Before diving into this personal essay, I want set a clear frame for the thoughts and theories I present. As a student at the begining of my artistic journey at the age of 60, my perspectives on art, creativity, and mindfulness are deeply influenced by my life experiences. These include diverse professional achievements and academic pursuits in the military and business, alongside my early endeavors in music and language learning. It's crucial for me to acknowledge that while my insights into the world of art are recent, they are filtered through a lens of broader life experience. This essay, therefore, is not a proclamation from an art expert, but rather a reflection from a passionate, philosphical learner. It represents a set of ideas and hypotheses I'm wrestling with at this stage of my life, ones that I am testing and refining as I progress in my art practice. My aim is to contribute to the conversation around art and mindfulness, not as a seasoned artist, but as someone who sees the artistic process through the unique prism of a varied and rich life, seeking to understand and articulate the interplay of creativity and mindful living.

Dan John, in his book 'Attempts,' succinctly puts it: 'Everything we do mindlessly is a habit. I aim to make these habits beneficial.'

This profound affirmation resonates with me, serving not only as a life-guiding principle but also informing my personal art journey.

As an art student, I believe creativity is a learnable skill, not just an innate talent - otherwise, why would I pursue it?

Holding this transcendent belief since I first picked up the guitar at age 14 has led me to develop a transformative practice I call "Mindful Creation" which I employ in drawing with what I call "Effects-Based Sketching."

I view mindless creation as opposed to mindful creation as a product of developing beneficial habits through countless iterations. Mindless creation is when effort eases and parts of the process become instinctual, like when I broke through and learned to play or accompany myself on the guitar while singing at the same time.

How am I working it with my art? I practice intertwining mindfulness with each pencil, pen, or brush stroke using the flexible and strategic process I learned in the military known as an OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).

Let me explain.

In my effects-based approach to sketching, I strive to go beyond just drawing symbols or pursuing an unattainable perfection in replicating exactly what I see. I seek to draw the effects of what I see, to depict a 3D image on a 2D surface, to suggest the effects of the leaves of a tree not draw every leaf, or the effects of a bird's plummage, but not each feather.

Over time my sketching is becoming a beneficial composite of intention, observation, and reflection.

I practice making every line, every shade, the result of a mindful decision influenced by an OODA loop. I see it as the same process I used to learn a new song by ear. I have to slow it down or stop and go through it finding the chords and notes and then the rhythm. Observe or hear the chord, Orient by finding it's composite notes and Deciding how to finger and place it on the fretboard, and then Acting on my decision and playing the chord.

Observing my subject involves not just seeing but understanding. With the guitar I learned different voicings of chord in different positions on the fretboard that allowed me employ that understanding and learn to play a song in the exact same way that maybe John Denver played and sang it, or to create my own cover. The parallels with drawing are solid and real.

The orientation phase is crucial – where I interpret and internalize my subject's essence and what it means to me.

Marking the paper becomes not a random act but a thoughtful choice, a culmination of observation and orientation.

Steve Huston, in his drawing tutorials, advises developing an ideal as a reference point, noticing how your subject varies from your ideal, and then allowing for personal deviations reality to achieve artistic expression.

I am not trying to be a camera or a printer, because I will never be able to match the replication abilities of a camera or printer. When I push my marks away from the reality of a subject in a way that does not please, I do not beat myself up, I learn from it, try again and more and more often I find myself making what I see as artful marks.

Sketching, for me, has become more than image replication on paper. Although I do practice my accuracy, a lot. I remind myself that I practice it so that I can push away from it in beneficial ways.

Sketching has become an internal and physical dialogue between me, my subject, and my sketchbook that evolves with each stroke.

Employing OODA Loops ensures my dialogue is dynamic and responsive, a feedback loop where each action informs the next. Thus, my sketches are more than representations; they become personal, mindful explorations.

Echoing Dan John's emphasis on transforming mindless habits into beneficial ones, I view my sketching process as an embodiment of this philosophy. With each iteration of an OODA loop, my actions become more instinctual yet I'm able to maintain a high degree of mindfulness. It does take concentration and I do get tired but that is the signal to rest and return refreshed.

As I get quicker and better at making meaningful marks, I find aspects of my process becoming more and more mindless and habitual. Because I practice and train with mindful OODA Loops, my art-making habits are becoming more and more mindless but also creative.

I feel this approach to creativity transcends mere skill improvement. Another benefit that comes from cultivating good habits in art, is that the process reinforces for me how to do similar things in other areas of life. As my actions become quicker and more precise, I can spend more time and effort making mindful decisions on other concerns, elevating both my art and life into an artful endeavor.

As a "senior" student, rather than just being an artist or creating for art's sake, my goal is to live artfully, a practice I'm honing through mindful techniques like employing OODA Loops in effects-based sketching, and my goal is to apply the same in the future to landscape painting.

Let me be clear, I am still working on the fundamentals. I have a long way to go when measured against the standards of the New Masters Academy. I wrote this essay to "think it all through" and help me put into ideas and words what I understand so far. It also helps me to measure from where I started to how far I've come thus far.

A sketch of Mila, my granddaughter.
A quick HB pencil sketch on cheap cartridge paper showing where I am on my artistic journey.

It is very easy to get caught up in the end-state, the often "impossible" ideal that the New Masters Academy instructors teach too.

Since I am 60, I am not focused on having a money-making, art career. I seek to have an artful, meaningful final third or half-life experience with art as one of my endeavors. But just yesterday, my wife asked me, "With all of this time you are dedicating to drawing, do you anticipate making any money with it?" Someone else might have pushed back. But the reality is that in the 28 years of our marriage, she has lived with a career-oriented, income-producing husband and father. It must be quite a change to see me doing something for its one sake, alone. I feel art has always been in me, I'm just letting it bubble to the surface again, but this time not with a guitar or trombone, but with a pencil.

In conclusion, effects-based sketching, informed by mindful OODA loop principles I learned in the military informs my artistic process. And I'm learning to apply this kind of intentionality to other meaningful areas of my life. Or maybe I have always done this and now I'm applying it to a creativity I've held dormant for decades.

Mirroring Dan John's ethos of purposeful habit transformation, my mindful creative practice has enhanced my art making, heightened my awareness and deepened my respect for great artists.

I feel my art journey is affirming the power of intentionality to transform each moment into not just a creative act but a deeply meaningful and beneficial experience.

I have more I want to write (think) about all of this. I will write it as I have time.

Thanks for reading!

¡Viva la Meseta!