Vision II: something old, something new; something borrowed, something blue

"Knowing when a work is complete, when any addition or subtraction can be only detrimental, is a major constituent of artistic ability.  The preceding work with the linoleum block demonstrated how we build a simple theme into a full symphony of patterns.  It enabled us to see when the process of development was complete.  And we could also see when the development of the theme had not gone far enough, and when it had gone too far altogether. "  We're moving right along in our course from Graham Collier's Form, Space & Vision, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, in 1963.

Our next experiment is concerned with completeness.  Like the exercise in Vision I, it sets out to develop a theme, but this time in rather a different way, demanding a more conscious imaginative jump fro the basic theme to the new shape.  It also involves three-dimensional form rather than pattern.


The basic theme is bottle shape.  The experiment is short and relatively simple, bit it does reveal again that the ability to design results from a capacity to see beyond what is, to what might be. In the process of visualizing a new form for a familiar object, the artist will imaginatively assess both its structural and aesthetic refinement before embodying it through drawing as a concrete image.



Ordinary glass bottles come in many varied shapes and proportions, some pleasing, some disturbingly ugly.  The bottle, like the snail shell, is essentially an object of space volume, a container whose space is enclosed, and consequently defined, by a material substance.  We have already discovered that the continuously revolving contour line that moves in a continuous exploration of surface is an effective means of realizing the structure of such objects of volume.  But another quality characterizes bottle shape:  it is symmetrical or nearly symmetrical.  Unlike the hole in the snail shell, a piece of wood, or a cloud, the volume is symmetrical around an imaginary axis passing through the center of the bottle. When one draws a bottle, then, it is helpful to draw this imaginary axis.  As the bottle swells and narrows around its axis, indicate on the axis, by means of horizontal lines, the widest and the narrowest portions.  This produces an imaginary skeletal structure.  Here is an instance of skeletal form assisting in the drawing of an object of volume although it plays no real part in the actual structure of the bottle.


Make a random selection of empty bottles, choosing four or five different shapes.  Set them up one at a time and make a drawing of each, a drawing that attempts to explain the structure of the bottle.  Do several drawings on one sheet of paper.  Any haphazard grouping will do, for this is not intended as a bottle composition.  Use both the imaginary skeletal axis and a combination of apparent outline and revolving contour lines to express the volume of each bottle.  Once you have ‘put the bottle together’ in this way,, it becomes more significant a s a structural form—you have looked inside as well as out.

From this sheet of structural drawings, select two or three which appeal to you most, and on a separate sheet of paper redraw each bottle individually on a large scale, about 12 inches tall.  Make these drawings in outline only.  The very fact that the bottles have been draw and understood structurally, as volume, through the continuous contour line, will help to insure that your outline is subtly expressive of volume rather than mere delineation of a flat area.


Study each drawing and try to see a new and improved shape emerging from the basic form.  The new shape should keep essentially, the overall proportions of the first bottle, but should attempt to improve on it through changes in the swelling or narrowing of the volume, changes in the slopes of the surfaces, and so on.


Draw the new shape, which is suggested and inspired by the first, ordinary bottle, inside the existing bottle drawing (although in places the new design may protrude beyond these limits.)  Complete the experiment by filling in with black ink those parts of the old bottle not occupied by the new shape.

Conclusions:  you will realize how slight a change in shape will produce a radically different form, how easy it is to go too far and produce only a vulgar and ridiculous form.  The refinement of form is a subtle process of addition or subtraction suggested by the visual imagination and one’s aesthetic sensibility.  In designing the new shape, you will have made both rational and instinctive decisions—decisions concerning the rhythm of part to part, the proportions of part to part, the structural authority of the new form and so on.  These judgments are part of your aesthetic response to form, and with them must come an awareness of how narrow are the limits of change that affect the aesthetic significance of form.  The new shape that is ‘right’ will be the shape that appears to have grown there on the paper.  The shape that appears most awkward and ill at ease is the one that has been the most forced or contrived.


The motive for this experiment has been the development of a theme, to help train your imagination to move from what is to what might be.  This experiment assumes that a new bottle shape may be most successfully inspired by an examination of many existing bottles, both to provide a stimulus to the imagination and to set the train of images in motion.  The ability to determine the ‘rightness’ of shape is difficult to learn.  Natural aptitude for this helps, of course, but this method of starting with existing shapes should help to develop your imaginative and aesthetic awareness.



More from Graham Collier here.

More arty articles here.


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