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No Time for the Thinker

I had a conversation with a local artist recently.

Her name is Jan and she is a wonderful human being.

During the course of our conversation, Jan told me about an event that she attends on a weekly basis.

This post is about what we can all learn from that event.

More specifically, what we can learn from its structure.

The Event

The event takes place in a large room and lasts for two hours.

At the centre of the room, there are two models—human beings who pose to be sketched or painted.

The rest of the room is filled with 30 or more artists and their tools.

At this point in my description of the event, you could make the very safe assumption of thinking that this is it.

Over two hours, 30 or more artists, sketch or paint one or two models.

Practically, that is what happens, but I think the magic lies in the way that it happens.

Jan told me that the event has a very particular structure.

Over the course of two hours, each model holds a particular pose for a particular period of time.

Here's how it goes:

The first hour

  1. Hold 10 different poses for 30 seconds each

  2. Hold 10 different poses for one minute each

  3. Hold five different poses for five minutes each

  4. Hold two different poses for 10 minutes each

The second hour

  1. Hold two different poses for 30 minutes each

So over two hours, here's what happens:

  • Each model has held 29 poses.

  • Each artist has created 29 drafts—or more.

The Lesson

Let's compare something for a minute.

Imagine that the event had a completely different structure.

Suppose it was still two hours, and instead of posing 29 ways, each model posed just one way for the entire two hours.

Let's call the structure where the models pose 29 ways, the multi-pose structure and let's call the other one the single-pose structure.

Some obvious differences between single-pose structure and multi-pose structure:

  • The artists might end up with a lower volume of drafts in single-pose

  • The artists have a greater opportunity for refinement in single-pose

  • Multi-pose might feel faster, even though two hours is still two hours

  • I'm guessing that multi-pose might feel more comfortable for the models—just because they get to move around more

Another obvious difference, and the one that contains the key lesson in my opinion:

  • The multi-pose structure offers you less time to think. At least initially. In this structure, you're forced—at least initially—to just do.

There's no time for the thinker.

The Application

If you're feeling stuck and you want to create some motion, consider the following exercise:

Set yourself up with a time constraint (or multiple time constraints), and measure success by the quantity of work you can produce within that constraint.

For example:

You're staring at a mountain of unfolded laundry in a basket.

Set a timer for five minutes and see how much of it you can fold.

Don't sort, just fold. Sorting is thinking, folding is doing.

Just do. Don't think.


The height of cultivation means to move from being the experiencer to being the experience itself. When you are the experience itself, there is no time to assess - there is only the experience, and it is what it is and we are it. This is being whole. This is oneness. This is true flow.

Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee

yellow background with 29 multi-coloured dots on it

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