I believe that drawing and your mental health are inexorably linked!

Earlier this month, I was asked to speak on how to use drawing to manage our emotional well being. I was speaking to the Balfour Beatty menopause group that meets monthly to support women in the workplace. You can find the video at the foot of this article to watch.

They have very kindly allowed me to share the recording with the wider community. If you have your pencils and paper handy too, I run through a quick drawing exercise of a bowl of lemons (actually the first sketch we tackle in my Back to Basics drawing course!)

What did I share?

I run through 5 top tips to think about when it comes to managing our emotional well being. They apply to all manner of emotional states.

And let’s face it.  As humans we tend to pass through many of those across the space of a lifetime.

Since delivering that session, I have spent more time working through what needs to be said about the connection between well being and drawing (or more broadly, our creativity.)

I have written extensively on this subject before. You can catch up on those thoughts here.

In my quest to support as many as I can, not only driven by this belief that everyone can draw but that we ARE OUR OWN best healers through our creativity, I unashamedly adopt Julia Cameron when she says;

“Art is alchemy. It turns the ore of life into gold. Learning to make art rather than draw from a heated imagination is a skill best learned early and practiced fully. If we are to make living art – and an art of living – we must be willing to stand knee deep in the rapids of the human condition, accepting that life by its nature, is turbulent, powerful and mysterious. It is the artist’s bet that life is better encountered and expressed than diminished and discounted by trying to “fix it” therapeutically. It is the artist’s conviction that understanding something intellectually is often far less healing than making something artistically transformative from our shattered selves!” Walking in this World.

Underpinning our creative urge is one of the most powerful human capabilities, our own imaginations.

Jules De Gaultier stated that “imagination is the only weapon of war against our reality.” For some, if reality looks a little bleak, how much more pertinent it is to be able to tap into and learn to work with our own personal imaginations not as a means of escape but as a means to enable us to solve our emotional state.

The Oxford dictionary defines the word imagination as ‘the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images, or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.’ My favourite though… ‘The ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.’

I’m witness to the fact that we almost step into a different zone of feeling and thinking when we create (and in my case, when I draw.) We disrobe, we die a little to ourselves as the act of creating something births a new thing, be it drawing, writing, poetry. It forces us to take on a different persona for the space in time we commit ourselves to it.

When we draw we place emphasis on our perceptual skills. You start to see things differently. You learn to problem solve what you see in front of you to get it down on a piece of paper. The toughest challenge I see students facing is in week 2 of my Back to Basics Course where they are seeing and drawing negative spaces, shared edges, lines and shadows – anything but the actual object itself. These real objects become mental concepts to wrestle with. In your mind you start to find ways in which to solve these challenges even if its simply to put a pencil to a humble piece of paper.

But note…something starts to happen in your brain. It did in mine when I was wrestling with myself.

Betty Edwards in her cult classic, Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain cites; 

“These visual skills are useful for problem solving of all kinds, in every field of human endeavour, from solving business or personal problems to enhancing general thinking about world problems (large scale) or local problems (smaller scale.) More important, they can help you produce new and unique innovations of social value!”

When we create we employ our imaginations to problem solve, without us even realising we are doing so. When we get into the habit of problem solving we apply the spirit of human endeavour. We start to evolve out from our well being conundrums. We start to apply a very different type of logic.

However, I digress.

I have 5 practical tips I promised to share with you at the start of this article which I will move to do now.

Go Back to Your Roots!

Stop and think. Did you once upon a time remember your love of drawing and creating? It’s an unfortunate sign of our times that, as a culture, we have devalued creativity as being the ugly sister of Prince Charming. “Keep it as a hobby for your spare time.” “You can’t study that there’s no money in it.”

On a weekly basis I speak to many who have had and still have this experience. How is it that as a culture we have failed to explore, appreciate, and more importantly cultivate creativity that in its most basic format is designed to support and nurture the human condition.

Anyhow. Go back to those early days when you remember being giddy with excitement when you were painting or drawing, loving what you were doing, perhaps practicing it till your early twenties before “life” took over.

What is stopping you now proceeding to the final 4 steps to reconnect to those very thirsty roots?

