Friday 6/1: Looking at Basil (and why I will never be asked to plant-sit again)

On Friday morning, I sat and spent an hour looking at my basil plant without drawing a line. I’ve committed myself to easier tasks before—spending that much time sitting and focusing on one object is hard. Instead of thinking so much about how I should be documenting this, noticing that the table it’s on really should be cleaned, and wondering if the ringing iPhone I heard was my upstairs neighbor’s or mine in the other room, I had to focus on this plant and how it’s put together.

The many senses of the word “focus” occur to me here. It’s interesting to me that we use the same word for the center of one’s attention, the act of concentrating, and the act of seeing something clearly. Most of us almost never spend this much time looking at a single thing that isn’t a glowing rectangle of one sort or another. I see this plant every day, but I don’t think there’s any amount of money for which I could have told you how many stems it has before I spent some time looking at it and mulling it over. I like this plant, and I obviously think it’s visually interesting, but I know so little about how it looks.

For the first fifteen minutes, I decided to look at it without using the string or any other tools. When I’m paying attention to it—usually when I’m watering it—I tend to look at this plant from a high angle (excepting the times I’ve put it on high shelves). I rarely look at it when it’s sitting at about the same height as I am.

I thought about how this basil plant came to have such spindly stems at such interesting angles. Until it came here for plant sitting, the basil sat slightly below a series of windows that mimic a large bay window in my boyfriend’s house. It was rotated occasionally, but I think I could perfectly re-position it in its old place based on the angles of the stems: one still seems to be seeking the window to the right of it, while the others were more interested in the larger one that was located behind it. After I brought the basil plant here, I tried to vary its position relative to the sunlight, but keeping it away from my cat (who had decided that this plant having all its leaves was a threat to national security) became the higher priority. The basil lost a lot of leaves in its first few weeks here due to Zip’s love of plants that make him ill, being moved to positions that were away from both Zip and the sun, that week it went mostly unwatered while I was in San Francisco, and all of those times I made pasta sauce. All of these things really show in the angles of the stems and the positions of its missing (and crunchy) leaves.

In my defense, the fern I’m watching is doing much better.

After spending that time considering the plant, I began using the String Method to think about it more systematically. I was tempted to write down some of the relationships I’d found (the body of the pot is three times as tall as the lip of the pot! The whole pot is the same height as the tallest stem!), but then I realized that I was likely to adjust the position of my easel and the plant as I began drawing, and formalizing those relationships when they’re likely to change somewhat would be a bad idea. Still, breaking down the parts of the plant in my mind will help once I get further into drawing it.

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