Think back to how you approached creativity as a child. Most of us can relate to the experience of being strapped into some kind of apron and let loose on an array of felt-tip pens, paints, plasticine blobs and pipe cleaners. Our minds – and hands – were free to roam and create instinctively, free from inhibitions. The end result might have looked like a chaotic, scribbled mess, but the process was king – and it was one in which we had been utterly absorbed.
But there comes a point when we stop being children, and with it, the playful experimentation that allowed us to create without boundaries. Rediscovering our hands as a means to create can bring not just joy-in-the-process but also wonderful, creativity-expanding results – as well as a shedload of mindfulness.
Read on to open your mind and reconnect to the benefits of creating with your hands.
Ditch digital. Creating with your hands improves focus
There’s no doubt about it: our ability to focus is diminishing. According to data scientists and media analysts, the average consumer attention span is now just eight seconds long. That’s a drop of four seconds since 2015. It’s possible that COVID-19 has played a part in this. Overexposure to, and a greater reliance on screens traps many of us in a state of inertia. For those of us who work in front of a screen all day, engaging can be a challenge.
Ever found yourself doodling through a conference call? Though it’s often frowned upon, doodling is actually a subconscious thinking tool that can help us process information and problem solve. The results of a 2009 study by John Wiley & Sons Ltd showed that participants were able to recall 29% more information if they were doodling. This is a great example of how creating with our hands can improve focus during the working process, however subconscious it may feel at the time.
When we create with our hands, we should learn to love the process – not just the end result. “The sweet spot is in the process, that moment of ‘flow’ and the art-making journey,” says art therapy practitioner Sandra Keating. What is meant by ‘flow’? Essentially, it is a state of being completely immersed in what we are doing. It’s an energised focus, a feeling of being utterly ‘in the zone’.
London-based sculptor Emma Clarke can totally relate to entering a state of flow. “There is some form of meditation that comes from creating with your hands,” she explains. “You almost go into a relaxed state of consciousness that is focused solely on the piece you are working on, without any outside distractions. It lifts my mood and mentality a great deal.”
The absence of a screen seems integral to reaching a state of flow. Illustrator Gregory Lewis jumps at any opportunity to ditch a digital drawing tablet in favour of a more analogue approach: “I definitely feel more creative when I create with my hands, instead of staring at a screen. I feel the screen disconnects. It’s like a barrier between you and your work, so you don’t feel completely connected. Working with my hands pulls me into the moment. There’s less opportunity to go back if you feel you made a mistake, so the experience is more purposeful.”
Collagist and photographer, Rosanna Jones is celebrated for her signature hand-assembled approach. After being tasked with a school project to ‘destroy’ her photos a decade ago, Rosanna has based her work aesthetic on applying analogue collage techniques – think rips, scissor-cuts and painting – to flat images, in order to push the physical possibilities far beyond the two-dimensional.
“When I’m working with my hands and not confined to a digital workspace, I find myself so much more inspired and excited. I find it much easier to experiment and let the work flow. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of an idea coming together organically, when I’m working physically.”
Furthermore, Rosanna believes a digital approach is less likely to produce something that is authentic and unique: “I think creating with your hands is one of the best ways to create art that hasn’t been seen before. It makes my work feel like a real extension of me – it feels like nobody could do it in quite the same way.”
Creating with your hands can ease your mental state
Cast your mind back to the last time you made something with your hands: How did you feel? Now think about how you felt, holding the final result in your hands. Did you feel a rush of satisfaction at bringing something tangible into the world? Perhaps you felt calmer than you were before you started. And how about that bonus screen-break… heady stuff.
It’s scientifically proven that creating with your hands can ease anxiety. When we use our hands to make, serotonin and endorphins are released into our bloodstream, which work to reduce our cortisol (stress) levels. The neural networks in our brain are rewired, causing them to function differently from how they functioned before using our hands, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity.
Once we use our hands to create, it activates an ‘effort-driven reward circuit’ in our brain, which helps us to navigate emotional challenges and can even alleviate a depressive state. All of this science builds a pretty compelling case for art therapy. According to art therapist Sandra Keating, art therapy can be accessed by anyone, on any scale, at any time.
