“At the end of the day it is just a piece of paper that can be thrown out. Throw caution to the wind, and see what happens!” A self-described designer and artist, Sarah Halawani also has a talent for making people feel instantly welcome, casting aside any preconceived issues we may have about our artistic ability – or possibly lack of.
The workshop was held in the Rose Pavilion at the Royal Botanical Gardens. The sandstone structure provided welcome shade from the relentless Summer sun and offered incredible views across the multi-coloured flower gardens and towering trees on the lawn sweeping down to Sydney Harbour. It was the ideal place for Maia, co-founder of Key Into Australia to introduce herself and Sarah to our group of a dozen women which had assembled.
I’m always pleasantly surprised at the variety of cultures and ages present at Key Into Australia (KIA) events, and the different background stories each of us brings to our now common destination of Sydney. Although I was keen to chat to the different members, some familiar and some new, I knew that opportunity could wait until later. We gathered around Sarah as she demonstrated using an oil pastel on paper and explained how to start the practice of mindful drawing.
- minimise decisions
- think of a shape
- as you draw it, how does it feel?
- notice the colour and how pressure can make it softer or more vivid
- be in the moment and try not to control too much
- sit with it, then repeat the shape elsewhere on the page
- notice what happens, but don’t judge
- pick another colour and draw the same shape or a different one
- experiment, the idea is to fill the page with colour
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the drawing, this is an extension of yourself and using it as a reflection piece at the end. Forget about what it ‘should’ look like and just go with the feeling of it. It sounds a bit weird, but what is the material telling you to do?”
Next, Sarah set the mood with a short, guided meditation where she instructed us to take a few deep breaths to bring attention into ourselves, and then to become aware of the external sounds and sensations of being in nature. Using a natural environment is a very common and effective way to invoke mindfulness. Feeling the solid stone beneath my body and the light salty breeze from the harbour on my face, it was easy to follow Sarah’s guidance and let her lead us into nature and with it a state of calm. Settled within the security of the group and the stunning location, my mind started to relax and I knew this workshop wasn’t going to be a test of anyone’s artistic abilities as I had feared, but a shared experience of creativity and enjoyment of nature and simply… being.
Minutes later we equipped ourselves with a board and paper, and our choice of soft or oil pastels, crayons and pencils. It was time to separate from the group and in Sarah’s words “Take your time in nature, take your time to find your spot, and begin your drawing”. In such a beautiful setting I found it difficult to pick just one place, and spent a couple of minutes wandering around waiting for something to resonate with me. I decided to seat myself under the shade of a huge Moreton Fig tree, on a park bench guarded by an ibis, looking out over the rainbow of garden colours to glimpses of sparkling blue water finishing in a hazy skyline. Satisfied that I had surrounded myself by nature in a variety of ways, I noticed the other women had chosen to scatter themselves in various places amongst trees on the lawn, relax in the comfortable shade of the pavilion, or take advantage of other park benches in the trellised walkway. Everyone had successfully found their spot.
Looking down at my blank piece of paper, then up at the incredible visage ahead I was suddenly lost with how to start my drawing. I love nature and find immediate serenity outdoors, so I would have been perfectly happy to sit on the bench for however long we were allowed to just soaking it all in. But right now I had been given a different purpose for being here, so to help myself I resorted to a common mediation technique: What could I see? What could I hear? What could I feel? Gradually my piece of paper started coming to life.
Afterwards, we shared and explained our creations and what the mindful drawing experience had been like. I think I may not have been the only one who started off slow – but in the end, surrounded and inspired by nature, and with a little mental guidance from Sarah, there was no stopping us.
“I started out with one shape – half of the page is triangles. But then I got nature, and trees, and birds, and water!”
“I focused on roses, then tried to put part of me over it. I didn’t want to use black or have a black rose because I wasn’t feeling it, so I put little dots of black here and there instead”.
“Life, you start here and then continue, and continue, and continue, like a flow. If one was alone it needed a friend, so I made it. Everything is connected.”
“Very aggressive with the blending, my finger got tired! But then I found as the sun warmed up the paper it was easier to blend, so I used the elements. The circle represents completeness and wholeness, then what brings me comfort like bright colours and graduation”.
“Leaves, flowers. Trying to get way from specific ideas in my head, so I started and then whatever followed. I took a little nap in between”.
“Started with darkness, negative feelings, then tried to make it smoother. Everything is connected, peace, tree, leaves, sky, waves. A mouth for a smile, passion. A book, we have a different past but I’ve met different people and ended up here.”
An emerging theme of connectedness was apparent and with that in mind, many of us stayed on after the workshop had officially ended. Over a leisurely lunch we were able to build social connections within the KIA group – yes, I got to have the chats I wanted! – so with my appetite sated in more ways than one I left for home reflecting on another successful Key Into Australia experience.
Feeling inspired? Be sure to keep an eye on the Key Into Australia newsletter and ‘Welcome to Sydney Ladies’ Meetup group so you don’t miss out on our next Mindful Drawing workshop with Sarah Halawani!
Want to know more? For stories and resources on Mindful Drawing and the power of creative expression to heal, empower and transform, follow Sarah’s Facebook page.
Written by Penelope Smith
Key Into Australia, 9 January 2021