8 ways to practice mindfulness through the arts

From needle felting to art journaling, here are some creative ways to cultivate mindfulness and its benefits. (Gettt/File)

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Go to any wellness website, podcast, or book and you’re almost certain to come across the mention of mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness comes in many forms. From diaphragmatic breathing to forest bathing, the practice of being in the present moment involves being consciously aware of our thoughts, bodily sensations, and our surroundings.

This might look like mindfully eating a slice of chocolate cake – noticing the sensations of each flavourful bite by taking in the scents, textures, temperature, and how it feels in the mouth. It might look like doing a silent meditation and allowing the space to notice thoughts come and go, instead of fixating on the past or focusing on the future.

The benefits of mindfulness are many. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help decrease anxiety and depression, manage pain, break unhealthy habits, improve sleep, boost the immune system, increase productivity, and change the brain in positive ways.

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One wonderful way to practice mindfulness is through the arts because not only does it naturally necessitate focused attention while working with art materials – but it can also welcome fun, play, patience, creativity, solutions-thinking, and a sense of accomplishment.

But art-making can be intimidating for some people. “I’m not good at art” is a common concern, preventing them from trying at all. The purpose of mindfulness through the arts isn’t about how skilled one is at fine art techniques. It’s about allowing oneself to go with the flow from moment to moment. Mindfulness can look like experimenting with art as a beginner noticing any uncomfortable thoughts or feelings come up, and allowing them to pass by like clouds in the sky.

Whether you’re just starting or have a regular practice already, here are some fun and creative ways to grow and nurture mindfulness through art.

Art Journal for 30 Days

Instead of journaling using words, art journaling is – you guessed it – journaling with art. This doesn’t mean you need to have a “Dear Diary” approach to it. It could be as simple as spending 15 minutes with a blank journal and crayons to draw and colour a shape that represents your mood at the start of each day. Maybe that takes the shape of a square, a blob, lines, or something else, and maybe there’s not just one colour but a few colours.

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For the more advanced art journaler, pick a theme to draw to for 30 days. For example, drawing your mood through different types of fruit or landscapes.


Although I like how spiral sketchbooks can fold back to take up less space when art-making, there’s something about a bound hardcover sketchbook that feels extra special when creating an art journal. After you’re done filling its pages, it can be placed on the shelf with the other bound books to be revisited and enjoyed.


Make an Arrangement with Blocks

Mindfulness practice often involves the simplest of activities – like arranging blocks and other objects. There are two ways to do this. One way is to set a timer for 10 minutes, then slowly stack the blocks to configure a vertical shape of your choosing. As you stack the blocks, pay attention to how each piece balances and their relationships with each other. Another way to play with blocks is to incorporate other objects, such as rocks, shells, or other small items in the home, to construct a symbol or image on a flat surface.

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I love the practice of using blocks as it’s both a mindfulness activity and a practice of letting go – whatever is created will only exist temporarily until the next time you use the blocks again.


While these wooden blocks are suitable for kids to play with, they make a wonderful mindfulness activity for teens and adults too. Made with natural pine wood, they are non-toxic and smooth enough for sensitive hands.


Play with Clay

There’s something wonderfully soothing about the texture of clay – the way it transforms in your hands and is so malleable to the touch. Simply creating different shapes with clay is a practice of mindfulness. This might look like rolling a clump of clay into a ball using the palms of your hands. It might look like turning that ball into a small bowl by creating a cavity in a ball. And it might look like turning that bowl back into a ball again.

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There are a myriad of ways to work with clay and a bonus is that you can create a shape, and then allow it to dry so it becomes something to be used, like a bowl or tray, or admired like a figurine.

Clays come in different types and colours, but a white air-drying modelling clay is great because it not only dries in about 24 hours but you can also paint your creation and add in painted details once it’s dry.


Make Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry involves “blacking out” text on a page of words using a dark marker so that the remaining words create a poem or a meaningful or fun phrase. But you don’t have to use this particular blackout method for blackout poetry. You can also doodle and experiment with drawing and design overtop the text you want to blackout, using markers or paint, to create an interesting art piece.


This book offers pages and pages of carefully curated texts from books, newspapers, music sheets, and magazine journals so there’s plenty of options to play with. It also contains a brief how-to guide with different examples of ways to make blackout poetry.
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Connect with Watercolour

If you’ve ever painted with oil or acrylic paint, you know that painting with watercolour requires a different kind of attention. Working with watercolour encourages you to slow down naturally. Sometimes the paint interacts with the water in such a surprising way and out of our control. Whether painting colourful strokes on paper, floral blooms, or a landscape, painting with watercolour can be wonderfully meditative.


At 30 years old, the author of Painting Calm started drawing for the first time by hand. For 10 minutes a day, she would draw to develop her fine art skills, eventually learning how to paint. I love that this book is written for the beginner in mind and provides techniques as well as simple ideas of how to apply them like painting basic shapes, cacti, and fruit before advancing to concepts like hand movements and composition.


Choose a Creative Prompt

Working with a deck of art-based cards can invite some guided spontaneity to your mindfulness practice. Instead of planning on what art you might make, you can pick a prompt from an art card deck to spark your imagination. What better way to be in the present moment, go with the flow of creativity, and practice letting go of expectations?

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The Conscious Creativity card deck will encourage you to embrace the random. The 106-card deck comes with a booklet of many ways you can use the cards for creativity. Each card has an image on the top and a word, phrase, action, or question on the bottom such as “Draw breath” “How hot is too hot?” and “Routine or fun.” You can follow one of their suggested creativity games or simply choose a random card and make some visual art inspired by its prompt.


Focus on Felting

Working with felt can be a fun tactile experience that also has meditative effects. It requires repetitive motion, which can be both soothing and releasing, as well as can bring you into a flow state of energized focus. Needle felting is easy to learn and the end products are often cute little figures and objects.


Engage in Immersive Reading

Mindfulness through the arts doesn’t have to involve the action of creating, but can also include being fully immersed in a creative work like examining a painting at an art gallery in great detail or mindful reading. Unlike typical reading, mindful reading involves letting go of thoughts and opinions about what is being read and instead connecting fully with the words and the experience that emerges from them.

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Those who are familiar with the beloved character in the A. A. Milne stories already know that Winnie-the-Pooh and friends offer a lot of teachings about kindness and taking pleasure in life. A Walk in the Wood combines storytelling with easy-to-follow mindfulness exercises and suggestions for enhancing sensory experiences in your practice.

Janet Ho is a writer and professional art therapist. You can learn more about her at

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