards decided to have a go at it with oil paint too. For the oils I paired it with one of the sea shells.

The light comes in from the window facing south at the backyard and also from an east facing window that bounces light from the neighbor’s light colored house, filtered through the leaves of shrubs I need to prune.  I have a bright yellow plastic table cloth that I bought for a dollar at the grocery store, purchased for its brilliant color and assembled together the items and ambient light all make for much bright yellow wending warmth.

So, there they are — today’s immersions in a foil to blue.  The balance of the color reproduction is off.  The pictures are cooler and more lemon shaded (especially in the cloth) than gets captured here. But I learned long ago that the camera sees things a little differently than our eyes do.  And the reproduction catches the general sense, and hence is as we say “close enough for jazz.”

 

 

more notes to self/early stages

The color contrast in the photograph

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of this watercolor in its initial stage brings a violet into the picture that isn’t actually there. I wonder if I shouldn’t put violet into the wall of actual painting. Wouldn’t violet be better, and probably truer, to the light effects at dusk? Since the room’s interior is lit with warm yellow light, it’s hard to say what would be going on around the edges of the window, whether those passages would be yellow or violet, warm or cool.

There have been a bunch of things that I’m aware I need to solve. The falling off of the table was a question from the outset, when the still life was actually assembled. I was seeing the motif from two different angles. Now I’m trying to figure out how to split the difference.  The pattern of the cloth logically follows that decision. And how is it to look down at the cloth as it falls away when the painting is hanging on the wall?

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I was also just now wondering if the painting could reflect, could be about, a state of innocence. That possibility immediately brought to mind Fra Angelico’s San Marco frescoes. But I was also just thinking about the parlor of elderly woman whose home I visited thirty years ago, the woman who lived across the street from the church. The loveliness of that room was a microcosm of a whole civilization.

It’s such a beautiful day outside. The cool weather comes inside through the open windows, giving the rooms an oceanic feeling. We could be on a great ship sailing toward some magical place. The slow pace of life, awareness of the weather outdoors, shifts of light, movement in the leaves, interior and exterior meeting at the window are all qualities I want to materialize in this still life.

The flowers on the table. The flowers patterned on the cloth. The space that extends outdoors with the tree that’s visible on the other side of the glass, and also the reflections on the glass that are like a crystalline barrier. The panes of glass at the hour were reflecting the images of things inside the room. There were so many intersections of images meeting at the window panes.

An earlier version:

flowers window

Seeking a less precise line

In search of looseness an artist can get some help from the materials.  An oil crayon is not an apt tool for detail since the nubby ends are difficult to press toward exact effects.  You can think that you’ll place a line “here” only to see its parallel form about a centimeter over from the place you had intended.  The grain of the paper can come to your assistance too since a very grainy paper is difficult to fill.  I used oil pastels and the grainy side of a pastel sheet for their value as loose-inducing media. 

A close up of the picture illustrates these qualities very readily.

Prior to the first nubby mark on the grainy sheet, there’s a more fundamental looseness to be found – found because this is something that involves a search rather than a purchase or merely a choice.  The looseness of the idea is a different thing from the looseness that comes from the materials, or even from the looseness that one derives from making a sketch rather than a drawing. 

You can make a gestural sketch where every mark is an approximation of the perception.  Most of us do something like this without even trying — of necessity because the precise idea seems so much more complex and unattainable. Using a thousand initial imprecisions gets an artist inches closer to some idea held tenously in the mind.  And this is a good beginning toward something that wants from the outset to be unbounded.

Yet there’s a thought behind the gesture, an idea of imprecision that makes an invention of seeing, which constitutes looseness in a more ideal form.  It involves an evocation of something rather than a description.  It parallels the thing but does not copy.  It rhymes with reality and is also a fact of experience in its own right.

That’s the kind of looseness one seeks.  It’s harder to come by.  Yet all these other kinds are paths toward it.  They are ways of exploring the notion of imprecision.  The  ideal looseness is a destination not just a process.  It has its own artistic demands for surely one can overshoot the mark.  It’s like the game in which “knowing when to fold them” is one strategy (among many) for winning.  And proves that even the completely amorphous bit of thought  needs edges at last.

