Since I started The Orientalist series, and probably even before that, I've been fascinated with Islamic art, especially the intricate patterns present everywhere, from architecture to fashion. In my travels and explorations, I began to notice a distinct difference in this art form across cultures, to the point I could intuitively say if a particular pattern was more in an Arabic, Persian, Turkish or Indian style.
For Christmas 2016, my wife gave me a compass, rulers, special paper and some pencils. She even gave me an electric eraser which is fun to use independently of what you are drawing. On a cold January night, I felt compelled to see if I could figure out how to draw some of these patterns. Youtube had a few tutorials in English and I picked up one which seemed promising.
What was supposed to be a 30-minute break turned into a long exploration well into the night. I felt almost at a flow state, when time disappears and you are just focusing on the task at hand. Over the course of 3 nights, I ended up creating 3 patterns. Each one was slightly more complex than the other and I noticed that when you make an error, it propagates throughout the design. I thought it was a big contrast to my photographic practice, where small mistakes tend to show new creative possibilities and beauty. Unlike with drawing with ink, digital photography mistakes are usually reversible.
Another interesting side effect of this little exploration of Arabic patterns was a deeper appreciation for seeing the art. My designs were a bit off in terms of symmetry than the originals created by masters. It could be just a matter of skill, but I felt something was fundamentally off. While researching further, I came across a discussion on the 'Western' way of doing the designs (which I was following), and a so called 'traditional' way. On a video, the author demonstrated that the traditional method of constructing patterns were not only simpler to do, but also preserved a certain symmetry (mainly related to the area and perimeter of different forms in relation to a baseline star shape) which was evidently broken when you used the Western method. Independently of the accuracy of the information, seeing that argument helped me understand things that were completely opaque before, making the art even more beautiful.
There seems to be no real immediate practical applications of this new interest/obsession. There were certainly other things I should be doing, mainly related to my photography business. Over the past few months I've been struggling about where to take my photography next. Walking the line between fine art and commercial work on a very competitive field, although rewarding, often puts you on uncharted crossroads, where a path may not lead to your desired destination. I was very surprised that this detour on my practice actually helped me figure out the issues I was debating internally. In a way, the detour pointed to the right path, which I will explore on a future post.
What I took away from this little side project was the importance of feeling like a beginner again. It also reminded me of a question a friend used to ask:
"When was the last time you did something for the first time?"
I hope this little exploration inspires you to try something new.