Welcome to our art lab. Take a seat and close your eyes. Breathe in through your mouth. Let the air go through your throat, chest, and stomach. Expand your stomach with air so it becomes as big as it can get. Now, reverse the steps, pushing air out of your stomach, chest, and throat. Join us as we gather together to learn, understand, and create. Today, we will discover what it feels like to be mindful in and through drawing class. We’ll participate in a series of activities that incorporate physical manipulation of materials, visual thinking and storytelling, mark-making on paper, sculpture, creative movement, and body-breath work.
Charcoal Gesture Drawings
First, I invite you to work in small groups to create gesture drawings. Each group receives a deck of cards containing words that describe feelings. Each person takes a turn miming the feeling printed on the card. The other members of the group observe and use charcoal to draw the activity as quick lines and shapes.
As a class, we observe and draw two people miming an interaction. You can evaluate, analyze, and note possible meanings next to your drawings. If time permits, you can create figure drawings of people in the hallways. While we draw, we collect these stories as an archive of moments from the fleeting world around us.
Next, we expand these moments into narratives. Choose a sketch from your archive and imagine the figure with a complete story arc and context. Construct the figure out of wire, newspaper, or other materials, and bring it to life with paint, then create a setting with mixed-media materials. Finish by writing the figure’s story in paragraph form.
For our next project, we engage in mark-making as a way to be present for each other. First, select a partner and narrate a three-minute first-person story, either imagined or real. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Your partner must document this story in visual form; for example, in a comic panel, illustration, or doodle. The goal is to represent the story accurately and completely. Switch roles and repeat the steps.
Share your drawings and reflect together on whether the signs and symbols demonstrate listening and understanding.
“Drawing” with String
Returning to your original seat, notice the objects placed on the table. Pick one and look at the outline of the object. Create a continuous contour “drawing” of the object with string. As you place the string on the page, feel how your body moves to create the shape of the object. The placing, gluing, stretching, laying, and organizing of the material make the observable world tangible. This helps us realize that mark-making (drawing) is an act of connecting the brain, the body, and the world.
Moving with Ambiguity
Sensing and processing, continuous inquiry and interjection promote clarity, awareness, and accuracy as you let go of the need to represent your preconceived idea of the object’s form. How do we look without making assumptions? How do we observe with complete awareness? How are we aware of our thoughts and feelings in relation to this act of interpreting, representing, and developing an understanding? Knowing how we move with this ambiguity creates meaning. Here is mindfulness.
Stand up. Move across the room to the other side at your slowest pace, one foot after the other. You stand on a large piece of paper on the floor. Think back to your string drawings and the object used for that activity. Dip a giant paintbrush in ink and draw that object onto your paper.
Consider the act of remaking and revisiting; be present with this new iteration. Notice how you are situated on the page and use your whole body to make the shapes. Coordinate your breath as you move with both effort and ease. Notice how mindfulness now cultivates flow and continual reengagement. Do not judge or predetermine your marks. Notice how it feels to hold the brush and paint fully from your whole being to draw your own conclusions.
Each moment is a scaffolded and differentiated access point that allows each student to expand capacity and engagement. I encourage you to continually revisit possibilities for guiding and co-creating empowering learning experiences. This starts with modeling, curating, and practicing embodiment, flow, and mindfulness with your students.
Art teachers emphasize process-based, expressive arts experiences to help students develop mindfulness and present-moment awareness. Young students create observational paintings of peace while immersing themselves in nature; elementary students participate in a series of multisensory mark-making activities; middle-school students collaborate on a mural inspired by a symbol of interconnectedness; high-school students express gratitude through traditional and digital printmaking; and more.