flow state

February 2018

When the music stops playing and you're still painting two hours later, thats when I know I'm in it. I'm making work that is not only coming from inside but also responding to itself along the way. I used to have this as a teenager, hours upon hours spent in my Dad's art room with a friend and we'd have to remind each other to eat or go to the bathroom or to go home. This was my first encounter with this idea of flow state and feeling one hundred percent present in what I was doing. Flow state, for me, is this heightened area of perception when all you see is what is in front of you and you're scrabbling around for the right colour in a rush to make sure you make the mark as quickly as you are thinking it. Flow state for me usually comes when engaged in a specific or minute process in my work, however more importantly this starts to leak into all I turn my hand to within this state. My paintings are pre-planned because of the complicated layering of different paint recipes, however the actual physical act of the painting is often very quick and is over in a blink of an eye. Therefore this particular flow state is often very fleeting but it is there nonetheless and it often takes me time to wake up out of it, conversations after are often rather stilted as my head is still whirring around in that present place of painting; thinking about brush marks and pushes or pulls of paint. More resoundingly I find this flow state when I draw or collage. I have a bank of colours, images and shapes in front of me or in my head and its the idea of pulling everything in from the corners or my peripheral into something tangible and comprehensive in front of me in a neat rectangle. This process of pulling in, is a state of clarity for me, working with experiences that imprint lines and shapes and colours in my head and then processesing this out with my hand is unbelievable. It's not about regurgitation, its about the idea of finding a current that can flow from head to hand and then outwards into something physical. 

Finding flow state is not like easily slipping into a warm pool it's more like stumbling into a puddle and then getting pulled in whether you like it or not. Once you're in there it's very easy to feel that pull of abandonment and, I find fully involving myself in what I'm doing is a very liberating process for someone who is usually incredibly organised. However, sustaining flow state is something I am currently learning. Flow state for me often feels quite fragile, I often hear myself saying to friends 'oh no I'm not going to do that today, I'm not in the right frame of mind and I don't want to mess it up'. When I grasp this elusive floating flow state I feel like sometimes I am so focused on the fact it could go any minute that I worry myself out of it. However recently this flow state has started bleeding out and I have managed to retain it for a number of weeks. It started with collages and drawings. A collection of lines and colour that were rolling around in my head, fed from photos, collages, words or artists. This started tumbling out into collections of small scale drawings and I felt this kind of grounding pressure that maybe this was going to last a while this time. 


Sustaining flow state, I have learnt, is not only about what happens inside the studio. Going home and keeping in that state is hard, especially with modern day technology where everything is instant gratification. Switching on Friends is as easy and lifting your hand. Keeping in this frame of mind so that the next day flow state easily slips on like an old cardigan, is effected by what I do when I come home from studio. What if, we as creatives realise what we eat, we reap. What we nourish ourselves with is what will flourish out of us. If we constantly are in this stop-start state of living as creatives no wonder feeling 'arty' feels forced or like a chore because we are constantly having to re-arrange our heads into a specific way of thinking. But what if being creative was actually more accessible than we thought? What if at home we pick up our colouring pencils instead of our phones? What if we read instead of scrolled? What if we walked instead of watching TV? What if, what if, what if. I feel like 'What if' is considered an empty status more for bullying people into thinking that they are boring or lack courage. But what if 'What if' actually was a hand reaching out with hope? Instead of condemnation, what if we cultivated creativity in all its forms. 


Fortunately because of the nature of where I am at within my degree, there isn't much time for stuff outside of studio or art. This has meant that my evenings are spent practising colour combinaitons, planning paintings, watching documentaries, scrolling through Pinterest, reading and looking at 'stuff'. By the time I come back into studio the next morning I feel like its a natural progression to keep going, keep flowing, keep finding the current and just jump back in. I have been fortunate that I am actually studying a degree which has made me realise that creativity isn't something that you're either born with or you're not, but is actually something you can cultivate, learn and coax into formation. Flow state can be sustained and the work which is currently coming out of it, for me, is the most natural, exciting, raw, and authentic body of paintings, drawings and photo collages I have ever produced. I am beginning to navigate the stepping stones which lead to my process of art making, rather than believing in this 'moment of inspiration', I am leaning into figuring it out and learning how to deepen and lengthen this process. Following the trail of what stimulates or inspires me helps me to avoid the hindrances that drag at my practice and life. It feels natural because it is, it is what comes out if I engage with my 'What if'.

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© 2019 Holly Nicholls