In Repetition…

(Originally published 19th June 2019)

In April, I started taking part in the 100 Day Project on Instagram. As discussed in my previous blog post, I am very interested in Peter Dreher’s ongoing project, Every Day is a Good Day, which is a philosophical as much as an artistic undertaking. I was fascinated to discover what I would learn from making a picture of the same object over and over again and thought the 100 Day Project was a good opportunity to explore this.

I decided on a small liqueur glass as my object to study over 100 days.

Being a full-time artist with a living to earn, and not knowing where this project was going beyond being a personal exercise in perception and discipline, I couldn’t devote hours each day to these drawings, so this glass was a good fit in its simplicity; I would be able to draw it each day by spending no more than 10 or 15 minutes on each drawing, also forcing me to make drawings that would be very focused.

I am now halfway through the project. There have been a few days where I haven’t drawn the glass, so I am a little bit behind the project as a whole, but I have kept going and am gradually catching up, and I have now completed 50 drawings of the same glass.

In the repetition of production I have noticed a change in how I see this object overall, as well as different phases of seeing.

Very conscious of my desire to capture the essence of this particular object, I spent a long time looking at it before I drew it for the first time. By the time I had drawn it ten times, I’d stopped “seeing” it and had to challenge my perception which, by this point, believed that I knew what the glass looked like and thought it no longer warranted further examination. Any First Year art student will recognise this as the difference between looking and seeing, and even the most seasoned of artists occasionally have to check themselves over the extent to which they are really looking at the object of their study, but to experience this as a consequence of repeatedly drawing the same object was interesting because, in pushing past it, I started to understand very intimately what this particular glass looks like, and I then arrived at a place where I started noticing tiny details I had failed to see in the first few drawings. By the time I got to drawing no. 16, I could discern a jump in my perception that felt as though I was looking at the glass with a previously unknown clarity and the drawings began to look cleaner and calmer. I’d pushed through into the simple joy of the line.

Not long after this, I became aware that I was beginning to think of this glass as a particularly precious object and I worried about what would happen if it broke. It is, after all, small and delicate and competes for space in my studio with, amongst other things, numerous jars of paintbrushes, piles of books and canvases, an hourglass, and a cast-iron hare holding a magnifying glass. The reality is that I have another five of these glasses but, by now, because of how well I had come to know this glass, I considered it to be one of a kind — the other five in the set were completely different glasses as far as I was concerned. The manufacture of the “same” glass peculiarly mirrors repeatedly drawing the same glass and makes us ask, at what point does repetition transform the sameness it attempts to create into just a lot of singularity?

I am still unsure what I will do with the drawings once I have finished all 100 of them but, at the moment, that’s not an important aspect of the project. It’s an exercise in what happens when we see and, because of it, I have already learned more about what it means to use an object to make a drawing, as well as about my own processes of creation. I have also had to get even more closely acquainted with my perfectionist streak. I am unhappy and dissatisfied with most of the drawings, and there are ones I actively dislike for their “wrongness.” But I have resisted the temptation to, for example, put drawing no. 14 through the shredder and pretend it never existed, and have made myself accept it as the drawing I produced of the glass on that particular day, because that is the point. The project has nothing to do with creating “perfect” images; it is about what goes on between the hand and the eye in a very limited few moments in time, and what happens when a small creative ritual is established. I have learned that simple repetition has a still beauty of its own.

And I have learned (well, been reminded) that there is always more work to be done!

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