In the summer of 2016, I traveled to London and The Netherlands with students for a Global Leadership Summit on Human Rights. The trip’s theme was Artistic Expression as a Human Right. Kids analyzed street art works of artists like Robbo and Bansky; they created music on East London’s famous Denmark Street (where David Bowie camped out and cut his first record deal); and they toured The British Library, where they saw the Magna Carta and original manuscripts by literary greats–William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Kate Chopin, and Charles Dickens (and many more). Students got first-hand views of Bible manuscripts–original medieval Wycliffe translations (in Middle English) and King James translations (in Early Modern English). We viewed Davinci’s sketch notebooks and original scores by Mozart and Beethoven. To say the experience was overwhelming is an understatement.
These pages–discolored, smudged, blotted, annotated–breathed life into centuries of history.
Tour leaders encouraged students to keep journals and sketch or write about their encounters, and to encourage student participation, I took part in the activity, too. I was already an avid “Sketch Note” teacher but my formal “art” training ended in sixth grade. Though I was once a teenage daily “doodler” who immortalized nearly everything I saw in ink, I quit my hobby in high school. Didn’t have the time. I blame public education’s “guidance” system that valued AP course credits more than “mere elective” fancies.
Nevertheless, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I oiled the rusty wheels. What surprised me was how incredibly focused, present, and still I became while sketching. The journaling was ingress to mindfulness.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mindfulness as this: “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Mindfulness is a common teacher tool. It’s a great accommodation for students with ADHD, overexcitabilities (characteristics Dabrowski found typical in highly gifted students), autism spectrum disorders, social anxieties, and much more. Mindfulness is no “religion.” It’s metacognition. Thinking about thinking. I’d taught mindfulness strategies for years, but for the first time I was applying the strategies myself, and I was amazed with the results.
Keeping an art journal on that museum trip helped me tune out “white noise,” live in the present, and zoom in on the textures, multiple layers of paint, graded shades of color, brush strokes, highlighting, and more. The strategy stilled my mind and was uniquely calming. I left which a much greater appreciation for the artist’s process than I would’ve gotten from cursory glances at canvases on a walking tour. More importantly, I left with a greater appreciation of God’s handiwork.
I continued an art & poetry journal after returning home from Europe. No museum is needed for inspiration. The world is God’s canvas. If we train our eyes, we can see His wondrous beauties are everywhere. Sometimes I scatter words to describe those beauties. Sometimes I scatter lines and color. Either way, I end feeling calmer and closer to God.
Here’s a gallery of my growing mindfulness collection. The sketches, doodles, and paintings is untrained, untaught amateur stuff. Hardly any definition of “art.” I began with recreations of others’ works just to get a hang of techniques (hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, random lines, lighting, etc.), and I claim no credit for those. Once I had more tools, I got more creative. Photographs, landscapes where I live, Bible imagery, and self-created poetry have inspired most of the pieces here.
I found quiet peace in art, worked through painful scenes that clouded creative energies, and rediscovered a childhood passion. So while much of this blog site is dedicated to creating awareness about sexual abuse and educating communities, it is also devoted to healing wounded souls. We’re not recovery professionals, but we are people with experiences, and we can share strategies that helped us. If you’re interested in learning more about art journaling or art therapy, visit my Pinterest board here. Please feel free to share the art therapy or mindfulness strategies you’ve found helpful in the comments below.
The Lesser Lights