Reaching Creative Flow

Many people are aware of the briliant TED (Technology, Education and Design) community at
Some time ago I stumbled across a fascinating talk on this site about the route to happiness from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  It appeared to be routed in the perfect combination of personal challenges meeting perfectly matched personal skills.  We are at our most creative when our own personal skills are challenged at a level that stretches them, creating an equilibrium and harmony. When challenged too little we become bored and depressed, when the challenge is too great and our skills lacking, frustration and self doubt kick in.

The talk focused on how anyone can meet this personal equilibrium in their daily work or interests. For those of us working in the arts, and in the case of myself and others dedicated to the enhancement of storytelling and emotional engagement through the powerful use of images and in my case specifically colour, these two opposing forces meet when faced with the desire of the filmmakers to transcend that what has been achieved before or that will engage people with its beauty or savageness. My biggest creative challenge of recent months was working with the much acclaimed artist Isaac Julien, whose infamous work in the field of video art has challenged the genre of traditional filmmaking. With his work ‘Playtime‘, which debuted in Times Square in New York, the challenges before me were staggered. The first was to deliver to Isaac a standard of creative colour grading and picture enhancement that would satisfy him and to help to take the work to the next level of aesthetic appreciation for the viewer, this in itself is just the first big step to achieve. Once the road to this goal is set, as the colourist working with an artist of Isaac’s expertise, it requires the ability to move in to the aforementioned ‘flow’. As stated at the top of this article, when an artist’s skills are tested to their extreme, then at that moment you can reach this evasive ‘flow’ sweetspot.  The success of any artistic work in my opinion starts with solid building blocks, the belief in the initial direction, the confidence that this direction is the correct one for the work, and that it is the only direction.  When that is locked in then the challenge moves to delivering that execution across the whole work, to create a cohesion to the work, that compliments the director’s artistic vision, the performance, the composition of framing, the editing and the sound design. When the challenge of cohesion is complete then the final step to ‘flow’ is the hardest, the final grasp to perfection. Where every frame of the work is perfect, where minute details are agonised over. At that point the artist, when free from outside pressures, can hit the sweetspot of ‘flow’, and at that moment aspire to create the perfect work.

Artists have various reasons for creating work.  Some do it for themselves, to satisfy their own need for self belief, a competitive nature with themselves as the ultimate critic. Some do it for the audience, to take the audience themselves to a moment of ‘flow’. When art of any kind can challenge its audience’s concentration skills, artistic perception and thus create total immersion in the work, then the artist has given back to the audience the greatest gift.  As artists we have been successful when all those that have been able to engage in the work have moved to ‘flow’ and for that moment taken them from the trappings of day to day life.
To really achieve peacefulness at the end of our day we need to embrace the challenges to our own skills, push them, and give back to our audiences, whomever they may be.

Thomas Urbye | MD & Senior Colourist, The Look, London


I am a colourist working across all genres. From feature films, television drama, documentary, commercial content and video art.

Isaac Julien’s ‘Playtime’ is a seven screen work currently exhibiting around the world. It is 70 minutes in duration and was mastered in ultra high definition at The Look.
For more information you can read more at The Look’s site or at Isaac Julien‘s site.

You can see a short trailer for the work here

The inspiring TED talk referenced in this article can be found here:
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness

The Flow diagram is copyright of Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi 

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