As a perpetual student of life and art, one of my absolute favorite things to do is witness other painters when they’re in their flow.
I’ve now seen many masters at their craft, but most recently, I saw a demo by Sara Linda Poly, the night before her fantastic workshop at this year’s Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival.
Despite her mastery, her complexity, and her skill, the thing that struck me most about her process during the demo was also the most simple: She took it slow.
From prepping her canvas to mentally measuring the light and setting her mindset to taking the first stroke, she approached everything with a certain sense that I, at first, couldn’t put my finger on.
It was presence.
At her easel, she was fully present. There was no sense of urgency, no hurried strain. She emanated calm. It’s something that’s stuck with me since.
Slowing down doesn’t come naturally for me. With light and shadows moving so quickly and so much beauty to capture whether painting en plein air or in the studio, I often feel that urgent pull in my chest to make my magic happen.
Yet here was Sara, not just in her demo, but in her workshop, encouraging us to slow down. Even though we only had two hours to paint. Even though we only had one day with her. Even though we were attempting to learn and accomplish so much.
Isn’t that always the case, though? In life, as in art, isn’t there always more to do, more to learn, more to accomplish?
Our lives will continually move ever faster and our to-do lists will grow eternally longer, which makes it more and more important to do what Sara demonstrated that day: To slow down. To focus on the present. To concentrate on the essentials of now.
This lesson came back to me when I saw the above clock at a restorative yoga class recently. I caught myself thinking about the next thing -- what was to come after class; what was waiting for me at home; what I hadn’t gotten done earlier. I refocused. I stayed present. It was a breath of fresh air; a sigh of relief.
For me, embracing the essentials of now means being fully aware of where I am in each moment -- appreciating the smells, the sounds, the scenes, the people around me. It means focused attention. It means taking the time to get into my state of flow, knowing that while there’s always more, it’s the now that matters most.
Still, slowness doesn’t come naturally to me. Presence is a perpetual practice, that will never be perfect. But it’s worth putting the work in for, don’t you agree?