Drawing and Wellbeing

A gentleman I was working with in Trowbridge last week made a comment that really stayed with me. He was talking about the need to slow down and notice, and the role of the arts within that – something that is very close to my own heart. I’ve paraphrased him a little but this is the essence of what he said to me:

‘we are called human beings, but we rush about always doing something, always busy, sometimes I think we should really be called human doings…’

It got me thinking, when we talk about well-being what do we actually mean? How can a project like Noticing Nature support and assist in improving someone’s wellbeing?

The man in question was drawing a leaf, and I was doing the same. Our drawings were pretty different in style and approach, but I think the benefits of drawing them were similar. As we drew, we talked abut leaves and trees, shapes and structures, about picking fruit and berries, including stories from our childhood.

With each of the people I work with on the project I’m clear that you don’t need to be ‘good at art’ to make art. Often people are anxious that they ‘can’t draw’ or ‘aren’t creative’, and so I tend to start by offering ways to be creative that don’t rely on drawing as they see it, with the perceived pressure to create a life-like representation. But when we do actually draw, what I try to emphasise is that we can all draw, because we can all make marks on paper, and that’s all that drawing is. And because we all experience the world differently, our drawings will all be different.

The gentleman from Trowbridge had drawn a lot in the past and had even run drawing groups for other people. But because of his current circumstances, he hadn’t sat down and really focused on drawing for quite a while. He told me that in his drawing groups, when people said they couldn’t draw, he’d tell them that they had drawn before they could write or speak.

It’s often easier said than done, but once we get past the belief that we are no good, and stop trying to draw like someone else, then we start to feel the benefit of responding to our local environment, and our sensory and emotional experience of it, by making marks on paper. And whilst we make the marks, we share our thoughts or the things that we have noticed. The drawing draws us into relationship with the leaf, the tree, the wider landscape, and the conversation with each other. The drawing becomes more about being and less about doing.

In a project where participants are often experiencing loneliness and isolation, due to covid restrictions, health issues and bereavement, making art together is a way of experiencing a moment of connection. Connection within oneself (your mind and body) with the local environment (the leaves, trees, flowers and birds), and with each other.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

3 thoughts on “Drawing and Wellbeing

  1. This is wonderful to read James and so true. I for one am hung up on not being artistic when it comes to drawing. But when I just let myself draw without preconceived ideas of what it ‘should’ look like, I’m always pleasantly surprised at the results and it always makes me feel good!! Thank you for the amazing work you’re doing on this project and such lovely photos!


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