8 Ways Sketching Can Totally Benefit Your Mental Health

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When much of the world went into Covid-imposed lockdown earlier in the year, many of us started to enjoy hobbies that were either new to us, or that we hadn't done for years. For me, it was sketching. 

I've always drawn, so I'm told, ever since I could hold a pen in my hand. I took an Art with Art History A-Level after leaving school and then basically stopped. I went to university, got busy writing and reading (so much reading) and then got a sales job totally unrelated to my degree to pay off my uni debts. Then I went on to have kids and started taking pictures of my dinner and posting them on the internet, as you well know. 

When we went into lockdown, a lot of my writing and photography work dried up. It became more difficult to shop for specific ingredients I needed for recipe development. The kids were at home. My husband was still working, as a key worker, but life was slower and I had a little more spare time on my hands. So I started sketching again. 

And when I did, I noticed such an improvement in my mental health. Here are ten ways I think that sketching, drawing or painting can help improve yours. 

Gloucester Sketch by Jo Romero

1. Colour

Don't you think that colour is something that cheers you up straight away? Just looking up at a bright blue sky can make you feel happier than when it's dark and grey outside. Have you noticed how neighbours tend to shout hello over the fence more often in spring and summer? I think it's to do with all the colours that are around on the leaves, buds, flowers and in the sky. Waking up feeling a bit down in the dumps and putting on a brightly coloured shirt can suddenly lift your spirits. And I think that this is the same as playing with colour on paper. You can paint the colour that's actually there or you can decide to create a more dynamic image with imaginative colour that isn't. I always find adding colour to my sketches is the most fun part and the part where you get to play and let down your guard. It's just fun. 

2. Mindfulness

If you're sketching a scene you're looking at it. You're looking constantly, and then adding a line here and there to build up your sketch. This puts you in the 'now' or the 'present'. You're not worrying or thinking about bills, past conversations or that person you accidentally upset two years ago - you're concentrating on that building over there and where there needs to be a line on your paper. I also find that time really flies when I'm sketching, even a simple scene. 

3. Appreciation of the world around you

When I started sketching, I asked a friend: 'What can I sketch?' - and she replied with 'Anything.' The little tower on that church over there. The pile of washing up after dinner. A bookshelf clumsily piled up with books and ornaments. A tree branch that comes over a street scene. The beams of a house. A cup of coffee that's part finished, or the empty plate you left on the table at breakfast. You can sketch literally anything you see. And when you're looking and sketching you really do look deeper into a subject than you normally would. When I see my local Town Hall I can look up and remember all the tiny cone-shaped turrets I drew, the decorations around the windows and the Victorian brickwork that I pencilled in. I see more deeply. And that means I appreciate more of the world around me, which ties in with gratitude. 

Fox and Hounds Pub, Tilehurst by Jo Romero

4. The outside air

One of the newer ways I started to sketch again was in Urban Sketching. It's brilliant. The rules are, pretty much, that you sketch true to life, what you see and in the moment. That means you add in all the satellite dishes, people and rubbish blowing about in the street. You're faithful to the scene - portraying a feeling of time and place - and you're also mostly outside. No sketching from photos is allowed in Urban Sketching, so you'll sit out in all weathers (I once sketched standing under a tree in the rain) with the fresh air, birds singing and the odd friendly shopper who asks to look over your shoulder to see what you're drawing. I'm often out sketching around Reading in Berkshire, if you see me come over and say hi!

There's another benefit of being outside in the open air, too. As a migraine sufferer I know that if I've spent a long time focusing on something - like a drawing - I could have an attack come on due to eye strain. Migraines are thought to be more common for people who spend a lot of time indoors. By being outside, you have more to focus on and your eyes are flitting about taking in all the angles, lines and tones rather than focusing on one flat object all the time. It'll also give you fresh air. If you still suffer with migraines, headaches or tiredness you might want to consider whether you need glasses. Try a company like eyeglasses.com or get a checkup from your optician. 

5. Learning a new skill

There's a satisfaction about learning something new. Before this year I hated drawing buildings. I just couldn't do it. Now, after a few online talks and courses, I really love it. I can draw a street, a local pub or even a complicated Tudor-beamed historic building. And I've started to gain commissions for my work, too (check out my Etsy shop here). By learning something new that you love to do you feel as if you're giving your life another layer of meaning, and that's incredible. 

6. Using your imagination

Adding a splash or a drip of pink or blue to a historic street scene. Making buildings look taller or more wonky to add character. Altering perspective. Playing with new drawing materials like charcoal, colouring pencils, inks or watercolour paints. No one tells you what style you have to draw in or what your sketch needs to look like. All these things help you flex your creative brain and by using your imagination you're having fun. And fun makes feeling low go away. 

7. Making new friends

When I decided to make sketching my new official hobby I honestly thought it would be a solitary thing. But I was blown away by the level of support online and in person from fellow sketchers. I followed sketchers I admired on Instagram and many of them followed me back. I take part in drawing challenges where we all draw a particular scene and post up our work with a hashtag. I joined my local Urban Sketchers group where we meet up and sketch together. Lately we've been sketching together virtually now that meet ups are more controlled. Many have helped me with what equipment to buy, what techniques to use and one of them very kindly invited me into her studio as a newbie to show me what materials she uses. I'm so grateful for all the new friends I've made sketching and I'm looking forward to when we can meet up again soon. 

8. Pursuing perfection

Sometimes we can get too bogged down in getting a drawing perfect. Sketching teaches me that everything can't be perfect, and mistakes happen. Quite often I'll get the perspective wrong on a drawing and either fix it or leave it as it is. Sometimes I end up with a tall spire off the top of the page. Yes, I need to refine my skills, but I also need to laugh it off and carry on and not get upset when things aren't quite right. This helps me to chill out and loosen up when it comes to perfection.

Do you sketch or draw? Have you found it helps your mental health? Let me know how in the comments below! 

You can follow my sketches online at my Love British History site, or on my Instagram @sketcherjoey - or you can buy or commission your own sketches over on my Etsy page.