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Take a Breath
Let's pause and create a little space with two simple drawing exercises.
It’s full on Fall in the SF Bay Area. That means oddly warm weather, sporadic showers, and whiplash adjustments to new-old work/school/life routines. There’s a lot going on for all of us.
In this week’s GUT I offer two simple, short drawing exercises to help alleviate the Fall overwhelm. They take inspiration from the work of Dr. Jud Brewer (director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center), and the artist Ruth Asawa (I bow.) Because I think we could all use these practices right now, I’m removing the paywall for this weeks assignment and the GUT Chat where we share our drawings. If you’ve wondered what the GUT Chat is, this week you can take a peek and see how great our GUT creative community really is. (GUTsters, let’s welcome the newbies!) I hope you’ll join me in drawing, sharing your work in the chat, and cheering one another on. And if you want to bring more moments like this in your life/the world in the future, you know what to do…
Speaking of overwhelm, I want to step back and give a little peek BTS (behind the scenes) into life over here in Wendy-land and context for this week’s drawing assignments. In addition to the post-summer adjust, for me this continues to be a time of opening and letting go. Urgent deadlines and loooong term projects. Peloton and Sour Patch Kids. And amidst the churn, I am, as maybe you are, trying to grow into these contradictions. Less “Or.” More “And.”
One major yes/and challenge: this poster child for the seat-of-the-pants-lifestyle is trying to learn to plan more. (God loves a good joke.) And that includes doing some major planning for us here in the GUT.
Because if you haven’t noticed, the GUT has grown. We are legion. Our GUT Chat is unparalleled. We have awesome guests coming up, and more live classes in our future. And in order to maintain the quality and intention I/we want (expect! No, DEMAND! My boss is so bossy1) I have to build some structures to support it. Basic management things I bristle at, like an editorial calendar. Scheduling. Systems. Barf. I know it will be worth the effort, and I have some great help. And if we can get these systems in place, I believe we will become the fiercest creative community on the internet and Save. The. Universe.
You think I jest.
I jest not.
Ironically, while setting up GUT systems might save the universe, one thing these systems definitely doesn’t do is draw.
Drawing is the opposite of a to do list. To do lists are all about planning the future. Drawing is about being present in the now. It helps us slow down and drop out our of intellectual control-seeking brains and into our bodies, and helps us process our feelings.
Studies have shown that coloring produces a similar response in the brain as the act of meditation2. It focuses our brain and redirects our attention away from anxious roaming thoughts. And, as we learned when we did our DAILY DRAWING HABIT3, just a few minutes of this kind of drawing every day can reset our days, and our lives.
This week, I wanted to interrupt my own planning to do list mayhem with a review of a couple easy, short drawing exercises to help us all relax a little. When did these drawings a couple years ago, I heard many of you say they were grounding and sparked a calm creative flame. So let’s do a little refresher to start off this Fall season.
I suggest grabbing a pen and piece of paper and trying one or both of them right now. If your mind and body digs how you feel afterwards, try it again later this week. Maybe when your brain starts to glitch. Like any new practice, you have to do it a few times before it becomes a tool in your creative mental health quiver. But once it’s there, it will always be there, available to draw upon anytime.
And again, because I think we all deserve a little support, I’m leaving these this week’s GUT assignments and and chat open to everyone. If you would like to support the GUT and support my work here and in general, the best thing you can do is subscribe. You’ll save the universe AND keep me stocked with Sour Patch kids.
Drawing Assignment: Drawing a Breath
Exercise #1 - Five Finger Breathing with Dr. Jud Brewer
A while back, a 6-year-old introduced me to Five Finger Breathing, an anxiety-reducing technique popularized by neurologist Dr. Jud Brewer. It engages multiple senses to help you become present, calm and focused. I stole that practice and turned it into a drawing exercise: “Five Finger Drawing.” FFD keeps all the senses engaged, and you end up with a cool drawing. Here’s how to do it:
Before you start, check in with your body. What do you notice? Now, place one hand on a piece of paper. With the other, use a pen or pencil to slowly trace the contour of your hand. Inhale as you ascend. Exhale as you descend. Pause in between. Go slow and steady. When you’ve reached the end, reverse the direction and draw back the other way. Pay attention to your breath. After a few rounds, stop. Check in with your body. What do you notice? Anything different? That’s it.
