Drawing for the Health of It

In my 20s I was learning to paint watercolors, trying to draw landscapes with faint pencil lines so I could paint. I quickly grew impatient, wanting to get to the fun part. I confessed to an instructor that I didn’t really know how to draw. He pointed out that I drew with my paint brush.

There are all kinds of ways to draw. I had to find my “magic implement” as my friend Rich Hawk once said. https://hawkstudio.com/ In one of his art classes we tried many different drawing tools, from sticks of charcoal to wax crayons. I fell in love with a blue ink pen, the Pilot V7, which also happens to be the preferred choice of many writers, including Natalie Goldberg. https://nataliegoldberg.com/books/writing-down-the-bones/    

It makes sense now that I fell in love with a writing pen. I’m a writer, always trying to tell a story, even with my art. Through the years, drawing has also become a meditative experience that is calming and stabilizing, increasing my mindfulness, creativity, and health.

Most of us stop drawing around age eight, which is why our drawings look childlike. If you think you can’t draw, I encourage you get reacquainted with your eight-year-old self by trying drawing again.

Maybe you drew beyond those years and somehow absorbed the criticism of the age that lurks all around us, mostly through social media. But encouragement is there as well. And inspiration. Jump in with me and see if drawing as meditation might offer you peace, creativity and a path to more health in your life.

When to Draw

How can you fit another thing into your already full life? If you have 10 minutes, or even just 3 minutes, you can have a meaningful, rewarding, relaxing drawing experience.

Some nights I draw at night before bed while listening to an audio book. It is both relaxing (listening to a bedtime story) and productive–reading and creating at the same time, while readying my mind and heart for sleep. I start by takings some deep breaths, then holding my pen loosely, and letting myself enjoy the experience of seeing lines appear on the page, looking at my subject more than my paper. Keep breathing deeply. Music makes a nice background, or the voice of a narrator- I’ve listened to War and Peace lately, and the novels of Liane Moriarty.

When I go travel, I take a sketchbook with me. I love drawing in airports. I’ve also drawn the backs of heads in church services, until my subjects start to look around, feeling the intensity of my gaze I suppose. I’ve even been known to draw at stoplights (not so relaxing), but drawing can be quick. Some of my best drawings were done in 3-10 minutes. The more you draw, the more you relax, realizing it is the act of drawing that soothes, not the end-product, yet you may find some pieces you love, especially once you discover your magic drawing tool.

What to Draw

What catches your eye? Start with something simple if you haven’t drawn since you were eight. I love leaves. You can lay a leaf on the paper and draw around it if you are hesitant to begin. It’s a bit like tracing around your hand, which you can also do. Or look at the leaf (or your hand) closely and draw it without looking at your paper- Betty Edwards who wrote Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain begins with this exercise. https://www.drawright.com/  It is an exercise in seeing. I love drawing for how it makes me pay attention and really look at, and study my subject. This is where it becomes meditative. Creating lines that surprise me when I finally look at the paper. 

blue ink drawing of Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin’s face

What if the lines are off… in the wrong place? In pen, no less ?! Oh well. It is likely they are more interesting than traced, perfect lines. And then when you draw new lines, once again studying your subject and only glancing at your paper, the new lines create movement, as if your subject has moved. This is a wonderful quality to create on a static piece of paper. Play with line. Let them digress. Explore and discover who you were at eight, and who you are now through a meditative drawing practice.

How to Draw

Take up an implement and begin. Any paper will do to start. Even doodling counts. If you want to draw strictly for relaxation, start with a line that follows your breath, turning when you pause to exhale. Or draw a shape, like a circle, over and over, different sizes, connecting edges. Silvia Bastos wrote a wrote a great post on meditative drawing. https://journalsmarter.com/meditative-drawing

Some people find Zen Tangles relaxing–basically doodling a free flowing pattern in a small square of paper.  https://zentangle.com/

Why Draw?

Humans have a need to create, but often we fill the need with consuming instead. I find that if I draw and write (one often leads to the other) the desire to consume lessens. So if I find that my mind is telling me to go eat something, drawing helps calm the buzzing sense that I must have a (usually sweet) treat.

Draw to inspire

Currently I’m writing an ekphrastic novel. Ekphrasis is the Greek word for art that speaks out. All the characters in my novel have arisen from the paintings of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and their contemporaries. My main character, Rachel, is an aspiring artist, and also a model for the artists. Artists learn by copying others, so Rachel copies not only their work but also creates her own in her sketchbook-journal. From this my novel is rising.

blue ink drawing of 3 Arlesiennes
3 Arlesiennes from my novel
What might drawing do for you?

Do you have projects- memoirs, essays, short stories or novels lurking in your mind? It’s sometimes easy to ignore them and distract ourselves with other easier buzzes. Try drawing for three minutes, as a meditation, and see where it might lead you.



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