Content warning: descriptions of grief and loss

slow looking

Escape fantasies were recurring and persistent during long days of shuffling my meat suit from task to task. I was willing to abandon my current life and start over anywhere else if it meant an opportunity to find peace. Slow looking helped me to understand my experience in a different way.

At first, I thought distance would heal the emotional pain that seemed intertwined with my surroundings, especially after a long period of complex grief and multiple secondary losses. But slow looking helped me to change my perspective. I am starting to understand that healing didn't necessitate escape but a deeper attunement to my environment and space for observation of my emotional response. As I spent a few minutes each day immersing myself in my surroundings, observing every detail, I realized that my emotional pain was not a product of the environment but a result of my disconnection from it. By pausing internally to make meaning, I began to perceive its harmony. This renewed connection is the start of a practice of compassionate observation, with the help of a skilled grief therapist, this process enabled me to initiate a healing process that I hadn't thought possible. I learned that peace was not in a far-off place, but right here, in a deeper understanding and appreciation of my current reality.

Picture yourself setting off on an exploration that demands nothing more than your being there, still and observant to your immediate surroundings. That's what I felt during my 30-day journey of mindful observation, a journey that welcomes everyone, not just artists, who yearn to be more connected to their daily experience.

Day after day, my beaten-up sketchbook and pencils were my companions. I committed a few moments each day to simply see the world around me. My skills as an artist didn't matter. The point of this exercise wasn't to produce a work of art, but rather to develop an ability to see common everyday moments as they are.

One day, I found myself captivated by the light filtering through new growth at the community garden. I drew its shapes, trying to capture the intricate patterns of the leaves. On another day, it was the rhythmic pulse of raindrops on my window that caught my attention. Each sketch was a portal, a memory of a moment when I paused to see the world around me.

30 days of observation

This process is an invitation to develop a deeper connection with your environment. It's a moment of mindfulness amidst the dissociated rush of everyday life. It's a chance to observe, to express, and to discover common, everyday experiences of resonance and attunement.

Over the course of this process, you might notice that your experience outside of those few moments of observation each day also changes. Mindfulness has a transformative impact on daily life. It's an approach that encourages living in the present moment, aware and engaged with your experiences as they occur. As you cultivate mindfulness even through this first step of prioritizing observation, you might begin to notice the richness of everyday life, from the aroma of morning coffee to the feel of a well-loved book in your hands. You observe an appreciation of the simple joys and navigate through challenges with increased resilience. It fosters a sense of calm and focus, helping to effectively manage stress, and improving your overall well-being. 

the art of the ordinary

Start by lowering any barriers to adopting this creative habit. This could mean packing any accessible materials into an easy-to-carry art-making toolkit. Don't have a sketchbook? Pack recycled cardboard or newspaper. In a lot of ways, the less precious your materials, the more likely you can release yourself to take risks and explore creatively.

Dedicate a few minutes each day to observe your surroundings and be present with seeing the world around you. Is the best time for you to do this while you wait at the bus stop on the way to work? While you come back from the grocery store before making dinner? Try to attach this few minutes a day onto a pre-existing habit to have a better chance of fulfilling your creative intention.

Emphasize drawing from life and paying attention to details in your surroundings. Remember, this isn't about creating a masterpiece. You have total privacy to truly connect with your surroundings. Use your senses to observe and represent that - however is possible for you - in your materials. Need to loosen up your control or critical voice? Try using collage instead of pencil or painting with the edge of a scrap of paper instead of a paintbrush. 

Engage with a supportive community as you progress. It's realistic to anticipate some increased emotional awareness in practicing this regimen. Find people you can share your experiences with. More than likely, they're experiencing the same complex awareness in different ways.

join me for upcoming slow looking sessions

April 1 - 30, 2024 @andrearobinstudio

reflect on what's meaningful for you

By reflecting on your progress, you can find what is most meaningful to your creative practice. You can ask yourself open-ended questions that encourage introspection and understanding. 

What have I discovered about the way I perceive the world around me through this daily practice?

How has the act of mindful observation influenced my mood and overall well-being?

In what ways has this practice helped me develop a deeper connection with my surroundings?

What have I learned about my own creative process and artistic expression through this daily commitment to observation?

How can I integrate the insights gained during this practice into other areas of my life?


"The Art of the Ordinary: Observational Sketching as Method" discusses how keeping a sketchbook can be a novel and thought-provoking way of connecting with research interests and fostering creative thought.

"The Destruction of Ideas: Disregarding and Discarding Sketchbooks and Avoiding Prying Eyes" provides insight into the use of sketchbooks for capturing observations and fostering creativity.

"Observational Sketching as Method" discusses the value of sketchbooks for qualitative researchers interested in creative methods.

"Re-imagining the Sketchbook as a Medium of Encounter" highlights the role of sketchbooks in creative practices.

"Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning Through Observation" emphasizes the learning benefits of slow, methodical observation, which can be facilitated through sketching.

"Evidence of Cognitive Chunking in Freehand Sketching During Design Ideation" discusses the cognitive processes involved in sketching, suggesting that it can influence cognitive health.

"Emotional Creativity Improves Posttraumatic Growth and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic" highlights the role of emotional creativity, which can be fostered through creative processes like sketching, in improving mental health.

"Writing Your Way to Well-Being: An IPA Analysis of the Therapeutic Effects of Creative Writing on Mental Health and the Processing of Emotional Difficulties" provides insight into the therapeutic effects of creative writing, a creative process that can be likened to sketching in terms of its capacity to facilitate the processing of emotional difficulties.

"Emotional Creativity" discusses the role of creativity in fostering emotional health and resilience.

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