If I could trap time in a bottle… well, in the form of this post, I think I just might.

At least, I hope to make you aware of what time does each and every time you begin to work on a creative project; it compresses.

I’ve known for a long, long time how what looks from the outset of a project like ample time almost invariably morphs; flips from a slow moving, light hearted comedy to a quick witted and wicked tragedy, as soon as you’ve agreed to fill the gallery’s open time slot six months out or have deposited that down payment. 

It’s like a perilous journey through the Fire Swamp; dangers lurk on every side, but especially deadly is the one directly below you, if you don’t get moving.

And it’s at this time, if you’re wired with as finely tuned of a schedule sense as I have, that you can clearly visualize Ian McKellen’s stern look and Gandalf-like voice admonishing you:

 “Run, you fool!”

When I ran away from the custom, client-driven, marketing-related work and into more self-directed art in 2012, I assumed that the days of watching the clock were over, and good riddance. From now on, I figured, I’d be sailing blissfully into the sunset, free of client-based deadlines, free to leisurely explore hitherto undiscovered lands in my art, free to take my own sweet time, sans the pressure to conform to schedules. Well, seven and a half years into my voyage, I’m writing a note in the form of this post, placing it in a bottle, and tossing it overboard. I’m hoping you find it, and that it assists you on your own creative journey. 

Oh, and I just wanted you to know I’m well, but as for finding that illusive, idyllic, tranquil, isle? I’m really beginning to wonder if it exists… 


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time…
I don’t know what Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote Macbeth. Must not have been under a deadline. The lines above convey a sentiment pretty much the opposite of what someone “under the gun” from a client would have felt. 

Seems I’ve made a return, of late, to the sort of projects I used to take on regularly, prior to returning to art; ones with specific, and nearly universally closer than hoped for, completion dates – what we in the film/video industry I used to work in would often call “drop dead dates”. I guess that’s because that’s what it looked like to my family after I returned home from installing a video stage set and dragging myself to bed. “Why do we have to be quiet, mommy? Are we in mourning?”  “No, I’ve told you, daddy’s fine. He’s just taking a nap in his room.”  “But mommy, daddy’s been sleeping for seven days…”

It wasn’t always easy to know, on a film or video project, what I should expect during the first moments of a call from a producer or a director. At the outset of such conversations, I’d be holding my breath and crossing my fingers. I found that a call from a producer typically meant the budget was at least large enough to pay for the full contingent of crew members, but not always. 

When the call came directly from the director, it typically meant that –

a) the budget was too small for a producer, so most likely the set budget was similarly meager, and, just as troubling, 

b) I was being informed at the last possible minute. It seems like there must be some unwritten rule that the set builder must be the last crew member to hire, when, from my perspective, I ought to have been the first. After all, I was working with physical materials, not celluloid or words on a screen. 

Then and now, both with my current studio build and an upcoming public art project, I’m working with suppliers who have their own schedules. Whoops! Should’ve ordered those trusses five weeks ago. With cut lists. Drying times. Holidays. Weather delays. There’s governmental red tape. The contract must be reviewed by dozens of eyes, it seems, before it can be signed off by the mayor, and even then, it’ll no doubt take days to make its way through the system until I receive a check. Etcetera. 

One thing that has hopefully changed due to a loosening of our money belt is that, way more often than I want to admit, if I wasn’t already busy, and at times, even if I was, I’d say yes to a project even if I knew the tight drop dead date would turn my world, and often my family’s, friends’, and anyone else I could grab off the street, upside down.

(Oftentimes, my portion of the project’s budget didn’t come close to compensating for the pressure-cooker like stress it put all of us through, but that’s a story for another day.)  

To the film and video world, the fact that I was freelance, non-unionized, a “can do” type, and surrounded by a nest full of wide mouthed baby birds perhaps helped to contribute to what I would perceive as their nonchalance when dialing me up at the eleventh hour and dangling a measly worm of a project in my direction. 

Hmm. That sounds a bit harsh. Truth be told, I was nearly always grateful to get such a call, no matter the size of the project or the tightness of the schedule. 

Be that as it may, the following dramatization portrays the outset of a fairly typical set building project, where I’ve just received a call from a director:


FOOL: “Hi, this is Andy”

DIRECTOR: “Hey, Andy, it’s Craig. How’s it goin’, buddy?”

FOOL: “Great, Craig!” 

Ad lib compulsory chit chat, followed by:
DIRECTOR: “Dude, I’ve got a project I wanted to talk to you about. Are you working on anything at the moment?” 

FOOL: It depends… No, I’m free.”

DIRECTOR: “Awesome! Hey, we need a futuristic set for an in-house video we’re producing,” interesting so far – for once, should be a decent budget, keep going… “and the shoot’s next Wednesday at LSI in Denver.” Yikes. Five days away. That’s tight. “I drew some stuff up a couple of weeks ago and was wondering if you could meet with me tomorrow to have a look.” Um, you’ve been sitting on this for weeks? Why weren’t we having this conversation then? “What I’m going for is sort of a, you know, a mix between the interior of that sub in the Matrix – you’ve seen the Matrix, right? and the office in the movie Brazil. You’ve seen Brazil? I mean the movie Brazil?” I have, yes, but I’m not sure about all of this. It sounds complicated. It sounds like I’d be crazy to say yes to this. And, unfortunately, Craig, buddy, it looks like I’ll have to pass. I really wish I’d gotten this call even a week ago, but the time frame’s just too tight. Really sorry, Craig. Hope this doesn’t put you in a pinch, dude.

