that’s dark back there

seashells on the shelf

House cleaning changes have exposed these still life items once again, which were formerly behind a humongous, large board that held a large drawing.  Now that I can see them again, I want to draw them again.  I had begun by merely storing them, but discovered they make a nice still life in that arrangement — until the clutter had hidden them, buried beneath the layers of good intentions, as sealed away as a mummy in King Tut’s tomb.

I feel like an archaeologist.  House keeping does that to you when you have neglected it for too long.

There’s a kind of drawing where you just talk to yourself.  People learning to draw get hemmed in, sometimes, in believing that the drawing has to represent the whole whatever-it-is.  But I always sought my advice from the old masters and in their drawings, the old masters often studied certain qualities of a scene while ignoring others. Drawing was frequently used as a tool rather than as an end in itself.  It’s purpose was to gather visual information for paintings.  Some drawings are very fragmentary.

And I seek to do that here. Except this drawing is more fundamental still. I haven’t seen the still life in a while. I look at it and feel rushed. It’s as though I need to draw all of it quickly.  So I tell myself what shapes things are (or seem to be).  I realize that the first contours get the proportions wrong, I draw over top them.  I realize that the sizes of the shells don’t match up relative to each other.  More drawing over. I look at the light/dark pattern — “how can I simplify it?”

I tell myself, “it’s dark back there.”  Do I have to describe in minute detail how dark exactly?  Of course not.

seashells on shelf photo
A scene impossible to photograph in the available light, and one’s eyes see much more light dark variety in the objects and their background  — the photo exaggerates the differences in tonality.


It’s just one drawing.  It’s a mood as much as a drawing.  I feel in such a rush.  Been reading a book on mindfulness too.  So, okay, I am noticing that I feel in a rush.  So I hurried.  Maybe the shells will move.  Maybe the big drawing will jump back in front of the still life and obscure it again.  I have so many things to do. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Whatever.  If life seems to rush you along, as an artist, then just draw faster. Not always, not everyday, but simply now that you feel rushed.  It gets you to draw fast — which is a useful tool also.  Draw fast before everything changes!

Sometimes the voice says “this is in front of that.”  “The pointy end of the shell sticks out about this far.”  “It lines up with the other shell’s bottom edge, here.”  Listening to myself think, I slow down a little.

Later you can draw slowly.  Once you calm down.


teeth that fly

zoomie leaping

I was so taken with a picture by Frederick Remington, great cowboy painter, that I saw recently in the museum.  I was wondering how he managed to capture the horses’ movements.  It got me wondering how much of a role memory played in his understanding of equine motion.

The animals I have around me, that I see daily, whose forms I know best, are our dogs Lucy and Zoomie.  Zoomie as his name suggests is a creature of motion. Being a terrier, he loves defying gravity.  He is often found aloft — if only for brief bursts of time.

When he jumps up, what I principally see are teeth and piercing glances.  The teeth rise up from the floor with dog attached. So I tried to remember a bit of it.  A far cry from Remington’s masterful portrayal of horses, but a start toward understanding the teeth that fly.

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!

Dog walk drawings

dog walk drawing 3
I’ve done morning coffee drawings and afternoon tea drawings. Now I do the occasional dog walk drawing, for those occasions when walking the dog involves a lot of waiting (if you know what I mean).

The advantage of the dog walk drawing is its devil-may-care aspect. You can feel free to put whatever you want down on the page because “what does it matter?” I like that — as I like all things that wend toward immediacy in art.

dog walk drawing 2

You just draw various scenes that happen upon your gaze as you wait for the dog.
dog walk drawing
And sometimes you even draw the dog.

Learning to fiddle fast

What I did with the creamer, I thought to do with my flowers on a larger sheet of paper.  These drawings are made on Strathmore 400 series 18 x 24  sheets.  It’s difficult to work as fast on the larger sheet — though I haven’t given up.  Without switching to other media, staying with my sharp and steady Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, I want to gain a greater ease and freedom with the larger scale drawing — approaching the subject in the same manner, with a point-and-shoot, see-it, draw-it swiftness only doing it bigger

This size sheet is too small for me to do this particular still life at actual size.  If I got a vase of flowers that fit into the 18 x 24 format, that might speed things up further.  (Let’s see, do I have any admirers who could send me flowers?)

(Um, no.)

Anyway, the first attempt is rather pointedly out of scale — a problem that would be fixed by switching to something smaller that I can fit into the sheet without downsizing (and we thought only corporations downsized).  In the second drawing, I was more self-consciously determined to deal with the proportions before scribbling into separate passages.  Nevertheless, mistakes or no, it matters not.  The point of this whole foray into drawing is that I shall have no fear, feel no scrupples, and draw until I drop.

I had a third drawing that I began last night under different illumination, and I would display it here — except — I dropped.

Shifting Gears

Been casting about for subject matter.  Or, it’s more than that.  I’ve been planning to do drawings of flowers or perhaps “still life” generally, but I’m trying to figure out not just what to draw, but how to think about it.  So, I whipped out some art books to look at the old guys.  Edouard Manet drew a bunch of flower still lifes near the end of his life.  They are small, painted like mirages with no “technique” just pure thought.  And I made a couple quick sketches of two of them as someone taking notes to herself, remembering something.

