There was a seed laying dormant in me that sprouted recently. Years ago, when I was studying art, the American painter Sol LeWitt was one of my favorite artists. He makes very powerful abstract paintings in bright colors. I loved that. That inspired my own paintings. Another cool thing about his art was that he wanted to make it accessible to anyone. Sol LeWitt paintings and prints cost a fortune but a large body of his work is not paintings but instructions. Simple instructions of a few lines that require you to execute on those instructions to get a Sol LeWitt artwork. It doesn’t have to be executed by the artist. Typically other people execute these art works. I’ve heard of Sol guiding the execution but this is not required. Making your own Sol LeWitt based off of his instructions is not a fake. This is a break from the concepts that generally rule the art world. Even if Sol himself doesn’t execute the artwork, it’s still a real Sol. A bit like composers don’t execute their own work or architects for that matter. The local museum here in Maastricht regularly has works of Sol installed and every time they have to hire people to paint the works based on his instructions. I’ve always wanted to create my own Sol but have never gotten around to it.
I found a big white space. High ceilings. Large white walls. The building is going to be reconstructed. I talked to the owner of the building and she said “do what you want, we are going to redecorate the entire building anyway.” Immediately my desire to create Sol’s murals popped up in my head. I did some research online and found the work I wanted to start with: Wall Drawing 1180.
The artwork, the instructions to make the artwork are this:
So I bought a steel ruler of 30 centimeters and a black marker. I measured out the middle and drew a circle using a nail, a pencil and a piece of rope. I decided to make the diameter 2 meters of the circle. The dimensions of the circle and the length of the lines are free to chose in this work. I tried to create it in a size that fits the wall and the space.
Creating the wall drawing was an intense experience for me. Not just the physical work, but making it was an emotional journey. This totally changed this art work for me. Looking at a finished art piece can have a big impact, but if you have made it yourself, this is totally different. What I find beautiful is that Sol enabled this experience, not just of looking at his art, but making it, stepping into the process. In this blog, I wanted to capture my experience, hope you like it :)
The beginning feels calm and zen. The first lines create a nice open space. The even distribution feels that is required in the instructions, feels harmonious. It’s fun to start drawing the first lines. I started drawing on a weekend with my two sons. After awhile, we get into a rhythm of 50 lines per session, then a short break and then another 50 lines. I put some masking tape around the circle to prevent shooting outside the circle but it fell off at night and I decided to leave it. We hit 600 lines on the first day.
The circle is starting to fill up. The composition feels Suprematistic somehow. It reminds me of the Russian Suprematists in energy. Maybe even Mondriaan on speed. Filling up the circle feels like all the marks one gets when life unfolds. They feel like scars we pick up in our life and shape us. It feels like the experiences, the scars make us into who we are.
“I don’t want to die without any scars.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Today the circle starts to look more chaotic, more aggressive even. The energy has totally shifted. There are so many black lines zigzagging all over the wall. It feels harder to draw the lines. The first lines were a breeze and the energy was only positive. The first marker I used ran out of ink. I opened up a second marker. The drawing starts to feel more dense, claustrofobic. There is less space between the lines. Drawing the lines becomes more intuitive and fluid. The more lines that are on the wall, the less precise the distribution is. The drawing requires the lines to be evenly distributed but sometimes when I look back, I see that one area has less lines. I focus more on that are in the next run to end up with an even distribution. I see that I am working in sections more than all over the drawing. Working on an area, then stepping back, and then focussing on another area. The total overview is lost somewhat.
All this feels like a circle of life. At this stage the shift to sections feels like the way I develop in life: focussing on an area, then shifting to another. It feels impossible to keep a complete overview of life and I just move from section to section trying to improve.
When I went to bed, I didn’t like the drawing anymore. Too many lines, too little air. I felt it was harder to breathe. When I woke up the next morning it was okay.
The lines, the randomness feels like a Jackson Pollock painting right now. The multitude of lines increases but there is still white space. The web is closing but the energy is now Pollock-like. Today I feel like I don’t draw enough straight horizontal lines. So I put in a lot of them today. The lines feel more and more like scars. How scar after scar makes you into who you are. Drawing a LeWitt is a totally different thing than looking at a finished work. I ask myself the question of why an artist would do something like this. Let people create their own artwork. It must be that the experience of making it is part of the artwork. This artwork is not just a work to look at but to make. Making art is radically different from looking at art. Normally, the creation process is eliminated from the viewing. You see the traces but they were made by another person. LeWitt gives us the chance to feel the process of making his art. Not creating the concept but the physical experience of making art. That is what is great about this. I have made art. I studied painting and I created countless paintings. So I know about the process of making of doing. It seems mindless work. But the process of doing is important. Like in life, we all just do. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do stuff. Not just think. Do.
The focus is shifting from lines to the white space that is left. At first, the even distribution was achieved by looking at the other lines. But now the even distribution is achieved by looking at the white space and drawing lines through the white space that is left. The drawing is shifting from lines, from black, to space, to white. This feels like a fundamental shift. It’s no longer about the the scars but about the shapes, the space that they create.
How much is 20.000? That is an abstract number. This question pops up. Before I started, I had no idea how much 20.000 is. I’m starting to feel how much that is now. About seven times as much as I did up until now.
