Follow Your Bliss

I sketched the River Corrib the other day. I didn’t get cold, I didn’t get wet…
and in the two hours I sat there I was in bliss.

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

Joseph Campbell

My mother Cinnie quotes that to me rather a lot. She was responsible for my discovering urban sketching some seven years ago (she gave me the book that kicked it all off) and she is joyful that it was thanks to her that my life was transformed forever. I would be too, at the thought that I had given a precious gift to one of my beloved children. From the moment I started sketching – and I mean the moment – I knew I’d found my bliss. I was living in the tropics at the time, there’d just been a cyclone and the swimming pool where we were staying was looking a right mess. The palm trees were all bedraggled, the water was opaque green from the lightning and the sun was nowhere to be seen. It didn’t matter: it was my watershed moment, and I knew it.


When you sketch, you lose track of time. That’s not unusual: loads of engrossing activities have that effect. You can be out with your sketchbook for hours and you won’t think of food or drink, whether you’re too hot or cold, or bathroom breaks. A kind of trance descends when you’re sketching something that’s engrossing.

Once that trance descends, you stop making mistakes in your drawings. It’s as if some power outside yourself takes charge of the sketch, one that doesn’t go wrong. The trance-like state is known as “flow” or the “zone”.

In time, you enter that meditative state the minute you start sketching. Even holding a conversation with someone won’t disrupt the flow. It’s as if the part of the brain that operates the eyes and hand is doing one thing, and the part that controls talking and engaging with a human is doing another. It’s not that odd. You do it when you’re driving: to extend the analogy a little further, do you remember when you first learned to drive? I bet you couldn’t chat easily with your passenger on your first few excursions. Now you can easily have thoughtful conversations and drive safely at the same time.

Muscle memory

Just like driving, that meditative or blissful state will come, if it hasn’t already. It seems to be a combination of muscle memory and improved confidence as a result of practice. When it does, you’ll reap the benefits:

  • You’ll find you don’t make mistakes when you sketch.
  • You won’t get bored.
  • You won’t care about physical discomfort.
  • You’ll feel buzzy or elated after you’re done.
  • You’ll become generally calmer and happier.

I hope you have found your bliss too. Let me know, I’d love to hear about it.

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