Culture

Make Some Art. Your Brain Will Thank You.

by Katie Wudel

May 20, 2015

We’re teaming up with our friends at Sambazon for 100 days of little ways to change our world. Follow along for the next 100 days of action (and giveaways) on Instagram @Sambazon and at www.sambazon.com/100. And don’t forget to tell us @GOOD about how you’re changing your world with the hashtag #100Startswith1.

#100StartsWith1

Champion: Saelee Oh

Action: Make some art.

Saelee Oh, painting a mural for Donut Friend in Los Angeles.

Saelee Oh says she thinks she became an artist because it reminds her of how it felt to be a little kid. “It was always what I liked doing most back then, so when I make art, it takes me back to a time in my life when I was willing to use my imagination. When you let go and draw or paint, you channel this part of your brain that’s somewhere between meditation and dreaming. Or like dancing. Your brain gets loose and intuitive, rather than thinking logically.”

Research suggests that Saelee may be on to something. Last year, a study focusing on participants in a hands-on art workshop found that making art greatly improved their “psychological resilience”—which helped them resist the effects of stress and actually made them feel happier—while increasing “functional connectivity” between many areas of the brain. While fully engaged in the act of creation, the participants were able to reach a powerful mental and bodily state the study refers to as “flow,” which engaged both cognitive and motor skills. Plus, another 2014 study revealed that the act of drawing actually helps develop gray matter density in the brain. 

If making art is so good for us, why do so many of us stop drawing after childhood? Oh thinks that it might be because “we get intimidated, or the fun gets taken out of it. Maybe we start to think it needs to look realistic, or it starts to feel like work. But every human is an artist and creator—it just comes out in different ways. For some people, it’s that they cook, or build things. Or it’s through their children—they’re literally creating life.”

For this week’s #100StartsWith1 challenge, Oh wants to encourage you to tap into that creative part of yourself—it’ll release some stress, brighten your mood, and maybe even make your brain bigger.

Toolkit

It’s totally normal to feel intimidated by art-making, especially if you haven’t done anything other than doodle since you were a kid. (Though Oh says you should trust that doodle impulse—if you draw mindlessly, you’re already halfway there.) So she has a few ideas about how to get started:

1. Create a space that nurtures your artistic side. Oh says she likes to light some incense and makes sure her space is totally clean and uncluttered. If she feels like she needs to hear her thoughts, she tries to make sure she’s alone and in silence so she can focus on left-brained decisions. If she’s already in the “flow” of drawing or painting, she puts on music, podcasts, or audiobooks that can help her do so “mindlessly.”

2. Get ideas from your dreams. Oh likes to keep some paper next to her bed so she can jot down notes or draw interesting images that reveal themselves in her dreams. “Those pictures and symbols are important messages about what’s going on with you.” Sometimes Oh draws actual images direct from her dreams, because they are much more interesting and original than anything her waking mind could come up with. (Alternately, if she notices that she’s been dreaming a lot about non-artistic things like fixing washing machines or using Photoshop, at least she knows she’s been working way too hard.)

3. Be okay with needing to warm up in the beginning. “In the beginning, it sometimes does feel horrible. I struggle, I have doubts in my mind. But just like exercising, after awhile, I get in the zone and it starts to feel fun.” If you’re still not sure what to draw (and you can’t remember your dreams), start with an object, person, or animal from your everyday life.

Or bypass that challenging beginning entirely with these starter pictures from Oh. You can print them out to draw on them, or simply complete the picture using your smartphone and a free app like Megadraw.

Image via Saelee Oh.

Add more to the background, and let us know what this horse has to say. Or, if it’ll help you to draw with a friend, use this pair of images. You complete one of these creatures, and your friend completes the other.

Image via Saelee Oh.
Image via Saelee Oh.

If you want to make it more fun, don’t let your friend see your creation until you’re done.

4. Share your picture with the world. Inspire your friends to change their worlds by enjoying the health benefits of creativity. Just upload your picture to your social platform of choice with the hashtag #100StartsWith1. We’ll share a few of our favorites right here on GOOD.

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Make Some Art. Your Brain Will Thank You.