Chances are if you loved creating when you were younger or have discovered an urge to do so now, you could use it to manage your emotions.

Take a Class.

You’ve got to start somewhere. Sign up to an online class. You could jump on one of my free live weekly sessions where I show you how to draw a subject. Take a step towards fulfilling a creative goal linked to your desire to tap into being creative and triggering your imagination.

Make it a regular occurrence so that you can look forward to something different and unusual. Creating a routine occurrence within the context of well being where you get to meet others, disconnect from other things going on in your life, as well as be the catalyst in creating a sketch or drawing can have a positive impact on your well being.

Even if you choose to simply watch, make a point of committing to showing up. Chances are you may become inspired to then take forward ideas and make them your own.

Go on An Artist’s Date

The artist’s date is “An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.  The artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan to defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children, – no taggers on of any stripe.” The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron.

Have you ever taken yourself off on an artist’s date? It can be anything from a stroll in your local museum, or gallery, as random as being inspired by the colours in a wool shop or on a local walk, a coffee with your sketchbook or a train ride. My last artist’s date was to a local florist to sit and look at the rows of flowers in tubs. Its not cost dependent and is a clever tactic to disconnect you to the “interlopers” that otherwise might, including the day to day situations, threaten to throw you off course. Cameron talks about the play date as an opportunity to feed your inner child. To play. A concept we, as adults, rarely are able to do. Oftentimes when one struggles with depression play is furthest from ones mind!

I use my weekly artist’s date to nourish my imagination. One of the largest challenges that we face as artists is how to stay motivated, how to generate momentum in our day to day creative habits. Very often we sit and ponder and then stew and panic that we can’t find inspiration and don’t know what to draw. Taking regular steps back to go and get inspired supports us regenerate our imaginations.

Take a look at some of my further thoughts on the artist’s date here. 

Slow Down!

Take a breath.

When speaking to Balfour Beatty’s menopause group we talked about how emotions are scattered and erratic, sleep patterns often disturbed and reactions to situations can be extreme. As we get older and our energy levels deplete, frustration starts to creep in that we can no longer deal with circumstances in the same way we once did.

There is merit in slowing down and taking a breath. Grab your sketchbook when you do. Studies have shown that some interesting chemical reactions start to take place in the prefrontal cortex of the brain when we draw. You see, when we get creative we are forced to focus and concentrate on one thing. This reduces pressure in other areas of our brains, releases endorphins and serotonin forcing our blood pressure to drop and create a state of relaxation. Very similar to practicing mindfulness or even yoga. Studies have shown similar responses. (Shame the body may not necessarily follow!)

Use your drawing as a way to manage your emotional responses by slowing down.

Take 10 minutes a Day To Draw!

We labour under the preconceived notion that we must have copious amounts of time to dedicate to a drawing habit. Let me tell you. Sometimes I have as little as 10 minutes a day to draw. Everyone can find 10 minutes if they really wanted to. In a bid to reduce the time I personally spend on my phone I swap out the time saved and add it to my drawing “account.” We have less time than ever it seems in our day to day lives. It’s up to you to change that dynamic to your day.

Don’t allow lack of time to rob you of your creative potential! We are all designed to be creative. Remember our creativity as Cameron advocates is a great healer. We are able to heal ourselves through the gifts we have been given!

I promise you when you dedicate a focused amount of time to your creativity and you connect to your imagination through your subconscious mind extraordinary things start to happen in your life. Just 10 minutes. Build it in. Read about how to get focused and build your 10 minutes in here.


5 top tips are just the tip of the iceberg with regards to this topic. Emotional well being is at the very heart of why people engage and join in with Emily’s Notebook. Many of us don’t know where to start when we come to learn to draw. Make sure you join in with the community and tap into the resources on offer.

Most of all have fun! Enjoy this process of being creative. Allow it to stimulate endorphins that make you feel better. Smile when you draw. Discover a subject you’re inspired by. I’ll leave you with Einstein’s quote that “Creativity is imagination having fun!”

Enjoy the session recorded with the Balfour Beatty Menopause Group!