Sunday, March 8, 2009

The state of flow

When I try to explain to my students about the state of
flow, I say, "think of a time in your life when you are
completely and ecstatically in the moment, and are
not thinking about anything else." As many of them are
in their late teens and early twenties, this concept makes
them giggle and nudge one another. Then I ask
if they're thinking about a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich -- in itself risky because some students'
peanut allergies mean that they could never
eat that snack at school -- and they answer "NO!" almost
in unison. Then everyone laughs and looks at me like
I'm from another planet. "Well whatever you're thinking about
when you're in that state, you are experiencing flow."
For a student getting into a state of work flow when studying
will mean an easy ability to absorb information.

What changed? I bumped up the yellow
behind her head, painted the top of the chair
pale turquoise, then changed my mind. It is beige now, but
needs to get lighter and may become a very pale peach.
I blocked in her top, drawing it with charcoal first.
The ear is almost finished and I made the eyes
slightly smaller. I worked on the peau de
soie throw behind her shoulders. I changed
the shape of her hair. This is the third
time I've reworked this painting, and each
time she posed for me her hair was
different, so I opted for the original style.
I think that's all for tonight.
Blessings to Tia, a wonderful model.

I joined a discussion about painting online the other
day about talent and inspiration. It's my belief that
when we're painting, whether the results are good
or bad, we are in a state of flow. I don't know if
inspiration has anything to do with that state -- other
than it starts the fire, puts the key in the engine. But
even the most expensive car needs a driver, and to
drive it well that driver better be in a state of flow. I've
driven with people who actually drive second by second
as tense as wound up springs. Believe me that makes
for a jerky ride --plus they don't see what's up ahead. Flow?
The opposite is a 911 call. I think it's the same with creativity,
although of course you can't prescribe a mood or mental
state that works for everyone.

Tonight I did a little more work on my big painting. I'm
working on colour mainly, and what changes I want to
make. I will change almost everything before I'm through,
including her face, but for now... I hope you've been
in a state of flow, one way or the other throughout the

Have a perfectly smooth and graceful day.


Anonymous said...

it's looking great already, lovely lovely energy to your work! r.

Barbara M. said...

Hi Rahina,

Thanks very much. I'm glad you like
my painting.

Take care,


Melinda said...

How timely, Barbara. You explain "flow" so well. Visiting your blog is like taking a mental vitamin.

And, the painting is simply stunning. You are developing it with such well balanced contrast and color. Quite masterful.

I can tell that I'm into a "flow" state of mind when I forget about time, aches and pains and, even words--cannot speak. Ahh. There's the right brain moment accompanied by a bit of euphoria, yes?!

Barbara M. said...

Hi Melinda,

You got me. Yep, the euphoria is what I was driving at. Thanks for
the comments on the work. Tonight I was trying to give everyone a break with a simple little painting, and the thing's driving me crazy!1! Need some flow, or Flo -- come over and do it for me. Nope? Okay.

You are funny.


eldon warren said...

Hi Barbara, Work work and rework until it works right? I once worked on a painting for 4 years. A 30x40. My friend got it for next to nothing but it "worked". This one works too. I like it already. I've no doubt you'll finish this just the way you want to.

Barbara M. said...

Wow Eldon!

It sounds like the Cistine Chapel.
Must be an amazing painting. Yes what matters is that you think it works, and it isn't out there embarrassing you.

Take care,


Edgar said...

Barbara— This one is really relaxed and clear. The warm highlights on her skin unite her beautifully with the rest of the palette. I love what you're doing here!

I'm not sure I got flow going this weekend, but I'm so happy to have had paint on my brush, I just had a feeling of satisfaction... and the painting suddenly went from 60% done to almost finished. But ADHD me, I watched "Blazing Saddles" and "Undercover Brother" while I worked... I needed a laugh, these are tough times.

Barbara M. said...

Hi Edgar,

I seem to need a laugh full time.
I'm glad you had paint on your brush.
I've never watched TV while I painted, though I have touched up work during commercial breaks on Jon Stewart and Colbert. But I like listening to books on CD to anchor me in the studio. I have the ADHD problem for sure. Glad you like what I'm doing, can't wait to see your painting.

Take care,


Liza Hirst said...

Hi Barbara,

This is coming along really well!
It looks great already. Liked what you wrote about "the state of flow". How right you are again!

julie davis said...

I love the "mental vitamin" comment about your site--so true! I haven't any art background, and have painted only for a bit, so ideas like "flow" in the painting context are something I'm experiencing, but had no label for! I totally get it, and now it has a name. Thank you, Barbara!

Laurel Daniel said...

This one is really emerging and looking good. And the "flow" - we all know it when it happens (or maybe afterward.)

Barbara M. said...

Hi Liza,

Thanks. I'm glad you like what I'm doing. I always think your work looks like you were in the ideal mood when you painted, and I don't know how you do that every day. It's awesome, as the kids would say.


Barbara M. said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for the compliment. I think your work is wonderful. Super.
Glad you enjoyed my blog.

Take care,


Barbara M. said...

Hi Laurel,

It's true. We do all know it when it happens, (or maybe after). That made me laugh.


Portrait Artist

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I paint and draw on commission and for shows. To commission a portrait, or purchase one of my paintings please contact me at:
A major highlight in my career? Drawing Oprah Winfrey live via Skype for her show "Where in the Skype are you? Galleries: Studio Vogue Gallery, Toronto, Canada. The Amsterdam Whitney Gallery, New York City. Gallery at the Porch Door, Kingston, Canada. Your positive comments on this blog mean the world to me. I'd love to hear from you!