productivity and ‘fallow’ time

It’s been a pretty hectic few months for me – travel, a move, getting re-settled in our home and the rhythms of life out west, an exhibition, then another exhibition, the always-happening paperwork of exhibition proposals … and all the “backstory” work that goes into all those things.

And now things slow down a bit … there’s still work to be done – plenty of it – but there’s no pressing deadlines, no little voice in the back of my head saying “No way you’re going to be done by the deadline, you know. What were you thinking??” (I was thinking that time was more fluid than it really was – but I did get it all done, in the end)


And now? A ‘fallow’ time.

A time to reflect and read and do some research, to think, to play a bit, to try things that have been on the ‘when I have time’ list, to anticipate new beginnings and new work … and time no NOT feel guilty for slowing down, just a little, for just a while. A reference to the land, to farming and growing and being able to sustain new growth by allowing for a break of sorts – makes sense, in this Prairie-bred brain of mine.

That’s the tough part, though. Really tough. I think I had those work ethic lessons drummed into my head too much when I was very young to ever feel completely comfortable working at less than “full-on-all-the-time” speed. Feel guilty for taking an hour to write and think over a coffee, just for myself.

But I shouldn’t – because this is not wasted time, or even down-time, not at all. It is ‘fallow’ time, and I have been reminding myself of that … and then a very talented friend of mine reminded me too, in a way that somehow made far better sense to me than what I was framing in my own mind as  lame ‘rationalizations’ for taking the breathing space I know is needed in order to make solid work.


Katie Belcher is a terrifically talented Halifax artist, curator, and arts administrator that I have had the privilege of getting to know in the last few years. I find her drawings beautiful and inspiring, and I find her thoughtful commentary on the way we as artists understand notions of work and our practice really valuable.

Katie notes that many of the mentors she’s had over the years have stressed the need to “get in your studio every day,” but that this charge has failed her – provided a source of stress and guilt in relation to the work of cultivating a studio practice. Rather than give up on the idea altogether, though, Katie has chosen to re-frame her practice and what goes into it – quite elegantly, I might add. She says:

Get in your studio every day
Be in your studio every day
Be in your practice every day

The shift is telling. It allows for room, of all kinds, and eliminates the pattern of thinking that says ‘Whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough’ – or not the right kind of doing.  Yes, it seems silly when I read it on the page too, but it is a real stumbling point.

Katie goes on to mention other advice she’s received that pointed to how this re-framing can be made real, allowed it to ‘stick’ as a way of seeing her practice as an artist. For me, some of the most salient observations were:

practice versus Practice
Give yourself credit and space
This is all part of your practice, and it is all filtered through you
Your various work (artist, writer, curator) isn’t separate, and the hierarchy is limiting
Creative energy takes many forms
There is no such thing as art
We produce work in certain circumstances
How we move through the world informs our practices

Any one of these could be the basis for a book length dissertation on the nature of artistic work, the shape of a living practice, of course. But taken in sum, they offer a generosity which in itself is fertile space for creativity to be nurtured. The recognition and anticipation of looking at the ‘fallow’ time and wondering (positively) what will come of it.


Not a bad way to look at things at all, really. and one that fits with the first, slow, tentative signs outside my window that Spring might – some day – arrive.

4 thoughts on “productivity and ‘fallow’ time

  1. I love the idea of fallow time, and Katie’s re-framing of the concept of art practice. It all makes perfect sense. Enjoy your time to breathe and be, and enjoy the budding of spring time.

  2. yes, yes and yes! I love Katie’s way of turning the studio on its head and allowing the artist to be an artist wherever they may stand. I understand your way of being/ feeling here Sydney ( not the first time we have been simpatico) as do most other artists I know… we seem to be plagued with a ‘not worthy’ syndrome as soon as we stop moving. Your fallow time has for me been termed gestation, and yes, wonderful productive times are ahead with spring. enjoy your breathing room, it is so well earned. Hugs to you, Sk

    • Thanks Sharon – and many hugs back! I do think there’s a false division between ‘studio’ and ‘life’too – although there are times when the former is a great respite form the latter, to be sure. We’re still working when we’re not there – or more correctly, it’s better to say we carry our practice with us, turtle-like, no matter where we are.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.