In this there is no measuring with time. A year doesn’t matter; ten years are nothing. To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might not follow. It will come regardless. But it comes only to those who live as though eternity stretches before them, carefree, silent, and endless. I learn it daily, learn it with many pains, for which I am grateful. Patience is all!
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Thirty-three years ago, after I had spent a year at the dining room table with instructional manuals, paper, pens, and ink, I would have said I knew a lot about patience. As the years went on, I realized how much more there was, and still is, to learn. The patience of the moment, what you need to form a letter or make a brushstroke or play a note, lengthens to the patience of an hour, and then a day, a year, and then, ten, twenty, thirty. I have come to see that it is only by stepping outside of the counting of time that work truly grows.
My most significant collection of work has been the Spirit Books which are handmade books of textured papers with twigs, beads, stitched spi- rals, and pinpricked designs that rest in cradles of branches and roots. I made the first one in 1992. The seeds of the work were sown four years earlier after a massive pruning around our house which yielded huge piles of lilac, grape vines, roses, and honeysuckle. Some of the pieces were interesting and sculptural but most were just sticks and vines. As I cut them to make them more manageable, I felt that they were filled with life and brought as many as I could into the studio.
In the intervening years, I experimented with the twigs and branches—binding them into bundles and placing them in boxes. While they enabled me to express my reverence for the natural world, they weren’t works of art. And then, one fall day, I made a book of natural papers that rested in a cradle of grape vines. Although I had been working with book arts for several years, I never thought to connect the two. Artists, scientists, everyone, has these “aha!” experiences. An idea or a problem has been percolating for a long time. Seemingly out of nowhere comes that mysterious, mystical moment when something outside, or deep within ourselves, takes over and something new is created.
The greatest gift we can give ourselves as artists is the gift of time: time to gather—to walk and read and think and see, time to play—to doodle and dabble and try new materials and mediums, time to work, and time to reflect—to let work sit and sink in so we can come back to it with fresh eyes.
We need to acknowledge that no time spent in creative activity is ever wasted. Sometimes we see it in specific ways. Bits and pieces of the past have a way of creeping into the work of the present. What was left behind as a tangent can become the basis of new work five years later. Sometimes the value is purely in the time spent with intention. Every time we become deeply immersed in our work, we break through the barrier of time into a sacred space where we lose ourselves in the creative process and gain strength, resilience, and patience.
Note: Blog post has been excerpted from Susan's book, Art Lessons: Reflections from An Artist's Life. You can learn more about Susan's work at blog.susangaylord.com