When I decided to embark on a project that would involve me drawing the same object 100 times, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to give me added insight into my creative processes. What I didn’t expect to be saying upon its completion is that it is one of the most interesting and useful exercises I have ever undertaken.
Establishing a small, daily, creative ritual which had no goal beyond itself, and which was unconnected to other projects, was like finding a new room in my house. It was a plain, white space I went into for a short period of time every day, and it was furnished only with a single, delicate glass. Though I was sometimes frustrated by the ritual, it nonetheless provided a kind of anchor to the day that was different from setting aside time for general drawing. It was that I was always drawing the same thing that made it different.
When I first learned about Peter Dreher’s Tag um Tag guter Tag project — which partly inspired the making of these drawings — it was clear to me that his glass paintings were a kind of meditation. In entering my newly-found plain, white room every day, I quickly became able to relate to the meditative aspect of Dreher’s pictures. There is quietude to be found in the daily contemplation of one, small thing, and taking that to the creation of a piece of work which is both familiar and completely novel. It opens up a kind of intimacy between one’s self and one’s gaze — which is an integral part of drawing anyway — but repeatedly contemplating and drawing the same object, trying to get to the bottom of it, serves to intensify that intimacy and forces it in front of you. It is a reminder that while drawing is a function of visual record-keeping, a method of thinking-through and preparation, as well as exploration, adventure, and play, it is also an intimate conversation with how we perceive.
In the repetition, these drawings became a kind of diary: each one made a page in my brain which reminds me of what else was going on at the time, how I was feeling about the project, myself, and my life on that particular day, how much time I had available, even what the weather was like. For several months of this year, my life can be measured in drawings I have made of this glass and, placed next to each other in order, they operate like lots of tiny memory windows.
Not long into the project I started to dream about the glass. The most memorable of the dreams placed me in Paris, at a shop that sold glassware. The window display was very beautiful, magical even, and included this little glass, which I went in and bought. The shop owner, who was sorting out a large pile of spectacles and was clearly the 18th-century writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, wrapped the glass in beautiful silk, put it in a box, and told me he would send it to me. I saw nothing odd about this and, without giving him my address, left the shop. Later, at home, a box arrived and when I opened it there was not one but 100 of the glasses, all wrapped in beautiful silk.
Despite the fact this project had clearly got under my skin and I wanted to learn as much as I could about what it meant to draw this glass, there were some days when doing so felt like a chore. Sometimes I got bored of looking at it, or just bored of the ritual, and sometimes, especially around halfway through, I struggled to see the overall point. But it is certainly the case that the repetitive nature of the task made me look at the glass differently. In my desire to really get to “see” this glass, I was reminded that an object is never just an object, but an idea of form and function translated by a combination of the eye and our needs. The objects we make and with which we choose to surround ourselves are a fascinating aspect of sophisticated and nuanced human thinking and exploration.
Looked at and drawn from the range of different perspectives I was trying out, the extent to which this glass was recognisable varied to such a degree that a couple of the viewpoints border on being abstracted, making me consider what it is about objects that make them recognisable and familiar to us, leading us to believe we understand what they are and what they look like.
How much do we truly look at the things we know? How much do we think about the properties of the objects that surround us? The transparency of a glass extends to it carrying the name of its material; and it is both transparent and reflective; as well as serving to contain (usually) liquid, it will also “contain” diluted reflections of the environment in which it is situated. To put something behind glass rarifies it. Glass can be bullet-proof or delicate. It is ancient but can be pedestrian or exquisite and distinct. It enables us to see ourselves and our surroundings reflected back at us the same but also different.
I have kept a sketchbook since I was a teenager; drawing every day is not a new practice for me. But this project has been a valuable reminder that, however much I think I’m noticing and paying attention to the small, to what is hidden in what we think we see, there is always more to be found, there is always another way to “see.” It has also brought to the fore the knowledge that if we approach the sketchbook with a view to finding answers, we sometimes lose the opportunity to ask new questions, and in so doing, this project has underpinned my understanding of drawing as truly being the philosophy of art practice.