FOOL: “Sure. Brazil’s great. Yeah, this all sounds totally do-able! Um, but how big does the set need to be, do you think?” Please, make it manageable, just this once – we don’t have much time. Please, please, please… “You know, the time frame’s kind of tig…” 

DIRECTOR: “Here’s the thing, buddy. We’re renting the biggest boom LSI’s got and the set will need to be big enough that we can swivel the camera 180 degrees without seeing the edges of the set. I’d like a lot of funky stuff on the walls – tubes and levers and dials and stuff. I don’t want this to look like a bunch of generic Hollywood flats…” Oh great. Just great. It’s my old nemesis, curves. This could really get my blood pumping. You know, Craig, every time you call me like this, for some strange reason, that scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 10 Commandments flashes before my eyes. You know, the one where the Egyptian Pharoah tells his Hebrew slaves they have to make the same quota of bricks, only they have to gather their own straw from now on? Guess which part yul play? Sorry, but forget it. I’m out of here. You can find someone else to build your monument. Bye, buddy.

FOOL: “Sounds perfect! Um… how’s the budget?”

DIRECTOR: “Pretty tight, but I know you’ll manage!” Sigh. When will I ever hear the words, “Sky’s the limit”? And when am I going to start adhering to the project management triangle – the one with the three constraints of ample scope, ample time and ample budget? The one where you’re supposed to tell the client that he can pick any two, but that all three are out of the question?

FOOL: “Ok, I understand. No problem. This all sounds great, Craig. Appreciate the call.”

DIRECTOR: “Sweet, dude! I knew I could count on you, man! See you tomorrow at 10:30 at the production office, then?”

FOOL: Craig, why not make it now? It may be late in the day but I, for one, won’t be sleeping tonight, so I might as well get a bit of a head start on the project. Goodbye Craig. Goodbye sleep. Goodbye weekend plans. Goodbye family. “Sure – see you then!”

DIRECTOR: “Oh, and Andy, I almost forgot to mention – will you be needing any money up front? Because if you do, I’ll have to rob Peter to pay Paul. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to pay you in one lump sum within the month, though. You cool with that? Great! Catch you on the flip side…”
Time Compresses is the title I’ve given this post. It didn’t take too many projects like the fictitious one just described before I coined the adage time compresses when you’re in a creative project that speaks to the tendency for the time you think you have for a project, an installation, a deinstallation, or heck, any time you’re really in the zone creatively, to shrink, and shrink markedly. To wit, in my zeal to recreate the conversation above, time’s gotten away from me and I haven’t even begun to unpack anything I’ve learned about the slippery nature of time. Make that the Slinky-ness of time. As in,
Time’s like a Slinky you’ve stretched out wide. Let go of it with one hand to sign that project’s contract and watch it suddenly, and powerfully, do the same – contract.


It’s 1:55 am. Yesterday, October 12, 2019, while I was volunteering my time, operating a skid steer to assist the masons I’ve hired to build my new art studio’s stem wall as well as to backfill and grade the dirt prior to pouring the studio’s floor, my adage, time compresses… was top of mind. My mind, anyhow.

I’ve a tight schedule to keep on the studio build. I’d made the concrete company aware of it, and asked them to give me a realistic timeline for their portion of the project. It conformed, just barely. 

Just as importantly as the schedule is the budget. I didn’t want to pay for another day of renting the machine, as well as two tampers, to the tune of nearly $500 per day, if I didn’t need to.

But there they were – two rented tampers, sitting unused for hours, which should have been compressing soil all morning in preparation for the flatwork. Twice via text, and once in person, I’d gotten the assurance – don’t worry, we’ll be finished with the backfilling and grading by 4 pm, the end of the 24 hour rental period. Note the text times below:

They’d shown up for a few hours on Friday afternoon, however, much of that time was spent trying to safely extract the skid steer from its precariously tilted position, inches from falling into the trench and damaging the stem wall, not to mention possibly causing operator injury. (From then on, I did most of the skid steer operating).

It wasn’t until after noon yesterday that they rolled in to assist me. I don’t want to steer you wrong; masons work hard, and I’ve no doubt that they play hard – it looked like they’d had a hard day’s night, anyway. 

Even with a lot of assistance from yours truly, the deadline came and went, as did, shortly afterward, my half-day’s worth of help. I continued to operate the skid steer until the moon was just beginning to peek over the trees.

And the point is, I knew it all along. Despite the fact that concrete construction isn’t my bailiwick, it was quite obvious to me that there was no way the guys were going to be able to backfill and grade in time on their own. That’s why I was out there, literally pitching in.

How can it be, I kept wondering, that they couldn’t see things as clearly as I could? At least, momentarily, each time I’d stop to wipe the dust and sweat from my sunglasses. 

I’ll be back at it today, and I’d better be joined much earlier than I was yesterday. The extra day’s equipment rental charge? That’ll be on the concrete company. 

Despite my frustration at the lack of diligence, I must admit I like these guys. They’re interesting character studies. Well into their retirement years, they’re still hefting concrete blocks, chiseling cultured stone, and screeding flatwork, one, with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, the other, with long, flowing, white hair and not a few missing teeth. I don’t think they’d mind me saying it; they’re a bit rough around the edges, a bit uncouth, a bit grumpy at times, and I’m sure they’re toning it down for the customer. But I like them, and anyway, I don’t think they’ll be reading this post. 

I imagine they’ll probably be leaving the bar where they’d been sharing old war stories right about now.