I live in a near constant state of restlessness. Always occupied with something, anything, but unable to focus on any one activity for too long. Only a few idle seconds pass by before I’m on my phone, tumbling down a social media rabbit hole. Some nights, I find myself scrolling until the wee hours, soaking my face in blue light until I pass out from screen exhaustion, because lying there in the still, quiet darkness is too unnerving. I used to look forward to that sweet spot between lights out and slumber, time that I once used for ideating, daydreaming. These days, I feel overpowered by my own mind, as it relives past trauma or rehearses future devastation, refusing to anchor in the present moment.
The other week, I drew for the first time in months. I felt called to it that day, almost like a craving: an instinct deep in my gut told me that an art session would make me feel better. “Better” as in calm, relaxed, and present. I could best describe my mood for the preceding days as distracted. I didn’t feel engaged at my day job; and in the morning and night hours, instead of diving into creative projects, I doom-scrolled, binged vlogs on YouTube, and shopped online.
Drawing a portrait keeps me off my phone and out of my head for several hours. When I draw, I don’t even feel the urge to jump on Instagram, and all the worries from the day slip away. I’m too fixated on the curves of my lines, the angle of my pencil, the hues I must mix to achieve that very specific shade of skin from my reference photo. In other words, I am too immersed in each moment, too enthralled by the physical thing in front of me, to be bothered by my virtual or imaginary worlds.
In fact, this may be why I enjoy drawing straightforward portraits based on photos, as opposed to metaphorical pieces packed with meaning: it does not require much imagination. Rather, it compels me to truly acknowledge, examine, and process what is actually in front of me. Some people intend to make art that sends a message, that aims to change the world, or at least someone’s worldview. I don’t believe that my drawings say much, aside from celebrating the beauty and humanity of the people I portray. My art isn’t really about the art as much as it is about the exercise of creating it. Art-making gives me the opportunity to reclaim my attention and use it with intention.
I haven’t yet adopted a meditation practice in traditional terms – you know, sitting still, inhaling and exhaling, just being. But drawing feels meditative to me, for the way that it pulls me into presence. This is why I don’t typically do commissions: drawing for others would drive me to worry about the end result (Is this good enough? Will they like it?) and distract me from the joy of the process.
There seems to be an expectation to commodify our talents, to transform hobbies into side hustles. But I’ve found a sacredness in art for pleasure, art for art’s sake. I suppose my art gives more to me than it does to anyone else. Inner peace, pleasure, beauty, aliveness, creativity, satisfaction – all mine, all priceless.