BONUS ROUND. If you are feeling like an anti-anxiety over-achiever, try twisting your hand slightly after each round, just a half inch-ish, keeping your palm in the same place like an axis. Keep tracing, breathing, twisting and tracing. After 20 minutes or so, you should end up with something like this:
Awesome, right? And if this doesn't beg to be colored, I don't know what does. If you want to create a Spirograph using your hand (or any object, really) and color it in, I know we’d all love to see your artwork. Take a photo of your drawing - colored or not - and post it in the chat and share how the process impacted your anxiety, breathing, focus, etc. Can’t wait to see your drawings and hear your experience.
Exercise #2 - Drawing in the Air with Ruth Asawa
“An artist is not special. An artist is an ordinary person who can take ordinary things and make them special.” - Ruth Asawa
A long while back on the DrawTogether podcast for kids, we made an episode on the work of Ruth Asawa called “Drawing in the Air with Ruth Asawa.” The drawing exercise we do in the podcast is one of my favorite calming and meditative doodle exercises, so this seems like a perfect time to review it.
To do this exercise, start by listening to the first few minutes of the podcast. The whole episode is only 9 minutes long, and shares a lot about Ruth’s life, but you can just listen to the first part and draw. Again, this is made for kids, but we are all just big kids, so I think you’ll dig it. Click here and hit the play button.
A little about Ruth since I have you here: I ❤️ Ruth Asawa. She was the quintessential maker, using her hands and whatever materials were available. She focused as much on the process of making art as the outcome. Through all the changes and chapters in her life (there were many) she kept making art.
Ruth and her family were unjustly placed in a Japanese American internment camp during World War 2. But even in those conditions she kept on creating. She went on to study at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and travelled to Mexico to see Diego Rivera’s murals and painting first hand. There, a local artisan taught her a basket weaving technique that became the basis for her wire sculptures.
Here are some traditional weaving techniques that look similar to Ruth’s wire work, and the drawing exercise we’re doing.
And here’s a photo of Ruth weaving a wire sculpture based on technique she learned in Mexico. Again, the loops are very similar to the drawing we do in the exercise. You can imagine how meditative weaving this wire would be.
Did I mention Ruth had six kids (!) who were of course always hoping for her attention. How she kept up her work while caring for them is beyond me. But she did.
Ruth Asawa wove different techniques, cultures, identities and experiences into a tremendous life and body of work. She made, taught and tirelessly advocated for arts education. She is a real model and hero for me, and for all of us. Thank you Ruth Asawa. For folks in/around NY this fall: a new show of Ruth Asawa’s DRAWINGS at the Whitney museum just opened!! Here’s a gorgeous piece from the exhibition. I can’t wait to see it.
Similar to the spirograph drawing, if you want to color in your loop drawing, I can’t imagine anything more Ruth-esque - it will undoubtably be both mediative and beautiful. Take a photo and share it in the GUT chat. Let us know how the loops and coloring impacted your limbic system!
So there we go. Two drawing exercises that help me create some space in an otherwise hectic moment. I hope they help you, too. I’ll be practicing them this week as well and look forward to seeing/hearing in the chat how they do (or don’t!) smooth the surface and drop us down into deeper waters.
If you have any questions/comments about drawing to de-stress, let me know in the comments and we can chat about it there. Wanna get wonky? I got the research to back it up. Ask all the Q’s. If I don’t know the A, i’ll find it for ya.
And as always, pencils up, friends. Everything is better…
Last week’s lesson COLOR MIXING 101 with Lena Wolff was an incredible introduction to understanding how color works and the color wheel. Thank you Lena! I love how many GUT members took the wheel in your own direction and created some pretty exquisite (and useful) art out of it. Here are a few selections of GUT members’ unique interpretations of the color wheel lesson. Members can check them all out in the GUT Chat (and make and add your own!)
Malcolm Too et al, “Coloring activities for Anxiety Reduction and Mood Improvement in Taiwanese Community-Dwelling Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Study” Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (January 2020)
I feel like doing this again in the new year. How about you? Another 30 days Drawing Habit for the new year?? Let me know in the comments below.