Manchester Art Gallery

Mindful marks: the participant’s voice

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I love Tuesdays when I’m going to the gallery. Today it’s Mindful marks.

As I walked down to the station, the sky was a duck egg blue with a few wispy clouds, not raining for a change after a few dull days. The birds were singing, I could hear the repetitive call of the song thrush, the tic tic tic of the wren, the tinkling song of the robin, all this through the commuter traffic of the A6. There are signs of spring coming through on the railway bank, snowdrops and a little burst of purple from the crocus. There were times when I would not have noticed these things in such detail, being completely caught up in worries and anxieties about the day ahead. Now life is calmer, more mindful.

What happens in a session

Mindful marks combines Mindfulness techniques with drawing and music in a compelling combination to help participants calm their thoughts, enhancing a sense of mental wellbeing. The concept has been conceived by Louise Thompson, Health and Wellbeing Manager at the Gallery, and artist Naomi Kendrick, known for her live drawing “performances” in collaboration with musicians, psychologists and participants.

Today’s session was held in the exhibition Home, Land and Sea, art in the Netherlands 1600-1800 with a theme of the sea and water. The music has been thoughtfully chosen by Naomi. The location of the session is different each time, promoting its own atmosphere.

The process starts with choosing one of the paintings, spending time looking at it, observing line, colour, texture, mood, spending longer than you would normally spend looking at a painting, absorbing it, taking it all in. This acts as a way of “settling in”, calming the thoughts.

The next step is to choose your materials, paper and crayons, colours carefully chosen to tie in with the theme of the paintings. Then you sit down, either on a chair or on a bean bag – you can choose to draw on the huge sheet of paper laid on the floor too, lying down if you feel like it!

But what makes the marks mindful?

The magic starts as you tune into the music, eyes closed, listening to the notes, the rhythm, the mood and putting crayon to paper, your hands “dance” along to the music. The mindfulness practice comes in when you’ve found that your mind has wandered, following a train of thought that has taken you elsewhere, to the future, to the past, to imagination, to daydream, as is the nature of the mind. Once you notice this has happened, you bring your attention gently back to the present moment, to the crayon in your hand, to the feel of it on the paper, to the music and repeat each time the mind has wandered.

Mindfulness has become popular in recent years, but in truth it has existed for centuries in different forms. The practice at the gallery has its roots in the Mindfulness practice advocated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mark Williams and Danny Penman – using Mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and promote wellbeing – paying attention to the present moment is central to this.

An opportunity for adults to play

For me, these sessions consistently have a positive influence on my state of mind: there is something so beautiful about drawing in response to music, surrounded by artworks and in a safe, non-judgemental environment that brings about a profoundly positive effect on the mind; there is a freedom and spaciousness in this type of drawing which doesn’t need to be “good” or look like anything in particular – there are no rules here, and this also advocates a sense of “play” that we as adults rarely experience; there is a “feel good” factor that comes with this too and it is said that drawing and listening to music can have all sorts of positive effects on the mind, including the production of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. These things along with the mindfulness techniques combine to produce a sense of overall wellbeing that is quite unique and stays with you after you have left the session.

I’d encourage you to give it a try!

Alison Vasey, participant.

Mindful marks is on the Second Tuesday of every month, from 12-2pm. Everyone is welcome.


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