When I was a kid, I spent weekend afternoons coloring on my friend’s front porch. Propped on our elbows, she and I would pass a smooth shoebox, filled to the brim with differently-sized broken Crayon bits, back and forth while drawing to our heart’s content on the concrete floor. It was pure bliss to me. I loved that tangy wax crayon smell and how the texture of the concrete came through the crisp white computer paper her mom gave us. I remember just losing myself, being completely in the present. This was my first experience in a flow state.
As I see it, a flow state is the process of heightening curiosity. It’s a place where knowledge is expressed and created, not simply recalled and regurgitated. Being in a flow state feels like a current. There’s a sense of abandonment that allows my mind to wander freely. And it’s so vital to making art that I push myself to find sources--magazine articles, songs, the sounds of nature--that stimulate curiosity.
But as much as I’d like to say that entering a flow state is as easy as opening a box of crayons, it’s not. The instinctive drive towards creating seems to change when we become adults—even for artists. There are hindrances that distract and bog us down. Information consumption, just the sheer amount that’s available, can lead me down unending rabbit holes of information overload. Feeling distracted by the business side of my art practice occupies brain space, along with the deeper pangs of perfectionism that freeze creative flows. Although I try to disconnect from these stumbling blocks, they’re still there.
Overcoming these hindrances means being mindful of them. I started questioning what would happen if we picked up crayons instead of our phones? Or listened to music instead of watching TV? Maybe we’d become bored, or discouraged, maybe overwhelmed by the sheer volume of interesting materials and experiences. But if we began making small choices to stimulate our creative minds, maybe we’d free ourselves.
Now, I’ve simplified the process of finding a flow state. I’ve realized that following what sparks my curiosity takes me to higher places. Often, I crave combinations of sounds, visuals, and words to encourage me to work and think differently, to break a formula and challenge methods. And I let any ideas and feelings ruminate in my head before making marks on the canvas. Subconsciously working out details means that paintings stand unfinished until the pieces in my head click. And, this means dissecting the assumptions about the value we place on physical versus mental exertion. I frequently catch myself thinking that if I’m not painting or “working” then I’m not being productive. This couldn’t be farther from reality.
But as much as I’ve figured out, there’s always more to learn--especially with the help of community. That’s why I’ve extended this essay into two parts. The second will take you on a journey through a flow state that I’ve experienced, in hopes of sparking conversations and sharing processes. I’m also hoping by revisiting this experience I can create auspicious circumstances for another creative burst.
The second essay will be shared this Wednesday January 12th. In the mean time, I'd love to hear your experiences with finding the right flow.
Written by Heather Day. Edited and Polished by Kate Holthouser.