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AQ Shift 1: Unawareness → Awareness

📝 NOTE: This is an ongoing series on my theory of Artistic Intelligence (AQ). New here? You can read the first essay in the series here.


The Mental Shifts of AQ

There are 7 mental shifts that must happen for us to move from a Toxic to Nourishing mindset. This week, I’m covering the first mental shift:

  • Unaware while making art → Aware while making art

The Experience

Imagine the following two experiences:

  1. You’re drawing in your sketchbook. You feel anxious and tense. You feel like you have so much to do and learn and will never get it all done. You’re stressed, judgemental, and hard on yourself. You notice and dwell on all the mistakes you make. You are absorbed in thought with each line becoming more difficult to draw.
  2. You’re drawing in your sketchbook. You feel relaxed and at peace. You feel the pen move across the paper, hear the scratching noise on the page, and see the marks clearly. You are absorbed in the act of drawing, with each line flowing out almost effortlessly.

Which experience resonates with you?

Unaware

These two situations show the difference between being Unaware and Aware while making art. Our default mode tends to be Unaware. In that state of mind, we hurry our art—both in the short term current piece, and the long term artistic journey—wanting it to be complete from the moment we begin.

We don’t truly feel, hear, or see anything that we’re doing in that moment. Our senses are dulled, while our mind is in hyperdrive. Our thoughts drift away from the present moment and act of drawing into thoughts of what we should have done or what we should do next. We ruminate on the line we messed up, worry about how the next line will turn out, and feel overwhelmed with the pressure and expectations we’ve put on ourselves.

In short, we stop drawing and start thinking about drawing.

Aware

When we’re in the Aware state of mind, we are more playful, curious, and confident. We’re able to access our creativity, originality, and let out the art that feels like ours. We notice our sensations while drawing—how the pen feels in your hand, hearing the sound it makes scratching against the paper, hearing any other noises going on around you, feeling your wrists against the page, and seeing each line clearly as you draw it.

We’re not only becoming aware of our surroundings, experience, and senses, but also becoming self-aware. It all goes hand-in-hand.

Creative Mindfulness

We all spend a whole lotta time in Unawareness, but original drawing can’t happen in when we’re Unaware. So how do we move from Unaware to Aware? The best way I’ve found is through practicing creative mindfulness.

Drawing, and being creative in general, is very similar to meditation or mindfulness: we have to quiet our thoughts so we can hear our inner voice.

Mindfulness is basically being able to pay attention to the present moment and recognize your thoughts without judging them. Being mindful makes us more self-aware, more focused, and able to see more clearly. It also allows us to be less judgemental of our art and reduces stress.

Mindfulness is often practiced through meditation where you try to be mindful of your breath and aware of your body. I’ve developed the exercises below that combine those mindfulness practices with drawing. I believe these exercises can help you practice shifting from Unaware to Aware through artmaking. So let’s try it!

AQ Shift 1: Unaware to Aware. Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Exercise 1: Drawing a Body

For this exercise you’ll need: Your sketchbook (or paper) and a pen or pencil.
Please read through the instructions before you begin.

  1. Go somewhere where you can be alone and free of distractions.
  2. Open your sketchbook to a blank page.
  3. In the following steps, we’re going to be drawing a simple body shape. Don’t worry about details or accuracy, just draw basic shapes. You can draw your body made of shapes, blobs, or just lines, as seen in the example.
  4. Draw a circle for the head.
  5. Draw an oval for the torso.
  6. Draw the right arm.
  7. Draw the left arm.
  8. Draw the right leg.
  9. Draw the left leg.
  10. After you have finished drawing your body, look at what you’ve created. Then read and answer the reflection questions below, perhaps writing them down next to your drawing.

Exercise 1 Reflection:

What was your experience with this exercise?

What thoughts did you have during the exercise?


Now we’re going to do a the second version of this same exercise.
Don’t continue on until you’ve completed the first exercise!


Exercise 2: Mindfully Drawing a Body

For this exercise you’ll need: Your sketchbook (or paper) and a pen or pencil.
Please read through the instructions before you begin.

  1. Go somewhere where you can be alone and free of distractions.
  2. Open your sketchbook to a blank page.
  3. In the following steps, we’re going to be drawing a simple body shape. Don’t worry about details or accuracy, just draw basic shapes. You can draw your body made of shapes, blobs, or just lines, as before.
  4. Before we begin drawing, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Be conscious of your breath. Feel each breath move into and out of your lungs. Feel your chest rise and fall.
  5. Then slowly open your eyes and pick up your pen.
  6. Bring your awareness to the sensations of your physical body. Notice how the pen feels in your hand and how your body touches where you’re sitting.
  7. Remind yourself of the intention of this exercise. It is not to draw a accurate or perfect human body. The goal is to bring awareness to your body and the present moment as we focus our attention on each body part through drawing.
  8. Now, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your head. Take a moment to focus your attention and notice any sensations here—tingling, itching, warmth, chill, touching.
  9. Then, take a deep breath, and on the exhale, slowly draw the head of your body, timing the line with your breath. Remember to keep it simple with basic shapes.
  10. Take another deep breath and on the exhale, let go of the head, allowing your focus to zoom back out to the entire body.
  11. Continue through the body, bringing awareness to the sensations in each physical part of your body as you complete the drawn body on your page.
  12. You may notice your mind wandering away from the body and breath during this exercise, this is very normal. When you notice it happening, gently acknowledge it, and  guide your attention back to your body and drawing.
  13. After you have finished drawing your body, take a deep breath and take a look at what you’ve created. Then read and answer the reflection questions below, perhaps writing them down next to your drawing.

