I love working at my desk creating, experimenting, drawing, thinking and imagining. In fact I love this so much that I want it to be my job. And with that one little world comes a whole area I struggle with – growing and building a business. I have overcome the shyness of sharing my work, I have conquered the guilt of wanting to make art all day and I have accepted that if I want to do this as a living then sometimes I will have to sell stuff to people. But the one think that always challenges me is time, and without a doubt the thing I struggle with the most is how slowly I work.
I make detailed, intricate images, mostly with a scalpel, sometimes with a fine tipped pen or tiny paintbrush. They take me ages. I also have toddler and a part time job that I fit my work around, and I realised last year that staying up till 3am to make art and then waking up at 6.30am to play is most certainly not a sustainable way to run a business. I get distracted by washing up, or tidying, or other household tasks. It takes me a long time to get into a piece of work, and often I’ll only have a few hours when I feel like I’m really in the flow of things before its time to collect my daughter, make dinner, or go to bed. Sometimes I am just too tired. And of course, I am in no way alone in this. There are few artists in this world who are responsibility free and can spend all day working on their art. We are all juggling many things at once.
But perhaps the most important thing to me is this: as much as it frustrates me when I look at my portfolio and see how little I seem to have accomplished this last 6 months, and as impatient I get that my business is taking such tiny steps forward, the truth is when I’m actually making things…I love going slowly.
However, in the digital age nothing seems to go slowly anymore. I think its brilliant how the internet and social media offers us so many opportunities for inspiration and connection. But sometimes it makes me feel pressured too – like I’m working too slowly, my business isn’t growing quick enough, and I can’t put something new and amazing on instagram everyday (often because the only creative moment I had that day was taking a quick photo of a flower on the way to the shops). So here is a little contemplation on working slowly.
An act of reflection
When my work is going well, the only word I can find to describe it is the very trendy ‘flow’. My hand works on the piece, but my mind wanders back and forth from the page to thinking about a conversation or remembering a song. If I could explain this process, I would say its like my brain is reflecting on thoughts I have had recently and filing them away somewhere sensible, putting them where they need to be so they don’t get stuck in the wrong place and cause trouble. When its going well it can give such a calm sense of wellbeing and its something that is very special to me. However when I am rushed or interrupted I feel frustrated, I make mistakes and I don’t enjoy the experience. I am now trying to remind myself that its far better to work when it feels right, then to try to grab and hour and leave my studio feeling frustrated and like I’ve failed.
Doing things really well
I am a bit of a perfectionist. I love to do things well, to get something difficult right, or to make something as good as I can make it. That kind of challenge feeds me in a way that other challenges don’t (for example I completely fall apart in competitive situations). Taking my time to do something well is a slow process for me. Some days I would love to be able to take on a ‘hundred day challenge’ or make a drawing a day. But I know that I am not capable of producing work at that speed that I am really happy with. I have a great deal of respect for artists who can, but I’m trying to be ok with the fact that it’s just not my style.
The evolution of ideas
I have times when I feel like I have 100 ideas and only time to bring one to fruition. It can feel overwhelming how many ideas will never be realised, and how long it take just to make a single image happen. But recently I have been seeing that the constant generation of ideas that will never happen is a part of the creative process. It’s the selection of these ideas that is important. They don’t all need to be made, or some might come to life a few years down the line in a different form. If I could snap my fingers and conjure every idea I have into a physical form, I think I would miss the value in the selection process. Because it’s in that relationship between creative inspiration and considered selection that the real magic happens for me.
The feeling of finally achieving it
I have noticed that when I work on a larger or more challenging piece, the feeling of completing it is pretty amazing. I can get excited about fresh ideas on a sketchbook page, or mastering a new technique too. But its such a moment of accomplishment to step back and look at something that I have been working on bit by bit for some time. I’m sure artists who work more quickly also feel this about completing a body of work or a project as well. For me personally it feels like a payoff for all the hours of hard work, and it encourages me to start making the outlines of a new and more complex image.
Making something that is true to me
As I have said above, this post is in no way intended to criticise those who work quickly, or who are able to dedicate more time to their practice and produce work at a greater speed. I love that my instagram and Facebook feeds are full of beautiful artwork every day made by these people. It’s just not something I can achieve myself. Sometimes I consider changing my style completely so I can do, and I have spent years fighting against how ‘tight’ and ‘controlled’ and (on really negative days) ‘lifeless’ my work is. But whenever I try to do this it never lasts. I add too many lines, or I get caught up in the detail of a pattern. Because it isn’t true to who I am and I always end up drifting back to the things that really interest me. So I will just have to accept that is who I am as an artist, be a bit more patient, and embrace all the positive things I get from working slowly. Even if that means my instagram feed is full of photos of flowers.
So I want to end this by wishing good luck other frustrated slow workers – we’ll get there one day! I’m going to try and remember to enjoy the journey.