Artists often talk about a term called “flow,” which is when you become so engrossed in the task at hand, you lose all sense of time, the outside world falls away and you’re floating along on your own little planet.
For me, the feeling of flow is one of the biggest thrills of making art, where all of the decisions are right ones and things come together effortlessly.
Over the past few weeks as I’ve unpacked from my recent move, I’ve seen the effects of being hooked on the feeling of flow. Here’s a symptom: these are bookmarks I’ve made by combining handmade paper with all kinds of ephemera, everything from old stamps and postcards to my own drawings and photos to yesterday’s junk mail.
Oh, isn’t that nice, you say. A bunch of bookmarks. No, I REALLY like the feeling of flow. There’s something about the combination of color, image, texture and text that clicks in my brain.
And that’s just the tip of the bookmark iceberg. I love the zone that I find when I work with paper.
The term “flow” was invented by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmaihalyi in the 1980s. He describes the mental state of flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Like I said, flow feels great!
After I made enough bookmarks to sink a ship, I graduated to pencil cups. These are tin cans that have been covered with papers. Once again, couldn’t stop.
A few tips from Mr. C. on some of the components you might find when you’re in a state of flow:
• Clear goals that are challenging yet attainable
• Strong concentration and focus
• The activity is intrinsically rewarding
• Feelings of serenity and a lack of self-consciousness
• Timelessness: an altered state of time; feeling so focused on the present that you lose track of time
• Immediate feedback
• A balance between skill level and the task at hand
• Feelings of control over the challenge and the result
• Lack of awareness of physical needs
• Complete focus on the activity alone
If you’d like to explore Csikszentmaihalyi’s fascinating books on flow and creativity, here’s his Amazon page.
On the days I’m looking for something other than paper, well, there’s always rocks.
The best thing about flow? You can find it everywhere, from cooking to making music to reading to running: whatever engages your senses so deeply that you are utterly in the moment. The tricky part? Finding focus in our distraction-filled world. Get away from your electronics, let go of anxiety and sink into it. Flow feels so good that you’ll want to find it over and over again.
What about you? Where do you find it?