The pleasures of slow

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of slow recently. Painting is a slow process. 

Time can seem to race by, it can seem to drag by, it can be frustrating waiting for something to happen but rather than feeling that frustration, I am starting to think that we should embrace the waiting.

As an artist, I am always waiting for paint to dry. I was talking about this the other day with a friend of mine, how when we are planning a painting, with a deadline, we have to build in ‘drying time’. What do you do during the drying times? I often fill those times with other activities such as work or reading. But I also think. 

This week, I have been fortunate enough to have the time to spend every day in the studio. It isn’t often I can be here every day of the week. My children aren’t with me this week so I have had the time. In fact, I have had no restrictions at all on my time. It is mine, and mine alone, to fill.

As it is summer, the studio is relatively quiet. There are no undergraduate students around. Many of the MA students are working at home, working to earn money, or on holiday. In fact, for most of the week it has been just me and the occasional visit from the technician doing his health and safety rounds and one of the tutors who is painting in the same studio space as me. This solitude has afforded me a lot of thinking time.

The aforementioned tutor and I have discussed ‘slow’ this week since we are both feeling the force of it at the moment. He has been thinking a lot about the concept too, he told me. His paintings take a long time to develop and mature. They are made up of many rich layers of paint and tend to centre on a rare and luscious shade of orange. I have been quite fascinated watching him work on them. He only spends about thirty minutes at a time in the studio adding a new layer, then he has to wait a day, then he’s back to add another layer, then he has to wait a day. In between layers, he can think about his paintings (as well as do tutor-type stuff in the office).

To make slowly, to observe slowly, to think slowly

Slowness can be both positive and negative. In many ways, it helps the mind clear and gives the intellect room to find clarity and perspective on the many thoughts and issues churning around the head. If you are a painter, it helps you think about the painting you are working on. That is a good thing. But the brain doesn’t just think about art, even my brain. As someone who is prone to catastrophising, I need time to think to slow my thoughts down and this week has done that.

In a negative way, even during a period of slow, thinking can lead the mind down an existential path which isn’t terribly constructive. I have tried to avoid my mind going down that path this week. Interestingly, it has only done that not when I’m in the studio in the silence and solitude but when I’m surrounded by people in a shop or whilst driving home.

The positive side of this week is that I have filled the time well and filled it with much productivity. By the week’s end, I will have completed the first layer of paint on four ‘paintings’ (now time to wait for paint to dry), I will have copy edited most of a PhD thesis about the NHS (thereby earning money to pay for the coffees consumed in the studio) and I will have come to a few conclusions in my head about various issues demanding attention in my head.

So praise be for slow. Sometimes it is good to be slow and to just flow with time rather than fight it all the time. Next week, my children are back with me, I can’t wait, and we will no doubt be fighting time again. I don’t mind, I have had this week and I will have next. They are different and that is the flow of life.

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