zen brush strokes 1


What you will need:

A wide soft brush – or three brushes – one for each color

– Black fluid acrylic paint, or 3 different colors of fluid acrylic paint – you could also use water colors

– 20 or more sheets of card-stock or heavy paper – a torn up cardboard box works great –

How it works:

Zen painting is a very simple spontaneous painting exercise, yet it takes great unselfconscious concentration to execute. It loosely involves the spiritual practice of painting one, two or three uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is set free to let the body create.

In this exercise, I invite you to progressively practice letting go of your normal self-conscious ways of being in the world by engaging in painting 20 or more loose, swift, minimalist paintings in one session until your mind goes completely still.

The aim of Zen painting is to practice single-pointed concentration so that the totality of your mind is so completely engaged – it disappears. Building concentration is like any other kind of discipline. If we want to build muscles we lift weights. Soon our muscles respond. To play the piano, we repeat the same exercises over and over. Eventually our fingers fly over the keys. It’s the same with movement, and with art. Repetitive practice builds our ability and skill.

The Zen Painting Process

Following is an informal way to experiment with Zen Painting, in an accessible, non-traditional way. Zen painting is traditionally done with black ink, but I prefer the viscosity of fluid acrylics, and the use of 2 to 3 colors.

Prepare your paint and paper – Have all your materials close at hand. Prepare your three trays of paint along with a separate brush for each color. Consider where you will put all of your paintings as they dry. Have a stack of 20 or more sheets of paper spread out for painting.

Prepare your mind and body – Because we habitually live in a near constant state of inner conflict and distraction, consider that it is a rare and worthy practice to bring all of your attention to one still, quiet point. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths, Loosen your body by stretching and through spontaneous movement. Take note where you feel tight and sore. Breathe, stretch and move into your body constrictions until they soften from your kind attention.

Paint standing up – The aim of this painting exercise is to fully and completely engage your mind, body and soul into one concentrated point of concentration. Standing up allows you to embody each brush stroke with your entire, integrated being.

Paint simply and spontaneously – As you paint your brushstrokes, follow the rule of “no rules”. The only rule you might consider is to paint one color at a time. Paint one stroke of color on all 20 sheets of paper first, let them dry, and then brush on the next color, and so on.

Paint each brushstroke spontaneously, without mental calculation. Each brush stroke strives to be without self-consciousness – organic, intuitive, and uncultivated. Paint as many paintings as you need to – until you arrive at the place where your brush seems to be painting all by itself.

Bask in your direct experience of reality – When you reach the point single-pointed attention to the moment, when your whole body, mind and soul is engaged in each brushstroke, and when you have forgotten how you normally think – stop painting. And sit or stand in your quietude.

Bask in your sudden, yet cultivated quietude. Celebrate the delicious feeling of the directly experiencing your own life. Remember how it feels to be so utterly free of self-consciousness. Remember so that you can cultivate this lack of artificiality more often in your daily life.

Enjoy the calm.

My name is Dawn and this is Where I Stand