Susannah Paterson Painter, Ceramacist & Therapist

March 2020

OMG! Its been a while

Its quite a while since I my last blog. In that time we have moved house to a divine spot on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I am fortunate to have a much larger studio with space for both painting and pottery now, and I am in the process of turning it into a working gallery which will be open to visitors.

I’ve been interested to see how my new environment permeates my artwork. My previous studio was lovely but small, and we lived in a very built up busy area. I began to feel oppressed and depressed by the level of building, noise, dust, rubbish, angry people looking for car parking, I can see now (oh 20/20 hindsight) that some of my work was a little dark. No wonder it didn’t sell - nobody wants a depressing painting on their wall (LOL). I feel more liberated now, and ready to ramp up to a new level. My aim is to take another leap towards excellence and to do that, I need to confront a “demon on the road” : the part of me that wants to rush and do everything all at once.

My late father was always in a hurry. Whenever I spent any time with him, he would regularly chide “hurry up” “get on with it” regardless of what we were doing at the time. There was an atmosphere of anxiety about “not enough time” around. After he died, I found some letters he had written to me when I was a child at boarding school, and when I first came to Australia. I was both sad and amused to see that every one was signed “in haste, love Dad”. Now I would like to ask him, what was your constant haste? I wonder if he missed out on important stuff because he was always in such a hurry? The point though, that he transmitted this skin of haste to me, and it’s time to shed it.

Thirty years as a therapist has trained me to look deeply at the way we (I) do things and beliefs behind them. I’ve noticed the artistic creative process reveals the same struggles we have in other parts of our lives. Hence it really pays to be curious about your habits in the studio. One of those for me is the pressure I apply to myself to do everything quickly. This is anchored in my deeper fear that there is just not enough time to do everything I want to do. - a belief I took on from my father and compounded by the rigid boarding school schedule which engendered a terror of being late. It plays out now as I paint, the temptation being to rush to finish the work, sometimes skipping important steps or not spending enough time in contemplation about the next move. Impulsion and spontaneity can add a lot of energy to a painting but there can also be mishaps and missteps because of it.

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that the other driver of rushing is the pressure of social media and algorithms that reward those who post most rather than the quality. This is reflected in much of the work that you see selling online. Mostly decorative, and produced fairly quickly, I am not alone in finding it similar to the synthesised drum beat so common in many pop song "hits". Totally banal, and depressingly popular.

One of the best anti-rush teachers is clay. It just hates to be hurried. A mindless moment on the wheel will bugger up an otherwise beautiful rim, or more. Failure to compress the clay properly leads to cracks, and an attitude of “near enough is good enough” when kneading or centring on the wheel quickly teaches that clay is utterly intolerant of short cuts. Things must be correct at each stage. Decorating and glazing in a hurry has ruined many an otherwise great piece. Clay only responds well with mindful, methodical, steady application at each stage. It is these lessons I am now consciously transferring to the canvas.. You may see less work from me as I go forward, but what I produce will have taken much longer, with more attention to detail.

In a timely coincident, today I was listening to the latest Tim Ferris podcast #408 The Random Show. He and Kevin Rose discuss a whole host of good stuff, including the pressure to rush things. They refer to this Buddhist practice of acceptance. We must accept that we will never do everything, and that most of us will leave this planet with plenty of paintings and creations still inside us. Acceptance of this fact allows us to slow down and take much more time to prepare and create new work. What is the hurry after all? Better to make two or three beautiful pieces than ten sloppy ones.

Feel free to comment or share what you have learned about yourself through your art making, and what you are still working on - Im always interested to hear.