Skill vs. Flow: How To Keep Your Creativity Vibrant - Darn Good Yarn

Skill vs. Flow: How To Keep Your Creativity Vibrant

Written by Michaela MacBlake Matthews

As creative people, only two things in this world seem impossible: not being creative, and staying consistently creative. Whether it’s an off season, a frustrating hurdle, or simply just an overdue plateau, skill and flow are both vital to keeping your creativity flourishing and vibrant!

White silhouette sitting in lotus position with raised hands pressed together, in front of green and purple circles with a lavender confetti background

What Is Skill?

Our skill is our finesse. It is the product of facing uncomfortable new horizons time after time, and keeping at it until we can learn new techniques. Skill is our polish, and it’s the cherry on top of any project that truly communicates an idea in a way that another person can grasp. Skill is ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.’

What Is Flow?

Our flow is the raw, unfiltered exploration of new ideas. It is the innovation and emotion behind creativity, the special spark that adds humanity, life, and purpose to creation. Flow is the product of inspiration, and of becoming so deeply enthralled by a concept or a feeling that we brush off any excess planning. Flow is ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.’

Pink and purple geometric shapes: zig-zags, cubes, and squares with four point stars

Building Skill

Without skill, our flow becomes extremely limited. No matter how good the idea is, it still needs the support of patience and execution to follow through and bring it to life.

3 Ways To Build Creative Skill

  1. Take on a new challenge in your medium of choice, and aim for a new level of detail, clarity, or layers. This conscious effort is much easier to muscle through than a surprise challenge mid-project.

  2. Revitalize an old project by recreating it from scratch, with the intention of making it better. By doing this, you’ll be able to compare and notice exactly what new skills you’ve picked up since then, and tap back into the learning process in your brain. It’s like picking up where you left off, even though you’re starting new!

  3. Create something simple with an unfamiliar medium, and mind the details. When you work with a new medium, it’s similar to speaking a language you only know how to write in. You’ll use many of the skills you already have, but the new challenges will bridge into different mental connections, and help you reforge new sub-skills by evaluating them in a different way.

Pink, green, and yellow rounded blobs and circles overlapping with rounded four point stars

Building Flow

Without flow, all of the skill in the world would be laid to waste. Sometimes, as we become more skilled, we lose a bit of our creative flair along the way. Never fear, the flow can be awoken again! You’ll just have to stir it up a bit.

3 Ways To Awaken Creative Flow

  1. Make substitutions for the mundane. Ask yourself, what is the most common thing that people do with your medium? Is it usually flat, or one color? Then, run as far from mundane as possible, regardless of how the finished project turns out. Focus on novelty, and get weird for the sake of weird.

  2. Put things where they don’t belong. Knit a cozy for your mailbox, design a painting to hang on the ceiling, make a sculpture to guard the inside of your refrigerator. When you do this, you drop expectations and experiment openly. Along the way, you’ll probably find some way to integrate the two worlds, and it’ll be straight from your own imagination.

  3. Make something entirely from found objects and thrift store finds. Problem solving opens up the creative mind, and nothing spells a problem like limited resources. Give yourself a challenge to find materials and make something in a single day, and scavenge your way to style.

In the brain, we use ‘bottom-up’ thinking to warm up the creative machine, and ‘top-down’ thinking to manage projects.
In bottom-up thinking, creativity makes the rules up like four-sibling Monopoly.
In top-down thinking, the task-list is worshiped like a cat in Ancient Egypt.

Bottom up vs top down thinking: Purple squares and cubes in the upper left corner, green yellow and pink circles in the bottom right corner, with clockwise arrows between them

(They’re both neuroscience, but bottom-up thinking likes silly metaphors.)

Learning how to strengthen both processes will keep your creations dancing to their own drum, and on-beat, for years to come.

Meet the Author

Close up of the author, Michaela Matthews wearing red lipstick and a poofy red scarf with white flower arrangement in background."Mac" is on the Lifestyle Team here at Darn Good Yarn, and loves taking a ‘teach a man to fish’ approach to creative therapy. She is certified in neuro-linguistic programming, and is also the surreal artist and author behind Surrealismac.