Creative Insights: Lesley Riley

Be the River

The saying goes, “You can never step into the same river twice.” (Heraclitus) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about flow, about being “in the flow.” Others call it the zone. You can’t always plan it and you can’t always get there. It’s that magical state of being when everything else falls aside, headaches, body aches and doubt disappear, time is suspended and your creative process is on automatic.

When you’re in the flow, chances are you aren’t even aware of it because analytical thinking is also suspended. You are creating on a different level. Delicious suspension of disbelief. Intoxicating magic of artistic bliss. Complete abandonment to inspiration. And did I mention the endorphin rush?

Dang, this sounds like the ultimate legal and free drug-of-choice. I want me some of that! But you and I both know that our day-to-day lives are not always conducive to being in the flow. I mean, I lucky if I even get a brush in my hand or my foot in the studio. All this talk about flow makes me want to start a movement. Why wait for flow? Why hope to catch the wave? BE THE RIVER!

Be the river, be in constant flow. Over the years, the frustrating years, when time to create was so elusive I discovered how to prepare myself to be ready at a moments notice. The solution was to never get out of flow. Granted it’s not the suspended-time, world-drops-away kind of flow, but it is a way of being that enables creativity to slip into the everyday hectic lives we lead.

It’s very simple really, so simple that you may dismiss it or think me crazy, but I’m asking you to try it for a while and see what happens. Think of it as priming the pump so that your creativity flows on demand. I’ll tell you one thing, being in a creative state of mind throughout the day, day in and day out, whether you’re actually making art or not creates such a positive outlook that it can change your life. It changed mine, so come on, try it. Be the river.

Here’s how. Try any and all. The more you do the faster the flow.

  1. TRICK YOURSELF – JUST 5MINUTES – If you think you have no time for art, tell yourself you’ll just fool around with it for just 5 minutes. It could be cleaning up or painting a background, even tearing inspiration from a magazine. Once you have begun, chances are you’ll get hooked, the endorphins and adrenalin will flow and you and end up with the energy to work much longer than those 5 minutes you committed yourself to. Easier to be the river if your already wet.
  2. KEEP MANY PROJECTS GOING – Different projects call for different tasks at different times. If there are always a few things to work on you can fit something in. 5 minutes to apply another coat of medium, 10 to glue down the background, 15 to appliqué a flower.
  3. LEAVE IT OUT – Don’t put your project away. Find a place to leave it out where you can see it, even if it’s in a see-thru box. It will not only allow your mind to work on it and keep you in flow but it will be ever so easy to dive back in and get to work.
  4. ALWAYS LEAVE SOMETHING TO DO – If you finish a project in your block of time, you will have to face the hurdle of starting another. Starting something is the hardest part. The temptation is to put it off and not start. Instead, leave the last bit for the next time so that you will be eager to return to it and stay in flow.
  5. WORK WHERE YOU SPEND TIME – When finding time amidst your busy day is a challenge, it can take effort and discipline to go to a separate room for your creative time. Bring your art into the places you spend all your time—kitchen—family room—car. If your work is where you spend all of your time, it’s easier to stay in flow.
  6. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OTHER TIME – Staying in flow, being the river isn’t all studio time. Use the time you spend driving, cooking, doing laundry, etc to design and dream up new ideas so that when your hands are free and you’re home you can dive right in
  7. FILL YOUR HEAD – Read, look at art books and magazines. Fill your head with inspiration so that when you have the time to create you have the desire and ideas. Even a shopping trip can be a design lesson. If your head and heart are filled with art it will eventually burst out into your creations. There’s both mental and physical flow.
  8. GO TO BED HAPPY – If your free time doesn’t come until the end of the day when you are exhausted, there’s still time for art. Drag yourself over to your work and get going. When you are making art you get energized, and then you can fall into bed exhausted and HAPPY. Spend time on art so you don’t go to bed feeling disappointed or down on yourself for being lazy or not pursuing your dreams. That good feeling will flow into the next day.
  9. STAY AWAY FROM WET BLANKETS – Don’t listen to or spend time with people who don’t understand or appreciate why you would rather work on your art than go shopping or to a movie. Especially avoid people that put you down or make you feel inadequate.
  10. GET WET – If looking at other peoples art in your favorite magazine makes you feel depressed it’s because they’re doing it and you’re not. They’re swimming and you’re on the shore. Jump in the river. There’s no flow without action.

Lesley Riley is an internationally known artist, teacher and author with a passion for spreading the magic of art. Though her company, Artist Success, Lesley provides resources, coaching and mentoring to artists, enabling them to achieve their vision of success. For more information and the free 5 Keys to Artist Success, visit


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