Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The tortoise speeds up

Followers of this blog will know that the slowness of my making practice is a key meaning of my work. Slowness means intentionality and slowness sets my art apart from slick and machine made things.

And yet, slowness is a rod for my own back. To put it bluntly, the price of savouring slowness is a limit on the quantity of pieces I can complete. The growing backlog of projects I want to work on stretches out for years. Slowness limits my opportunities to collaborate, to pursue commissions, to exhibit more and even to sell my work because there just isn't very much of it being produced. It makes it difficult to price my work appropriately and so what does sell pays only a couple of dollars per hour.

But deliberate slowness has been a protective mechanism. Psychologically, if not physically, I am still recovering from the six years when my dexterity and creativity was severely compromised by OOS, even though the symptoms have been minimal to non-existent for at least eight years.

I always worry that I'll 'get in trouble' for spending so much time on handcrafts, that my body will betray me again and I will find myself once more helpless, dependent and frustrated at my inability to express myself. So a commitment to slowness helps ensure that I pay attention to my body, keep it relaxed as I work, take time to stretch and alternate stitching with other activities, and balance work with rest and play.

In this context, my decision in mid-March to finish No Mine is an Island in time for a 4 May deadline felt dangerous and scary. I had been meandering along with the island at my usual relaxed pace for a month or so when the deadline was announced. Suddenly I was forced to assess how much was left to do and decide whether to try finish the piece in time, or just to give up on it for that purpose.

I estimated 36 days in which I could do substantial work, and at least 38 days of work required. Yikes! But, I really wanted the island to meet the deadline and there must be a margin of error for my rough estimation. So if I put aside all my other stitching projects (iceberg and ice floes) not to mention most other non-stitching, non-survival, activities and nothing went wrong, I might just make the deadline.

Immediately I put the island project into high gear, and everything else out of my mind. But for most of those six weeks I wasn't confident that I would succeed. The deadline was inflexible, my commitment to making high-quality handcrafted art could not be compromised and so the speed of my making had to change but without risking my health and ongoing capacity to work.

At about two weeks out from the deadline I started to feel confident I would make it, and in fact I had a couple of days to spare at the end as well as some relaxed social time-out in the last week. But for most of those 36 days I wasn't sure either about making the deadline or maintaining my body's health. The fact that I managed both, and that the piece is as strong and beautiful as I hoped, taught me a lot.

I learned that processed foods are not always the work of the devil, and that I can live with more mess and dirt that I thought. I learned I can satisfy my need to read without stopping my stitching, and the loudspeaker is my favourite function on my phone. I remembered that I can push myself through boredom and tiredness to keep working. I found out that I can replace some of my sleeping hours with minutes of hard exercise, for a similarly refreshing result. I learned I can trust myself to work hard and fast. I can trust myself to look after my health. And in the past few days I've learned to reward myself for hard work with extended joyful celebrations with friends.

Finally, as I return to the big iceberg and ice floe projects I put aside to pursue the island and its deadline, I realise that I have new, more efficient, work habits that mean everything I make can be produced more quickly now. As long as my preferred medium is hand-embroidery and needle felted blankets I'll always be one of the slowest artists on the block, but now I'm a little faster than I used to be.


Anonymous said...

So it was worth every stitch then!
I love what art gives back so thank you for sharing your treasure ;-)

Bronwyn Lloyd said...

Slow and steady wins the race - isn't that the moral of The Hare and the Tortoise? I think more of us need to take a leaf out of your 'slow-crafting' book.
True - this approach may not make you financially rich, but look at the other rewards it brings.
What a great post Meliors. Thanks. It was just what I needed to read today.