Like many of us I find the winter months a struggle, this year especially. I find getting outdoors or connecting with the outdoors from a window very beneficial. Whilst I've been ill these past few weeks I've been enjoying the birds feeding in the garden and watching the snow drifting past the windows, settling on tree branches, creating a magical wonderland.
I've also been doodling.
My mum (an artist and keen gardener) had an idea to keep a sketchbook diary. Inspired by Richard Bell's book 'Britain'. With several pages for each month, we sketch whatever we find in the garden or on walks.
We're 'bubbling', so sometimes we can do this together, and sometimes we do it alone, but it's a shared activity either way, as we share photos of our pages regularly.
Connecting us not only with nature, but with eachother, even when we can't be physically together.
Here's the benefits I've found...
I must confess that I haven't felt a creative urge for a long time, other than doing what I call 'emotional scribbles' (a form of self art therapy). When lockdown hit us last March I had visions of painting my way through it, but instead got obsessed with the outdoors, the garden, the woods, and most especially bird-watching. I stalked woodpeckers and lay and gazed at tree branches for hours, I took tonnes of photos and practiced all my nature connection key routines, including my favourite sit spot and sensory awareness....
So when the creative urge returned it felt like being reunited with a lost friend. I had forgotten how lost I can get in a detailed sketch or in the colours or a painting. It brings me out of myself, out of my everyday consciousness, I'm not thinking of my to do lists or all the worries and concerns that seem to relentlessly bombard us, despite my limited news exposure (I limit this purposefully for my mental health). I have no idea where I go, all I know is that it feels blissful, an escape.
I'm a great advocate for doing nothing and simply being, and for doing this in nature (rather than on a sofa in front of the TV, which is often not as relaxing as we believe it is). There is purpose and meaningfulness in it. It is more necessary than we know, and it's sad that it is not valued in our culture.
However, when that little part of me that needs action won't quiet down, it is mollified by doing something creative, where at the end of the session I can see something tangiable, and beautiful!
The joy and the power of a nature sketchbook is that through drawing something you begin to really, fully see it.
It's amazing how much you see and begin to appreciate even in things that feel so familiar like an acorn. Taking photos and videos as I did for the first and second lockdowns are useful in some ways, but in my experience nothing gets you as familiar with your subject as drawing it. It doesn't really matter if you're a bit rusty or you feel you 'aren't an artist'. It's not the end product that matters. It's the act of looking closely and for an extended, concentrated period of time that really helps build familiarity.
An additional benefit I've found with these periods of intense concentration is that as I said above, I get fully absorbed.
I find it enriching, uplifting and very calming. I feel centred in myself, and by that I mean in my core self, my body, and my quiet mind.
Another fun idea is to research your specimins afterwards and annotate the doodles - at least that's what we do, sometimes. My mum also writes a list of all her gardening jobs and creatures/plants to look out for that month.
It's a learning experience in so many ways. But most importantly, it's FUN :-) and I've found it enormously beficial for my mental health.