Drawing teaches students to observe their environment and learn to see what is right before them. Students are often fearful of drawing because they have preconceived notions of exceptional realism that they have seen in art museums, galleries, or examples provided in class. To scaffold this process and reduce the fear of drawing, I encourage students to focus more on their actions and feelings in the moment than on capturing the object realistically.
In the Mindful Studio, both mindfulness and art cultivate present-moment awareness of the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, and creative impulse. The aim of the Mindful Studio is to create experiences that enhance self-awareness, imagination, and the creative process by participating in mindful making without judgment.
Artist and author Frederick Franck used drawing as a meditative technique, which he describes in his book, The Zen of Seeing. Drawing mindfully by letting the eye fall naturally on what is in front of you helps to develop awareness of detail. Using all your senses with focused concentration, you can create a mindful drawing that quiets the mind and cultivates attention to the present moment.
Mindful drawing is about the process, not the product; the drawing becomes a record of the moment. Take time to slow down without judging how the drawing should look or how you feel about your abilities; simply notice the sensations of the pencil in your hand and how it moves across the page, letting both awareness and focused attention guide you.
Drawing teaches students to observe their environment and learn to see what is right before them. Students are often fearful of drawing because they have preconceived notions of exceptional realism that they have seen in art museums, galleries, or examples provided in class.
To scaffold this process and reduce the fear of drawing, I encourage students to focus more on their actions and feelings in the moment than on capturing the object realistically. The aim is to let the entire body engage in the process, using all the senses with greater focus, and letting the mark expand to become an act of meditation.
It is said that the poet and doctor William Carlos Williams carried around a notepad on which he listed “Things I noticed today that I’ve missed until today.” Invite students to make note of what captures their attention throughout the course of the day. For a period of ten days, ask students to draw from a list of suggestions that range from prompts such as drawing an object they see every day, a food they ate, or a detail of something in nature. The following list offers drawing ideas that engage mind and body:
any object you see daily in your life
something you’ve never seen before
your favorite place in the world
a detail of your favorite artwork
something you don’t like
anything in nature
food you ate today
an item you use daily, e.g., a toothbrush or hairbrush
an item you see in a classroom
a detail of a person’s face
The goal is to invite students to see the world in which they live and to see beauty in everyday items while cultivating mindful awareness. These exercises require the greatest level of observation and full attention to detail and establish a baseline for students to engage in mindful drawings. Students are encouraged to choose either contour or gestural drawing throughout the process. I often remind students that mindfulness is about letting go of judgment and learning to trust intuition and the creative process in the present moment.
Mindful Drawing Instructions for Daily Practice
Students begin by choosing an object they are drawn to, any object that draws their attention throughout the day.
Ask them to take at least three deep breaths to engage in mindful breathing and refocus before starting to draw.
Ask students to use all of their senses. Encourage them to be aware of how the drawing tool feels in their hands as well as the texture of the paper, and what they are hearing, smelling, and seeing.
Ask students to notice how they feel as they draw: Are they tired, hungry, bored? What does the space around them feel like? Is it noisy, quiet, cold, warm? What does the pencil feel like as it touches the paper? Is it soft or loud or does it make a scratching sound?
After completing the drawing, ask them to notice how it felt to draw mindfully and what feelings and sensations emerged during the process. This can be documented on the back of the drawing or incorporated into the drawing itself.
Art teachers engage their students with contemporary art from living and global artists. Young students create wacky abstract face collages inspired by Tony Oursler, elementary students investigate the work of Aaron Draplin and layer personalized logos with selfie monoprints, middle-school students paint eye-catching designs on expandable phone grips, high-school students photograph everyday objects that conceal and separate them from other people, and more.