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Mindful Drawing: Activities that Embrace Experimentation

“Be kind to yourself” is a sentiment we’ve been hearing a lot lately. For me, taking just ten minutes to have a mindful experience with drawing is an act of kindness that clears space in my mind and encourages new perspectives. It offers me a sense of respite and escape that fuels other types of creativity and generosity. I’m not alone in this. As a museum educator, I’ve seen how drawing can help people slow down and relax, embrace playful creativity, and at times even discover emotional catharsis. 

We’ve worked with a team of educators and teaching artists to develop sketching prompts that you can use from home. Some of these are shorter; with others, you might prefer to take your time, or keep trying them over and over again. Just remember: these drawing prompts are about mindfulness and observation, so try to silence your inner critic. Embrace experimentation and the process, and don’t worry about the outcome. Simply trying them is a success.

We would love to see the different ways you connect with drawing through these prompts. Email [email protected] to share your creations and tag us with #NGAsketch on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook.

Berthe Morisot, Spring Landscape, c. 1890/1891

Berthe Morisot, Spring Landscape, c. 1890/1891, colored pencils and graphite, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.163

Drawing Prompts

For each of the drawing prompts, start with the following steps:

  1. Focus on your posture. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders. 

  2. Take a deep breath in for five seconds, and then breathe out slowly for five seconds. Repeat this up to ten times. 

  3. Pick up your drawing tool. Take a moment to focus on your grip. If you find that your grip is too tight, loosen it up. Experiment with different ways of holding your drawing tool. For example, if you are using a pencil, try moving your grip away from the page, toward the pencil’s eraser.

  4. Optional: Write down or say aloud one thing that you appreciate or have gratitude for right now.  

Drawing inspired by music

Play one of your favorite songs or types of music. Think about how different sounds might make a line do different things. Find a starting point on your paper and begin drawing. Let your line wander around the page and change direction or create shapes inspired by the different sounds you hear. Try to keep drawing until the song ends. When you are done, think about how you might include color.

Emotional mark-marking

Can a line suggest an idea, emotion, or movement? Draw what might represent a quiet line, a loud line, and a dancing line. Write down an emotion that you are feeling. Draw a line that might represent that emotion. Fill your page with similar lines.

Blind contour portrait drawing

Choose a person to draw. You can base your drawing on someone in your home, a photo of a friend or family member, your reflection, or a portrait in the Gallery’s collection. Find a starting place on your page and line that up with a point on what you are observing. Set a timer for three minutes and prepare to keep your eyes focused on your subject the entire time. Without looking at your paper, move your pencil with your eye as it traces the edges and shapes that you see. Focus on the connection between your eye and your pencil. 

Max Beckmann, drei Köpfe und Beschriftung (Three Heads, One Notation) [p. 11]

Max Beckmann, drei Köpfe und Beschriftung (Three Heads, One Notation) [p. 11], graphite, Gift of Mrs. Max Beckmann, 1984.64.33.8

Simple shape landscape

Find a view outdoors from a window or during a walk. Draw what you see using simple shapes such as circles, squares, and triangles. Use darker lines for the objects closer to you and lighter lines for objects that are farther away. For additional inspiration, browse through landscapes in the Gallery’s collection.

Silhouettes

Draw a silhouette or an outline of yourself. You can use an image from your phone or a shadow created with natural or artificial light. Fill the inside of the silhouette with words that describe how you are feeling and what you are thinking about. Fill the outside of the silhouette with lines and shapes that describe those emotions. 

After trying these prompts, feel free to browse our collection of drawings for more inspiration.

Paul Gauguin, A Caricature and Five Forms; A Man in Profile, a Winged Creature and a Boy [verso], 1884-1888

Paul Gauguin, A Caricature and Five Forms; A Man in Profile, a Winged Creature and a Boy [verso], 1884-1888, graphite on wove paper, The Armand Hammer Collection, 1991.217.51.b