The Bottle Arrangement

Where have I been all week? you might ask. Drawing these bottles!  My finished project is pictured above. All told, this was a fifteen-hour drawing. Five weeks in, this is my first major project. I haven’t been critiqued on it yet. That will happen Monday and I finished after hours Friday. After measuring and plotting, the drawing started really taking shape sometime on Wednesday. Other first year students either finished the assignment very quickly or were busy with other projects and not quite started. So I didn’t have anyone at the exact same phase of the project to compare notes with as I slogged on this week.

I listened to this addictive and immersing podcast produced by Sarah Koenig from This American Life called Serial in which Koenig investigates a possible wrongful conviction on a real murder trial from 1999 involving Baltimore high school students. The story unfolds week by week with new episodes released Thursdays and as with all great whodunnits, there are no clear answers. (If you listen and are current on it please let me know so we can obsess over the details and logistics together.) This is all to say that I made my self cups of tea, binge-listened to the first four episodes and drew. Around Wednesday my peers and teachers started coming by to say they thought the drawing was really getting somewhere. At some point during the crime and intrigue coming from my headphones, a finished analytical drawing of eight bottles and one bowl emerged. The students who finished the project quickly did a good job and definitely got the geometry point of the exercise. I kept hearing Juliette in my ear about how we really need to push ourselves for accuracy. I can look at this and see places where two of the bottles got a little fat. But for the most part this was an exercise in “relentlessly seeking the truth” and not being afraid of erasing whole bottles or starting over.

At the end of the afternoon Friday, an assistant teacher came around and said I should have drawn on a larger sheet of paper so I could have more margin to frame it because then I could sell it. Sell it? He said it might look like the bleary-eyed slog of the past week but some people find these drawings fascinating. Truthfully, I had a great time doing it. It was the kind of precision work where you forget to breathe and hunch over awkwardly without realizing it, but I got so much better at knowing the way with each bottle that the excitement started to compound. We’re advised not to think of these exercises as fine art. We’re undergoing academic training for four years and then have the rest of our careers to be conscious of how our drawings and paintings look. For now we’re mastering the skills needed to create fine art and that means taking risks. Ones that might, and should, result in failure because thats where the learning happens. The bottle project however demands refinement. I think that’s why it was so easy to commit and pour myself into it. Analytical in this context means an accessible and attainable accuracy. Drawing from a model or en plein air is far harder, the truth more elusive. That’s what makes the heart quicken and the time fly in the life room where there’s a live model and infinite geometries. I don’t need a crime drama, it’s all happening on the paper in front of me and in the micro movements and expression of the model.

Next week I’ll begin using these analytical drawing lessons to draw the cast of a classical horse sculpture. We also will start our first two-week pose in the life room – the model will resume the same pose for ten mornings and hold it for three-hour sessions with breaks every twenty minutes. I’m interested to see how the analytical exercises start influencing my life room drawing and how it feeds my quest to strike a balance between straight lines and gestural expression. We’re starting week six Monday. My seeing and drawing instincts have already begun to rewire.