Going Beyond Observation

How can we begin to make sense of 18th-century ornament? To begin with, we must experience it. Yes, that sounds strange, but in order to gain real insight into these lines, figures, and shapes, we need to go beyond careful observation and recreate them through drawing. As soon as you put pencil to paper, a whole world of detail, previously unnoticed, reveals itself.  Consequently, the same happens once you go from drawing to carving or to careful observation of original objects – the transition from two to three dimensions and from paper to wood is equally revealing. It’s not necessary to draw entire pieces from pattern books. In fact, it’s best not to at first. For more than a decade, I’ve been drawing isolated elements from pattern books, and nothing has taught me more about these historic design languages. Choosing small elements – a shell, bellflowers, or certain acanthus leaf configurations – keeps you focused on ornament in a more manageable fashion. Over time, as your understanding of particular elements and combinations increases, you can begin to draw them in a broader context to understand how they work to support an overall design.

–Bill Pavlak, excerpt from “Through a Wilderness of Ornament: Working with 18th-century Pattern Books” in The First Three Issues


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