How drawing can enable mindfulness and what mindfulness enables for me

A watercolor drawing of a dry leaf and headphones
Watercolor by me.

We were out for a picnic in the park. It was a hot and sticky kind of spring afternoon. Ducks were swimming past us, mosquitos were buzzing around my head, and I was too tired to do anything other than lie on the mat, but my head was too active to rest. This happens often to me.

So to give my mind something to do, I drew this leaf and my headphones. Like giving a child something to color so the adult can rest :D.

As I slowly drew the curved, drunk looking lines (my favorite kind of lines to draw), I came back to the moment - to the leaf in my hand and the headphones next to me. This was a delicious way of slowing down. And this is what mindful drawing brings to my life - being in the present moment and living it, instead of running to the past or the future.

Why does mindfulness matter?

I started practicing mindfulness regularly around 5-6 years ago. And here are some things that it enables in my life.

  • When I needed to make difficult decisions, it helped create space in all the noise in my head.
  • Listen better to myself and others, even during stressful situations
  • Enjoy the present moment and savor the beauty of life
  • Cope better with worry or stress
  • Create space for creative ideas

Is drawing the only way to be mindful?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and the author writes in his book How to Relax,

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. We can be mindful of our breath, our footsteps, our thoughts, and our actions. Mindfulness requires that we bring all our attention to whatever we’re doing, whether we’re walking, breathing, brushing our teeth, or eating a snack. To be mindful is already to be awakened.

This means we can be mindful at any moment, so try different ways to see what works for you. I have tried different ways, and drawing from real life works really well for me. Another way that works well is the 54321 exercise that I shared here.

If you want to try mindful drawing, below are some tips. You can also sign-up here for the Thankful Drawing Call next week.

How do I practice mindful drawing?

Observing and drawing our inner or outer world is a great way of being present.

To draw from observation, we need to pay attention to what we are drawing and trace the lines based on what we see rather than what we think we see. This gets better and better with practice and we get more mindful as we continue.

Some things that help with mindful drawing for me are:

  • Drawing things you enjoy drawing. What you like to draw can be different than what you like to see drawings of, e.g, I love seeing drawings with buildings but find it utterly boring to draw buildings. You discover this by doing - I pushed myself to draw many buildings before I discovered that I don't enjoy that :D.

  • Pay attention to the process of drawing rather than the outcome: This is how mindful drawing might differ from drawing for other outcomes. When drawing mindfully, you don't care about the beauty of the outcome as much as the process, that is, being present. Though in time as we continue to draw badly, we usually start to draw well :D.

  • Draw to a scale that you like. I like to draw in a bigger size, even to a real scale of the object, if possible. If the paper is too small, then just draw the edge of the object or half of the object rather than trying to fit it all in. You learn this by trying to draw at different scales and see what you like.