Lines Discovered by the Pen

sketch of girl smaller

The sketch stands at the opposite end of the highly realized drawing.  If you really want to understand the sketch, if you’re an artist, you should spend some time doing the most elaborate kind of drawing that you can do.  Or, if you don’t wish to make detailed drawings yourself, spend some time studying some examples of careful realism.  And after you’ve studied detail and really thought about it some, ask yourself:

What is the charm of the sketch?

It’s important to do this right.  Ask yourself the question, but don’t be too hurried with an answer.  Maybe you will never find an answer, but I hope you come to understand the special charm of the ephemeral idea that takes fragile form in a sketch. 

Ponder it.  Think about it a long time.  Look.  Draw.  Make sketches.

Thoughts in Miniature

flowers

I will make many such little drawings while I work on my painting of flowers.  I posted an earlier one already.  Such drawings are made after the manner of  a person muttering to herself; they are my haphazard thoughts made in idle moments.  When I take a break and relax in my chair — or while I talk on the phone — I begin remembering my painting.  These sketches are my memories. 

These pen gestures each reveal subtle differences  in feeling about what the picture is “supposed” to be — what I think it is — in the effervescent moment.

First Versions

I believe this was the first version.  The more detailed version came later (see previous post).  I like this one better.  It’s the more psychological of the two.  Eliminating all the “stuff,” I focused completely on her face.  All the territory I tried to understand could be found around the eyes and nose and mouth and jaw.  Lights and darks appear with the logic of a flashlight beamed toward something.  It is all incomplete.  It’s a random visual journey.  Except that it isn’t random, rather only seemingly so.

When your mind wanders, it doesn’t take a random journey.  It journeys to where the interest lies.  My eyes moved through the picture, and my hand drew whatever had caught my momentary attention.  And my attention kept coming back to the interior of the face, searching out the interior of the woman’s painted thoughts.

Isn’t that the amazing thing about Picasso’s picture, that he painted someone thinking?  And in making a copy of his painting, I caught a few of the lady’s thoughts too.  Her thoughts, Picasso’s thoughts, my thoughts are all somewhere in the mix.

Who says that making a copy is just an exercise?

[Top of the post:  Drawing after Picasso’s portrait of Corina Romeu, by Aletha Kuschan]

Redoing it

The National Gallery of Art in Washington (my favorite hangout) had a fabulous exhibit on Picasso about ten years ago.  The exhibit’s appearance was especially fortuitous for me — and I’ve got to tell you, I love it when the big institutions do things especially tailored to my needs.  I had always been fascinated by certain of Picasso’s early works, and the paintings I loved most happened to be among the ones exhibited.

I went through the exhibit almost daily, for a season, and often I made drawings from the paintings. There were lots of drawings exhibited too, which was wonderful.  Seeing Picasso’s drawings side by side with his paintings gains you insights into how he made his pictures.

This drawing was one I made from a Picasso “blue and rose period” painting.  It’s a copy of Picasso’s Portrait of Corina Romeu, which you can find at a comprehensive website of Picasso’s works.

When I made this drawing, I wanted some memory of the light and dark relationships between her face and the background.  In a later drawing, I focused solely on the face.  I’ll post it up next.
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[Top of the post:  Drawing after Picasso’s portrait of Corina Romeu, by Aletha Kuschan]

Another Copyist

Here’s a drawing after an Ingres portrait by Kirstin Lamb.  Her copy has become an entirely new image, quite in its own right, with wonderfully loose lines and frank directness.   It’s certainly fun for me finding it and being able to demonstrate someone else’s use of copies.  You discover how fully inventive Lamb’s copy after Ingres is by comparing it with its original.  Mrs. Hayard has had a good make-over, as a consequence becoming a thoroughly modern Millie. 

[Top of the post:  Copy at Ingres’s Madame Charles Hayard, by Kristin Lamb]

And then there’s tea

A certain kind of drawing is fast and free.  If you were trying to think out loud about something, you wouldn’t worry about eloquence.  And in a certain kind of drawing you don’t worry about eloquence either. 

