Learning any new skill is a daunting challenge.Whether it’s tennis, knitting or drawing, it can be hard to find that perfect balance of progress vs. frustration.
Tons of people approach new skills, projects, knowledge, etc. with enthusiasm and excitement. They want to learn everything there is to know.
Then they discover that there’s a lot more to the skill than they expected. Too much to learn, to much to do, too much…pain. A challenge that they can’t overcome becomes the death of their passion.
Fortunately, you can leverage a state of mind known as Flow (yes, capitalized) to make the process as painless as possible when learning something new.
And art has been a catalyst for flow experiences since the dawn of man. If cave paintings were just for communication, it seems like writing would have been faster to come about.
No, these prehistoric artists were honing skills and getting lost in their work. It wasn’t just about the symbols, it was about the story and the challenge of telling it.
What is Flow?
Flow…is that feeling you enjoy when you lose yourself in something you love to do and forget what time is. The video game industry has capitalized on this by engineering Flow.
Create challenges for players, slowly increase the challenges over time, add some rewards to the process, then drop in some repetitive, non-distracting music and voila, people play for hours and don’t even realize that time has passed.
The trick, then, is to engineer flow when you’re learning a new skill. And art is the perfect skill to create flow.
Side note: According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research, presented in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, people are most happy when in flow states, or at least the most content with their lives.
In order to tap into flow for art, you need to create an environment that lets you challenge yourself, just not too much.
You want to stay in the “Flow Channel” illustrated below. Basically, tackling challenges that match your skill level as an artist.
Start simple, with lines, boxes, circles, and other basic shapes. Then slowly add more challenging elements to your skillset, like forms and shading, visual measuring, perspective, anatomy, color.
Now keep going. Art is definitely one of those skills you can get lost in (in a good way) once you conquer a new challenge.
The Flow Process
Here’s a more detailed look at creating flow for your work…
- Pick a challenge that you can overcome based on your skillset. If you’re a beginner, go for getting control of your linework and basic shapes first.
- Make sure you’re in a place where you can concentrate. If you have a home office, lock yourself in. Put on some music (I prefer instrumental music, vocals distract me) and get to work.
- Set a clear goal for yourself. “I want to draw at least 2 passable circles in the next 10 minutes.”
- Give yourself feedback. Narrate to yourself as you work “This circle is a bit too lop-sided, I need to draw more from the shoulder, I’m pushing too hard on the paper, that one looks great!”
- If you lose track of time, ride the wave. You’re likely overcoming a challenge that is entertaining enough to keep going, so don’t cut it short unless you have to.
One additional thought, here – in the beginning, if you feel resistance, stop working.
You want to create a habit out of drawing, not think of it as a chore. “Pushing through” in the beginning is going to tarnish the enjoyment you could eventually find in practicing art.
If you start to feel resistance when you set a goal to draw for 20 minutes, try only drawing for 15. Focus on creating the habit first, then work on increasing the difficulty and duration later.
A Quick Re-Cap to Conquer Your Artistic Challenges
Find a way to create flow when learning how to draw. DrawCore videos are great for this, with small, manageable projects to work on and challenge yourself with.
Go to a place or create a place where it’s easy to concentrate. Set clear goals for your art. Give yourself constant feedback, and ride the wave if you lose track of time.
Once you discover how to get into this state you’ll learn to appreciate the process enough to keep going, giving yourself a creative outlet and building a skill that will be invaluable in time.
I hope you’ll take this advice and run with it. Let me know if you’ve discovered any other activities that have generated a similar experience. I’d love to hear how you achieved it.