I like to think about things before I do them, and I like to consult with the old masters whose paintings I love.  These are my drawing-thoughts with morning coffee.


flower sketch one

My days have been so hectic of late, but today was a welcome contrast.  What  a lovely, quiet day of hours spent idling and lolling about.  The autumn air was unseasonably warm.   Had coffee in the kitchen beside the golden light of our little lamp.  Lazy tropical thoughts in my head.  After a bit, I took my coffee to the big window.  Had my notebook in my lap.  View of the trees beside me, leaves of changing colors, kind breezes coming through the open window, comforting humidity.  I had a long talk on the phone with my mom, and while we talked I sketched some flowers in the notebook. 

I love my notebook!  Spent long, lazy minutes doodling with it in my lap, talking with my mom, traveling back through time. 

Getting ready for making a shift to still life.  Still life.  It’s been my all-purpose aspiration these days!  Stillness, sweetness, not having to rush about so much!  One of those things that art does (it serves many aims, comes in many guises) is render things still.  Someone has said that the defect of painting is that it’s flat and it doesn’t move.   And for me that’s all the charm!  Let motion pictures charm the hectic world.  I crave stillness!  I get all the dizzy motion I want looking at inanimate objects.  “Does an apple move?” Cezanne asked.  Well, it did for him as his nervous, searching lines attest.    The contours around flowers can be very hard to pin down.  One would think the bouquets are dancing a ballet.

flower sketch two

flower sketch three

I like to draw things over and over.  If I paint these flowers, I’ll have drawn them a dozen times in advance.  These are artificial flowers, of course.  But there’s ways of playing around with drawing  when working from life too —  and lots of artifice involved in making things that are “real.”  My fake flowers make such demands on me that I’m scared of real ones.  And if you’ve ever seen one of those time-lapsed pictures of flowers, you discover that flowers are actually very weird and scary — one is wise to think twice about being alone in a room with a vase of tulips!

flower sketch four

The last have-at-it today needed crayons (of course).  Rather unapologetically I did not “finish” my sketch!  And there’s a whole bunch more unfinished drawings coming right behind these!

flower sketch detail

Lastly, I must include a detail of my unfinished drawing.  On a lazy day, one simply cannot neglect enjoying the laissez-faire of scribbled lines.  All my leisure lies suspended in these lines:  heedless, lazy, indulgent, contented, grateful! — on a quiet Sunday.

Shell Topography with Coffee

shell linear shell

I have  a shell I like to draw.  It’s my old friend, the subject I return to when I want to rediscover something.  When I want to find a new way of thinking about visual things, I go back to my shell.  It’s familiar shapes hold many mysteries — all new. 

Meanwhile turning from my “serious” drawing, I pause and have some coffee.   I doodle during my break.  I let my pen go willy-nilly along whatever paths whimsy chooses.  So I drew this while I sipped coffee.  It was my break from a longer, more studied drawing.  I tried to let my pen follow across the contours of the shell’s surface — along it matters not what directions — zig-zagging this way, that way.  The technical name is “cross-contour” drawing.  I was thinking along the lines too of something that computers are more adept at making, topological drawings.

In any case, these lines were lazy coffee, idle thoughts talking, stream of consciousness with a pen line,  taking a break, kind of drawing.

The Fulness of Summer

Fullness of Summer

My idea of the summer landscape is like a theatre in which the trees are actors.  They strike the most amazing poses.  Their slightest gesture makes your heart catch.  Before they even speak their lines — their ancient lines spoken over and over  for millenia — never tiring of meaning — always rising up like bass notes sounded over centuries — I say! — before all that the tension frazzles the nerves with delight of anticipation, I find myself longing to be an actor among them.  Their drama concerns me.  I feel I should take the stage with them.  I want to wander among them and see each one in its marked place, before the curtain opens, and the action begins.

To wander the stage before the play begins, before the lights come up, when all the actors are still shadows and the musicians inhale to play the first notes.  I want to watch it from all directions.  How I want to discuss techniques with the director.  How I wish I could be more than just an artist with a pen and a few crayons.

In search of freedom

Whimsical landscape in pen

Our summer mornings have been so fine.  We open the windows early during this the mildest summer of my recollection.  Washington DC is famous for its humid, boiling summers (which I have always loved like a turtle loves the sun).  But this year our summer will be famous for its mildness, and we have savored this mildness for the rare loveliness it offers.  The breezes waft through the rooms, rattling the blinds, rustling papers, scattering thoughts and dreams. 

I sat in this ocean of air and drank my morning tea like a rich monarch, wealthy beyond counting in photons and molecules of atmosphere.  With all this heady luxury, I plotted out my course.  I decided that I would rule with a kind pen, but that my empire should be vast and free.  What if one’s thoughts roamed wildly?  To draw whatever one pleases.  The drawings can come from anywhere: from photos, from life, from bits of paintings one sees in the museum, from imagination and memory, from dreams and wishes. 

Wherever you are, with whatever medium you possess, on sheets of any size, in colors of any hue, to make careful tight drawings of a world you love with obsession or fast, frivolous, whimsical drawings tossed off as fast as thoughts fly.    Blind drawings proddingly, probingly made as though stumbling and fumbling through a fog or mist, the mist — the world.  The world a shining veil before one’s eyes.

What if you drew whatever popped into your head?  What if you took all your limitations and used them?  Push everything to the edge.  Let whimsy rule.  To draw anything, anytime, anywhere.  And to seek a perfect freedom of line in a royal realm of images.