Flow: the concept

Up into my late twenties, being a jeweller designing and making contemporary work was central to my identity. As a very early user of the refractory metals titanium and niobium this was certainly a big element of my persona.

Image of Ann Marie Shillito wearing a jacket. crocheted from waste red/orange carpet wool and interwoven with strips of waste and scrap fabrics left over from making her own clothes. She made this in 1979/80.

That is, until the jacket that I was crocheting (without a pattern) and then weaving through with waste fabric, became so absorbing, challenging, and enjoyable that I realised it isn’t jewellery per se that is important to me, it is being creative and innovating. And being an environmentalist, appreciating all materials as precious, which is now even more important.

Image: me wearing a jacket. crocheted from waste red/orange carpet wool and interwoven with strips of waste and scrap fabrics left over from making my own clothes. Made in 1979/80.

I changed my whole attitude from the narrow discipline of being a jeweller, albeit a contemporary one working in non-precious materials. I opened up greater options for myself because no matter the material, subject, discipline or qualification, it is actually the quality of the whole experience that is important for who I am.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow: a super state

One measure of the quality of an experience is how satisfying an activity is. I understand that my fulfilment and joy come from deep immersion and absorption in a task where my knowledge and my know-how are sufficiently challenged. But I am not overwhelmed to the point of feeling incompetent. This super state is termed ‘flow’, or ‘being in the zone’. It can be so engrossing that it’s possible to lose all sense of time passing. This certainly happens to me. Flow is essential for my creativity as this is when I can focus on innovating within my practice.

The concept of “flow” originates from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research and we recognise “flow” as we will have been there. Certainly as a child, I could be totally absorbed in the book I was reading, the drawing I was doing, the object I was making. Any form of disruption destroys flow. Therefore it’s important to find ways to safeguard a space and time that allows us to tap into our creativity because, in this state, we are able to generate ideas, make unique and unconventional connections, and explore deeply.

The image is a portrait of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology, was the first to identify and research flow.

Cultivating flow

We can progress more fluidly and maximise our creativity when we are fully immersed in what we are doing because within flow we have heightened focus and concentration. Learning and skill development can quietly flourish. In order then to cultivate flow as a rewarding and therefore intrinsically motivating experience it’s important to remove all likely distractions to have an environment conducive to deep concentration. This includes having the right ‘tools’ – the ability, the physical, mental, and emotional state, – planning out frustrations caused by any imbalance between the level of the challenge and our knowledge and expertise, and being physically comfortable. All go a long way towards inducing this wonderful phenomenon that is ‘flow’.

Flow, serendipity and tacit knowledge et al

The image shows two pages of the 2nd  chapter in Ann Marie Shillito's book: ‘Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists and Designer Makers’. There is red fabric by Nuno that's machined embroidered, a 6 petaled 'Lily091' brooch by Jae-Wan Yoon, and a word cloud. This second chapter is titled 'A craft-minded approach' and covers several mind-sets, such as 'Flow' that Ann Marie considers central for creativity in the context of digital designing and making.

The mind-set that embraces ‘flow’ is well open for other phenomenon such as serendipity to happen. I intend to write a post on this topic, as well as about ‘tacit knowledge’. I cover these in my book: ‘Digital Crafts: Industrial Technologies for Applied Artists and Designer Makers’. The second chapter, ‘A craft-minded approach’, covers these mind-sets as I consider these to be central for creativity in the context of digital designing and making. Others for posts include mulling and play. You can read about slow design here.

I have two reason for writing about these mind-sets. The first is that as a designer maker, jeweller, I appreciate how important flow, serendipity, and tacit knowledge, plus play, mulling and slow design are to fostering my own creativity. As a teacher I want to share this information to facilitate higher levels of creativity and enable deeper joy in working digitally.

Digital designing and making with haptic Anarkik3DDesign

Anarkik3DDesign is a hapticated 3D modelling programme that is purposefully created to tap into how we naturally interact in the real world using our sense of touch (haptics) and gestures. Our software is bundled with a haptic controller which provides touch and movement in 3D. The result is a less complex interface because it removes the barrier to working fluidly that complex interfaces impose. It lessens cognitive disruption of searching drop-down menus for tools. So Anarkik3DDesign has to be tried to grasp the significance that haptics has to make 3D digital modelling an enjoyable and accessible experience.

I run two levels of bespoke classes. One class is to learn award-winning Anarkik3DDesign and suits creative non-CAD-using artists, applied artists and designer makers. The second masterclasses is for creative people who already have Anarkik3DDesign, for deeper immersion to benefit their practice . I adapt courses to suit participants as I have years of experience working with Anarkik3DDesign, and teaching in the creative and 3D digital modelling fields. With only 2 people per class, I can ensured a focus on what people need. I can organise dates that suit too as people might want to spend extra time in beautiful Edinburgh and Scotland.

From Katja Prins, a jeweller in The Netherlands:

‘Last October (2023) I did a Masterclass Anarkik3DDesign with Ann Marie and it was absolutely wonderful!
Ann Marie shared so generously her knowledge and took all the time for me.
She also anticipated on things that would benefit my practise but that I could not imagine myself since I don’t know all the ins & outs of the program, but of course she does.
I learned so much more than I thought I would!
Hence my designing has speeded up so much, all is going so much easier now since I now understand the program a lot better and know more all the possibilities.
Besides this I just had a very good time since she’s such lovely company!’ 

May and October 2023: masterclasses using award-winning Anarkik3DDesign, for Katja Prins, Brita Stevenson, Birgit Laken and Allison Macleod, four creative women who already own and use the programme, for deeper immersion to benefit their practice as artists, applied artists and designer makers.

More about classes and masterclasses

A wee extra to classes is making space for informal discussions: topics such as the importance of our tacit knowledge as makers for creativity and innovation. With reference to the posts I am currently writing, there is also serendipity, flow, play, and mulling. Further topics are about developing an eco-responsible digital practice, and no-hype know-how on 3D printing.

I can bundle classes with the loan of Anarkik3DDesign (the essential haptic device, and a laptop if required). Please contact me at a.m.shillito @ anarkik3D.co.uk. for more information and to discuss this option.

I hold the classes and masterclasses in Edinburgh EH9 2DG.  The fee for sole traders/freelances is from £60 to £120 a day based on ‘what you can pay’. Because I want 3D digital tech to be as accessible as possible.

For institutions and businesses, please contact me directly to discuss your requirements. I am not a sales person so no hard sell! For more info and to book a place please contact me at a.m.shillito @ anarkik3D.co.uk.