My color meditation was born by accident, in my studio during a study of dot-based painted garlands.
I started by painting three garlands of dots, in watercolor. Something in my brain urged me to try the color at 100 percent saturation, 50 percent saturation, then 25 percent. I picked a color, painted three dots. Picked another color, painted three more dots. And so on.
While I often zone out in the studio, this simple act felt different. Something shifted in me, and a lightbulb went off. The act of creating this small strand of painted dots in my sketchbook changed my life.
Why I Needed Color Meditation
Let me backtrack. After the birth of my child in 2009, the exhaustion, stress, and feeling of not knowing what I was doing was intense. My kiddo decided to join us six weeks early, and the first ten days of her life were spent in the newborn intensive care unit.
Newborns tend to need feedings every two hours. My kid was like a clock. Every two hours, 24 hours a day, I fed her. The nurses said that these two-hour feedings were supposed to last for about the first six weeks of life, but since she was a preemie, I was to expect double that.
At the same time, the message “meditating is the answer” was everywhere I looked: the media, new mom books, friends, the lactation consultant. I remember being curious in the ’90s about the benefits of meditation when the director David Lynch talked about his practice. I tried and failed. In 2009 it seemed like everything around me was telling me I needed to try again.
So, I tried again. And failed. Sitting still, closing my eyes, attempting the lotus position and “proper” hand positions—all of it made me self-conscious and awkward. I had minimal success using apps and following guided meditations; I always had to find the right voice and recordings without flute music.
At some point the universe sent me a video of a Tibetan monk talking about meditating and the “monkey mind.” I honestly don’t know who he was, or how I found his video, but he explained the concept so clearly.
“You do not need to sit still and meditate to actually meditate,” the monk said calmly. I perked up at this. He explained it was all about being conscious of your breath, slowing down, and shutting the monkey up. You could be in your car in traffic for all he cared. It wasn’t about silence but about concentration and allowing your mind to be empty and quiet.
The next day on my hellish commute home, I tried it. When I entered the long line of cars, I took a deep breath—in through my nose and into my belly, out through my nose, again and again. And in a few minutes, I stopped thinking about the cars. I tuned out my radio. I wasn’t angry at the inconvenience. It was working!
The Birth of My Color Meditation Practice
Fast forward to that moment in the studio painting the watercolor dots. As I finished up the painting, I realized that the experience I had while working was eerily similar to that moment I had in the car. My mind was quiet, my breath steady. As I moved from dot to dot, the only thing I thought about was which color came next. I didn’t have to make any other decisions. I knew what I wanted from the painting.
Because I wasn’t concerned about what I needed to do, what kind of mark I was going to make, or how to make the painting into a grand piece of art, a moment of magic occurred—my color meditation was born.
I began doing color meditation at the beginning of my workday in the studio or at the end of day when I needed a break. As I practiced more styles of color meditation—altering different shapes and techniques and realizing that this was indeed a thing—I knew I had to share it with other like-minded people. When I wrote my book A Field Guide to Color, I included 15 chapters with color theory exercises, and in between each chapter I gave a shape prompt for a color meditation.
Why Color Meditation Works
The main perk of color meditation is its simplicity. Choose one or two shapes and simply repeat them. All you need to pay attention to is the color of the paint and the movement it makes. Color meditation is low stakes. Hate it? Throw it out. Love it (which is more often the case)? Frame it or share it.
The extra bonus of color meditation is that you actually learn how your chosen media works. I tend to work in watercolor or gouache, but you can practice color meditation in any medium: with markers, colored pencils, or even collage. And you learn about color theory.
Sometimes I try color meditation with colors I don’t like, or try unusual and unlikely color combinations. I am always pleasantly surprised. I hope you are too.
Lisa Solomon's The Color Meditation Deck: 500+ Prompts to Explore Watercolor and Spark Your Creativity is available July 12th from Penguin Random House. Click here to pre-order.