Good news, Kitsune

I solved the riddle! (Whew.)  The solution occurred while I was drinking coffee this morning at a McDonald’s restaurant after having fiddled with numerous trials and erroneous attempts.  I guess insight played a role in my solving it since I had “found” the solution without realizing it the night before and had rejected it — by which I mean that I had discovered the correct shape (thinking of this as a drawing exercise) but had the scale wrong (a common problem in drawing)  Thus a slight attitude adjustment was needed to capture the solution, requiring several hours of sleep as well as relaxing distractions plus a fresh morning perspective.  (No doubt the coffee was helpful, too.)

The work of solving the riddle presented many intriguing corollary questions.  While solving it feels nifty, I wonder who created the puzzle and what questions lead someone to an invention like this.  Discovering a puzzle requires a higher and brighter curiosity, I think, than solving a puzzle that is already well received.  While artists complain of the difficulties they face in the market place, imagine the plight of a riddle inventor!  Certainly one must have very pure motives to spend one’s days in devising riddles and puzzles knowing that one’s reception is so marginal.

Other ideas passed through my mind as I toiled away at the puzzle.  I was aware of having seen its solution once, but recollection did not come very handily to my aid.  Even knowing that the lines had to meet somewhere outside the figure did not help much psychologically.  I still felt compelled to try various ways of connecting the edges of the box.  Finally, I realized that an element of trust was required.  Could Kitsune have tricked me?  Was there a solution?  And another kind of trust was needed, too.  I have counseled various persons about confidence in regard to their drawing.  Drawing in art, making “mistakes,” can be discouraging and I have told people many times that you must go through the problem and not give up on it.  It is the passage through self-criticizing thoughts that leads ultimately to the promised land of art.  Here I was with a knotty problem — a drawing problem, I decided to think of it in those terms — and I could have given up, but I decided to follow my own advice and press on.

I am still not convinced that it is not more math than art, though I chose to use art as much as I could to solve it.  But unlike most the art I do, I did not know what the thing I was drawing looked like.  The reasoning here was exactly opposite what I typically do.  Usually I look at something and from a massive wall of perceptions, I am choosing certain ones and ignoring the rest.  Here I had very limited means, four lines, and with them I had to discover something I could not see, trying to bring it into visibility by following a set of instructions.

As I was leaving McDonald’s backing my car out of a parking space, perhaps it was then I had what felt like a real “insight” moment.  As often happens in art, drawing something or looking at other artists’ drawings will change the way we view the world.  It struck me as more than a little ironic the number of arrows that seemed to be everywhere around me after I had found the figure that solves the riddle.  A big arrow painted on the asphalt pointed the direction out of the parking lot and as soon as I noticed that big arrow, why it seemed that the world was littered with arrows!  They might have been like hints (unless of course there’s more than one solution!).

[Top of the post:  photograph of a McDonald’s restaurant napkin upon which I solved a riddle posed by a reader, Kitsune, on the post Alice Drew a Maze, photo by Aletha Kuschan]

Effusive Illusions

The same basic elements used by this picture’s designers to get a stereo-scopic image — and it really is amazing — were used less rigorously and with more nuance by 19th century French painter Paul Cezanne to create a sense of depth in still life.  Following in his case instinct not science, Cezanne watched and observed — sometimes with great annoyance — the ways that the edges of things would shift in space because of the different angles of vision between the right and left eyes.

This constant jumping around of contours to which the artist over time became extremely sensitive adds a deep irony to his famous remonstrance to a wigglesome model.  “Does an apple move?!” he’s reported as saying.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it does.  Certainly in a Cezanne still life apples, peaches and other fruits appear to move about quite a bit.  And following this optical path faithfully to its natural conclusion, Cezanne created images of surprisingly evocative dimension.  While his pictures are not stereo-scopic, they come as close perhaps as art can come to being there.

And just as with the confusing image above, a certain amount of staring is required — even in Cezanne — to get the full sensation of space.  The optical illusion is an exceedingly clever trick of science, whereas Cezanne’s art is a thousand-fold more subtle.  In both cases, though, objects with multiple contours is the ticket.

