Drawing to Calm Anxiety
Dear Wonderful, Creative You:
Whether you are quarantined at home, or an essential worker going out into the world to make sure the rest of us get our needs met, most of us are feeling anxious, out of sorts, and generally unsure of what to do with ourselves, at least some of the time. I talked in my last post about some coping skills that have helped me adjust to life in quarantine, and how art is a part of that. But I want to share specifically today about using drawing to calm anxiety with something I call slow drawing.
Why should you slow draw? What is it?
It’s possible that others define this a bit differently, but for me, slow drawing is a mindful practice where I move my pen at a slower pace than usual and really pay attention to the process. It’s a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what you are doing in the moment.
So when I slow draw, I have an intention to notice the process with curiosity. Curiosity is a wonderful skill because it disengages judgment, and engages presence. When we can stop thinking about what we should be doing, checking the phone, worrying about what will happen next and just be present to what we are doing right now, it’s a relief. This kind of singular focus is an excellent mindfulness practice. (It’s also great for us artists, trying to get the inner critic to take a break so we can explore with our art materials.)
One of the reasons I think art lends itself to mindfulness practice so well is because it’s a sensory experience. As I slow draw, I am watching to see how the lines appear on the page. I notice the slight bumps that appear, especially as I’m warming up, or how the line is impacted if I breathe a certain way. Rather than trying to perfect or judge a slow drawing, I’m just curious about what’s going to happen next, and what the experience is like.
I get curious about how the pen feels in my hand – is it smooth? Warm or cool? Is my grip light, or can I feel the hard side of the pen pressing into my finger? I listen for the sound of the pen moving across the page. Can I hear it?
And as I tune into the process of drawing a simple, repetitive pattern, and noticing the process through my senses, something amazing happens. My breathing slows down. I feel my muscles relax. I start to enjoy the process of watching the lines appear, getting playful and curious about what would happen if I made this or that small change. I love to watch the lines get darker as the ink overlaps on itself, and see what happens as a line ventures into uncharted territory on the page.
Intentionally slowing down is a powerful process. There is so much telling us to hurry up, be productive, even in this time of quarantine. I love having an invitation to go as slow as you wish; it’s a relief.
Benefits of Slow Drawing
+ It’s an active meditation, which for many of us is easier than closing our eyes and focusing on the breath. We shed worries while we draw. It’s important to have a break from all the stress and worry right now.
+ You have permission to focus on the process, not the product of drawing. Sometimes we need permission to let go of perfectionism and just do something because it feels good. That’s a good quarantine coping skill in my book.
+You can work in series, which allows you to experiment and try lots of variations. This will helps you discover what you like artistically, and improve your skills. Working a series also helps because you don’t have the pressure of coming up with a new idea each day.
To help folks learn this process, I did a Slow Drawing + Watercolor Bursts workshop last week, and we practiced slow drawing many different variations on a simple form. If you missed the replay window, or you just want to do the visualization, drawing and painting again with me, I’m making the class available at CoronaCoping pricing for just $14 so that as many folks can take advantage as possible. (Normally a video class this length would be $39.)
I’d love to hear about your experience with slow drawing and how it’s helping you cope.