Julie Kraulis’ timepiece drawings are an ode to detail
By Tobias van Schneider
I first discovered Julie Kraulis' work at the A. Lange & Söhne boutique in New York. It was astounding.
It's something you appreciate in layers: First, you register the fact that it's a pencil drawing, not a rendering or photograph. Then, if you're a watch nerd like me, you hone in on the gears and inner workings, the mysterious details of the machine. Then you see the shading, the incredible detail where Julie captured a nick in the metal, the shadow on a dial, the slightest wear on the wristband. You consider the scale of the thing, at least three feet in height, and eventually, you find you've been standing there studying the piece for 10 minutes. At least that was my experience.
After talking with Julie about her work here, I have a whole other level of appreciation for it.
From your previous interviews, I already know where your fascination with watches came from. What I’m curious about is how it’s held your focus so sharply.
Are you a person who typically gets fixated on one thing and wants to master it, or are you always experimenting with different subjects, mediums and interests? What are some other subjects that have captured your interest over the years?
I stumbled into watches serendipitously but I feel like it was fated, in a sense. There is so much I’m drawn to; abstractly with the concept of time and our relationship to it, as well as the concrete aspects of design. A few years back, I had wanted to focus on a collection of work that would engage both my head and heart. Something to keep me curious and interested in the intellectual realm, and something to capture me on the soul level. The art of watchmaking does both.
I’ve always loved design and I’m intrigued by what makes something timeless in any form of it. I’m fascinated by objects and spaces designed decades ago that achieve cult status, continuing to capture and enthrall a following. There are principles of design and then there’s the layer of mystery as to what makes something tick. This is what keeps my focus.
I am definitely someone who focuses deeply on something, working to understand and glean as much as I can. And then, eventually, I’ll get this feeling to pivot and move on to something else. At any given time, I always have side projects on the go – a variety of creative outlets and interests separate from my ‘day work.’ I have this compulsion to always be making things and I’ve got a list of creative skills I’d like to learn, including printmaking and textiles at some point.
I feel I’ve just scraped the surface with the timepiece collection. It’s the first subject I’ve explored this deeply and I’ve got a bunch of big dreams within it to keep me inspired and hustling.
"Possibility makes me tick; I love the challenge of figuring out something I’ve not yet done."
I know you like to work in the history and story of the watch into your drawings. How much creative freedom do you typically have in doing that for commissioned pieces? Do you often brainstorm with clients or do they trust you to run with it?
I look to weave in history and narrative elements within each piece I create and I work closely with clients to find these unique notes to emphasize. In the preliminary stages, I glean as much as I can about a timepiece through research and conversation. I let it all roll around and eventually, all of these details will distill into ideas.
Most of the time, the client is completely open to what I come up with and after proposing a few different design approaches, we’ll refine the selected one together. Up to this point, most have desired a fairly straightforward capture of the timepiece, but I’ve got plans for pieces with a deconstructed, conceptual approach.
I’ve seen artists recently who do technical drawings, either with watches, sneakers or other objects. Yet your work is unique because you add your own artistic twist to these paintings that, as far as I can tell, increase the difficulty 100x fold.
While others might just try to draw a perfectly realistic and technical drawing, you go one step further and do things like the overlapping effect on the Dategraph. In the end, we’re seeing the timepiece in a completely new perspective, one we would never get from a purely technical/photorealistic drawing.
Is this something that just comes naturally to you? I’m curious how you go about marrying the unique visuals with the watch itself.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted to go beyond just a hyper-realistic approach. I wanted to capture these iconic timepieces with a different perspective, adding layers to create a bespoke piece. These added elements make the work unique and visually interesting.
I think it comes naturally but not necessarily easily! Picasso’s sentiment resonates: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Possibility makes me tick; I love the challenge of figuring out something I’ve not yet done. For each piece, I usually have a clear image in mind and then work to figure out how to translate it on the page.
You’ll often see natural elements in my drawings. Textures in the natural world have always captivated me and it’s been a super fun challenge learning out how to draw them when they suit the context of certain timepieces, like water for the Rolex Submariner or meteorite for the GMT Master II.
