I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pulling out all my coping mechanisms the past few weeks. The news of an autumn surge of Covid-19 causing lockdowns and new rules, fraught elections in my homeland, literally darker days as we approach the winder solstice…it’s adding up to a stressed-out Kristen over here.

I don’t want to be stressed, so I make sure I get exercise by teaching an online yoga class every morning, then walking outdoors in the afternoon. I’m connecting with friends (over Zoom) to laugh and complain and plot our next move. And I am drawing.

Art is my best resource for a break from the world’s wilds. I pick up a pencil and paper, set my sight on some object and I draw it. I become absorbed in trying to recreate that thing on the page. The shape, the relation between one part and another, the negative spaces. All the details keep my mind occupied.

Pencils in pencil

It doesn’t matter what the object is – a jar of pencils, a leaf, my cat’s whiskers – because there’s a lot of detail in anything you might choose to draw. The smooth surface of a pencil has shadows and highlights. Cat fur is made of thousands of hairs or different colors and tones.

Drawing like this, for calm, is a practice of mindfulness. It is no good to criticise myself as you draw if my purpose is to relax. So in mindful fashion, I notice all the faults – I’ve slipped and created a weird curve, the shadow isn’t black enough, the contrast is too little – and I gently remind myself that it’s art and imperfection is okay. No need to pass judgement. Artistic license is very forgiving. If I don’t like what’s on the page, I can change it.

That permission to be imperfect and the quiet act of observation are how I find calm with a pencil.

Maura also likes art – to sit on.