What has illusion to say about truth and context and attention?  That we see only a small fraction of what life presents to the mind.

I tried viewing the illusion on my computer screen and it does work with a large image.  Whether it works at this scale … I’m not sure.  To see the image hidden inside the pattern you have to focus beyond the picture plane as though looking at a distant object.  Some serious patience and staring is required at first.  However, after you’ve located the picture, you can retrain your brain to find it again at a faster pace.  It’s also possible to see the opposite of the intended image (a kind of “mold” of it) by focusing in front of the image.

I use this copyrighted material without permission, and for that reason I strongly urge all readers finding this post to immediately purchase National Geographic Kids for each of your children, for yourselves, for your large extended families, for your neighbors and for their kids, for total strangers you stumble upon — and that alone ought to add up to at least 120 subscriptions per reader.  It’s a great magazine!  So, it’s well worth shelling out the big bucks.

Lawyers for National Geographic Kids who do not find this endorsement strong enough can write to me at my delux office suite at the Radisson Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Come visit my store on CafePress!

[Top of the post:  Optical illusion from National Geographic Kids.  Courtesy of National Geographic Kids.  With many, many deep grateful thanks to National Geographic Kids, the world’s, solar system’s the Universe’s best ever kids magazine.]

Not seeing the tree for the branches

     Through different subjects and media, through thick and thin,  I find that much of what has continually interested me is perception.  Perception is a tricky thing.  I first realized this when I was young girl in high school.  I was sitting in front of a sugar maple happily drawing its linear forms, which reached out toward me like welcoming arms. I found that maple to be so very beautiful and complicated to draw.

Struggling with it, however, I couldn’t comprehend one particularly murky passage and paused totally stuck, in head-scratching confusion. Then I realized that I was not drawing “what I saw” — not a bit — for right smack in front of me was a limb, looming into the foreground, practically tickling my nose, that had been until that moment completely invisible. It actually obscured parts of the area I was struggling to see.  No wonder I couldn’t see those other details! I thought with Mr. Magoo-like clarity.

For many people life’s problems consist in not seeing “the forest for the trees.”  In my case, I was stumped by not seeing the tree for the branches. 

            I had looked at, had seen, had attended to those things that I insisted to myself were there.  Well, sometimes what you see is what you get! I insisted upon my reality to such a degree, wishing to see what I thought I saw so much — that I managed not to see what was right there in fact.  Ah, a moment of disclosure I shall never forget.  It’s like a story with a moral.  Only true.


 [Top of the post:  my drawing of crepe myrtles blooming.  Aletha Kuschan]


To Mike

          I’m glad my comments were helpful.  Commenting on your drawings helps me as well, since it prompts me to consider how and why I draw.  I guess I want to teach drawing.  I’ve thought about it certainly, but I cannot do so in a traditional studio setting for various logistical reasons, my schedule, family obligations and so on.  But through writing, perhaps I can find an outlet for teaching the ideas that I wish to share. I see drawing as being a wonderful tool for observing life, and through observing things I also see a path to knowledge about life, even to wisdom. 
How perfectly lovely to have a wife who encourages you. Listen to your wife.  (I’ve already written about marriage here, so isn’t that apropos?)  Her advice to keep your drawings, heed it well.  Okay, maybe not every single scrap.  But certainly the ones she tells you to keep!

I know the feeling of being dissatisfied, but you can learn a lot from past drawings.  People think “yes, I’ll learn to recognize my mistakes.”  That’s not what I mean.  If the drawings bother you, stick them in a drawer and get some distance from them.  Later after you gain skill, you’ll gain confidence and then the drawings may prove helpful.  I had ideas from my earliest inkling that I wanted to be an artist — a beautiful shifting mirage of things I saw that held great meaning for me.  I tried to draw them, but lacked the skill.  I was dissatified with those drawings, but I kept them anyway.  Looking back at old drawings now, ah, how  revealing!  To find ideas that I had forgotten — oh, some of them good ideas!  I have the skills now to pursue these thoughts, and because I kept the drawings, I have the reminders of these perceptions, these appearances, that I once wanted to do.

