Paint your mind at ease

At a time when the world is facing more uncertainty than ever, Contact stepped into the studio with professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper to reflect on her mindful art practice and ask how to use art for enlightenment.

Indigo brush stroke

The scent of essential oil and ocean air drifts across the sunlit studio, swaying a collection of traditional calligraphy brushes that hang in a wooden hutch. Outside, palm trees rustle and birdsong lilts across the hushed Sunshine Coast neighbourhood.

Professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper flits into the studio, her silver hair catching the light as she pulls on a linen apron.

Primarily a painter, Georgina is informed by a deep engagement with Eastern artistic traditions and the philosophies that underpin them. She is now undertaking her PhD at UQ with a full scholarship for her research into artistic practice and its potential to affect the painter’s psychological mindset through mindfulness.

Step into the studio with professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper.

“My painting practice is informed by historical texts from traditional Chinese painter-critics. And in some of the text, it talks about the importance of being in the right mental and physical state to paint,” Georgina says.

"You're not supposed to paint when you're agitated or when you're tired, because that translates directly from your body to your art."

“So, for me, my painting practice and the setup is about preparing myself mentally and physically. And, I suppose, busying and occupying my hands and my mind with routine and ritual to allow for things to bubble up.

“Sometimes it might just be tidying the space or taking care of my brushes.”

At a time when the world is facing more uncertainty than ever, Contact stepped into the studio with professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper to reflect on her mindful art practice and ask how to use art for enlightenment.

Indigo brush stroke

The scent of essential oil and ocean air drifts across the sunlit studio, swaying a collection of traditional calligraphy brushes that hang in a wooden hutch. Outside, palm trees rustle and birdsong lilts across the hushed Sunshine Coast neighbourhood.

Professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper flits into the studio, her silver hair catching the light as she pulls on a linen apron.

Primarily a painter, Georgina is informed by a deep engagement with Eastern artistic traditions and the philosophies that underpin them. She is now undertaking her PhD at UQ with a full scholarship for her research into artistic practice and its potential to affect the painter’s psychological mindset through mindfulness.

Step into the studio with professional artist and UQ PhD student Georgina Hooper.

“My painting practice is informed by historical texts from traditional Chinese painter-critics. And in some of the text, it talks about the importance of being in the right mental and physical state to paint,” Georgina says.

"You're not supposed to paint when you're agitated or when you're tired, because that translates directly from your body to your art."

“So, for me, my painting practice and the setup is about preparing myself mentally and physically. And, I suppose, busying and occupying my hands and my mind with routine and ritual to allow for things to bubble up.

“Sometimes it might just be tidying the space or taking care of my brushes.”

A collection of fine art brushes hanging from hooks in a bookshelf.

Georgina moves to the hutch containing her fine art brushes and takes a moment to consider her choice. She explains that her brushes and inks are delicate, sensory tools that add to the practice of creating art mindfully.

“All of my brushes have individual personalities. They're made from different types of animal hair – some of them are goat, wolf, and even bear. And very much like wands in Harry Potter have imbued characteristics of what they're made of, I definitely feel that in my brushes.”

“There are some brushes that I just can't crack, or I haven't figured out how to use yet. Then there are some brushes that I have preserved and have never used because, one day, I'm going to want to get to know that brush and I'm waiting for that moment to happen.”

“But I’ve got to reach for my favourite brush today – it’s a rabbit-hair brush that I have always loved working with. It’s like a dear friend to me now.”

Indigo brush stroke

This art practice helps to inform Georgina’s research, which seeks to explore how the ancient traditions of Chinese landscape painting helped shape the artist into a more present, mindful practitioner.

As a student, Georgina was the recipient of a research scholarship from UQ in which she studied Chinese landscape painting and philosophy under Professor Dong Ya at the University of Tianjin, China.

“When I was in China, Professor Dong Ya taught me that the foundation of all Chinese paintings is done through these number of very simple strokes that make up all of Chinese writing,” Georgina says.

“Part of what I'm interested in is looking at how this tradition, which is relatively unchanged over such a long period of time, developed almost like a science that was aimed at refining character and even bringing about enlightenment in its practitioners. I’m looking at how it's possible for an art practice to affect such an evocative change in a person.”