Exercise 2 Reflection

What was your experience with this exercise?

What thoughts did you have?

What feelings did you have?

How was this exercise different than your normal drawing experience?

Help + Tips

Did you find yourself thinking thoughts like “Am I doing this right?” during these exercises?

That’s totally normal! It’s our big ol’ brain at work, trying to take over with thinking to judge what we’re doing. Whenever you notice thoughts like this, just say “thinking” to yourself, and gently guide your awareness back to the exercise.

Try not to worry about whether you’re doing the exercise right. There is no right or wrong way to do these exercises. Whatever happens is what happens for you.The goal is not to draw an accurate or correct human body. Our intention is to feel these physical sensations without overthinking.

Did you find yourself getting frustrated or bored during the exercise?

That’s normal too! Again, it’s our productivity-focused brain, trying to take control and make us overthink everything. When feelings like this pop up, try to see them as the temporary states they are. You could say to yourself, “Ah, frustration” as if it’s an old friend stopping by, and then gently bring your awareness back to the exercise.

If you feel frustrated, remind yourself that you may not feel the benefits from these exercises immediately. It doesn’t mean that you are not building up your awareness muscle and practicing important attention skills. It will take time to get the full effect of these skills and exercises.

That’s what we’re here for, to keep chipping away at these mindset shifts! Practicing redirecting our attention while we draw allows us to move into the present moment and focus on the process of drawing, where its harder for those negative and judgmental thoughts to take over.

Why We Did It

These two exercises show us that we can alter our experience of drawing just by focusing our attention. The first exercise shows us that when we’re unaware, our thoughts go wherever they want to go, often spiraling down into unhelpful, critical, and judgmental thoughts that make it difficult to draw.

But the second exercise shows us that we have the ability to refocus our attention on our experience and sensations, instead of blindly following and listening to those thoughts.

You may also have learned here how hard it is to focus your awareness! But the good news is that like anything, this is a skill that can be learned and honed with practice.

Together, these two exercises can help us practice guiding our attention. When we’re in a state of Unawareness we are not conscious of what we are paying attention to. This is when our thoughts drift into anxiety, tension, stress, and worry. Practicing guiding our attention will help us learn to slow down and quiet those toxic thoughts.


Ok, that’s it for now! Next week I’ll be back with the second mental shift: Connecting with our art through thought → connecting with our art through experience.


❓What was your experience with these exercises?

I’d love to hear what you think of these two exercises! For the final version of this course, I plan to record these instructions (especially the second) as audio files that can be listened to during the exercise. 

Head over to Might Could Studiomates to join the group discussion (did you know we have a free plan now?) or comment below to share your thoughts with me!

2 Responses

  1. This is amazing and worked so well. It was as if a different person had drawn each. I don’t know if you’ve ever read “inner game” books. But it feels like you’ve just described/discovered the process for the “inner game of art”. Thank you-I shall remember this lesson for life.

  2. As a child, we often get ideas, that often get squashed by critics and being new to this world we often believe what is told to us, never occuring that those who criticise or put you down are racked with their own pain.
    Art, is about creativity, the freedom to express your thoughts and ideas through drawing or sculpture or painting…
    We learn to do things at school, step by step.
    Journey of a thousand leagues starts with one single step!

    In the same tone, they often to neglect to teach people to do lateral thinking which is what you are doing here.
    Lateral thinking is thinking of something else when you cant get to where you want to go or find answers step by step.
    You engage in something else for a while and forget about what you cant solve for now.
    Then you return and are more empowered to pursue your artist endeavours because your mind has had a holiday.
    I do this all the time. So I don’t get toxic in my work…
    You need to relax and enjoy doing art work. It was drawing that helped me get through hard times as a child and as an adult…
    Enjoy life! Living is what it is all about!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 Responses

  1. This is amazing and worked so well. It was as if a different person had drawn each. I don’t know if you’ve ever read “inner game” books. But it feels like you’ve just described/discovered the process for the “inner game of art”. Thank you-I shall remember this lesson for life.

  2. As a child, we often get ideas, that often get squashed by critics and being new to this world we often believe what is told to us, never occuring that those who criticise or put you down are racked with their own pain.
    Art, is about creativity, the freedom to express your thoughts and ideas through drawing or sculpture or painting…
    We learn to do things at school, step by step.
    Journey of a thousand leagues starts with one single step!

    In the same tone, they often to neglect to teach people to do lateral thinking which is what you are doing here.
    Lateral thinking is thinking of something else when you cant get to where you want to go or find answers step by step.
    You engage in something else for a while and forget about what you cant solve for now.
    Then you return and are more empowered to pursue your artist endeavours because your mind has had a holiday.
    I do this all the time. So I don’t get toxic in my work…
    You need to relax and enjoy doing art work. It was drawing that helped me get through hard times as a child and as an adult…
    Enjoy life! Living is what it is all about!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *