the art technique of attention

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I’ve been very busy getting ready for a one-person fine art exhibit at Caplan Art Designs that will open in September. (So my social media activity has slacked off lately.) Around the edges of creating new fine artwork, framing, paperwork and so forth I’ve been working towards a new print edition of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.

This story from the First Aid Kit has been a good reminder of an art technique I try to practice daily – even when I’m busy:


Even when I’m very busy I practice taking a moment within my day, wherever I am, in the here-and-now and pay attention to my 5 senses. I try to let go of any preconceived conceptions, to just expand my awareness. I also include, in this exercise, paying attention to my free-associations and my imagination during my 5-senses check-in moment. I’ll note my sensory experience and “watch”, like you’d watch television, the memories, thoughts and associations that cross my mind as a result of the sensory experience.  I’ll often make notes in my sketchbook.

What I “get” for my payment – when I pay attention – is the power to choose what to focus on when I’m at my art easel working.

This practice of paying attention to both sensory input and the content of my mind –  is a version of what Betty Edwards wrote about in her book “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” – in the section where she talks about chairs. How (and I’m paraphrasing) a drawing student first attempting to draw a chair will substitute their knowledge about chairs (4 legs, a square seat and back) and will draw a child-like symbol of a chair. One has to learn to see the shapes of the spaces around the chair as well as the shapes of the chair itself – what is actually seen (3 legs, a trapezoid shaped seat and back).

I find too often – especially when I’m busy – I’m substituting my “knowledge” about the world, my preconceptions, for what “is” in the world. So I find it helpful to practice seeing the shapes of spaces, so to speak, in my sensory experience of the world. And to see the shapes of spaces within my own mind.

Paying attention allows me to merge real-world phenomenon with my mental life and to choose to communicate, via art, in ways that are helpful, playful and fun.

Currently “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” only exists in e-book form. But as I said above, I’m working on that. This book has had such a profound impact on my own creative life that I want to have another print version around.

4 thoughts on “the art technique of attention

  1. I have been trying to practice more mindfulness in recent years. I am long-term highly strung and given to anxiety and control freakery so I really need ways to keep me balanced and calm me down. Art is my main strategy but mindfulness also helps. Also, a few years ago, I started having anxiety attacks during dental appointments and I started using grounding techniques to stop myself spiralling. The thing you describe of focusing on each of your sentences is precisely what I do at those times. It really helps.

    1. Thanks for sharing! Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has to practice mindfulness… and uses art as a main strategy to deal with difficulties. I go into art/mindfulness mode at dental appointments too for calming myself. I’ve even deliberately made a list of “art project components” just prior to a dental appt so I’d have an art project to work on in my mind. While the dentist works I’ll slowly go through all of my art-making steps using the subject matter I’d listed. I’ve been amazed sometimes how much better quality those art pieces are when they are produced in real life. (usually when I get home and/or the next day) Probably the mental “rehearsal” helps me do a better job at the easel. So I’ve taken to doing a version that even when I don’t have a dentist visit – just mentally rehearsing what I’d do with the artistic subject matter….and the use of my senses is part of this. As you know… 😉 Thanks again!! Glad to know these techniques help you too!!

        1. Lol! Hope you enjoy it too!! It’s fun to “paint” while at the dentist… no mess or waste of art supplies while (ahem) “working”. Plus free “do-over’s”! Lol!

Thank you for reading and sharing encouragements!