Header Image—detail of Mercury Window



Over the years, as I have moved more and more into commissioned work, there has been a subtle shift in my design process. At first there was no great difference between my art works, drawings and paintings, and the sketches. Then slowly and almost imperceptibly my whole focus was changed. In order to retain my freshness and spontaneity I had to somehow ‘withdraw’ from the preparatory work, so that I could give the piece my all at the end. The danger of putting everything into the design is that you’re dried up before the finish and bang out a replica. The medium demands its own specific handling and has a unique language, it is this which needs to resonate. No amount of design can ever emulate the effect of the actual material. And this is precisely the interesting and exciting thing; the end-result cannot be fully known and arises out of the moment.

The consequence for me of this ‘holding back’, of working towards something with anticipation is that I more-or-less ceased to be able to paint and draw for its own sake. Painting and drawing became so firmly rooted in process that it had no meaning outside it.

All this being said; the purpose of preparatory design is to create a model that does give a relevant foretaste of the end-result. This is necessary as a ‘road map’ for the artist and a prerequisite for any commission. The client needs to know what they are getting. If one were immensely famous one might be able to get away with a mindless doodle, but generally for us plumber/artists specifics are the norm.

Thus, there are two contradictory currents, the one wishing for openness and improvisation, the other for rigidity and standardization.

One way of adjusting this problem is to anticipate the medium in the design, to paint and draw in such a way that the final language of the medium is already fully anticipated. This can only really be done by having an incredibly powerful image of the anticipated but largely unknown picture in your mind and feeding the sketches with little bits of this picture, building them up, fattening them as it were. Then when there is still a good gap between sketch and thing, down pencils and get out the glass.

It is understanding of the material, its potentials and limitations that allows this anticipatory process to happen. I have always sought for the truth in the material, tried to do with it what it wanted to have done with it. This may sound like a romantic fantasy but goes back to simple physics. By observing the way glass breaks when it smashes, one can get a fairly good idea of how one can cut it.

Thus, any commission is not primarily about what it depicts, but is also about the material. The material itself finds its fulfilment in the piece.

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