“The wonderful thing about the path of mindful drawing is that … it’s a dynamic process, which invites us to engage with awareness, not just with our minds, but with our bodies too, with our whole being. All we need to do is — do it. Just draw, and all the rest follows.”
– Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
From Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing
- Your sketchbook and a fairly fat marker (not a pencil). Pick a color that pleases you.
- A timer (for Part 1 of the exercise)
- If you’re drawing on a single sheet of paper, you might need some tape to tape the page down to the table surface.
Part I: Mindful Doodling, or “Taking Your Pen for a Walk”
This first part of the exercise takes 10 minutes, and it and allows you to warm up, settle in, and connect your breath, your body, and your drawing materials.
To do the exercise, you’ll need your sketchbook, marker, and your timer. Please set your timer for 10 minutes and hit “start.”
Next, get comfortable, close your eyes, and simply become aware of the sensations in your environment. Any sounds, smells, sensations of pressure on the soles of your feet or back. Next, bring the awareness to your hands. What do you notice about the sensation of the marker in your hand? The sketchbook in your other hand? The texture of the paper?
Once you feel fully present to this place and time, place the tip of your marker on your sketchpad, and begin to draw. (Remember: “Take the pen for a walk.” There’s nowhere special to go; just move.) Your eyes are closed for the duration.
You may wish to begin by drawing a familiar shape, or a set of lines. Maybe circles or spirals want to come up. Dots, dashes, hatches, scribbles. As in formal meditation practice, the work here is to simply return your attention to your breath (and materials) if your attention begins to drift. If you lose orientation to where your pen is on the page, use your non-drawing hand to feel for the borders of the page. (Don’t peek.)
If you’re curious, switch to your non-dominant hand and see how that feels different. What would happen if you put your pen in your mouth and attempted to draw? Used a different hand grip? If you can, go gently, with curiosity and playfulness.
After your timer goes off in 10 minutes, stop, open your eyes, and see what you created. Be with that for a few moments. If you wish, take a few notes in your journal about any thoughts or emotions which came up during or after your Mindful Doodling session.
Mindful Doodle example:
Part 2: Blind, Continuous-Line Contour Drawing
Now that you’ve connected your body, your materials, and your attention through Mindful Doodling, we’ll work with practicing mindful awareness of a specific object. We traditionally use the hand for this classic drawing exercise, but you may use anything you wish.
Still comfortably seated, turn to a new sheet of paper in your sketchbook. Place it on the tabletop, and extend your non-dominant hand out at a 45-degree angle from your page. As with the last exercise, you will not look directly at your paper. You’ll see it out of your peripheral vision, but your focus is on the hand, not the paper.
During this exercise, you will draw the contours of your hand. Two simple rules:
- You look only at your hand (or other focal object), not your paper;
- The entire drawing is made of one continuous line; until you’re done with your drawing, keep your marker on the paper.
In order to get the most out of this exercise, try to move as intentionally as possible. Go slowly. Stay in touch with the sensation of the pen and the paper. You’re entering into different relationship with your hand in that you are deeply noticing its every contour. As you look, attempt to transfer that tracing through your pen onto your paper; that requires deep awareness of what you’re actually seeing (versus what you think you’re seeing). It also requires the willingness to slow way down.
As always, this is about the process, not the outcome.
Once you’re done drawing your hand, put your pen down and gently release the exercise. Observe what you’ve created and make a note of any thoughts or feelings that come up.
Take it one step further:
- Variation 1 on the Blind Contour Drawing: Try the same exercise with your non-dominant hand. Can you do this with a gentle smile on your face, all the while returning your attention to the object of your attention?
- Variation 2 on the Blind Contour Drawing: To play with the power of slow-going, you could try the Blind Contour once again, but going more quickly. Give yourself a time limit—say, 30 seconds to complete your hand. Compare it to the drawing you did more slowly. What do you notice?
- Variation 3 on the Blind Contour Drawing: Try to re-draw the same object you drew in the Blind Contour Drawing, but this time, use your eyes. When you look at your blind drawing (not evaluating/”correcting” as you go) versus your “seeing” (evaluating/”correcting” as you go) drawing, how are they different? What do you notice about drawing what you actually see versus what you “think” you see?
- Variation 1 on Mindful Doodles: If you’d like to continue playing with focused mindfulness, revisit your Mindful Doodles and use them as a coloring page. Continue to practice attending deeply. Stay present to the sound of your marker on the paper. The sensation of your hand holding the marker. The smell of the paper. The sensation of your feet on the ground, your bottom on your chair. What colors call to be used when your hand hovers over them? Perhaps you’ll find a soothing rhythm overtakes you. Enjoy!
- As you worked with either exercise, were there any strong feelings that came up? Did humor peek in? Self-criticism? Resistance? How were you able to be with it?
- What about drawing with your eyes closed was different than drawing with your eyes open?