Drawing is good for mental health

sketch of art materials Science says drawing is good for mental health. Not only does it make you happier it is good for your brain. Print.com recently ran an article by Robin Landa. Draw Yourself Happy: Drawing, Creativity and Your Brain makes some very interesting points in favour of establishing a drawing practice.

Researchers have found that drawing not only effects the brain but also improves makes you happier. I think most people who draw know this but it very nice to have science back you up on this! So, instead of an art practice being a guilty self indulgence it becomes an activity that promotes good mental health!

Another confirmation of a personal belief, is when I talk about the muscle memory of drawing things like an elipse or a circle or even a straight line – I discovered I am not talking rubbish. Discoveries like this is always a relief and obviously just has to shared. (She says with a grin)

In another piece of research “Drawing on the right side of the brain: A voxel-based morphometry analysis of observational drawing” used voxel-based morphometry which is a scanning method, used in this case to study how observational drawing effected the brain. They worked with art students and non-art students and measured the volume and performance of grey and white brain matter while drawing. Guess what they discovered?

… drawing relates to changes in fine motor structures in art and non-art students. Also, the scans revealed that the art students had more grey matter in the precuneus in the parietal lobe, an area of the brain linked to a wide spectrum of integrated tasks, including creativity, visuo-spatial imagery and more.

So put simply (I think) is that when we draw we grow more grey matter in the area of the brain that is responsible for things like creativity. What this says to me is that practice really does lead to improvement because what is happening is that your brain is developing. So the mantra practice, practice, practice makes scientific sense.

Also when drawing dopamine is released but, as James E. Zull points out,

the dopamine is released in the newest region of cortex, the part that we use to create ideas, make decisions, and plan our actions. Thus, we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves.”

This  little nugget had me thinking, particularly the phrase “the reward system kicks in” I think it kicks in even stronger when others recognise the activity. The reward is enhanced in social situation which explains why various internet drawing challenges work so well. This is my hunch, but I am sure somewhere in the world researchers are looking at social learning and the internet. What do you think?

Anyway over cuppa do pop over and read Robin Landa’s Draw Yourself Happy: Drawing, Creativity and Your Brain

sketch of art materials About the images. These are a couple of recent sketches. I have decided that this blog needs a redesign so I am drawing art materials and working out ideas. These were done in a Strathmore mixed media sketchbook which is 5.5 in x 8.5 in (14 x 21.6 cm) using artist pitt pens, Derwent watercolour pencils and watercolour paint. Click on the thumbnails to be takes to larger versions.

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New sketchers group in Canberra

I woke this morning with a little voice that whispered “Will anyone turn up?” I felt like a big kid as this week I have been taping away on the key board emailing folks and posting to facebook with the news that a new sketch group was forming in Canberra.

The time was set at 10.30 with people to meet at the cafe outside the National Gallery. I need not have worried as 9 brave souls gathered with sketchbooks in hand, with 2 people going the extra mile literally as they travelled from Goulburn.

sketchbooks and meet up I really liked the share and not compare attitude that everyone embraced. We had a lovely day and decided that we would make this a regular event meeting the first Sunday of the Month and that we would embark upon the formal process of becoming an Urban Sketchers group.

Flugelman sculpture sketchI chose to tackle the Bert Flugelman sculpture “Cones” The contrast between the shiny stainless steel and the greenery around it was interesting and a challenge! If you are interested in finding out more about this sculpture The NGA provides a short video on their website.

All in all a great day!

Added later: For another viewpoint of the event and much better photos of everyone see Leonie Andrews blog post “This could be the start of something big

If you are a Canberra resident and interested in the next meeting email me and I will make sure you are in the loop.

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Taking on too much as a creative challenge

Drawing of toolsThere are times when I bite off more than you can chew and then chew like mad. January I took on a number of drawing challenges while also doing Liz Steel’s Sketching Now class and the Sketchbook Skool BootKamp (yes that is the way they spell it). I quite deliberately went on overload – in fact I started to call the month overload January! All up I did 36 sketches in the month so allow me to share what I think I gained from the experience and why I went on overload.

Why I went on overload
I admit that the reason I did this, was a desperate attempt to kickstart a practice I have had trouble doing. For a long time I have wanted to establish the habit of regular drawing from life and I have found it difficult to do. I do manage to write a journal daily and regularly use a studio journal to capture design ideas and record what I am working on but doing a drawing from life has been a difficult habit to establish. When I was younger, I used to sketch and draw often. As digital technology became more and more part of my life the habit was broken. At first I did not really notice it as I was still working in my studio journal often from photos or doing collages and I my creative urges were perfectly satisfied by working with textiles. But in the last few years I have missed drawing from life. I have missed that feeling of pen on paper. Even more so, I have missed the close observation of life that comes with a habit of drawing.

