Time it is the most expensive luxury—the greatest gift—often referred to but rarely appreciated. I can fill it, spend it, waste it, lose it, but I can never get it back. I’m not even sure I can always remember it. Indeed, I often forget it an entirely detrimental way. When I have “lost track of time” it all too often means I have wasted precious opportunities. For some I know, losing track of time may mean a wonderful moment of engagement or joy. For me, this kind of moment is more rare and most special; a point when I can empty my mind of the myriad distractions and concentrate only on what I am doing. Talking to the cashier at the grocery store, driving my car, answering a question at work, or optimally, in the studio: I can be fully in time.
I wish I could say it was easy for me to be in time, but it is far easier to be out of it, distracted, unfocused. However, with the passing of time I have discovered some ways to help shake my mind and body free from distraction. Perhaps pointedly, these actions and activities require dedicated effort and time. They all have one thing in common, the effect of getting me out of the internal focus I am often locked in, and into an open awareness. I first fully recognized this effect after I began studying Tai Chi. I often practice at home, and was aware that my practice there was never as satisfying, and often was rushed as my mind was still replaying events of the day or things yet to be accomplished. But when practicing with a class twice a week, the silent focus of the other students and the need to adjust my flow and speed to that of the group, has the effect of bringing my focus completely onto the movement of the group. I leave class invigorated with a happy flush. If I miss a class, my immediate coworkers are quick to comment and encourage to go next time, because I’m in such a good mood when I return.
As I thought about the effect and after effects of each class, I realized that I had experienced this to some degree long ago when learning to ride horses. If you stay in your own mind, there is no way to ride comfortably or enjoyably. You absolutely need to open your focus or, as one riding instructor told me, “soften your eyes” so that you are aware of your horse’s movements as well as what is happening around you, and to “look in the direction you want to go.” Indeed, if you are following a trail or jumping a course without looking in the direction you need to go, you may be unhappily surprised to find your horse suddenly heading in whatever direction you happened to be looking. This may be because the horse is naturally focused in time, which includes you and your intention.
The third thing that I now realize helps to break me out of my mind trap began when I was in college learning how to draw the figure. I found that to be able to draw the figure well, I needed to let go my internal dialog and just focus on the impression of the figure as a whole at the moment. Focusing on one aspect such as the head or hands too intently inevitably created a disproportionate drawing, but emptying my mind and looking at the whole could allow my hand and eye to work together in a way I hadn’t experienced prior.
I rarely have an opportunity to the draw the figure these days, but I do try to apply the same approach to my time in my studio. Over many years I have struggled with balancing work, family, and studio time, and I now am working to make studio time more prominent than before. In a larger sense, it would be wonderful to be in the moment at all times, but I am happy when I achieve it in my art, at work as a librarian, or at any point. There are definitely moments in the studio when time is distilled and the work flows almost magically. Of course there are other times when a painting isn’t going well or I’m distracted. It is too easy for me to take time away from the studio, when I’m tired from work, or have errands to run, or simply feel the desire to mindlessly binge watch a favorite show. But I realize if I can just start a painting, just sketch a new composition, just do—than I have the potential once again to be in the moment, maybe even a magical moment.
This past spring, having been away from the studio for a few weeks, I found myself with a free Sunday. While I could have put my attention to a number of other tasks or activities, I decided I should at least try to use the luxury of a whole day to paint. Not feeling inspired and with no compositions in mind, I decided it might be helpful to just put some pigment on a spare board—a doodle, if you will. Within a short period, on an admittedly small board, I produced one my favorite paintings, Spring Genesis. It was exhibited at the Encaustic Art Institute’s juried show “Make Your Mark,” this fall in Santa Fe.
I divide my studio time between working with encaustic, primarily in the better weather when I can open my windows for better ventilation, and in the winter I focus on oils. Painting with encaustic really does equate with a kind of alchemy for me. I may have some idea of what I want to achieve but I can never be sure of how I will get there or exactly what I will find. The way the medium behaves, I find it is best to start with a color I want explore or a feeling I want evoke. Then, as I work with the paint often an image or a feeling will begin to form, sometimes surprising me. My winter explorations in oils have been moving beyond a fascination with the sky, and onto an exploration of those in between times just before dawn or dusk when the sky is illuminated in the most beautiful colors while the land is still shaded and dark. Perhaps because of the shorter days, I find that dawn and dusk seem to stand out more in the winter. One oil painting I completed last winter [Gloucester Dawn, oil on canvas, 16”x20”] has been selected for inclusion in the New London Center for the Arts Regional Juried Show in New Hampshire this winter, and will be on display November 4 2016 – January 28 2017.
I’m beginning to transition my studio from encaustics to oils and find myself looking forward to winter, usually not my favorite time of the year. Yet, now I know that in the studio I can focus on the stark beauty of those particular moments of time at dawn and at dusk and at least for a while, be in time.