In the last week, I found myself doing some illustrations for a scientific journal article for my dear father. The outcomes could have been way clearer, however, they were done over a very short period of time and under some pressure from competing work. It was fun in parts, what with trying to understand what was needed, and not really paying sufficient attention to his detailed explanations with enough care. Fair to say though, once the anxiety of the exact content was overcome, it was slow meditative work, and one that I know I enjoy doing. And then, as I do, I began to ponder on the emotional well-being rewards of slow, detailed work, once again. I recall a time when I worked on a range of detailed illustrations for the New Shoots event for the Melbourne Writer’s festival. I remember it as being especially joyful, settling and restorative, despite the long hours of painstaking work. As was the time doing the illustrations for Angela Clarke’s Silkworm and other illustration works—both those done by hand, or executed digitally. In a sense, this “labour of love” is often essential to the project. I found myself spending hours and hours late into the night creating an ever-expanding library of illustrations, that could themselves grow the scope of the project—or reflexively extend it. Deep within me, I realise this was in part guided by the need to acknowledge the shared value for poetry, which is often an economically/monetarily challenged activity with the client. So investing excessive time and energy into the illustration was an acknowledgment of the profound and much-needed aesthetic value of poetry itself. Through every submission in the project, I realise that my contribution was one of time, detail, elaboration, and extension, mediated by the emotional framework that each of these activities triggers. In return, the response of “love” and “delight” was critical to my evaluation of its success, even if the artifacts themselves were not as fulfilling as might have been, had I been allowed to develop a more modernist, minimalist, abstract take on it.
Immersion and investment of labour and doing, are a critical element of creative practice—enacting a kind of ‘sustained engrossment’. The temporal-sensory element of “sustained engrossment” suggests pertinent ideas regarding the state of conscious commitment to work and is true of all such forms of work. Beginning in my mind as a consequence of a vague observation, and refined somewhat in conversation, this theme provokes a discourse around the inner mental architecture of a practitioner and its impact on the condition of being within practice. The image of Vermeer’s Lace Maker is an evocative metaphor for this form of design practice. Scharmer’s and Kaufer’s seductive and wholesome Theory U with its generous integrated thinking, offers models in which this sustained engrossment finds resonance in our essential ways of being, and Sontag’s moral imperative to pay attention offers a contemplation on the ethical dimensions of both what is sustained, and of engrossment.