You may recognise this scenario: It’s time for a creative “sesh”, time to get cracking on something – and then the voices start. May be your own voice, may be a parent, or perhaps an old teacher. Doesn’t really matter who, but what matters is that it’s usually negative, and it can throw us before we’ve even started. In the latest podcast, Gina and I talked about the various ways we start a creative session – what works for us.

There wasn’t time in our chat to talk through all the things we can do, so I thought I’d add some more detail here. Whether it’s a stitching day or a painting day, for me it’s all about shutting up that negative talk and overthinking, so I can relax into my creativity.

Here’s what works for me – let me know if some of these ideas are helpful to you!

Observational drawing

Drawing something that’s right in front of me, like I did for my #100dayproject drawings, is hard! So I have to look carefully. I can’t think at the same time. Could be blind contour drawing, or thumbnail sketching or timed drawings e.g. Gabriel Lipper’s 5 minute drawings. It doesn’t have to be related to what I want to do, it could just be drawing my hand. Drawing from life shuts up the thinking bit of my head, I’m occupied in looking and recording, so I can’t think at the same time.

Blind contour drawing – where you’re looking at the subject only – is probably the best of all for this, because you’re not actually looking at what you’re doing. There’s no judgement.


A step-by-step process takes the fear out of getting started. You only have to concentrate on what you’re doing right now. The next step is an obvious progression, there’s no jumping ahead to suddenly creating a larger piece of work.

Creating my own step-by-step

If I’m away from my studio or desk and I’m in the middle of a project, I’ll make detailed notes and plans, almost like a set of instructions for when I get back to it – then I can follow it step-by-step. This is a great way to side-step the overthinking and get straight back into it.

Other people’s step-by-step methods

I’ve really enjoyed these two online courses, for getting into sketchbook work:

  • Karen Stamper’s “free up your sketchbook” course was fantastic for this, as you can follow along, step-by-step, using different processes to add marks and layers – and each idea adds another layer of complexity and interest.
  • Tansy Hargan’s courses follow a process of abstraction, from original inspiration to finished work, through a series of exercises including thumbnail sketching and collage. Each step is easy and achievable and fun, with “rules” (which are made up and can be broken) – so you only have to follow each step, enjoy the process.

Both methods lead you towards richer, deeper work and the step-by-step process makes it very achievable.


Podcast or YouTube

Not to watch but to listen to! And it has to be unrelated to what I’m doing, so usually not arty. I prop my iPad up on the desk, and play through my “watch later” list and listen on my headphones. Having someone talking in my ear about something unrelated is brilliant at shutting up the voice in my head. I can’t think too much about what I’m doing, or be critical because that part of my brain is occupied with the podcast or video soundtrack. It leaves the creative part free to create and play!

Tidying my desk

Next, I usually have to tidy my desk – I have to tidy fabric and thread scraps just to find a clear space! But getting my hands on the materials gets ideas flowing. Instead of tidying or throwing away scraps, I’ll start to arrange them – fabric on fabric, threads on top of fabric, and so on. This leads on to…


I use canvas or calico as a base, then Bondaweb, then layer on a collage of paper or fabric scraps, and start to layer on other fabrics and threads – play around. By now I’ll have an idea of what I want to explore and I’m off.


Turn off thinking brain

Again, noise reducing headphones or earpods are essential to block out background noise – and help to distract me from thinking or feeling self-conscious.

Energy boost

I’ll shuffle through my Spotify liked songs, find something that feels right – usually something upbeat that makes me feel happy, something that gets my feet moving, and makes me feel energetic. I usually paint standing up, so feeling energised helps me move more easily and be more expressive.

Mark making

I start with energetic, fast and loose marks with pencil or charcoal, or I fling some paint (a quick flick of the wrist with the edge of a brush) or dribble ink from a dropper. I scribble, and get my arm moving. Anything really, just to break up the surface – and quickly.

Colour mixing

After a bit of loosening up, I might start to play with colours. Colour mixing using a limited palette is fantastic. Louise Fletcher teaches this in her course, but her YouTube videos are also great at explaining how to use a limited palette. I might paint swatches into a sketchbook or onto strips of card (and label them) or directly onto paper.

Painting sketchbook

If I have leftover paint, or if I want to use up what’s on my palette, I’ll wipe the paint onto sketchbook pages. Then I can go back and play around with them. Because it wasn’t supposed to be “anything” it doesn’t matter what I do. Sometimes the pages stick together and rip, so that’s fun – I just go with it. Previously I scanned a couple of pages, tweaked them in Photoshop to make a repeat pattern and got some bespoke fabric printed – made infinity scarves for my mother. You can read about that here.

I hope that’s given you a useful insight into ways you can get started – let me know what works for you!

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4 Thoughts to “Finding flow”

  1. Bev Brooks says:

    I love reading your posts, sometimes it’s like you can see inside my head! Your work is beautiful and you are so inspiring…more than any other blog , you tube, pinterest, facebook page etc etc. And I look at a LOT! More than anybody else you make me want to have a go, instead of making excuses about not having the time, ideas or ability.

    1. Isobel says:

      Wow, thank you so much, Bev! That’s honestly made my day 😊 thank you so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment 🤩

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