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The Creative Spiral: Play.

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

I recently had an interesting conversation with a man pursuing a PhD at Cambridge. He was very passionate and successful in his work, saying “I haven’t been bored in 20 years.” This struck me, especially because his studies would certainly bore me. To him, writing and researching were play– while to me, they were work.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, dedicated much of his professional life to studying play– or as he called it– “flow state.”

“[The flow state]...requires an ongoing balance of challenge and skill, immediate feedback, and clear and proximate goals, and serves the development of an increasingly complex self, which is capable of expressing the full range of human potentialities.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2018)

We brush against the flow state when we straddle the line between comfort and chaos– challenge and skill– the known and the unknown. Play is doing what we love at the edge of our abilities.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, play “...results in joyful discovery.” (Yogman et al., 2018) Discovery entails an element of surprise, which can only happen while challenging yourself. As your technical skills (comfort) grow, your capacity for the unknown (chaos) will also grow.

Play isn’t a luxury to pursue in the cracks of your free time. It’s a vital part of your health and work. The American Academy of Pediatrics further explains, “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions.” (Yogman et al., 2018)

Pay attention to “flow state” moments– when time effortlessly slips by, and you’re completely absorbed in your project. Take note of these moments, and follow the trail of breadcrumbs they leave behind.

My version of "play" has recently looked like staining wooden signs, making little toy cars, and creating this image.

I recently read a blog post by one of my favorite artists, Rebecca Green, which talked all about the Ib Antoni art exhibit in Denmark. Antoni's work is *chef's kiss* everything I aspire to be as a children's book illustrator, so I thought I'd try out his unique shape design for myself. Sometimes it's fun to jump into another artist's style and see what stays with you.

Like...are we kidding? I could look at these all day.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2018) Flow theory: Optimizing elite performance in the creative realm., American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Available at: (Accessed: March 28, 2023).

Yogman, M. et al. (2018) The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children, Available at: pediatrics/article/142/3/e20182058/38649/The-Power-of-Play-A-Pediatric-Role-in- Enhancing (Accessed: March 23, 2023).

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