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  • Columbia River Gallery

In the Zone

Updated: Mar 7

"I think Ginger does an excellent job of describing "the zone". I love it when I am in my zone!" - Donna Erwin

Many artists speak of the Zone and I use this term frequently, too. I have heard and read a lot of chatter about the meaning of “the Zone”. Some artists flatly state that they don’t know what others are talking about when they use this word. I have come to the conclusion that this term is not describable. How do you describe deeply personal euphoria, meditation, out-of-body experiences, total absorption and concentration…? But this is a fascinating concept. Years ago, I began to call this state, Alpha, which referred to the brain waves involved. Don’t know if I was correct in this assumption, but it sounded good at the time. Today, I would love to find a research scientist who could verify brain waves or anything else that changes in the brain while doing certain tasks. These tasks range in their content. I know mathematicians, artists, writers, knitters, composers, chemical engineers and listeners who experience something like the Zone. My Zone looks and feels something like this:

  1. I am totally absorbed in what I am doing.

  2. I feel weightless because I am unaware of my body.

  3. All pain and discomfort is gone.

  4. I am aware of my surroundings but not in touch with them.

  5. I am neither cold nor hot.

  6. I am aware of heightened activity in my brain.

  7. I am able to access a great deal of knowledge and bring this to use in my activity.

  8. I can make decisions quickly and easily about my activity.

  9. I am wide-awake.

  10. I can hear.

  11. I can NOT speak.

  12. I think of absolutely nothing but my activity.

  13. I will no longer be in my zone if I am touched, some alarm or phone goes off or someone calls my name loudly.

When my children were very small, I would paint in our living room while the kids played beside me with their toys. They understood that I was there if they needed me but, otherwise, not to interrupt. These were always our quietest times together. Always, the kids played happily and peacefully. They would even put their toys away and once in a while they would nap beside me. My daughter, the oldest, would occasionally tap me to get my attention – bathroom break, food, water or a question she needed answering immediately. All of this was true, too, when I was reading a book. As they grew older (of course, I didn’t grow older) it extended to when I graded papers, wrote lesson plans and studied for lecturing. I always called this an Alpha state and it wasn’t long before both the kids also found themselves in Alpha states; first when listening to me reading to them and then in very individual play and in their own reading and learning processes. I knew this because it was hard to get their attention - I usually had to touch them. Once, I did a demo for my workshop and I warned my students that I could hear them but could not speak to answer their questions and that I would automatically back up as I painted and would just step on them if they stood behind me. Recently, I have learned that setting out good habits for activities keeps me in the zone longer and with greater success in my activity. In other words, I must have all my tools ready and in their correct place. Translate this to my palette colors laid out in the usual order and quantity, brushes, palette knife and paint thinner available and in place, paper towel in the right position and my photo reference, too. For plein air painting this is very important. Breaking my concentration to gather up some missing item or if I haven’t squeezed out enough paint (heaven forbid!) is an absolute “no-no”. Breaking in mid stride creates havoc in my brain and a re-start is awkward, at best. I have always thought of the Zone or Alpha as a creative state. Creativity takes a kind of non-analytical thought process; it takes an outside-the-box, lateral thinking process instead. I write frequently about my right brain/left brain activity and this is closely related to my Zone. I have learned that my right brain (my creative side and the one that paints) is full of chaos and loves to be in the Zone BUT, I have to engage my left brain (analytical, organized and intellectual side) to access usable knowledge, keep me on target mentally and not wondering off somewhere in the chaos. The left brain resists the Zone, probably for fear of chaos, but stands ready to assist subconsciously when needed (which is often!). In the end, together they are creative, wise, knowledgeable and can paint for hours on end to produce some good paintings. What is your Zone about? I really am interested if you can speak its name with words. Acknowledge and enjoy your inner, meditative, productive state when you paint, regardless of what you name it. Ciao, Ginger

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