thoughts unfolding

peonies opening better (2)

The peonies are the latest among the grocery store flowers.  They started opening last night. I don’t have specific plans for them so I will either paint or draw them later just to have some flower images for future use.

I have been contemplating the next stage of the Big Painting, the otherwise nameless painting of the moment. I continue making studies of individual objects or objects in groups as I sort out the placement of the things that will sit on the table.  The questions are visual for the moment — what shapes, what relationships between objects, how their placement will affect the rest of the painting, etc.

But I am also wondering what it all means.  That’s a sticky question and bothers me a little bit.  I chose things for their appearances because I like the way they look.  Contemplating their appearance is very appealing — shapes, color relationships, drawing.  The hope is that the spectator will find them equally intriguing — or will find their portrayal intriguing.  Portrayal and existence are different things.

Do they mean something?  My sense is that perhaps they do.  I say that because I tend to think everything means something.  I used to major in English in college.  I call it “English major syndrome” — the oppressive notion that everything means something.

But what if everything does mean something? Then what?  Am I supposed to know the meaning of a blue jay figurine, a dark blue compotier with lemons, two oranges, a large bouquet of flowers, a smaller bouquet of flowers, two teapots (but no teacups?), a seashell ….?  If the objects introduce into the painting a bird and a couple frogs — indirectly — what is the consequence?  Then there are the flowers in the vase verses the flowers on the vase.  And the table sits in front of a window with a view of some trees whose antecedents were growing by a gorge at Glen Echo.  Does the “echo” of Glen Echo enter in?  Particularly since the appearance of the trees tells nothing of consequence about their actual location on the planet. Or did the echo sneak in somehow?

Of course the whole thing refers back to Pierre Bonnard’s painting.  I wonder what his painting meant and why I love it so much?

Truly painting is like a dream and can be difficult to decipher.

slenderest bit of idea

landscape drawing idea

A ball point pen provides a lot of freedom to think out loud about where things are.  I like to look at things and just “take notes.”  It’s like wandering around in the scene and the pen lines are foot steps.

more moth – Mothra!

moth two thirds way

The drawing that I chronicle here continues to gain more stuff.  I say “more moth,” but it’s really more leaves — though aspects of the moth evolves as well.  I see the edges of the moth in relation to the leaves, and it’s necessary to get the leaves in there so that everything can be altered later as necessary.  You can’t know what you want to change until it’s there to see.

This 32 x 24 inch drawing is preparatory for a painting.  The painting is larger and includes another element not present in this study.  I have a second more careful preparatory drawing that’s in the works as well.  These are the rehearsals.

A polyphemus moth in real life is large, easily 4 inches across.  This moth, of course, is much larger — though not as large as Mothra.  And it won’t be transporting any Japanese girls anywhere.  Nor is it likely to fight Godzilla — or King Kong — or anybody else.  It’s a peaceful moth.  The leaves in the picture are metaphors, and I wish I could tell you what they stand for metaphorically — I really wish I could.  But I haven’t a clue.

Sometimes the artist is the last to know.  I just paint what I’m supposed to paint.  It was my idea.  But my own brain is very hush-hush and “need to know” about the topic.  The conscious me who writes this blog doesn’t possess a high enough security clearance to be granted access to the Top Secret information …. so there you go.

Once all the leaf stuff is in this version of the picture, I can start moving leaves around.  It is as self-help guru Brian Tracy wrote, “anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.”  Not that I judge my moth and its leaves as bad.  Quite the contrary, I like them.  But a rehearsal might go really well too.  It’s still a rehearsal.

I need my practice moths so that my more deliberate moth can sail through its pictorial night and accomplish its symbolical purposes.  And if I do it right, who knows?  My brain might even tell me what it all means.

the moth and the night

moth and night in the background (2)

I have been wondering about these leaves.  Clearly the scale of the leaves and the scale of the moth are at odds with each other.  But I felt from the outset that the leaves should be that way — that they should fracture the surface.  And my intuition told me it should be those leaves, too, because the color is right — even though the color is false because I artificially altered the colors of the photograph and now I don’t even remember what kinds of leaves they were.

But the clearest sign I have that the leaves are the right leaves is that parts of the most recent dream comes back while I draw.  I don’t recall the dream exactly, but moments of it come into thought where I seem to see the images in peripheral vision.  Then the memories scatter as dreams often do.

The dream tone is there.  The emotion functions like a rope that you can use to pull yourself back into the outer margins of the dream even though, of course, you’re wide awake.

So if these leaves can evoke the dream tone, then something about them must be right.  They don’t have any logic.  These leaves have nothing to do with this kind of moth — not in real life.  But in terms of some kind of symbolism their convergence makes sense.  I’m going to go with that.  A picture can have a logic all its own.

I want it to have logic.  I want it to cohere.  But it has to happen on its proper terms.  I don’t feel that I choose those conditions.  Somehow I found them and I just recorded them.


honey picture: night and day in symbols


Why — if a yellow plate with a honey comb and a honey jar sitting on it is like the moon —  like a moon in a dark night sky composed of arabesques of leaves and flowers — why is the picture a still life and not a landscape? Why not just paint the moon and the stars?

Of course maybe (it’s entirely possible) the picture is not a moon at night.  Maybe a honey jar is just a honey jar, a yellow plate is a yellow plate, a honey comb nothing more significant than itself alone.

I don’t know why I even brought it up.  (Someone asked me only yesterday if I ever experience synesthesia.  Does this count?)

I just thought it was moon-like in its light.

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.


Feeling Arboreal (finding the inner tree)

If anyone recognizes what this is:  congratulations!  You might have a fine career ahead of you in psychology!

I made this drawing to obsessively reinterate an idea I’ve been working on — relative to a large mural sized painting whose subject I’m frankly at a loss to explain.  However, I’ve been around the art block enough times now to trust my instincts and to believe that a picture, whose meaning is baffling even to me, its author, may well hold ideas that can matter to the larger audience of my fellow human beings, 3 billion or so of my closest friends. (You gotta think big.)

It’s a tree.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to portray it this way, rather than to make it more conventionally tree-like.  But there it is.  And let me tell you, your subconscious mind is a fabulous, truly wonderful and remarkable thing!  I have stalled on this idea for well over a year, working on other things, and forgeting about this picture. 

However, last night as I was driving, I turned a corner and saw a large tractor trailer stopped at a light perpendicular to me at a street onto which I was making a right turn.  In the general darkness, as I turned, I noted the enormous shadow of a tree cast onto the side of the trailer.  Imagine that huge flat surface being like a canvas, here was the image I’ve wanted to portray in ridiculously large scale, here it was on the side of this truck as on a great, crazy moving canvas!  Sometimes you feel as though the great loving God and nature and your own mind are all meeting at the same intersection.   It’s a great shot in the arm, let me tell you!

Comments, explanations, psycho-analysis are all welcome.

[Top of the post:  the author’s small compositional drawing for a very large enigmatic painting.  By Aletha Kuschan]