Obsessing, Art & Flow State

I gain great pleasure in obsessing over things. 

At the moment it's over the new LCD Soundsystem album, American Dream - which is pretty much on solid rotation wherever I go. 

After about the 4th listen I was sure I needed to see them live, so I hunted down tickets, then I bought the vinyl. 

I wasn't really a massive fan before this new album. Sure, I liked them, disco infiltrator was always a favourite at university and there were tracks by them that I loved without knowing it was by them.

Now I am texting friends telling them to listen to "the best thing ever" and regarding James Murphy as a modern day genius in the mould of David Byrne. 

This isn't unusual behaviour for me.

When I get into something I throw myself into it. I'm one of those people who will also wildly proclaim that it's the greatest thing ever. I probably use the word amazing a bit too much.

But isn't losing yourself in an artists work, be it musical or visual, something that fires up the pleasure receptors of the brain to ecstatic levels?

As an artist, should you not lose yourself in the process of creation?

Do you allow for that sort of joy?

Creative process

Creative process and obsession

The most difficult bit about losing yourself in the creative process is at the very beginning.

If I'm not into it at the very early stages of a piece, I find it a massive struggle. I will sooner throw out and scrap a new drawing than try to correct it if it goes wrong at the start.

If I get into it from the start however, then I find myself in the zone. I am getting better at doing this recently, exercising patience and removing distractions.

A flow state is the best feeling when creating, it's like surfing or meditation. You're completely in the moment, there is no thought, it's just allowing yourself to sink into the task at hand. 

Athletes often talk about flow state. They spend so much time practising something they feel like they almost switch off and let their subconscious take over.

If you have ever watched the film "Senna" there is a bit where he talks about his qualifying lap around Monaco, in the rain, where he felt like he was seeing himself in the third person, like an out of body experience.

Obsession gets you to that point where you trust in your abilities so much you don't even need to think about it.

I think it's is important if you want to "make stuff" to really commit to it as much as you possibly can. In my experience, arty people obsess more than people who think in a more linear fashion.

What has this got to do with listening to LCD Soundsystem on repeat?

Well it's the process of being completely into something with no regard for outside influences.

It's that moment you're into that thing, be it an album or a film or food, nothing else matters. You don't give a fuck about anything, you're just in the zone and you derive pleasure from that zone, that moment.

How to get in the zone, creatively

I am a big believer that anything is possible and anything can be learnt. So here are some tips based on what I do to get into a flow state (or get in the zone as you might call it).

1. Practice endlessly

Repetition is the key to getting good at something. 

There is something to be said about the 10,000 hours rule. To master something you need to do it A LOT, and this is the first secret to unlocking the power of obsession. 

Whatever it is you want to do, do it every chance you get. In this case, drawing. It might be hard at first, but overcoming those initial obstacles will not only make you better at drawing, they will make you better at dealing with the day to day shit life throws at you.

2. Collect reference material

I didn't do this for so long because I am an idiot. Don't make the same mistake.

In art school, in normal school and even later on, I just refused to use reference material. 

I hated drawing from life, maybe because I found it too challenging at first. I've never had a problem with idea generation but then I suddenly realised it was taking me ages to figure out the composition and I wasn't seeing where my work was going.

When I started taking photos and actually seeing the world around me, I suddenly realised that I was having ideas about worlds I want to create.

Now I always make sure I have tonnes of photos, practice subject matter, I sketch on the tube and buy all sorts of books.

Reference material can also mean taking inspiration from other artists, exhibitions, novels and even music - It's about absorbing it all and letting it inspire you.

All this allows me to start a piece so much more easily. The more reference material you build up, the easier that starting point becomes and you'll start to obsess about the work your doing, and slip into the flow state more quickly

3. Switch off

If you have skills, don't fight the brains urge to go in a certain creative direction, let go and trust in your abilities. 

I think this is one of the keys to achieving a flow state. 

I also think this is a factor in finding your style or your voice as an artist. You need to stay true to yourself.

The practice and the reference material means you have all the tools in your subconscious, so letting go and trusting in your abilities is the final step. 

I suppose you could also call it confidence, don't fear the marks you are making. I actually learnt that from my illustration tutor. I was a terrible student with no confidence in my own work - years later, what he said rings true. 

Having faith in your ability to draw and blocking out the outside influences (turn your phone off, turn the internet off) will allow you to achieve that blissful state of "in the zoneness". 

Maybe listen to the LCD soundsystem while you do it though...

If you want to learn more about flow state and the brain, check out the work of Steven Kotler. His episode of Joe rogan is super interesting