“Art is the greatest asset to mental health I have; it has this amazing ability to go under the radar and it goes down little pathways which are un-trodden and yet it’s still a very legitimate way of thinking and feeling and getting on with your life.” Grayson Perry

Can keeping a daily sketchbook improve your mental health? Can the process your brain undergoes whilst drawing make a difference to how you feel?

A lot happens in our brains when we draw, doodle or take a pen or pencil to paper.  We are all designed to be creative. Creativity supports us be connected to ourselves and connected to the world around us and the simplest and quickest form is via keeping a sketchbook.

In its simplest of forms a sketchbook supports us connect with what we see around us and encourages us to interpret what we see on paper.

How can a sketchbook make us feel good?

  1. Filling up pages, (like you would a journal, with drawings and colour, as well as documenting as you go,) is a satisfying thing to look back upon. You feel good because you have achieved something that is added to daily, grows the more you do it, and boosts your confidence.
  2. Your technique, style and skill level will increase the more you practise. Focusing on practising technique and skill can support you establish some control over a creative process.  So often, one of the debilitating challenges of a mental health condition are feelings of powerlessness.
  3. Expression and communication without the need to say anything, or justify yourself to anyone, as well as keep your expression private. The irony of course is that you still feel able to communicate, but on paper.
  4. No set structure or rules or, even better, expectations.
  5. Supports resolve problems. Believe it or not you are training your brain to make decisions whilst you sketch.  It’s the basis of modern-day art therapy. You subconsciously imagine possibilities and solutions to issues as you create on the paper without realising you are doing so – even if you don’t have a precise answer as to how to resolve them. You follow a process of thought. I can testify that this creative process and way of thinking is applied to other areas of my professional or personal lives.
  6. Reduces stress by lowering cortisol.
  7. When you sketch you trigger a relaxed state as well as a focused one. To sketch you sit still!
  8. You create pleasurable memories. Often when I flip back through my sketches it’s like looking through a photo album. I remember the smell, sounds, and feelings I was experiencing at that moment. (My little girl turning cartwheels in the summer, a plate of fish and chips, a trip to the allotment through a field full of cows…)
  9. Retain information. Isn’t it crazy to think that sketching can support you capture information and, in some cases, improve your memory? Artists exercise parts of their brains that activate memory and concentration through looking at something for extended periods of time, truly studying it and then translating it onto paper.
  10. An ability to forget a sense of self for a while by focusing on a something else entirely. Sketching enables you to press the pause button and focus on deconstructing something other than yourself for a while.

If you are looking to take up a sketchbook habit to support your mental health here are some starting guidelines;

  1. Make a commitment to sketch daily. You might want to build it into a part of your day where you know you might struggle. For example, in the evening during winter months.
  2. Make a list of your favourite things and start sketching those. (An object / a place / a pet / a person.) List 10 things.
  3. Join a network of artists on line or start following those that inspire you with their style.
  4. If you feel confident enough – share your work with one person or many! Encouragement will give your morale a boost.
  5. Tell your story through a series of sketches!

I love Grayson Perry’s quote about how art “has this amazing ability to go under the radar and it goes down little pathways which are untrodden.” It is completely impossible to even begin to document the restorative power of exploring ones creative side through the art of sketchbooking.

As always, keen to hear from anyone who turns to their sketchbook to support their mental health.

Emily x