At the time of their making, you may not have recognized that these things you sought even were ideas.  Time of itself provides a means of observing life.  Seeing events through the perspective of time, we see differently than when events are actually taking place.  Time is not just a theme for the novelist.  It has meaning in the visual arts too. 

Well, anyway, you want to spend some of your regular working hours — your art hours — drawing from life.  Even though it’s far more difficult than copying, drawing from life is incomparable because in this direct perception of things, you have no intermediary.  You copy drawings to learn different ways of thinking visually, and you draw from life to learn to carve your own path. 

I liken it to target shooting.  You aim your pencil, point and shoot.  Sometimes you miss.  You try again.  But it involves you in a very precise way of thinking and also a personal one.  If you draw what you notice then the drawing becomes a map of your attention and perception.  And that can be really marvelous, and again also provides reasons for keeping the old things — because you may lack the skill to record all that you notice, but even the imperfect attempt gets at parts of it — so, you see, by keeping old drawings you get to bump into your past self.  Another form of time travel.
Getting a job as an artist — that is very tricky, I won’t kid you. If you get one, put in a word for me too!  How good are you at self-promotion?  If you’re a strong self-promoter you might find employment as an artist before you’re really “ready” in which case you can (hurray!) learn on the job.  Being unsatisfied with what you do, of course, makes self-promotion complicated.  So, some employment related soul searching is wise.
As a hobby, art is a fabulous thing.  Winston Churchill painted to relax so you’d be among quite dignified good company. Perhaps you cannot be an artist full time, but have you considered becoming prime minister?  As to formal training, I was in lots of classes in my youth, but honestly everything I know about art I learned by trial and error and by very careful study of old masters’ pictures. The best art is personal, and the lessons that really count come from inside your head.
Well, I’m glad to be able to give advice and especially where your wife’s concerned.  Listen to her.  A man always does well to heed his wife’s wise counsels.  Don’t be “super” critical, just self-critical enough to move forward.  Let your love of drawing guide you.  Love is a good teacher.

[Top of the post:  Winston Churchill painting in 1946.]

A Face Perceived

     No ovals.  No usual proportions.  Just lines put into the places where it seems that they belong.  No recipe.  Just my drawing.

Try it.  It’s fun.

Okay, I’ve been doing this a while.  But I’ve made tons of mistakes.

Still do.

Learning to Draw

Most books that teach drawing have demonstrations that look something like the sketch above (taken from this source).  They begin with an oval-ish shape, horizontal and vertical axes, short smudge lines placed in strategic positions to represent nose, eyes and mouth, and so on.

They begin with the idea of a whole face, a regular or typical face, a norm.  They specify very simple directions that promise to be easy enough for anybody to learn. 

They are okay, as far as they go.  I wonder when I see them: are people really this afraid of making mistakes?  It’s just a drawing. 

If you want to draw, but are afraid to draw, try rules like these to get past your qualms and your reluctance.  But that said, the recipe for faces is a very inadequate approach to drawing.  Really, to be truthful, it’s an awful approach.  It is completely reliant upon very limited, conventional ideas of what a face should look like.  It holds no hope for anyone who wants to explore his or her own sensations of seeing.

If you want to draw, your first challenge is just picking up a pencil and beginning.  But if you are brave from the beginning, you will reap benefits later on.  Forget ovals and proportions.  Imagine instead that the object of your attention has lines wrapped around it.  Imagine placing your pencil upon one of those lines and copying it upon a sheet of paper.  Do not even care (in the beginning) overly much whether your lines match these lines in nature.  Just try (very hard) for the nearest match you can get.

If your lines cannot match at first the spectacle of what you see, at least have them be your lines.  What you saw, what you felt, not the recipe for conventionally considered faces.