The drawing gets so chaotic, so crowded that I need to cling onto the new idea of dividing the white spaces with the lines. I’m no longer looking at the circle but at the little white spaces to cut them up. The chaos makes it harder to draw but the cutting up of the white spaces gives me new energy, a new mental model. This is easy. Now it is easy to get back into a flow. The decision where to put the line and in what angle is easier now. So I draw more lines than my usual 500 a day. I no longer get distracted by the big picture. I no longer have the illusion of controlling the outcome and I surrender to just drawing lines.
I am working more in sections now. 50 lines in quadrants of the circle. Not moving around the whole circle like I started out. Working on details in sections of the circle. I only see the big picture when I step back after 50 lines.
If you draw one line a day, drawing 20.000 days takes more than 54 years.
Maybe the circle is a canvas of experiences, your life story, that is etched in lines.
Around 7000 lines, one third of the way, I just have to surrender to the process. The end is not in sight and the drawing doesn’t change that dramatically any more. I hardly see the lines I add. The productivity of the lines decrease because they run over each other. So a lot of the black a line could add just sits on black that is already there. It seems useless but I keep at it anyway. It’s such a powerful piece. The circle of life. It’s the world. It’s me. It’s the universe. So simple but so powerful. I wonder if Sol himself made this piece once. It’s brutal. To see it grow like this is to see life grow. The pain, the experiences, the scars, the events that shape life.
All contained in this body, this world. The outer line you cannot cross. Everything inside this circle. This feels so limiting. Everything has to happen in this circle. There must be things outside this circle, this body. The focus is so much on the space that is limited by the circle, the skin. It feels claustrofobic. I want to escape the circle, break the circle. There is nothing outside the circle. This seems weird. The circle is the body. The circle is the earth we inhabit. Anything that limits our thinking about who we are.
I want to stop. So many lines. The skin of the wall is getting so scarred, old, more black, where to put the lines? It’s already so full. It starts to look like the sky with the white space being the stars. When I look at the drawing, I see the little white spots that are left like stars in the sky. The drawing becomes the night sky with countless stars.
I start to see where I can put new lines. The drawing starts to open up again. It was closed yesterday and I couldn’t continue. I literally had to stop because I didn’t know how to continue. Now I see options again. The sun is shining outside today. The white spaces look bigger today. I can cross them with lines to fill them. And that is okay. More black is not a problem today.
It’s very physical. How many hours have I been drawing lines? I am getting to the half way point. I am actually looking forward to the journey down the hill. I now know how many 10.000 lines are. Another 10.000 and I am home.
Almost half way there. Finally I know how many 10.000 is. But it’s hard today. I can only get through it by focussing on each line as a separate piece. I have to let go the series of 50 lines. I have to draw line per line and focus on that. One step at a time. If I keep my mind on the end, on the goal, it’s too hard. Even focussing on the end of a session of 50 doesn’t work. I have to treat each line with respect and draw it as well as I can without thinking about how far I am or where I want to arrive.
Now the non straight lines start. That is a breath of fresh air. The non straight lines are freehand this more free more flowing, I can add more differentiation. It’s so nice to let the hand flow freely after 10.000 straight lines with a ruler. It’s a whole new way of being. Not so strict. Now I am just drawing the lines, not taking the white space into account. Just letting it flow.
There is a problem with the non straight lines. My wall is so uneven that I have to cover each line at least twice to make it all black. With the straight lines, this was easy because I had a ruler. Today I found my flow with the non straight lines. I am drawing c’s that are shorter. There is no indication how long the lines should be and maybe I have been making life to hard with the long hard lines of about 30 cm per line. I am switching to short c’s and life is much easier. Not that I mind effort but the c’s seem to work. Especially together with the long hard lines. And I can use the palm of my hand to go up and down along the same line to make them all black.
The curved lines feel like the female and the straight lines like the male and they come together in this piece. The second half of the non straight, female lines feel necessary.
Now it’s downhill. I’m starting to like the drawing again. The non straight lines, the c’s are getting smaller because the efficiency is getting lower and lower. The more lines that are on the wall, the smaller the contribution of the single line. Before, the filling of the circle, the diminishing of the space in the circle felt dark and clautrofobic but the filling up of the circle feels fine now. Before it felt like life was unfolding and the space to move was getting smaller and smaller somehow. But now it starts to feel like a life well spent. There is a new organization, a restfullness now somehow. The darker it gets, the better I start to feel.
The drawing feels finished. 20.000 felt like a random number but now that I drew 20.000 lines on my wall, it feels finished. When is an artwork finished? That is always a crucial question for an artist. Should I add one more thing? Should I eliminate one more thing? At some point, the artist determines that the work is finished at it goes into the world to live a life of its own.
It has been a healing experience in a way. Making the drawing has been an emotionally intense journey. Even at points, it has been physically difficult. 20.000 lines are a lot. But I kept at it. At times I felt like giving up. In less than a year, the drawing will be gone. The building is going to be renovated. This will all be for nothing. The drawing will be gone. But it will always exist. In me. This experience of making the drawing will stay with me. I am making this drawing in a monastery and this has been a monk’s work. I am doing so may things in my life of which I don’t know if they will result in anything. I just follow my passion regardless of the results. I have stamina, I have patience, I follow my heart regardless, I am willing to go far, 20.000 lines, that is what this process has taught me. Take things one step at a time, let go of the goal. Surrender to the process. Stop thinking, just do. Accept dark times, embrace the pain, celebrate the good ones, open up to the love. The circle of life.
I am planning to make two more Sol’s at least. Onto the next adventure...
Start: 25 september 2021, End: 7 november 2021, Markers used: 39
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