What I did and what was my goal
I decided for one month to take on as many sketching challenges that caught my attention. I thought that if I took on too much and went on overload I would at least achieve the goal of drawing from life everyday.

How I did it
On Facebook there are a number of large sketching groups and they are simple to join and share work on. These groups are active with interesting chatter that revolves around the subject of art and drawing yet being a Facebook group the conversation is not hidebound or elitist. My “overload January“ coincided with many new year challenges so there was lots of community stimulation and chatter which makes any challenge more fun

drawing of a jacketI thought about timing
In Australia January is a holiday month. The children do not return to school until February and many families are on annual leave. So for me, with my husband on leave and the house in holiday mode it was a good time to do such a crazy thing, in other words the timing was good. For the whole month I did a sketch everyday.

What did I gain?
I learnt and gained a huge amount. After about day 3 or 4 I was no longer procrastinating as I started to establish the rhythm of including drawing in my daily life.

Within about 10 days I realised I could not aim perfection. I simply had to ditch the idea totally. I did not have time to dither about and agonise if something was good enough to show publicly. I learnt that there are good and bad days. All faffing about stopped and I learnt to simply turn the page and get on with the next sketch. This was also a blow to the destructive internal critic as it was a case of “shut up I am too busy to listen to you”. This attitude of  not listening was consolidated through the month. Dealing with an internal critic like this is not quite a habit yet but is definitely stronger than when I started.

I had stopped being so stressed and precious about every little sketch I made. Then, I did super crazy thing. One of the current Facebook memes is a 3 for 5 days challenge. The idea was to post 3 pieces of art work for 5 days but instead of posting previous work I decided to adapt it and post 3 sketches a day for 5 days. It was the best thing I did as it really pushed me to get on with it and consolidated everything I was learning. After that block of 5 days doing 3 drawings a day doing one felt easy!

Where things could have gone wrong
I think there are a number of points in the process where I could have stumbled or fallen. Sometimes when we set ourselves a particularly strenuous challenge it is easy to feel overwhelmed and do nothing at all. I think this happens particularly if the actual gaol for doing the challenge is not sorted in our minds. The reason I did it was to draw everyday and that is what I achieved.

It is easy to feel defeated by a challenge if you focus on what you have to do rather than what you have achieved. Early in the month for instance I decided I did not have time to doubt what I was doing and really had to give the internal critic the royal order of the boot. To be honest that is a huge achievement. I am not saying that I have no internal critic, everyone has one, but I was reminded that I control my internal dialogue rather than it controlling me.

The other reason I need to focus on what I have achieved- is that if I focus on simply keeping up the experience becomes a “to do” list. For me the minute something becomes a “to do” it can kill my creativity.

The advantage of going through this process in public by sharing it online in a blog is that I had tame the drive towards perfectionism. Every one wants to produce their best all the time but that can block producing anything at all! In publishing online I had get over myself, and stop taking every little mark so seriously. Going public like this  helped to disable the internal critic too.

So What is next?
First up I will not inflict a daily sketch on folks as I think although interesting for some a round up every few days is probably more suitable. It also means less time blogging!
This month I hope to do two things. The first is to turn some of what I draw into designs and patterns and share a little of that process.
I am going to meet the challenge of sketching daily but also as the Australian summer cools a little and we head into Autumn, I plan to get out of the house a bit and draw outdoors more.

Below are the sketches I did this month. Click on any of the thumbnails to see a larger version

EDM drawing prompt 179 two onions

EDM-179-onionThis morning before I go dashing out the door I would like to share with you my sketch from yesterday. It is another mundane topic  but it is in the spirit of drawing every day things.  I think I enjoy drawing food. Since to day is market day I will have some more to draw too!

This sketch was done in a Strathmore mixed media sketchbook which is 5.5 in x 8.5 in (14 x 21.6 cm) using artist pitt pens, Derwent watercolour pencils, watercolour paint, white charcoal pencil and lots of fun splotching about!

Click the image and you see a larger version. This is drawing prompt off  the EDM challenge list .The Every Day Matters drawing challenge has a flickr group and a  Facebook page