OnTrack and Creativity: wellbeing through drawing

The continuing restrictions of the lockdown in the UK have frustrated many and put a strain on wellbeing. But creative activities, such as drawing and painting, have a proven positive effect on wellbeing. Giles Penman discuss the benefits of drawing which he, University of Warwick Wellbeing Adviser Janet Winter and other research students encountered in an OnTrack session earlier this term. He advertised this session in an earlier PhDLife Blogpost, which you can check out here.

In early May, Janet Winter and I hosted a virtual OnTrack event for postgraduate students to show them the soothing and diverting effects of drawing. We introduced the session by explaining that creative activities can take one away from the hard work and stress of everyday life at home or work (often the same place now!). Instead, by diverting focus and attention on to imaginative creativity, these leisure activities bring relaxation and calm. Afterwards, they provide a content sense of completion with the finished artwork.

After this brief introduction, Janet and I undertook a drawing exercise with participants. For inspiration, we suggested that participants could draw an item on their desk or the view from their nearest window.  The aim was not to create brilliant works of art but to demonstrate that the process of artistic creation can be very relaxing. Janet and I occasioned asked how participants were progressing with the drawing, but letting our creations take shape mostly without speaking, we all drew with pencils or pens just feeling the gentle silence and the relaxation of the activity.

For this calming activity, I took my own advice and drew what was on my desk beside me, my mobile and my COVID mask. Both had seen better days, since my phone screen was cracked, and the elastic had failed on my mask. But there was a certain beauty in these tired everyday objects I was determined to capture with my drawing. With each stroke of my blue pen and coloured pencils, I felt the tension of the day’s research ebb away bit by bit. As I focussed all my energy on drawing and colouring my phone and my mask, I perceived a feeling of peace envelope and wash over me like a gentle ocean wave. And finishing the drawing was just so rewarding.

Once about half an hour of peaceful drawing had soothingly elapsed, Janet and I brought the session smoothly to a close by asking participants how they felt while drawing. One student stated that drawing felt relaxing and reminded them of Chinese traditional painting they did as a child. Another participant shared this feeling of nostalgia and remarked that drawing took them back to similar creative activities thta they used to do as a child. They also felt a satisfying sense of completion at the end. A third participant commented that they felt satisfied, fulfilled, more relaxed after drawing because they had been totally absorbed in the activity.

By the end of the session, Janet and I had proven to participants that drawing and other creative activities can indeed be relaxing and soothing, promoting wellbeing. We were very pleased with the results of the OnTrack session.

Watch this space: We hope to hold another session of drawing to encourage wellbeing soon!!

If you have experienced the relaxing and calming effects of creative activities, do let us know. Feel free to send us the results of your activity. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk, or leave a comment below.

by Giles

Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics.

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