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!

12 Comments On: Following The Flow
  • Marion Nelson Commented On May 26, 2015

    Right where I am, battling myself over space and white space vs the rest of it.

    • cheryltaves Commented On May 26, 2015

      Good luck with the battle, Marion…isn’t it nice to know that we’re often in the same space with it all. Helps somehow….
      Thank you for your comment!

  • Dawn Pearcey Commented On May 26, 2015

    This is great Cheryl! I’m actively trying to “kill the kitty” (love that) these days by reviewing old work I’ve hung onto as if the doing of it meant worthy of keeping and honouring, no matter how unlikeable. Now I practice tough love – I’m not discarding the concept and/or technique, but rather stealing from myself and reframing, as you say, in a way that fits who I am now. It feels so freeing to move beyond precious thinking, but to also acknowledge former ideas through erasure marks, torn bits, ‘ghost paintings’, reworded text, etc. And in the doing, new thoughts start rolling. Thank you – I love your painting up top!

    • cheryltaves Commented On May 26, 2015

      Hi Dawn,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic…I love your idea of practicing “tough love” and stealing from yourself. You’re right, there is value in returning to our origins and reinventing those aspects in a more relevant way.

      I love this as a strategy for finding a way in to working again after an absence, or when there is uncertainty in a future direction. Great stuff!

  • Bruce Dayman Commented On May 27, 2015

    Some great advice Cheryl. Trusting the process is an area where I am challenged. It takes discipline to put yourself into it no matter what. 90% perspiration/10% inspiration! I think I’m getting better at it and I’m always impressed by the results. Thanks!

    • cheryltaves Commented On May 27, 2015

      Thanks, Bruce…..yes, discipline is so necessary. I find the time away from my creative work generates anxiety and then it takes time to find my way back into whatever I was working on. Consistency is definitely better. If only I didn’t have to sleep! 😉

  • Anna Keller Commented On May 27, 2015

    Such a great post, Cheryl, thank you! I’m sure I’ll come back and refer to this from time to time, these are very helpful ways to stay in the flow… something we all need strategies for sometimes. Your new work is lovely, I’ve enjoyed seeing it!!

    • cheryltaves Commented On May 27, 2015

      Thank you, Anna… glad you found this helpful. During my mentorship work last year I really dug into considering what I needed to keep myself moving and producing work. As I discovered a truth for myself, I’d write it in my journal….referring to it whenever the struggles arose.

      If this list helps you in some way, at some point, I’d be so thrilled. Artists supporting artist! Your comments here are so welcomed.

  • Sherry Baird Commented On May 27, 2015

    Hi Cheryl,

    Your presence in my life is forever inspirational. It’s high time that I remind you of how much I value our friendship and how truly grateful I am to have connected with you in my life. For a very long time, I have operated at a very fast pace. Too fast indeed. What I love about 50, is the ease in making a decision to slow right down and follow my passions. It just so happens that one of my passions is to clean up an old body shop. I compare it to a piece of art. Although my Father as you know has some slightly artistic talents, I have always wondered why I ended up with none. After a one year journey of slowing down, smelling the roses and plunging into the unknown, I realize that my artistic talents lie in different forms. Needless to say, I am pleased with the outcome of my canvas. And to think all I did was FOLLOW THE FLOW. A fabulous team of people jumped on the canvas and we painted together. I love you Cheryl Taves, I look forward to the next time we connect. Stay well beautiful lady. Love Sherry (ps: the canvas is a body shop!) :)

    • cheryltaves Commented On May 29, 2015

      Sherry, what a beautiful story of you embracing your creative self….thank you for sharing it here.

      I’m so happy that you found your flow and that your essence is being expressed in such a fulfilling way. It seems that when we give ourselves the space and time to really listen to our inner yearnings we can discover some amazing things about ourselves…even aspects that have long been denied or forgotten. You are indeed a talent!

      So wonderful for you to have given this to yourself and painted your canvas!! Love you, girl!!

  • Trish Shwart Commented On June 8, 2015

    What a great post Cheryl. I am going to put the flow list on my studio wall. Because of your article, I read Susan Melrath’s blog this morning and really resonated with her story about making sure you love the work before you stop working on a piece. I recently had an experience where a painting was just stuck. I must have done 15 -20 over-paints and wanted to just give up. But a little bit at a time, it started to hold together. It felt somewhere between a battle and a search for the truth within that particular work. And as you said about the inportance of feeling comfortable with fear and embracing what failure teaches you, I know that it was the repeated lack of success that propelled me forward and helped me turn that painting into something I feel proud of having made.

    • cheryltaves Commented On June 8, 2015

      Thanks for sharing your process with your painting, Trish…it really does help to remind ourselves of the searching, the patience required and the tenacity needed to get to the place that you did. That was a huge learning piece for me as well last year – reworking a painting innumerable times, learning that the failure was valuable. The final result so satisfying because of the deeper understanding.

      Glad you found this post helpful and that you are proud of the work you’ve done! Congrats!

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