Comfort Zones, Flow Zones & Improvement Zones


This week was a challenging one for me in the studio. To the extent that I decided to read up on COMFORT zones and the role that they play in the creative process.
I discovered a fantastic mind map that put it all into perspective for me   In his mind map /blog Paul Foreman talks about comfort zones as a bit of a myth. “Are comfort zones stepping stones?Are you reaching from one comfort zone through fear to another comfort zone” He makes the point that he himself does not enjoy being motivated by fear. Neither do I. He then continues to introduce the concept of  “Improvement zones”. According to him that term sounds less painful, more motivating. No longer focussing on the fear (will I be able to cope? Will I get this right? Where is all this ink running to????), but rather on something to move towards - a new experience.
For artists, this is a continuous journey. On the one hand you have your own style, that can lead to a “comfort zone” that has been built up over years. But along the way you might have experienced moments of immense discomfort (Panic zone)  and thankfully glorious moments of “flow”, where everything just came together effortlessly.
Coming back to how all of this relates to my experience in the studio: It all started when about two weeks ago we turned out focus towards landscape painting, starting with the traditional “back to basic” stuff.
I was in my element - landscape painting was my introduction to the world of painting, and I had therefore over the years acquired quite a bit of experience with it.  And do not forget our trusty wise friend Google, who was very helpful in oiling any rusty parts. (Helpful links I discovered along the way if you want a back-to-basics refresher are:

(   and

Putting the workshops together, I planned to take a very practical , step by step approach. In my view, it is all about perspective in a traditional landscape. I therefore spent a lot of time contemplating the powerful use of COLOUR. We covered  "The whole shebang " of atmospheric perspective: mixing of colours, muted versus bright colours, complimentary washes and the magic wand it waves to create interest and life in a landscape painting.

So far so good. I felt good, in control and as confident as one can be facing a blank canvas armed with paints and brushes and an idea…

However, the following week we decided to have a play with a more abstract or loose approach to landscapes. At this point I need to clarify that my style of painting is realistic, even though “painterly”, still  - a tree is a tree. Looking at my landscape paintings, I have done the thinking for you - that tree you see over there? Yes, that one - it is a tree indeed! ( .  

So comes the next week and I am armed with 300gsm paper; modelling paste; a white candle (Not burning ;-) ; acrylic inks; jars of water ; a few charcoal sticks and pastels and I find myself in  PANIC ZONE!!

There is not a lot of control to be found on a piece of paper where strong willed inks are running havoc. Wherever they hit the modelling paste they become slightly more opaque, they absolutely flatly refuse to go near the candle marks and chase any water like parched camels. Even the wise Mr Google fails to deliver and I realise I have to let go! The best way to deal with situations like this is to turn your “Shall we dance  - soundtrack” music on loudly and waltz, samba and foxtrot with that paper until you have exhausted those wild ink stallions.

The result is totally unpredictable, but beautiful in its spontaneity :  tiny little rivulets of inks , textured nooks and crannies, colours never mixed before where inks overlapped and created luminous glazes. Is that a tree over there? Who knows? Maybe it is not that important in this scenario? The textures and colour seem to hold it all together.

I experienced the IMPROVEMENT ZONE and it was joyous, scary, exhausting... Will I go there again? Of course yes!