Observation: fundamental drawing principle and exercise in mindfulness

Cathedral pen sketch following Mark Linley's instructions on buildings in How to Draw Anything

One of the most important parts of learning to draw is the power to observe. Actually, it is becoming apparent that the best drawings come from spending more time looking at your subject than at looking at your drawing in progress. So important is this skill that some art teachers make you draw without looking at your paper at all. This is fun, obviously, and you end up with some kooky whimsical drawings, but the point is that the better one's power of observation, the better the drawing, regardless of subject.

And that is important I think. In his jolly good book, 'How to draw anything', Mark Linley advises that one should learn to draw everything well and then specialise. Very liberating that would be too... Imagine being able to draw whatever crazy thing pops into your head...

Water mill pen sketch following Mark Linley's instructions on buildings in How to Draw Anything

However, the thing I probably underestimated is that not only is this good drawing practice but it is also an exercise in mindfulness. In order to carefully study something, to notice the way the light falls, to observe the shapes as they actually appear and not as you think they are, you need to be truly 'present'. Being present in the moment allows you to notice the joyful minutiae of life. If you have ever taken a walk with a three year old, you will know how very many minutes can be happily wiled away engrossed in the examination of every leaf, stick and bug on the pathway. I am finding that drawing is doing much the same thing for me - it can be completely absorbing.

Being present in the moment and delighting in the simple things is what the experts tell us is a pathway to happiness. Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful for stress, anxiety and depression.  I'm all for learning to meditate and taking mindfulness training. But, I couldn't be happier at the realisation that it need not be too complicated - that, in fact, a few moments of stillness and calm would seem to be a fairly effortless by-product of the joyful practice of drawing.