Two vases of roses sit on a honey colored wooden table. The far edge of the table is visible on one side and the rest is covered by a shimmering yellow-gold cloth. Behind the whole scene is a violet colored cloth. Both vases are abundantly stocked with roses. One bouquet sits in a clear glass jar. The other, a white pitcher, is also filled with numerous roses of many colors. One single spent rose lies flat on the table. Beside it sit three bright orange persimmons. In between the two vases sits a blue pedestal bowl. A few other objects of ambiguous identity sit behind or beside the white pitcher.
This is one of the most complex still lifes I’ve ever painted so far. While it is challenging to capture the flowers since they soon perish, it’s also important to make something of all the relationships of all the things. The design on the cloth, its fold and foreshortening are the gravity of the picture. Everything has to sit upon that gold field and seem to belong there, and to seem as if it might always be there in that forever sense of art. Long after the real flowers have faded and disappeared the appearance of the flowers can still last. And the picture has to hint in the direction of that poetry, has to become a memory of things seen.
Golden: Two Bouquets on a Table is a pastel painting on sanded paper measuring 18 x 24 inches.
When an artist paint things, she always hopes that others will understand the thing the way she understands it. The little seashell painting (9 x 12 inches in size) catches a mood for me (who am far from the sea) of water, waves and wind. The conch is a tropical animal and even the warmth of a faraway place comes to me when I portray the shells.
The nervous brushstrokes are the way I experience drawing the object whose forms are so incredibly lovely and complicated. I love following all the passages of color than I can manage to imitate. I am always longing to imitate all of it, everything that I see, and I don’t know if that is possible. But the longing is an end in itself. I cherish the longing that the beauty of the seashell evokes.
Sometimes I put the seashells into color environments that recall their ocean homes. Sometimes I plunge them into a set up of bright colors that I favor.
Here the seashell is not ocean artifact — it is still life object, sitting on a tabletop covered by a yellow leaf and floral patterned cloth with brilliant red and bright violet backgrounds adjacent. I realize now that some of my paintings record the evolution of still life table changes, that the different colored backgrounds feature a succession different objects as I cycled through various color and pattern choices, using them for various different objects. Thus the same color scheme used for this seashell appears also with one of the flower pictures.
The still life table is like a theatre stage and the still life objects are actors that appear in different scenes of the drama.
Visits to the thrift store are staples of an artist’s still life experience. I like thrift shops not merely because they are thrifty, but because they are the opposite of trendy. They preserve the past, and often that past they preserve is a peculiarly ordinary and everyday past.
Finding the green pitcher was one of those wonderful thrift store discoveries that every flea market aficionado loves.
The pitcher has no value in a monetary sense, but it is visually rich. It’s one of those objects that lends itself to numerable interpretations. Placing it into this still life gave the flowers a new character. I had been portraying the same hardy flowers over the course of several days (it is amazing how long well-tended cut carnations will stay fresh).
The green becomes a factor. The green of the pitcher, colored like a grassy lawn, brings its own associations of spring, evoking the sense of a landscape where flowers bloom. Of course this vase has its own porcelain flowers, too, ones that decorate its waist. A bright gold-yellow cloth and variegated violet and pale linen-colored cloth behind the flowers create a light-filled scene.
Green Pitcher with Flowers is a pastel painting measuring 15 1/4 x 21 inches.
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.
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.
Today I’m making an oil study of the fish vase and have just begun indicating the object that’s beside it — the frog tea pot. An earlier post showed the fish vase in watercolor and again in oil pastel. This time I’m using oil paint. Each medium helps one think about visual features in different ways.
All that plus they say that practice makes perfect.
I like looking at the changing lights across the surface of the vase.
An earlier version of this oil study looked like this:
I believe in opposites (a thing and its foil) as a good principle for learning.
My first drawing of the still life naturally focused on the objects. You see the stuff. You draw the contours around the stuff. But I was wondering now if maybe I’d get a better handle on the idea of the painting by looking more closely at the negative spaces. The only problem is that there are no negative spaces to look at — or maybe it’s ALL negative spaces ever since I disassembled the still life.
It’s a small room. Anyway, I didn’t want to be too dependent on the actual still life this time. And I wanted to travel in hero Pierre Bonnard’s shoes a bit. More about memory.
I guess now’s a good time to look at Bonnard again with the negative spaces particularly in mind.
I just wrote a post about that sort of thing – the spaces between spaces — a day or so ago. That’s probably why I’m thinking about it now. I was looking at the sketch for the still life and wondering how it would be to think about everything that I wasn’t thinking about when I drew it. The task is greatly complicated by the absence of the actual still life!
Nonetheless (never one to be deterred) there are other ways to think about the spaces between things, even when drawing from memory. I can put parts of the still life together temporarily. I can also just have a whack at drawing the stuff between the stuff (even from imagination) and see what new stuff emerges.
or the panes of glass considered individually, seen in late afternoon. This painting with a window has so many possible ways of being taken apart, with each section of the image being like a portal that one can enter.
When did my fascination with still life begin? Maybe it was in childhood when I would stare at the row of figurines that my grandmother collected that lined her front windows, row upon row of strange curiosities in her narrow little house in southeast Washington.
The owl is a big figurine and the bird on the bud vase is another feathered companion. I’m not sure why they’re in the painting. Central casting sent them here. What am I supposed to do with them?
An earlier version of the owl looks like this:
I’m going to figure out how to get the pattern across the vase, particularly along the edge. I’m going to keep drawing it until I can find a version that’s flat and right in tone and color.
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?
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.