I've been building and priming canvases the past two days. Its a somewhat meditative activity. It requires me to pay attention just enough so that I stay focused on the future of these canvases. Making my own materials has been an interest since college when I learned about about the invention of paint tubes in the late 1800s. Paint tubes allowed artists to keep their paint for longer and simply buy more when they ran out. Previously artists would have to mix their own paint, have an apprentice do it or order it mixed from a specialty shop. While I appreciate the freedom and innovation of 20th century art movements I think there is also a hint of conspicuous consumption. My theory is that when artists have to spend more time preparing their materials they tend to treat their work more carefully. After stretching canvases, preparing panels, digging up minerals for pigment (tried that in college), mixing paint, or making a brush the artist would be foolish to waste those efforts on a flippant composition. I don't have time in my life to make every aspect of my materials, but the theory is that if I spend more time on prep the product will be more carefully considered. I just watched a video affirming this involvement in the whole process of a creative project by Yves Behar, founder of the Fuse Project design agency.
I went to a lecture by the late ceramic sculptor, Stephen DeStaebler. He talked about wedging clay. Before clay can be used for wheel work, hand-building, or sculpting it must be wedged. Wedging looks like kneading dough and it homogenizes the clay while removing air pockets that could result in breaks while firing. He said that there was a time that he could afford an assistant to wedge his clay for him, but he found he could not think clearly or work well. He went back to wedging his own clay.
My grandmother is a Japanese sumi-e artist. This means she paints on rice paper with black ink. She taught me the method in my high school years. Traditionally, sumi-e painters grind a compressed ink stick in a stone slab with water to produce the ink for each session. She told me that the time spent grinding the ink is important. It is the time the painter thinks about the painting he is about to make.