#2 - A path to infinity, and beyond
Escher captures infinity, and my experience making 16 sq. ft of art...
Welcome to the SneakyArt Post, and thank you for your interest. In this issue, I’m talking about a drawing made while standing in a queue, MC Escher’s relentless pursuit of infinity, and my experience working on a 4x4ft canvas while wearing a three-piece suit. I hope you enjoy it.
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This week, we went kayaking on the Chicago river. I learned many things while trying not to capsize, one being that the Chicago river is quite polluted. Afterwards, we lined up outside the Metropolitan Brewery to get a patio table for some beers. Our wait was too long, so we ended up getting bottles to go instead. Disappointment all around. Nevertheless, I stole 15 minutes to make a quick sketch.
To draw quickly, begin with what is most interesting. Put it in the middle. Then radiate outwards for as long as you are interested.
I sat at the lakefront one June morning, watching joggers pass by. It was one of those crisply fresh mornings, when everything looks new and shiny.
Picnicking families in Grant Park. Groups had naturally distanced themselves, so we could ‘breathe easy’.
I visited New Orleans two years ago and drew this outside the famous Cafe Du Monde. The colonnade was full of people once it started to rain, and I had to keep still in a jostling, busy crowd. Fun times. #SneakyArtoftheLostWorld
I just came across this Twitter trend. I don’t draw portraits specifically, but it is very important practice. My trusted resource for portrait study is the subreddit RedditGetsDrawn. I’ve drawn 300+ portraits on it. It is where I made my first sales, and received a ton of inspiration and reinforcement. I highly recommend it!
Here’s a recent set I did.
Escher and Infinity (2/5)
In the previous issue, I talked about how Escher arrived at a moment of profound inspiration. In this post, I learn about his lifelong pursuit to depict infinity inside the finite space of a print.
Escher’s work with symmetry and reflections captures the attention of mathematicians and scientists. He understands nothing from their equations, but the diagrams fascinate him. They become his tools to move forward. Since he cannot learn explicitly, he will learn implicitly.
Escher tries to first capture infinity as the “point of infinite smallness” but is dissatisfied by the result. He considered it an illogical limit, determined by the skill and resources of the print-maker.
(Escher’s ‘Square Limit’ has infinity at the edges, based on conversations with the mathematician Coxeter)
Escher does not know what infinity should look like, but he tries to reach a solution that is more than simply beautiful. He searches for the ‘inevitable solution’. Subconsciously then, he embodies a scientific temperament in his work. If you have a mathematical background, you will appreciate the genius he is inching towards when he says,
“A diminution in the size of the figures … from within outwards, leads to more satisfying results. The limit is no longer a point, but a line which borders the whole complex and gives it a logical boundary.”
But his work is not simply an exercise in mathematics. Escher is trying to make art.
(Circle Limit IV, also called “Heaven and Hell”)
Consider the print above. In the center are three devils (in black) and three angels (in white). They represent good and evil. They fit alternately and seamlessly, so one cannot exist without the other. They radiate outwards in diminishing size, creating six sections in the circle. In three, devils have the upper hand. In the others, the angels hold sway and the devil figures are featureless. These motifs represent heaven and hell. In between are the “earthly” stages, where both symbols hold sway.
Escher’s work inspires me because it shows the success of persistent curiosity, and confidence in one’s vision. On my blog, I trace the steps that led to Circle Limit IV by looking at his preceding work and correspondences. Read it here.
Making 16 sq ft of art
In June last year, I was approached by the Marriott Group of Hotels for a commission. They wanted a canvas to showcase the best features of their premium hotels.
How big, I asked? Four by four feet, they said.
At the time, I had never worked on any kind of canvas of any size. But a challenge is often the best way to learn, and I was not going to let this opportunity slip. I took the job.
I put in several hours’ work at home. You can read the details of this in my full post (link). But the task was to do the last couple of hours during a live event, in the ballroom of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. It was the afterparty of a conference about business travel, and the room was packed with people. I suited up, and drew, and sold some books. Surreal experience.
(Me, after the event was over)
To see the individual sketches and many more progress pics, read the full story of this commission on my blog.
In next week’s issue, I will talk about the work Escher is most famous for - his impossible geometry. I will also share experiences and drawings from two editions of the Jaipur Lit Fest last year, one where I was the official (sneaky)-artist.
‘Penrose Stairs’ by Escher
My sketchbook at the Jaipur Lit Fest 2019
I would love to hear what you liked (and didn’t like) about this newsletter. But if you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it with someone else who may be interested.
Every book of SneakyArt goes out with a free portrait option. And I absolutely love drawing them. My book is available to buy here. Use code SECRETSALE to get a subscriber-exclusive discount.
Thank you for your time and attention. I’ll see you again next week.