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Autotelic Creating Artwork Utilizing Flow States

There were two things that I read over this past week that got me thinking about selling the artwork that I make. One was a response to a picture of my artwork posted on Facebook. The other being something that I read in passing on Instagram. At first glance, they don’t seem all that related to one another. It was only after unpacking them that I made the connections.

I had posted a series of process pictures of some small and tiny dolls that I had recently started making. Previous to this, I’d posted a picture of the neat, little, stacks of felt pieces that I had cut in preparation for making the dolls.

…I have often wondered if you have more than the allotted 24 hours in a day because of the volume of what you make with your gifted hands…how do you do this?!?!?

How do I do this?

Here’s a more direct kind of hourly break-down. he picture above shows twenty-two doll heads. Ten of them are for 12 cm tall dolls, and twelve of them are for 6 cm tall dolls. To sew, stuff and embroider twenty-two small doll heads took me around eight hours to complete. Attaching the abdomens to the heads takes another six (or more) hours of work. Sewing the base hair onto each doll head took me a little longer than eight hours. I started the arms and legs yesterday afternoon, and managed to complete six dolls limbs in around four and half to five hours.

If I were to be cheeky about answering my friends question, I would have said, “I just sit down and work. That’s how it gets done.” Of course, that’s just me being a bit of a jerk. And I would never answer someone so flippantly. But, my cheeky answer is the closest to the truth. I sit down. Work starts. Time passes. The work continues. My mind is occupied. The work is completed. In reality, it’s all just me entering a flow state.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…

I’ve talked about flow state before in my blog. In a nutshell, when a person is actively working on something that they are very interested in, or perhaps extremely invested in, on a personal or professional level, a person can become so engrossed in what they are doing that time just kind of slips by with little notice. The work becomes the center of all attention.

For me, flow state isn’t difficult to achieve. However, I’ve made decisions about my life that have allowed me greater freedoms to do as I wish with a great deal of my time. My husband and I both work from home. And we don’t have children. Together, we have built a life in which our wants and needs are few. Outside distractions for me are extremely limited. I am free to create for hours on end, while not depriving anyone or anything of my attention.

My personality is also fairly autotelic. Which also just fits into the overall construction of my life at present. I create because I need to create. It’s great to sell my work too. Regardless of whether it sells or not, I will continue making artwork. Creation of art is not done only for the potential of a monetary reward.

Seven further qualifiers:

Owen Schaffer added what he calls the Seven Conditions of Flow to Csikzentmihalyi, Nakamura and Cherry’s work on the concept of flow. I think they’re very much in play while I’m actively engaged in creating my artwork.

  1. Knowing what to do
  2. Knowing how to do it
  3. Knowing how well you’re doing
  4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
  5. High perceived challenges
  6. High perceived skills
  7. Freedom from distractions

My friend expresses disbelief that this much work could be created in such a short amount of time. It’s not magic. The seven conditions almost seem like a set of step-by-step directions to me. Know what do to – CHECK! Know how to do it – CHECK! Not all of the conditions have to be present at all times either. Sometimes, I have no idea where I am going when I’m creating artwork. I suppose that the perception of the challenge compensates for no internal sense of direction at times.

It should be mentioned that this is not the first time that I have received comments like the one that spurred this post. Rarely are the conditions right for me to offer-up all of the information I feel explains this perceived ‘ability’ to anyone remarking on my high-output of artwork. Can you imagine offering up all of this information to a total stranger at an art show? A cocktail party? A cook-out? (Insert hysterical, off-putting laughter here.)

So yeah. (clears throat) That’s how I do what I do.

What was the other thing?

I’m kind of kicking myself for not downloading it. It was something that popped up in my Instagram feed. The post was by a ceramicist, and directed at potential customers purchasing original art and handmade objects directly from creators. It was something like the picture below.

I think that the text of the Instagram post that I saw was very similar to this one. There are several of these kinds of posts floating around on the internet and social media.

What relates the post to what your friend said?

When I’m in that flow state, and I’m creating. Time is gone. My art is in front of me. I’m working on it. Everything outside of my mind and my hands and my art is gone. And yes, for me, time is suspended. I derive an insane amount of pleasure from creating what I create. Sharing the artwork that I create with people, perhaps even selling some of it, that’s also amazing. The overlap occurs within the act of creation for me.

When a person buys my work, they’re getting a slice of the flow. My flow.

It’s like stepping into a stream and feeling the current of the water around your bare feet. Then reaching down and picking up a shiny pebble. It may have taken ten, twenty, thirty years for that bright, shiny pebble to make it’s way down from the top of the mountain. All the while, the water kept moving. And moving. And moving. And the pebble got pushed a little here and a little there. That pebble got to where it was from all that flow pushing it along right to where it was in your path and it grabbed your attention.

I encourage everyone to go out and stick your feet in a stream or pond now and again, if it’s possible. Or, you could go look for a your very own slice of flow in my shop. You’re choice. No pressure. I needed to get in my shameless plug for sales.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again on Monday,



Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: TED Talk about Flow

Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow, Human Factors International

Steve Miller Band: A live performance of ‘Fly Like an Eagle‘ or you can you can give the LP version a listen here.

Autotelic Personality: How Personality and Self-Perception Relate to Flow Propensity