Art Making as Meditation
Carolyn Toogood is a visual arts teacher at Somersfield Academy, where she also runs the Mindful Art Club, an after school programme which encourages primary school students to use art making as way of connecting with their emotions and immersing themselves fully in the present moment.
Carolyn, who received a Masters in Art Education from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, will be sharing a series of children’s mindful art activities as we adjust to life amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
We sat down with her to talk about the ways in which children can use art making as a form of meditation and why we all need a mindfulness practice as we navigate these unprecedented times.
BNG: How did you first get interested in mindfulness?
CT: A few years ago, Kim Rego of Mindful Bermuda visited Somersfield and encouraged our staff to complete a mindfulness training course for educators. This course was life-changing for me; not only as far as shifting how I approached classroom management but also how I managed my own stress and relationships. Since then, I have built mindfulness into my daily teaching practice.
BNG: We are living through unprecedented times which can be extremely stressful, especially for children who may not fully understand the situation. How can we use art making as a way for them to both take a step back and take stock of the situation?
CT: The connections between creating art and stress relief are vast, particularly with young children. So much of being an artist is connecting with what’s around you and expressing what you are feeling inside. When you engage in this sort of awareness, you are being present and living in the moment. This is incredibly stress-relieving during a time of crisis.
In my Mindful Art Club we try to connect with nature, by noticing what is happening around us and identifying what we are feeling inside. Children can develop their observation skills by drawing what’s around them and immersing themselves in their surroundings. I also have students use texture rubbing plates to connect visual patterns with their different feelings. This exercise opens up a conversation about the range of emotions they experience and asks students to figure out how to visually describe them through pattern. Just by learning to talk about feelings (and notice and identify them), a child can begin to experience a state of awareness and mindfulness.
BNG: What are the connections between art making and mindfulness?
CT: Art making and mindfulness are inextricably linked. In the classroom (something I am missing these days), I have two ‘modes’: busy and quiet. Sometimes, in the classroom it’s beneficial for there to be a buzz of ongoing chatter, especially during brainstorming periods when the children are generating ideas about what to create. However, there also comes a time when students need to turn inward. I often ask the students to notice the micro-sensations of how a paintbrush feels gliding along a paper or the subtle differences between the application of a crayon versus an oil pastel. Beginning to become aware of these minute shifts and differences is the beginning of becoming mindful. When students create art in this enhanced state of awareness, their art making becomes a flow that is very satisfying and calming to them.
BNG: How is art making good for our mental health?
CT: Carving out time for creative pursuits is important, not only as a way to be expressive but also as a way to get into a ‘flow’ or a mindful, zen-like state. This sort of ‘cleansing of the mind’ is incredibly therapeutic for the nervous system. I enjoy making pottery in my spare time and, for me, I know that when I work on my pottery wheel there is a meditative repetition that induces a sense of calm and peace.
BNG: Many parents have suddenly found themselves home schooling their children for the foreseeable future. Do you have any tips for them?
CT: First and foremost, this is 100% crisis schooling not home schooling. We are in unprecedented times, like you said. I think families need to keep their child’s schooling in perspective and do what’s best for their child and their family as a whole. Everyone’s situation is vastly different with varying degrees of access to technology, educational support needed and parents working from home. Every day, families should take stock of what is working for them and what is adding unnecessary stress during this difficult time.
BNG: How can families use art to relieve stress?
CT: I do think, if possible, having a designated art space in the home, whatever that might look like, would allow a child to feel like there is a peaceful space to create when stress seems high or the child feels frustrated. Drawing for children is incredibly therapeutic and allows them to express their daily experiences more clearly.
BNG: What are some mindful art activities that children can do at home?
CT: A good starter exercise is to paint to music. You can introduce the child to various types of music and ask them to choose colours and lines that they feel evoke the song chosen. They can overlap the different ‘songs’ on one piece paper or paint on separate pieces of paper to create a collection of different visual emotions.
Follow Carolyn and the Mindful Art Club at @somersfieldartists