Sandra set up Project Wonderlands in 2015. The organisation hosts participatory projects and workshops that aim to reconnect people living in urban areas to nature, through conceptual art exercises. Through the work she’s done so far, Sandra has witnessed how making and creating with our hands presents a way to ease anxiety and, in some cases, even help people to process trauma.
“Art therapy engages the mind, body and spirit in ways that are distinct from verbal articulation alone. It can work beyond the limitations of language. Art therapy keeps the mind engaged in creative action, which can help facilitate and make space for people to open up freely and in their own time. The symbolism in the art we create can help bring unconscious or repressed thoughts, feelings and emotions to light, too.”
Making with your hands can build communities
We can probably all agree on the sense of isolation that builds from working at a screen all day. Whether we’re back in an office environment or working from home, it can be a pretty solitary way of operating, that keeps us blinkered to anyone and anything around us.
A big part of the Project Wonderlands mission is to encourage people to reconnect to each other and their environment, which is achieved through making and creating. According to Sandra, nature plays a crucial role in this reconnection. “Whether it’s abstract drawing with woodland charcoal, walking in a group barefoot on the earth, or making temporary sculptures with ancient wood, these projects are about the people, the place and the process – connecting the dots between nature, art and therapy. The benefits of creating with nature as your medium are like no other. Feeling the fresh air on your face or smelling the wood on your hands all adds to the multiple sensory experience.”
Though swapping the office for a forest may not be plausible, regaining a sense of community is. Rejoining your colleagues in the office, arranging a team away-day or – beyond work – joining a creative community are all ways in which we can regain a sense of community.
For illustrator Gregory Lewis, being part of multiple creative communities is integral to both his creative practice and his mindset: “I participate in oil painting and live model classes, which keeps my hand and eye brushed up. Being a part of these creative communities also gives me much-needed communication. Even the conversations I have with the other people in my studio inform my work – and they make me laugh all day!”
Making with your hands brings a deeper connection with your work
Creating with our hands creates a sense of play, which can aid our connection to the work itself and the possible outcomes seem gloriously endless.
Multidisciplinary artist, Mae Chan, is a huge advocate for creating with as much freedom as possible. “Being a multidisciplinary artist means I don’t need to put myself in any particular genre box, which eliminates boundaries,” she says. “I can jump between different mediums, techniques, and materials to honestly express the essence of my practice. Moreover, I think multidisciplinary artists are like octopuses somehow; our tentacles can reach more expansive fields, and our ‘soft round body’ can fit more contexts, bringing us more opportunities.”
Creating with our hands has a huge sensory appeal too, which may be one of the main factors allowing us to tap into a more playful, free, childlike state. “Working with my hands is more of a sensory experience – the touch, sound and smell of the materials against the paper. The work that I produce by hand feels more alive,” explains illustrator, Gregory. “I love seeing ink over my hands at the end of the day. It makes me feel closer to my childhood self.”
Whether you’re on a mission for mindfulness, desperately trying to regain focus, or feeling adrift from the world and the people around you, the benefits of making with your hands ultimately revolve around reconnection. Reconnection to ourselves, to the work, to the process. It’s about stepping out of our minds and into our bodies once again.
“It’s about that mind-body connection but the main benefit comes from ultimately bringing the focus out of the mind, into the hands,” says Sandra Keating. “I’ve read extensively about how hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our ‘cultural malaise’. The main point here is that we are living in a technology-saturated culture, always absorbing through our eyes. Why not let our hands do some of this absorbing instead!”
3 easy ways to integrate creating by hand into your life
- Join a creative community – from life-drawing classes to knitting clubs, creating alongside others feeds our primal need for interaction and community.
- Embrace an analogue approach – ditch the screen and reclaim your paintbrush/pencil/scissors to reconnect to a more instinctive, childlike approach to creativity.
- When all else fails, collage – utilise whatever you have around you and get creative. Improvisation can spark creativity.
Looking to unlock your creative side?
Look no further than GamePlan A’s guide to creativity.CLICK HERE