My first experience of art as a form of meditation came about a year ago during Inktober 2017 when I created a dragon in response to one of the prompts. I enjoyed sitting in a comfortable chair, drawing pad on my lap, slowly and patiently creating different designs with pen and ink.
Someone mentioned that my designs were similar to Zentangles. I had heard the word before, but I’d never explored that particular pathway. I still haven’t pursued it although I am intrigued by it. There is an official Zentangle website that offers instruction and additional information. I will probably check it out. As part of my drawing studies, I’ve been working on design principles, so creating Zentangles might be a good practice method for me.
It wasn’t until the past summer, however, that I began to fully understand the deep connections between art and meditation. I wrote about the experience of sitting at the park, impatiently trying to draw the bark of a tree, and then — miraculously — finding myself wholly engrossed in the marks I was making. Time stopped. I became one with the tree and my experience of art changed forever.
Soon, I found myself looking forward to my drawing time in a way I’d never done before. Instead of rushing through drawings and feeling frustrated by the process, I enjoyed working slowly — sometimes taking days or even weeks to complete a single graphite drawing.
That slow, gentle approach carried over to my oil painting, as well. I no longer felt I had to complete paintings as quickly as possible. I might work on one small area one day, then let the painting sit for a time before I returned to it.
I’m also spending more time now experimenting with oil paints, doing underpaintings, trying different techniques, applying the paint in different ways. It means having a lot of unusual-looking canvases scattered about, and I like that. I look at them from different angles. Sometimes I turn them around. I see possibilities hidden with the colors, and I let those subtle suggestions guide me as I paint.
Here’s one unfinished painting where I’m slowly exploring different ideas within the scene. I’m playing with shapes, adding in lights and shadows, and instead of painting the picture, I’m stepping back and letting the picture emerge on its own.
And now, I’m considering art and meditation in new ways, exploring the concept of mindfulness — which is akin to meditation, although the terms do confuse me a bit. Mindfulness is defined as being fully present in the moment, which, I suppose, is somewhat similar to meditation. I think of meditation more as disappearing within the moment, losing myself and my conscious awareness. To me, that sounds diametrically opposed to mindfulness, but yet I know the two are closely-connected.
A few months ago I began reading about mindfulness, not with the intention of applying it to my art, but as a way of enhancing all aspects of my life. This idea caught my attention:
Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings of their life. Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to mother earth and father sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given.
After reading this and other ideas for incorporating mindfulness with creativity, I began spending a quiet time each morning tuning in to the experience of being an artist. In a prayerful way, I opened myself to guidance, contemplated works in progress, reflected on what I wanted to express through my art, and gave thanks for the opportunities I have to share my thoughts and feelings through art, music, and writing.
Sounds good, right? Well, it was awful. For me at that time, this was not a good way to begin each day. I was at a low point in my art. Everything I did fell short of my expectations. I seemed to be failing at everything I tried. My mindful meditation put me in touch with all those feelings of failure and frustration. I sat in my chair and cried. I didn’t want to touch my paints. I didn’t want to even think about art.
I’m no longer doing any morning meditations. Instead, I pick up my drawing pencils and a few sheets of drawing paper, and I doodle. I draw simple illustrations. I practice with perspective. It’s a gentle way to ease into my day.
Now, I’ve also discovered guided meditations designed to increase or otherwise stimulate creative abilities. Here’s one:
Increase Your Creativity – The Artist’s Room
I can’t speak to the efficacy of the meditation, however. I tried it and immediately fell asleep before the body relaxation was even complete. I tried it again and managed to stay awake long enough to approach the door of this Artist’s Room, but that’s as far as I got. Maybe guided meditation isn’t the thing for me.
From all these different practices and different approaches, I think what works best for me is creating my own mindful meditation experience through doing art. Instead of thinking about it, agonizing over it, contemplating it, praying about it, or falling asleep while listening to some disembodied voice talk to me about it, why not just do it?
Art is meditation, at least it can be if I choose to see it that way. For me, that means taking a few deep breaths, feeling a connection with what I’m drawing, and becoming fully aware of the process — the movement of my drawing pencil over the page, the feel of each brushstroke across the canvas. It means immersing myself in the colors as I’m painting, and losing myself in the illusions of light and dark with graphite and charcoal.
Sometimes I’ll burn incense — sandalwood and patchouli are favorites — and often I’ll listen to music or nature sounds.
Yes, art is meditation when we approach it that way. It has meaning. It has purpose. I’m glad to be finding my way on this journey, grateful for the opportunity to breathe deeply and be inspired by the world around me.