"We live the ever-present dance between hope and doubt. The questioning of the work is an invaluable part of creating, I think."
I saw your work many times on Instagram before, but then one day I spotted your Datograph piece hanging on the wall at A. Lange & Söhne in New York. My friend and I kept admiring one particular part that probably only watch nerds like ourselves would obsess over – it was the pure dark grey shade of the dial itself.
While some may think this is the easiest part of the drawing, I have a feeling you can tell us the exact opposite.
Exactly right. There is a magic to graphite in real life. It’s a very lively medium – there is a shimmer and a depth. I love the idea of using one of the humblest tools around to push its boundaries and find luxury in huge, intricate work. There is also a special metamorphosis that takes place as the wood is shaved off layer by layer, transforming the tool in hand into something on a page.
As is often the case, simple is the most difficult. Pure, even planes of graphite can be the most challenging element of any drawing. Gradients on a bezel or bracelet, as well. I have to move around the piece in all different types of light to refine these areas.
Each piece you create takes hundreds of hours of work – you’ve studied the mechanics of timepieces as much as a horologist. Do you feel like you understand the inner workings in a mechanical way, beyond an artistic standpoint?
The timepiece drawings take anywhere from 250-450 hours, depending on the level of difficulty and intricacy. Over the last year, I’ve started drawing movements but I don’t have a grasp on the mechanical engineering bit just yet. I plan to take the Horological Society of New York watchmaking course to better understand a movement and what makes a watch tick. The next phase of this collection will have a conceptual focus based on the inner workings, and this is an essential course I have to take to really explore these ideas.
I had the great pleasure of visiting the A. Lange & Söhne HQ in Dresden last year. While I was touring all of the labs and workshops, I was spellbound at the watchmakers’ benches. These tiny intricately crafted pieces lay still and inanimate and by an order of expert assembly, they come alive and there’s a heartbeat. Just amazing, undeniable soul.
I know for many designers, if they’re looking at their own work for that long, hit a point where they question everything and suddenly want to destroy it and start over, or move on to something else entirely.
Does that ever happen to you? What do you do to keep your mind fresh and see an extremely long & detailed project through to the end?
OH, yes. This is the natural state of being for anyone in a creative field! We live the ever-present dance between hope and doubt. The questioning of the work is an invaluable part of creating, I think. It’s also necessary to find moments to see the work through fresh eyes; whether stepping away, putting it aside or seeking feedback from trusted voices. Sometimes it’s just necessary to destroy the work and begin again.
The timeline for each timepiece drawing is long and intense but because of this, I focus on small areas at a time and build slowly. There are many days where I find myself in a meditative, flow state focusing on texture and form. I almost always lack confidence in a piece until about three-quarters of the way. At that point, things start to come together.
I read you don’t own a watch yourself yet and you’re constantly discovering new ones to love.
Two questions here: 1. What classic timepiece is most your style right now? 2. What would be your ideal watch, if you could dream/draw one up and have it created by the masters?
I know, it’s crazy. I’ve never worn a watch but after spending a decent chunk of time with them, I’ve now got a bunch on my list. I have a special affinity for vintage timepieces; they have stories to tell and secrets to keep. It took me a while to settle on and find my first one: A pink gold Lange 1. I was living in Portugal earlier this year and on the day I was supposed to fly to Germany to pick it up, I had to fly home to Toronto instead due to the upheaval of the coronavirus. So, it’s currently spending life quarantined in Dresden for the next little while…
I couldn’t say what my ideal watch would be. I think that’s the beauty of collecting, to have watches that suit all sorts of moods and occasions. I can say it’d be a dream to create something with Lange, F.P. Journe and Voutilainen, to name a few.
Some favorites across the spectrum: Rolex GMT-Master II 1675 tropical dial, Omega Speedmaster Alaska Project, Lange Zeitwerk, Journe Chronometre à Resonance, Heuer Skipper, Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso.