This is what more than 60 people look like when they’ve all been practicing mindful doodling! The photo was taken at my book launch at Waterstones last month, and there certainly are a lot of happy faces in that picture. As it’s a month since Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing was published, this week I thought I’d share a short extract from its opening chapter along with a simple mindful doodling exercise to get you started at home.
Chapter One – Just Drawing.
The good news is that everyone can draw. Far from being a rare gift, only possessed by the ‘artists’ among us – drawing can be as natural and instinctive to us as breathing – if we let it. When practised mindfully, drawing has the power to effortlessly lead us into a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world around us; turning drawing into play, into a dance of movement, an act of seeing deeply and connecting profoundly with life. As children, we draw; instinctively, and generally without too much thought, we put crayon to paper and we make marks. We don’t generally even have a sense of good or bad drawing. We just draw. And that is what my book, Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing is all about – just drawing. Simple.
So how can we make a start on the path of mindful drawing? Lots of things can get in the way, not enough time, low confidence, a strong voice inside saying we can’t do it –we’re rubbish. But the truth is we’ve probably strayed onto it at some point in our lives already. As children, of course we drew, but as adults too, many of us engage with an act of mindful drawing without even realising that that’s what we’re doing. This act is doodling, and in this simple practice many of the profound truths of mindfulness and drawing are contained.
Doodling makes it all sound a little throw-away though, doesn’t it? Perhaps, just doodling doesn’t quite have the same ring for you as – just drawing. It’s a little less ‘Zen’, a bit more mundane. But don’t underestimate it. To get to the heart of doodling’s potential it’s useful to ask the question – what happens when we doodle? What is going on? The answer is that doodling is drawing without any particular object in mind, no destination, no aspiration. It’s a kind of mark making that is completely instinctive and as such it helps us by-pass any negative inner voices and just get into the flow of mindfulness. As the artist Paul Klee said, “A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.”
So why don’t you try this simple drawing exercise? I suggest you try it for five to ten minutes to start with.
- Get a piece of A4 paper and a pencil – or a pen, sit comfortably, holding your pencil as you would normally, keep the tip resting on the page and close your eyes. Take a few moments to focus on the feeling of your pencil between your fingers. This is something we do almost every day, we write, we scribble notes, we sign our name – but very rarely do we pay attention to how it actually feels to hold a pen in our hands.
- See if you can notice the different places the pencil presses against your skin. Is it resting on a knuckle or on the soft pads of the fingers? Is the surface rough or smooth? How does it feel? Experiment with how you hold the pencil. Are you holding it tightly or with a loose and relaxed grip? Can you loosen or tighten your hold so that it feels poised and yet still relaxed.
- Start to make some simple shapes on the page – all the time keeping your eyes closed. Make the shapes that feel good to make – they might be continuous circles or spirals, zig-zags, straight lines, wavy lines, geometric type shapes, anything at all, just one or a combination of all. Keep your eyes closed and resist the urge to peek. Don’t try to draw anything in particular, you’re not drawing either from life or from your imagination here, you’re just doodling, just making marks, just making marks that feel instinctive and enjoyable to make.
- When you feel yourself getting a little tired or bored of one shape, change your focus and draw another shape. Keep coming back to the sensation of your hand drawing, brushing against the paper, holding the pencil. Keep drawing – keep doodling just what feels good, the shapes you feel you instinctively want to.
How did you get on? Want to try more? Drawing should be as effortless and enjoyable as doodling. It can be. And for me – with my own strong inner critic – mindfulness has been the best way to find that effortless dance on the page. I urge you to try it. There are no uncreative people – everyone can draw.