Breathe Deeply…

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.

Zentangle 1Someone 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.

Autumn Colors in Process (2)

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. 

From 10-Minute Mindfulness: 71 Habits for Living in the Present Moment

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.

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About Judith

As an artist, author, and musician, I celebrate creativity and personal expression through all that I do. I invite you to join me as I explore many different aspects of life, love, beauty, and nature.

10 comments

  1. Kit Dunsmore

    There are many ways to meditate and the trick is finding the one(s) that work for us. I have also had the sense of meditation while drawing — love it! And after hearing about Zentangles and seeing some, I started doing my own doodle pages that are covered with patterns. So you don’t need the official Zentangle to get the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is very interesting how your post reflects things I have been writing about many times. I think I know what your experience was.
    Since I have given many thousands of art classes and workshops, I’ve observed how people react to creation and how they approach what they think successful result or failure.
    Whenever you are about to start painting or drawing something, you have to relax and stop thinking about how good or excellent your work should be. Let the process take over you, and I think the best formula always is “Let us see what happens if I …. ” and do whatever at that moment you want to do.
    The more pressure we put on art we are creating or on us, the less result there will be.
    First of all, one has to learn making decisions and to allow their imagination, subconsciousness and finally the controllable mind guide us.
    Every single person sees and perceives absolutely everything in an absolutely different way. The way we create is our unique way of seeing and telling in an artistic way what our experience was. It is a way of communicating our imagination and our vision of life.
    Most people feel like they are diving into some other world when they are taken over by the feelings only creation can give us. When the class is over, students would almost wake up from their creative process, it seems much like waking up in the morning. I do assume it a very good meditation since it makes reality disappear and only our imagination and relaxing world of color and shape exists.
    The only thing is: to stop expecting masterwork every single time we touch canvas or paper. Just let it be and it will.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Excellent advice, and exactly what I needed to hear this morning. I’ve been wrestling with one part of a scene I’m painting. I get “glimpses” of how I want it to look, but then I can’t bring that vision to life, so I get frustrated, wipe it off, and I start all over again. It’s time now to step away from the work I’ve done and let it be. I really appreciate your comments.

      Like

  3. Very wonderfully said! Love your post

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Free Spirit Meg

    Great read! I found zentangle in a very difficult time in my life and it helped me immensely. I incorporate it into my work regularly now and it has helped me in day to day life. It is easy to become overwhelmed and lose the courage to just create! Meditative art is now a must in my life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love seeing Zentangles, and I realize now how beneficial those doodles can be. There are definitely times when I feel overwhelmed, and I think zentangles could help me get through those difficult times. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ann Mackay

    I’ve felt that process of becoming totally engrossed while working on something – it’s a wonderful feeling. I love the thought that you felt at one with the tree – who needs more? Art as meditation is the way to go for me too… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely a marvelous feeling, just getting lost in mark-making, enjoying the experience fully. During the summer I looked forward to getting outdoors for sketching every day. Now that the weather is turning cold, I really miss my nature time.

      Liked by 1 person

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