Aquarelling your way to the Flow

How do you get into the Flow? I find drawing to be the quickest, healthiest and simplest way to get there. Here's an introduction to an excellent book on how to draw /for engineers/.

But let's see how drawing helps reach the Flow:

The Flow

When you're 100% focused on a task, you reach a different state of mind. That's the flow.

I, as a Software Engineer, live in the flow. That's when I write the code that solves a problem:
The system is well defined. You know all the pieces. You understand the purpose of any line of code. You have the best solution. Move code around. Write new stuff. Ideas are flowing flawlessly from your brain to your IDE.

Then IntelliJ crashes. A colleague offers you a coffee. Or you just lose your concentration to a random thought. Ambient noise knocks down your concentration and it's hard to get it back.

The best software engineer I know has a "get to the flow"-switch. For us, mere mortals, reaching full concentration takes time. A few ways to get there:

Stare at your screen until it melts. Set your headphones to LOUD. Go out for a walk. Smoke a cigarette. Draw diagrams. Doodle.

Realistic Drawing is simple:
all you have to do is to focus on one detail in a picture, a simple line. Then put this line on a piece of paper. And iterate.

There's no technical knowledge or eureka moment required.
All these small bursts of concentration adds up until the ambient noise shuts down and you're in the zone. Ready to tackle complex problems.

Moreover, Realistic Drawing is easy:

Drawing on the right-side of the brain

I'm a bad illustrator. I'd need a lifetime to draw something worth looking at.

If you're afraid, think about the ~potential ROI~:

  • 0 investment: a pen a piece of paper and 1 - 20 minutes. You decide,
  • Take a break without breaking your focus,
  • For once create something for you,
  • You may become good at a skill that is just cool.

Why we're shitty illustrators

A urban legend says that the left side of the brain is analytical and the right side is artistic. This is over-simplistic. BUT the concept/concrete dilemna is real:

Are 2, two and deux equals?

Yes and No. All three are a mathematical concept. But they're also words and pictures. If you don't read French, deux is definitely not a mathematical concept to you. Nor is 二つ for me.

Concepts, like 2, are not words, like two.

Got it? Good.

Women With A Hat

Are these pictures representing the same thing?

Yes and No. All three are a "woman with a hat" concept. But they're also lines, shapes, colors and lights.

Concepts, like face, are not shapes, like (0_0).

When I draw an oval, a line and 2 circles I draw the concept of a face. "That's a shitty drawing" if you ask my subject. "It's perfect" according to my analytical brain.

To draw requires to see through the concept. Take The Time To See. Lines, shapes, lights and colors. No words, no concepts.

Drawing is easy

The secret formula:

Look at something,
> See a line? Move your hand on the paper accordingly.
> See a shadow? Gray out your paper accordingly.
> See a color? Color your paper accordingly.
> See too much? Focus on a smaller detail.

No prerequisite training required.

Try. Take a piece of paper, a pen, scroll back to the first picture. and FOLLOW. THE. LINES. The challenge is: can you follow the lines you see?

That's the simplest problem I like to solve again and again. That's my gate to concentration. What happen if you try?

Your first drawing: it'll look bad.

That's fine because you never fail at drawing: you fail at focusing. When you fall back to concepts you get something that is far from reality.

Reading Stickman

It's fine, the point is to get focused by solving a simple problem. They'll look better after a few attempts.


Drawing is my favorite way to get focused and to train my brain into switching modes. That's a tight feedback loop: Draw a line. See the wrong shape. Realize that you lost focus.

It's a sane replacement for youtubing, facebooking, tweeting, feedlying or whatever interrupting.

Try, all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. To go further, all the techniques and drawing exercises are in the book.

A year of drawing summarized in 4 bad pictures.

Drawing 2014 - 2015