Art Therapy and Mindfulness

Art Therapy and Mindfulness

Written by Samantha Davis

There has been an increasing ‘’awareness’’ (excuse the pun😊) and interest in Mindfulness over the years. I for one strongly believe in it and try to incorporate it into my life as much as possible. I meditate daily, try to slow down, be conscious and present in doing one activity at a time. But having said all that, what exactly is Mindfulness, Mindful Art and how do you actually do it?

Have you ever started eating something (let’s say a chocolate), taking a couple of bites, and then noticing suddenly that it’s all gone? Or driving somewhere, arriving at your destination only to realize you don’t remember getting there? Most of us have! These are common examples of ‘mindlessness’ or being on ‘autopilot’. In our fast-paced modern lives, we are constantly rushing from one place/task to the next. We've adopted a mindset of needing to maximize our time in order to be productive and often multi-task – thinking all the while how clever and efficient we are being... However, when engrossed in this whirlwind – it’s so easy to lose awareness of the present moment, to lose meaning and a sense of purpose and wonder where the days/months/years have gone.

As humans, our minds are so easily distracted by thoughts. People often think that “MEDITATION = MINDFULNESS” and through regular meditation our minds ‘should’ become still and the thoughts ‘should’ stop. However during meditation (which in itself is a powerful tool for practicing mindfulness) it’s not that our thoughts ‘stop’. What we can learn to do through regular practice, is to continually bring our minds back to the present moment through our most powerful tool - our breath.

Too many thoughts of the past can lead to feelings of depression and guilt. Too much thinking about the future can lead to excessive worrying and anxiety as we try to plan and control the future. This can be exhausting and creates extra stress and pressures on our health. The truth of the matter is – the past is gone, and the future is not in our control. The only “control’’ we do have is how we experience and respond to this present moment. Now!

Okay – so meditation is a method but what then is Mindfulness?

Wikipedia defines Mindfulness as ‘’the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.’’ Mindfulness is the process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation, through application of skills and practice of being present experientially.

How can Art play a role in Mindfulness?

Amy Maricle, an artist and Art Therapist says that “Art is a natural way to practice mindfulness. The colors, textures and sounds of creating pull us into the moment.”

Here are some people’s individual experiences from a recent Mindful Mandala workshop that I facilitated that I would like to share with you. (By the way Mandala is a Sanskrit word for ‘sacred circle’ and creating Mandala’s are often used for centering and grounding oneself.)

Have a look at each image and the brief summary of each person’s process during the art-making experience...

1. Amy

Amy researched mandalas prior to the group and arrived prepared with a unique design which she conscientiously replicated in perfect symmetry onto her canvas board. She was delighted with her masterpiece!

2. Jane

Jane decided to try to capture a ‘wet on wet’ paint technique in her Mandala that she had been admiring on an outdoor pot. She loved the experience when the colours mixed, blended and flowed into one other but also felt frustrated as she felt she couldn’t master the exact paint technique as to how she saw it on the decorative pots.

3. Brian

Brian wasn’t sure what to do or how to start so he chose oil pastels and drew a picture of a natural landscape, of which his daughter later commented that it looked like his late grandmother’s farm. He enjoyed the experience but doubted how it turned out in comparison with some of the other more ‘perfect’ or ‘symmetrical’ designs. Turned out he had roughly copied the picture on the box of the pastels but also secretly admitted that he was proud of his work!

4. Fran

Fran first drew square shapes on the canvas in pencil (without a ruler) and then filled them in with paint, enjoying the sequencing of numbers and colours and the soothing, calming, meditative effect of repetition. Afterward she confided in us that her art teacher at school had told her that she “would never be an artist as she can’t draw a straight line” – which very clearly, she could!

5. Mel

Mel began with a concise detailed symmetrical mandala but after spending time painting in the lines ‘perfectly’, she decided that she had enough responsibilities in her adult life where she always followed the rules and was a ‘good girl’. She suddenly gave herself permission to let go in her painting, spontaneously surrendering to the unknown of how it would turn out, becoming more playful and (in her words) even getting ‘messy’.

From the above examples, which person’s Mandala experience do you think was more mindful?

Arriving prepared? Being satisfied with the outcome? Being good at art? Copying an image and getting it right? Trying something new? Being spontaneous? Having fun? Making a playful mess?

This Mindful Mandala workshop offered an experience of taking time out and doing something quite different to life, work and responsibilities in the outside world. It offered an opportunity to stop, be present, be curious, be spontaneous and play. There was no judgment on the outcome or product that was created, but the emphasis being rather on the process of creativity.

When we give ourselves permission to let go of judgment and allow ourselves to explore creative mediums with a sense of curiosity and awareness – we can become absorbed in the process of being creative, whereby time passes, and our focus remains in the present. Thoughts and feelings still come up, but when we are really present, we become less attached to them and can reflect on the process we experience.

In conclusion - there is no right or wrong way to experience or ‘do’ mindful art. If Mindfulness is allowing oneself to surrender into the present moment and to be conscious of the now (which is all that we really have ‘control’ over), Mindful Art is art that combines creativity with being present in the here and now. Mindful Art is giving yourself time and permission to stop, be playful, curious and explore a process of creativity and a sense of flow.

The benefits of Mindful Art are numerous including relaxation, tension and stress release, calming the nervous system, accessing the imagination, freedom of expression, use of left and right brain, stimulates creative thinking, problem-solving, mental and emotional wellbeing, and of course self-care.

Next time you decide to do some art, incorporate a few mindfulness techniques into the process and see what a difference it makes to how present you can be.

