Slow Making

Work in Progress Stories Told by Water: McKenzie, charcoal, pastel, gouache, mica on paper, 30 x 22.5 in., 2021, Leah Wilson

I wanted to make something fast.

I see other artists producing so much work in such a short period of time. I want to do that too. Drawing, I thought, would be fast. How great it would be if I could have 30 new drawings in a month!

Beetle Drawing 2 - Leah Wilson
Beetle Drawing II, gouache on paper, 30 x 22.5 in., 2013, Leah Wilson – This was a relatively very fast drawing – one of the rare and few.


But the truth is, I’m slow. I am very slow. It took me an entire day just to find my way into this drawing (Stories Told by Water). Even after I had carefully laid out the initial composition, I still couldn’t find an entrance. Nothing led anywhere and I kept getting lost, making marks, erasing marks, poking around in the dark to feel for an opening. I finally found my way in somewhere in the center.

Sky Water 1-Detail water 1, Leah Wilson
Detail – Sky/Water 1 (Water 1), oil on wood panel, 25 x 12.5 in, 2013, Leah Wilson

Rhythm & Relationships

I knew I was in the drawing at last when the marks started pointing to the next one, the mark in the future connected to the mark in the past. Marks accumulated and started to build form where before, form disintegrated. As marks and lines coalesced, rhythm emerged. Relationships were forming and I recognized where they were leading. I didn’t want to go that way. I fought it, frustrated, and I tried to will it differently. Not only was the structure that the marks were establishing not fast, it was slow. Very slow.

Listening to the Forest; Panel 2 of 16, Red Alder Mid Bole (Leaf Wetness); Acrylic, Bio-Based Resin & Birch; 62 x 46 in.; Leah Wilson
Listening to the Forest (Panel 2 of 16: red alder mid bole, leaf wetness), acrylic & bio-based resin on birch, 62 x 46 in, 2020, Leah Wilson


But I was curious to see where the drawing was leading. I didn’t know what would finally emerge. To find out, there was not much to be done but to surrender to the process. Curiosity is one of the reasons I keep making things that I do. I may start with a set of expectations, but the art is always on its own agenda. It doesn’t care what I want and it usually doesn’t tell me the whole story about what it wants when I enter an agreement with it to make it. Instead it discloses its agenda slowly. It needs to make sure that I am up to the task before it lets me in on its plan, and then it still only trickles it out slowly.

Beetle Drawing underpainting

Consider a Tree IV, paper, 8 x 8 in., 2019,  Leah Wilson

I Want to Be in a Band

Honestly, I wouldn’t be satisfied any other way. Sure, I envy artists who can work fast and sometimes I want to be an artist like that. But I often also think that I also want to be in a band. (I don’t actually want to be in a band.) The energy of music seems fun, the antithesis to sitting quietly, making very slow art, hardly moving for hours.

Constructing Water - Leah Wilson
Constructing Water, Hand Cut Dura-Lar, LED Lights, 48 x 67 in., Leah Wilson – This one was very very very slow. It took me two years to hand cut the layers.

Slow Down

When I set my work aside for the day to look at it, it looks like I have done nothing at all. It’s like being stuck in Becket’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’. As time marches on, like the nightly progression of the earth’s shadow on the moon, I can see that I have in fact done something. The marks now have spread, touching almost every part of the paper’s surface. Time emerges on paper. Past mark making rushes forward and is experienced simultaneously, in the present. The marks hold a history of forming relationships and dialogues with each other, and with me and all of the moods and thoughts I bring into the studio. Fast art doesn’t have as much of that embedded within it. It has the knowledge of past mark making with other artwork, but the textured history of the current relationships is largely not present in fast art. Slow art to make often creates slow art to experience. Slow art is an invitation to take a moment of contemplation and stillness, both for me and for you. If the invitation is accepted, how sweet and novel the experience is, a contrast to most of daily living. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down and look. Slow down and savor. Slow down and experience all that there is right here, right now.

Recompose @ Joan Truckenbrod Gallery - Leah Wilson

Recompose, gouache on hand cut watercolor paper, 2016, Leah Wilson – This one was also very slow to make, as it is also hand cut. But the fungus that inspired the composition was much slower with its growth on the log.


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