Mindfulness and Art

5 Things That Connect Me to What I’m Doing

Staying in the present seems to me to be as much of an acquired skill as a moment-to moment battle, most of which is spent wrestling with past struggles and fears that exist in the future… two things that are easy for me to unconsciously carry to any creative endeavor. Often times the intensity and pace of life doesn’t allow us time to honor our various processes and difficulties, so here are five extremely simple tips that have helped me enjoy the action of making art. There’s no correct way to make art, but these are just some practices I’ve noticed naturally developing for me, so put as much stock in them as you’d prefer.

  1. Think Critically About the Piece Before Starting

Often times when I’m midway through a piece I find myself wishing I had done something differently, changed something earlier, or constructed the composition poorly. When thinking about a piece that I have a specific aim for, I often have to remind myself to think about the entire life of the piece, from composition, to layering/building, to refinement/detail to finished. For example, staying conscious of the fact that I often have an easier time painting/drawing highlights on top of  a blocked-in painting underneath usually lends itself to a better outcome than if I hadn’t had any intention with the construction of the piece.

  1. Pay Attention to the Texture of Your Material

It helps my focus if I pay close attention to the literal feeling of making art, the grit or smoothness in the texture of certain paints, the rough and sometimes squishy labor involved with sculpture, watching the particles fall off of a piece of charcoal as it’s ran across a page… anything to remind of you the feeling of what you’re currently doing.

  1. Observe Your Environment

Look around! How does the room look? How do the different shapes, colors, smells, textures and light appear before you? How does it make you feel? In my own experience, noting these details can help breathe more life into a piece, especially if it is observational by nature. Even if it isn’t, the best records capture the feeling of the band playing in the room, so why shouldn’t the same energy apply to the art you’re making?

  1. Do a Piece Without Intention

Ignore everything I’ve previously said. There’s no structured way to do everything when it comes to art, usually I find that it is almost completely self-directed. You can be taught various techniques, but ultimately, it’s up to our own personal faculties to help drive our own good art. So why not unwind and grab whatever is near or far and just go for it without judgement or intention? Or potentially apply the second two tips and ignore any structure or prejudice you may have going in.

  1. Your Inner Critic Isn’t always your Artist Critic

It is important for me to note that, like with myself, I am hyper-critical of my art, sometimes to a fault. The separation of what I consider critical bullying yourself and “critical information” is extremely important to stay fit to work on my skills as an artist. Unfortunately, it can be tough to separate these two inner narratives, especially because they co-occur so frequently. It is a lot easier to feel disappointed in my art than it is to feel fulfilled, but extrapolating information from our own criticism can be an excellent practice to help us learn more about our art and what we can do differently if we so choose. If you dislike part of your art, ask yourself why and your answer may be something that serves your next piece.

As I stated earlier, these are just a few articulated ideas that have followed me for the last few months while working on portfolio pieces. I’m no expert in self-help (is anyone, really?) so take as much stock in these ideas as you’d prefer to.

Featured Image: Ted Geisel, Lion Stroll, 1970

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