Here are some quick Mandala ideas to try without thinking about the end-result...

  1. Using paint (a wet medium) - paint circles in different colours and shades on a page – becoming aware of the sensory experience of using paint – witnessing the colors of the paint flow toward and away from each other, seeing and feeling the texture of the paint, being aware of the scent of the paint.
  2. Using dry mediums e.g. pastels/crayons/koki’s/chalk/charcoal draw circles on the page and allow the circles to be any size, to overlap, to be coloured in or outlined using different colours and experimenting with mixed mediums, even filling the inside of the circles with decorative lines and textures.
  3. Cut out circles of different sizes and colours and stick them onto a page in any order using different coloured paper, board, magazines, newspaper, tinfoil, wrapping paper etc. Use can use different objects to outline or decorate the inside of the circles e.g. string, ribbon, pebbles, beads, shells etc.

Interested in exploring Art Therapy and Mindfulness? Sign up for my newsletter and take a look at the list of upcoming workshops for 2019 (JHB or Cape Town) or join my Art Therapy and Mindfulness Workshop in Cape Town.

Please note that one can only legitimately use ‘Art Therapy’ with clients once you have undergone a registered Art Therapy training (which is only available internationally) and are then registered with the HPCSA. For more info on an international Masters in Art Therapy, go here.

Art Therapy Workshops in South Africa

Art Therapy 1-Day Intro Course (Cape Town)

1-Day Intro Course (CT)

Tues 14 May 2019

This one-day course is aimed at introducing you to the dynamic and exciting process of Art Therapy and how it can be applied to adults and children of all ages. An exciting combination of learning, experiential art-making and questions and answers in a group environment. No art experience required!

Learn More
Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar Cape Town

3-Day Seminar (CT)

17-19 Jun 2019

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Learn More
Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Johannesburg)

3-Day Seminar (JHB)

Dates TBC

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Learn More
Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive Course (Cape Town)

5-Day Intensive Course (CT)

6-12 November 2019

5 consecutive weekdays excluding the weekend

A dynamic combination of psychodynamic and Art Therapy theory, case studies, experiential art making, journaling and reflection within a psychodynamic group environment. Beneficial for both personal and professional growth. Includes comprehensive course manual and journal.

Learn More
Art Therapy 5 Day Intensive Course Johannesburg

5-Day Intensive Course (JHB)

28 August - 3 September 2019

5 consecutive weekdays excluding the weekend

A dynamic combination of psychodynamic and Art Therapy theory, case studies, experiential art making, journaling and reflection within a psychodynamic group environment. Beneficial for both personal and professional growth. Includes comprehensive course manual and journal.

Learn More
Advanced Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Cape Town)

Advanced Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (CT)

23-25 July or 30 July - 1 Aug 2019

*NEW* Advanced Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Learn More
Mandala Workshop

Mandala Workshop (CT)

Friday 9 August 2019 (National Women's Day)

A Mandala is a Sanskrit word for a ‘sacred’ or ‘magic circle’. Mandalas have been used for centuries in meditative and creative practices. This half day workshop is designed to help you relax and unwind and get into a space of being in the present moment through art, visualization, letting go in order to access a spontaneous, innate creative place within yourself. A real treat!

Learn More
Art as Communication 8 Week Course

Art as Communication (CT)

August/Sept 2019

(This course runs for 8 consecutive weeks on a Monday evening.)

A hands-on experiential art making workshop and exploring of images within a group format, whilst introducing basic Art Therapy theoretical ''concepts''. Various art materials are used as a means of self-expression and communication.

Learn More
Art Therapy Vision Board Workshop - Cape Town

Vision Board Workshop (CT)

Fri 25 Jan / Sun 27 Jan / Mon 28 Jan 2019

A combination of colour, pictures, words and Art Therapy techniques to identify, explore and creatively set goals for 2018. Lay the foundations for the New Year! No art experience required.

Learn More
Art Therapy and Mindfulness Workshop (Cape Town)

Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop (CT)

Wed 10 April 2019

Join the 1-Day Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop to explore and experience the art of being present! Tap into your innate creativity, with a focus on being in the moment, accessing joy, insight, wellness, gratitude, playfulness and having fun through art. No art experience required.

Learn More
Art Therapy Creative Year-End Workshops

Creative Year-End Functions (CT)

November / December 2018

Wondering what to do for your end-of-year function in Cape Town? Try something different - choose creativity and finish 2018 with an Art Therapy Creative Year-End Workshop. Funky, unique, innovative, relaxing and fun - no art skill required. Book yours today!

Learn More
Art Therapy for Corporates

Creative Workshops for Corporates

Upon request

Tailor-made for organisations and corporate settings! Various creative interventions available, which encompass a uniquely developed and researched methodology utilizing practical, creative and experiential learning rather than the traditional 'learning from lecture and notes' approach.

Learn More
Art Therapy in Education

Art Therapy Workshops for Educators

Upon request

Tailor-made Art Therapy workshops for groups of educators, art teachers and councillors working in school settings. Choose from a 2 hour mini-workshop or a 1-Day Art Therapy workshop...

Learn More

Explore my website

Art Therapy South Africa

Art Therapy

Art Therapy Courses and Workshops

Art Therapy Courses & Workshops

Art Therapy South Africa - Samantha Davis


Art Therapy for Corporates


Art Therapy Training South Africa

Art Therapy Training in South Africa

Frequently Asked Questions - Art Therapy in South Africa


About Samantha Davis

Art Therapy Blog


Media Articles - Samantha Davis - Art Therapist in South Africa


Contact Art Therapy - Samantha Davis