Following her experience at the University of Tianjin, Georgina was inspired to pause her Honours research, resign from her job and venture across China and Japan on a six-month artist residency.

This experience sharpened her passion to study the intersection of painting and philosophy – a true crossover of theory and practice.

Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.
Artist Georgina Hooper painting on a dark indigo canvas.

Georgina moves to the hutch containing her fine art brushes and takes a moment to consider her choice. She explains that her brushes and inks are delicate, sensory tools that add to the practice of creating art mindfully.

“All of my brushes have individual personalities. They're made from different types of animal hair – some of them are goat, wolf, and even bear. And very much like wands in Harry Potter have imbued characteristics of what they're made of, I definitely feel that in my brushes.”

“There are some brushes that I just can't crack, or I haven't figured out how to use yet. Then there are some brushes that I have preserved and have never used because, one day, I'm going to want to get to know that brush and I'm waiting for that moment to happen.”

“But I’ve got to reach for my favourite brush today – it’s a rabbit-hair brush that I have always loved working with. It’s like a dear friend to me now.”

Indigo brush stroke

This art practice helps to inform Georgina’s research, which seeks to explore how the ancient traditions of Chinese landscape painting helped shape the artist into a more present, mindful practitioner.

As a student, Georgina was the recipient of a research scholarship from UQ in which she studied Chinese landscape painting and philosophy under Professor Dong Ya at the University of Tianjin, China.

“When I was in China, Professor Dong Ya taught me that the foundation of all Chinese paintings is done through these number of very simple strokes that make up all of Chinese writing,” Georgina says.

“Part of what I'm interested in is looking at how this tradition, which is relatively unchanged over such a long period of time, developed almost like a science that was aimed at refining character and even bringing about enlightenment in its practitioners. I’m looking at how it's possible for an art practice to affect such an evocative change in a person.”

Following her experience at the University of Tianjin, Georgina was inspired to pause her Honours research, resign from her job and venture across China and Japan on a six-month artist residency.

This experience sharpened her passion to study the intersection of painting and philosophy – a true crossover of theory and practice.

Side view of artist Georgina Hooper painting on an indigo canvas.
An old wooden table with various art supplies including an ink grinder, ceramic bowls, and a brush resting on a brush holder.

With a flick of her wrist, Georgina unfurls a sheet of rice paper, watching as it floats into place on her workbench. She smooths out the fragile sheet and pauses to inhale before washing the surface in broad, steady strokes of indigo ink.

“I think the beauty of traditional Chinese painting tools – like the paper, which is so fine and thin – is that these objects force you to work with them in a caring, tender, soft, mindful way as well.

“And part of my research looks at how the objects you work with force you to become that kind of person if you want to reach any kind of expertise.”

Artist Georgina Hooper painting at her wooden workbench in her sunny studio.

Dipping her brush into a ceramic dish of ink, she takes a deep breath, before gently placing a row of strokes down her canvas. With each line, bold indigo pigment flows onto the parchment in organic shapes. It’s a concentrated effort, but according to Georgina, that’s all part of the process.

“When you're painting on a piece of rice paper, there is an immediacy of the mark of registration of that ink. And if you linger too long, the ink will bleed. And if you move too quickly, it won't register.

“So, you're constantly thinking about that moment, how you're moving your hand, how hard you're pressing, how quickly it moves across the page, and you can't go somewhere else because if your mind takes you somewhere else, you make a mistake.”

With a flick of her wrist, Georgina unfurls a sheet of rice paper, watching as it floats into place on her workbench. She smooths out the fragile sheet and pauses to inhale before washing the surface in broad, steady strokes of indigo ink.

“I think the beauty of traditional Chinese painting tools – like the paper, which is so fine and thin – is that these objects force you to work with them in a caring, tender, soft, mindful way as well.

“And part of my research looks at how the objects you work with force you to become that kind of person if you want to reach any kind of expertise.”

Artist Georgina Hooper painting at her wooden workbench in her sunny studio.

Dipping her brush into a ceramic dish of ink, she takes a deep breath, before gently placing a row of strokes down her canvas. With each line, bold indigo pigment flows onto the parchment in organic shapes. It’s a concentrated effort, but according to Georgina, that’s all part of the process.

