© Art By Safanah 2019

I did a survey asking my readers what they wanted to learn about when it comes to colored pencils. I was surprised that a lot of people wrote ‘how to stay motivated’. I wasn’t really sure if there was an answer to this at all. Some pieces I found myself motivated with for weeks on end, others I spent an hour or two on and gave up. Why was that?

I thought about the pieces that took me a long while yet I never gave up on, vs. ones that would have taken a quarter of time yet I never finished. The math didn’t add up, if something was going to take less time, shouldn’t I have just finished it?

It wasn’t so simple because of a rule I created for myself when I started with art, if I wasn’t enjoying creating the piece then why create it?

Enjoying the process and consequently staying motivated to create are the two biggest parts of creating. Without these two, well, there’s no art.

So I gave the “staying motivated” question another thought. How can we save ourselves the frustration of starting a piece and not wanting to finish it?

I recalled a book I read about ‘optimal experience’ called Flow. What is flow, you ask? Flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” This mental state in a gist is obtained by doing a task that has a clear set of goals, immediate feedback, and confidence in one’s ability to complete the task. It’s called flow because many people described this state of being as if they were floating and time and space felt irrelevant.

Taking the conditions of enjoying a task and breaking it down into a formula just might save us from a pile of #wips (work in progress, plural).

It’s kind of an oxymoron for me to make a formula for flow when flow is something that can’t quite be explained,(I mean there’s a whole book on it, this is complicated stuff) but I noticed that the conditions of flow coincided with me feeling motivated to finish a drawing. So, whether or not this post makes logical sense in the broad scale of things, it’ll give you some things to think about before beginning your next piece.

Here’s my formula for staying motivated with the 3 conditions of flow:

1. Clear goals

The first condition of flow is doing a task that has clear goals. With having to do millions of light layers with colored pencils, it’s easy to feel like I’m not getting anything done. Which is why I recommend that when you sit down to create a piece, determine how much time you intend to spend on it in that sitting. Then, think about what you can get done in that amount of time.

Say your doing a colored pencil piece. Do you like to do light shading of the entire piece before you start, or are you a one section at a time kind of person?

Say you’re a shade-entire piece person and you intend to spend an hour drawing. Set a clear goal of: first I want to do all the highlights, then all the mid-tones, then the shadows.

Or, if you’re a one section at a time person, think about how many sections you can complete in that hour and only work on those sections. Part two explains why clear goals are important.

2. Immediate feedback

Immediate feedback is sort of the ‘why’ of clear goals. What do clear goals do? Completing a task you set out to finish has a satisfaction with it. It makes you feel accomplished and ready to take on more all while seeing results. Seeing a drawing come to life by completing one specific task at a time is much more satisfying then doing little bits all over the place with no clear goal in mind.

The problem with your only goal being to ‘finish the piece’, is that it can take hours, days, even weeks. You often find yourself giving up on this goal because you’re chasing the feeling of accomplishment that you’re only going to get when you finish it. Try and change this by breaking the piece down and setting a goal for that sitting. This process will help you stay motivated until you finish.

Confidence in one’s ability

Now this is where the money is. Before you even begin a piece, you need to be aware of what it requires and where you are at in your abilities. Now, I do believe in giving new things a try because we’re often surprised of what we’re capable of. However, if all you’ve drawn so far is a couple of simple shapes and suddenly you want to dive in and draw a realistic knitted sweater, you’re probably going to run into some issues and frustration.

Confidence in one’s abilities is a balance between being aware of what you are capable of and challenging yourself enough to where you feel you are doing something out of your comfort zone, yet not too far off. The piece you are creating should involve techniques and textures you are familiar with while also including things you haven’t yet tackled, but you are confident in your ability to teach yourself to do it as you go along. This is why we often encourage one another to ‘step out of your comfort zone’ because that’s where fulfillment lays.

Finding flow and staying motivated can be one in the same in creating art. Flow can also be found in creating a piece that requires skills we are entirely familiar with and aren’t challenging for us just because we enjoy the process so much, but if you’re an artist I’m going to guess you want to challenge yourself and move beyond the familiar.

Find this interesting? Let me know so I know to write more stuff like this!

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