I love colour. I get great joy out of playing with my acrylic paints, mixing them up and creating all sorts of different hues, tints and shades to use in my paintings. But when I first started, I did not know what brand, colour or kind of paints to buy. I am a self-taught visual artist and even if I did take a painting class here and there when I was first learning, when it came to choosing the colours for my own projects I was often lost and confused. I was told that mixing primary colours (red, blue and yellow) were supposed to be able to make any other colour you wanted, but did not know how to do it. And, which red, blue and yellow were the right ones to use? Bright red or Alizarin Crimson or another red? Lemon yellow or yellow ochre or Hansa yellow? Should I buy ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, etc? Which of the many kinds of red, yellow or blue should I work with? Not knowing made me frustrated and for a while I just didn’t do anything. Then I decided to begin despite not having all the information I thought I needed.
Disregarding what little I already knew about colour mixing, I instead just started with what I had. Choosing my three favourite paint colours at the time, plus white, I just began experimenting and playing. Being strategic about it, I mixed one colour at a time with white and painted a swatch of what I mixed onto a sheet of paper, then I mixed the colours with each other and swatched each time changing the ratios. I also recorded my ‘formulas’. After a while I was able to fill up a whole sheet of 9 x12 paper with around 30 different colours. I did the same exercise with another set of three colours, and when I filled out another paper, I did the same once more with another set of three colours. Most of what I know about paint and colour I learned this way - by mixing, swatching and recording my findings.
It has been a few years since I started working as an artist. Because there is some much to learn about colour and so many colour combinations and possibilities, I still use the same technique to start a new painting or series of works. Not only does the exercise help me choose and refine a colour palette for my project, I use it as a warm up to get myself ready to do the work.
I am also an art instructor who teaches acrylic painting. The very first exercise I give my beginner students is very similar to the one above. By doing this exercise they get comfortable with using the material and learn about colour, and because the act of working with colour is calming, it helps allay any anxieties they might have about trying something unfamiliar or developing a new skill.
If you are new to painting and wish to learn about colour, you can enrol in a colour theory course. There are many online classes nowadays that you can enrol in and view at your convenience. But there is also great value in just messing about with whatever colours you already have, so I also urge you to try this exercise and see what you can learn on your own just by playing.
I started cultivating a meditation habit many years ago. I have always found it difficult to do regularly and I've started and stopped many times. But since Covid-19 hit, I realized that it is something that has not only kept me in a fairly good emotional state, but has also helped me continue to make art and enjoy creating. Because of this, I now often make the effort to meditate, I integrate meditation into my art practice (and even into one of the art classes I teach), and consider it part of my process.
Below are the ways I found that meditation can be used as a tool to enjoy art activities even more, to generate new ideas, to be playful and explore, and carry on moving forward even when it’s difficult to see the path ahead.
1. Meditation is a warm up exercise
During those days when I’m not feeling great, I know that even a short time in my studio making art will lift my spirits. But even then, it’s sometimes hard to begin. This is when I discovered that if I do a short 5-10 minute meditation, it makes it easier to start pulling out my art materials and get going.
Much like how a ballet dancer stretches before a performance, how an athlete warms up before practice, or how musicians do scales, I use meditation to gear up for an art session. It helps me set aside what might have happened before the session, like feelings of annoyance with a brutal commute earlier that day or a heated discourse with a co-worker, for example. It also helps me set aside that constant to do list that is running through my busy mind. I find that meditation allows me to let go of those things for a little while so I can feel lighter and thus better focus on art.
2. Meditation helps dissipate fear
When I sit in meditation, I sit alone with myself. I get to know myself more and get comfortable with who I really am. When I am more aware of myself I am better able to trust myself and follow my intuition to make decisions in my art. That way I am less scared to try different techniques, new colour combinations, or to use my art supplies in a novel way, etc. In listening to my true self, I am better able to deal with fears that might be holding me back, and better able quiet the inner critic (or at least keep it muffled) for a bit.
3. Meditation can open the mind to new ideas and helps generate ideas
If I add an element of visualization to my meditation it can be especially useful when starting a new piece of art or staring at a blank canvas. It allows me to open myself up to find creative solutions to problems. When I meditate there is a relaxing both of the body and of the mind. I release some things that I have been paying attention to for a little while. I am able to put away that constant chatter and stream of thoughts that continue to play in my subconscious during the session. With the letting go I am able to free up some space in my mind that often allows new designs, plans or schemes to come in.
4. Meditation encourages kindness to oneself
Meditation reminds me that I am human and that sometimes I need to be kinder to myself. It allows me to remember the need to take care of the artist within me, to nurture it and to be understanding that I am not perfect and therefore cannot do things perfectly, or even well, in the first few tries. I find that with art and creating, I do better with benign encouragement rather than the drill sergeant berating voice that is often the dominant communication style that is in my head. Meditation for me is more like a persuasive nudge, that reminds me about my goals and guides me along the way. I respond better to the gentle direction versus the drill sergeant voice which I tend to rebel against.
5. Meditation breeds hope
Frustration can sometimes (often) occur when making art. As an emerging artist, I admit that many times feel that I am doomed to be poor, go crazy then cut off my ear, and be unsuccessful and only be recognized after I am dead. Meditation helps ground me and puts things into perspective. It reminds me of the successes I do have and helps me to stay calm enough to figure out how to work through missteps I take. It urges me towards developing a growth mindset, moves me forward and helps to focus me on my goals despite challenges.
Perhaps meditation will work for you as it has for me, I think it's at least worth a try!
If you’ve never meditated before and don’t know where or how to start, there are many free videos online that can get you on your way. Or you may choose to download an app instead. Two of the more popular ones out there are called Calm and Headspace. I have not tried Calm but I have used Headspace and find it is excellent in explaining what meditation is and what it does to your brain. It reminds you to meditate with alerts (if you want them), has a section to help you sleep better at night, and even has a moving meditation with exercises if you wish.
Most of us know that keeping a journal can be greatly beneficial to our mental health. I have kept a journal off and on for my entire adult life. It has been wonderful habit to have and has helped me through hardships, especially way back when I was a young adult. Journalling was a tool I often used to get to know myself more and figure out what I wanted for myself and my future. During times of confusion and turmoil, I’d whip out my journal and would take much time and care to write down any unpleasant incidents that occurred. And I jotted down my feelings in order to help me process these events.
However, I found that when things were going OK and I was not feeling down or in extreme anxiety, my journal transformed into a to-do list where I simply scribbled down items to shop for and other mundane tasks that needed accomplishing. Or, if it was not being used as a to-do list, it stayed closed and hidden away in my desk drawer. In short, my journal was really only a repository for my negative thoughts and feelings. Writing was only something I used in times of trouble. Again, I am extremely grateful that I had this aid to help me in times of need. But I felt it would be beneficial for me to have something more, another way to note my daily life the rest of the time. I wanted this something to help me avoid getting to that dark emotional situation where I even needed my journal to keep me out of negativity in the first place.
Do you have a practice that gives you comfort, a chance to connect with yourself, process feelings, or even bring joy despite less-than-ideal circumstances? If not, I invite you to find one, or simply do what I did and start doodling. Who knows where it might lead?
Author: MTM Hobbes
I am an artist and art instructor. Creating art and working on creative projects is my way making sense of life experiences and my environment. I believe that the practice of art helps a person become more of who they are meant to be.