“When you're painting on a piece of rice paper, there is an immediacy of the mark of registration of that ink. And if you linger too long, the ink will bleed. And if you move too quickly, it won't register.

“So, you're constantly thinking about that moment, how you're moving your hand, how hard you're pressing, how quickly it moves across the page, and you can't go somewhere else because if your mind takes you somewhere else, you make a mistake.”

When it comes to mistakes, Georgina says they are a part of life and a part of painting. She says the more you fixate on a mistake, the more likely you are to draw attention to it.

“When I'm working with these calligraphic strokes, and then a stroke kind of splodges a bit, and it's a bit thicker, I just let it go and keep going.

"But at the end of the painting, I stand back, and there are so many strokes there and you don't see the mistake, you just see the effort of that continual practice.

“And actually, if there were no mistakes, it would have no character, it would have no beauty or humanity.”

The philosophy of mindful creating has not only infused into Georgina’s artistic practice, but her daily life, too. Today, she mentors others on how to elevate the everyday with mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is a way of extracting some simple techniques that we can apply to our every day, of just being present, and being aware, and of surrendering and allowing and accepting and maybe not forcing so much."

“The beauty of mindfulness is that we can do it every day, all day, if we practice it.”

Observing as Georgina creates with such calm in her studio, it’s easy to feel inspired to start a mindful art practice at home. When it comes to advice for amateur artists, she says the best way to begin is simply to surrender to your creative curiosity.

“For anyone who wanted to start or reconnect with an art practice, my advice is to do it gently to be aware of that desire to create, and then listen to yourself and wait until that feeling comes upon you to want to open a tube of paint and play.

“Surrender to that urge of creating and explore that without any intention of what you think it's going to be like, just engaging with that present-moment experience and letting that lead you in your direction. What do you enjoy? Then keep doing that.”

Indigo brush stroke

Want to learn more about Georgina’s research on mindful art? Check out her books, Mindful thoughts for artists and Mindful thoughts for students.

Georgina Hooper sitting in her sunny art studio, looking reflectively into the distance.

When it comes to mistakes, Georgina says they are a part of life and a part of painting. She says the more you fixate on a mistake, the more likely you are to draw attention to it.

“When I'm working with these calligraphic strokes, and then a stroke kind of splodges a bit, and it's a bit thicker, I just let it go and keep going.

"But at the end of the painting, I stand back, and there are so many strokes there and you don't see the mistake, you just see the effort of that continual practice.

“And actually, if there were no mistakes, it would have no character, it would have no beauty or humanity.”

The philosophy of mindful creating has not only infused into Georgina’s artistic practice, but her daily life, too. Today, she mentors others on how to elevate the everyday with mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is a way of extracting some simple techniques that we can apply to our every day, of just being present, and being aware, and of surrendering and allowing and accepting and maybe not forcing so much."

“The beauty of mindfulness is that we can do it every day, all day, if we practice it.”

Observing as Georgina creates with such calm in her studio, it’s easy to feel inspired to start a mindful art practice at home. When it comes to advice for amateur artists, she says the best way to begin is simply to surrender to your creative curiosity.

“For anyone who wanted to start or reconnect with an art practice, my advice is to do it gently to be aware of that desire to create, and then listen to yourself and wait until that feeling comes upon you to want to open a tube of paint and play.

“Surrender to that urge of creating and explore that without any intention of what you think it's going to be like, just engaging with that present-moment experience and letting that lead you in your direction. What do you enjoy? Then keep doing that.”

Indigo brush stroke

Want to learn more about Georgina’s research on mindful art? Check out her books, Mindful thoughts for artists and Mindful thoughts for students.

Georgina Hooper sitting in her sunny art studio, looking reflectively into the distance.

What do you do to bring mindfulness to your everyday life?

Tell us in the comments section below (your comments here are governed by Facebook Terms of Service and UQ Social Media Terms of Use).

WORDS Rachel Westbury
EDITING Michael Jones
VIDEO Peter Geale, Harry Hertrick
PHOTOGRAPHY Rachel Westbury