Being in the zone

Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. Being in the zone. This is the fifth in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.

Hopefully by this fifth week of the series we’ve set the stage with a lot of prep and practices that get you regular, creative-time wins. So now I want to talk a little bit about being in the zone: what it is and how you can get there even quicker.

I had a fantastic art session today. There wasn’t much of a plan when I started. I put my earbuds in and turned on some Lizzo and started dancing around while flipping pages in my book. As I was shaking my bootie and looking at my previous pages, a squiggly black line caught my eye. I decided to start with a black line on today’s page. I got my black ink brush and started making my new squiggle and adding water. It made these lovely watercolor looking loops. Next I picked some pale pink paint and added that. Then I wanted something brighter so I added some neon pink. Then I toned down one side with some lavender. I let that dry and looked for a collage element to go with it. By now I’m really dancing around the studio, totally in the moment, totally in the zone.

So how did I get there so quickly?

You know what I’m going to say, right? Yep. Practice. Being in the zone is a fantastic place to be for making art but it doesn’t always happen, and it almost never happens without practice.

You will have to give yourself some patience as you practice for the zone because in the beginning of your art practice, every single thing takes So. Much. Thought. You likely won’t start and immediately find yourself in the zone. 


You can give yourself some lift to get there.


I like to start with a ritual. Rituals help flip the switch in your brain so that it knows it’s time to make. I used to put on my apron and tie a bow in the back. That was my start. Now, I typically put in my earbuds because I am usually sharing my studio space with one of my kids doing school or now that it’s summer break, Minecraft all day and all night. And I need to block out the SHOUTING AT FRIENDS ABOUT CREATURES. I really thought that by 17 the Minecraft stage would be over. I was for sure wrong about that.

Lighting a candle is a great ritual. Or playing a particular song. Or having a mantra. 

I’ve used two mantras off and on. One is by Susan Gordon Lydon and goes:

The purpose of the craft is not so much to make beautiful things as it is to become beautiful inside while you are making those things.

The other is:

I am here to rehearse the New Creation in the making of this thing.

That’s by Andrew Peterson from his book ”Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making.”

I use both as a reminder that I am making because I love it but also because it is making me over in the process. I make a graphic with the quote and a piece of my art or a photo I took to go on my phone Lock Screen so I can pull it up as I am starting. You can make a beautiful graphic with the free app/website Canva. I use it everyday.

When I’m writing, I like to listen to cafe noises with rain and jazz. It’s great because it’s white noise but also sounds like people are near. (And it’s also great about blocking out the above mentioned Minecraft conversations.) Today I am writing this on my iPad with a wireless keyboard at my kitchen table and I am invigorated by the smell of the flowering cactus my youngest kid bought over the weekend.

In the mornings, when I am doing my morning pages I like to put on this pineapple lotion. The smell is energizing as well as a reminder that it’s work time.

Your ritual can be anything as long as it’s something you can do nearly automatically at the beginning of your designated work time. Maybe one of these listed above will work for you, or maybe you have one you are already using to good effect. Just know that you can change it up if it gets stale. Or use different ones to prompt you for different activities. I started the hand lotion one mostly because my hands were dry and I didn’t want to start my work day with scaly hands. After a few times, I realized that I really keyed in on the smell of the lotion to ground myself before I started.


I posted a process video on Instagram recently and someone asked me what I was thinking about while I was working. I have been chewing on this question for WEEKS. And the short answer is, “Not much.” The flow state is one where the decision points are sanded down to point that it feels like instinct. It’s less of “What do I do?” and more of a gliding from this thing to the next thing without much verbal head conversation.

If you are fairly new to your practice, this probably sounds ridiculous to you. Believe it or not, I remember those days. Here’s a short preview of what my internal conversation used to be like:

“What colors do I start with? What am I making? Do I use Neocolor 2s or acrylic paint? Do I make marks with a pencil or collage first? Am I supposed to draw something? Please don’t make me draw something.”

That is what the beginning of my practice was like. It’s also like that every time I try a new tool or technique. Because when we aren’t familiar with our options, every single thing is a decision point.

You’ve likely experienced this too. It’s ok. This will get easier with practice. It’s in the 200 times you pause to think about the next thing that eventually allows you to be able to do it intuitively. I wish I could tell you there’s a magic shortcut. One that bridges the beginning of your practice to the zone state where you can work without every mark you make being a decision point, but there isn’t. It’s just putting in the practice every day and then examining what you’ve made later. (Examining what you make is for NEXT WEEK! Ahem.)

Let’s goooooo!

I hope this sounds like a grand adventure to you. Because it is! We GET to make so many decisions! You GET to try new things! We GET to play! There is so much joy to be found in making things. Even when it’s a mess, maybe especially when it’s a mess. 

And eventually being in the zone shows up. Those really lovely moments, when you lose track of time and make for the joy of making. The decisions just flow from the brains you’ve developed inside your fingers. When you forget words for a few minutes or an hour and then realize after the fact that you’ve made something really lovely. Something that you didn’t even know was possible for you to make. Those are rare and precious. And so worth chasing.

What are your questions?

Hopefully you’ve read the past few How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.