It’s like writing a “to do” list for yourself.  It’s like quick catching a first impression.  It’s a form of play.  You create your own coloring book drawing, rapid-fire lines that you fill with color — or that you leave empty — it doesn’t matter.

It’s like mumbling to yourself.  Hmm … this goes over here.  This goes over there ….

It’s really not a big deal.  That’s a kind of drawing, too.  I drew this tea pot as casually as I would drink the tea.

[Top of the post:  Tea pot and Cup, by Aletha Kuschan, pencil and watercolor]

Blank Canvas

Lately I’ve been reading books about writing, among them Ralph Keyes’s The Courage to Write.  I was wondering when I saw it why writing would require courage.  If you are writing a powerful exposé on a dictator and you have the misfortune to be a citizen living under the dictator’s rule, I can understand why writing would take courage.  But why would the writing of ordinary books evoke authorial fear?

The blank page has something to do with it.  Mr. Keyes has a nice quote by James Baldwin: “You go in with a certain fear and trembling.  You know one thing.  You know you will not be the same person when this voyage is over.  But you don’t know what’s going to happen to you between getting on the boat and stepping off.”  Seeing writing described in that way makes me want to get on the boat.  It provokes such longing.  Doesn’t Baldwin make writing seem like an breathtaking adventure?

Certainly various kinds of self exposure can evoke fear.  And embarking upon a project which has no predictable end to it could definitely seem daunting.  But in other respects I like the idea of the blankness of beginnings.  I am never afraid of starting a picture.  I am sometimes afraid of “wasting”materials.  I worry that the canvas I’m using is too expensive and maybe the painting will be a flub.  But the pursuit of a new idea always makes me feel like a kid — it’s better than childhood because I have ever so many fewer qualms than I had when I was a child.

The first lay-in of an idea seems like the most open and vibrating moment.  In those early steps, anything is possible.  A painting closes down as choices follow upon each other.  It comes to be more definitely “this” or “that.”  But even the narrowing of the path doesn’t faze me because by the time I arrive there I find that different kinds of new possibilities arise.  The surface lends itself to a million interpretations.

It’s not that I’ve never felt this artistic fear.  I used to approach a new project with fear and trembling.  But these days my worries run more toward concern whether I will succeed in finishing the many things I have started.  The starting of things is so delightful that it’s hard to discipline oneself to stay the course with any particular one.  I have, however, one painting that is taking me years to finish.  It is full of details, and I can imagine a circumstance in which the details keep yeilding to others more minute.  Yet I have no reluctance to work on the picture.  Indeed, it’s one of my favorite pictures.  With it I experience the opposite of my financial qualm:  had I known it would become so complex I would have used a better canvas!

I don’t quite understand the whole “fear” thing.  I have no wish to denigrate it, though.  Perhaps I should write a book.  Maybe then I’ll know what they’re talking about, they who say that writing takes courage.  But of those who say that painting takes courage — and we have our fair share as well — I cannot understand them, I have to admit.   I only used to feel that way when I was younger, and I had so many things that I didn’t know how to do.  I was afraid of getting everything “wrong.”  I feared making mistakes.

I have none of that fear now.  It is not that I know how to do everything!  My ego is not that big.  It’s just that I’ve learned how to learn.  When I don’t know how to do something, I find that some path toward it appears, and I just start going down that path.  Anyway, I’m much less hung up about “mistakes.”  A mistake is such a subjective thing.  Sometimes “mistakes” have such lovely ideas hidden inside them.  They are still mistakes, mind you.  They are those parts of the picture that look out of place.  But I find that a willingness to live with them can open all kinds of doors of thought.

After all “reality” in that sense of what an optician means when he says you have 20/20 vision is all around us, and we can look at it all day long.  But thoughts are so personal.  I like a picture that is full of thoughts.  And we so often find them in our mistakes if we will but look, for what is a mistake except something one aimed for and missed?  Or did you even miss?  Do you know what the idea even is?

Contemplate your mistake a little, and you learn what it was you aimed for and what you desire.

[Top of the post:  Early stage of a painting posted earlier in this blog, Woman in White, by Aletha Kuschan]