Following The Flow


“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it”
– Pablo Picasso

Making art, whether it be through painting, writing, dance….any form of creative expression, requires a certain freedom and willingness to stay open, to engage what comes and trust the process. Following the flow.

In the early stages of creating it is not a good time to engage our thinking minds…there will be plenty of time for that later. But, what we do want while we are creating is to be as limitless as possible…allowing ourselves to play, experiment and discover. The only real requirement is to show up and be willing to follow.

I know this and yet I continually need to reinstate this into my painting practice because I easily slip back into fearful, analytical thinking much too soon.

So here are some guidelines I developed for myself that help me to stay present and open to flow in my own work. I also find they are great reminders that stave off the anxiety and fear that can arise while working…..perhaps they’ll be helpful for you as well.

RISK EVERYTHING – In order to get results we must be willing and unafraid to fail – Big Time!

RE-FRAME FAILURE – It means you are pushing and challenging yourself. The work will strengthen as a result. Acceptance of the inevitability of failure is necessary for growth and by re-framing it we can learn, instead of feeling defeated.

LISTEN – For the next impulse, the surprising idea, the part of you that knows you can. Pay more attention to that. Refrain from listening to the inner critic that wants to shut you down.

KILL THE KITTY (PRECIOUSNESS) – Everything must be sacrificed in art for the betterment of the work. Even if you love it beyond measure – let it go if it needs to. Practice outrageous detachment!

LET IT SHOW – The work benefits from the changes, the corrections and the covering up. Let what lies underneath – even the mistakes – show through. This builds history, adds depth, richness and narrative to the work.

STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST – As Austin Kleon states in his wonderful little book of the same name, what you respond to in the work of others tells you so much about what wants to live in your own work. Don’t copy, but allow for the influence. It will be yours simply through the act of transmutation – coming through you.

DO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT – If you’re blocked and unable to move anywhere in your work, do work in another medium. Prime the pump of your creative juices by taking away the need to make “your” work.

MORE IS MORE – Having multiple pieces on the go at one time allows you to keep moving in the work. If you get stuck on one piece don’t stranglehold it into submission, that energy will show in the work. Step away and work on another. It will likely reveal to you what you need to know to move forward in the piece you left.

RELEASE TENSION – Play with your creativity in ways that are fun. Don’t “make” anything….just move, scribble, scream, stamp, cut up, glue down, write poetry, interview yourself.

REMIND YOURSELF THAT EVERYTHING CHANGES – And this will too. Tomorrow could bring the best work of your life. Don’t allow yourself to feel defeated by one bad day of your creative work.

TRUST – The process, the signposts, the yearnings, the nonsensical, the intuition, the wild idea, the page. Use everything as opportunity for your growth.

SHOW UP – Be a place for greatness and inspiration to show up. Being in your studio working regularly allows for the work to come through. Don’t wait for the next idea or inspiration to arrive, but rather be working on something when it does.

THE ACT OF WORKING BRINGS IDEAS – One thing leads to another. Just start. Anywhere. With anything. It gets things flowing. Turn off your thoughts as much as possible…there will be plenty of time for thinking later. Know that there is a time to be in the automatic, responsive, right brain and then a time to look, analyze, decide…being in your left brain. You want to quiet the critical brain while you create your art.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Recognize yourself for every effort towards supporting your art, your work, your creativity. In today’s information-heavy world, anytime we spend in creative play and work is an accomplishment. Acknowledge yourself often!!

What strategies and guidelines do you use to keep yourself present in your work, quieting fear and staying open? I would love to hear about them in the comments. Thanks for sharing!