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"Wisdom" 慧 (huì)— cursive Chinese inscribed in a pebble – ©2015  P. Fraterdeus

Make a Mindful Mark™: Drawing on Emptiness™ Seminars

Make a Mindful Mark™ The discovery of Emptiness, (ie, negative space in all its connotations) is a deep positive source of creativity and mindfulness. The new seminar series “Emptiness Design”, explores principles of creative development and mindfulness through calligraphic and drawing exercises, contemporary neuroscience and Zen. Zen Calligraphy • Physical Meditation • Balancing • Corporate Wellness Retreats • Art & Meditation • Youth Sessions

Visit the Make A Mindful Mark site for news about our seminars and retreats!

Drawing on Emptiness™: Make a Mindful Mark™


Every child, with crayon in hand, and regardless of their culture or language, marvels at the magic line which follows from every gesture they make on the page before them. This series of seminars builds on that innate human desire to make our mark. We seek the roots of attention which precedes every action, and to develop clarity, the immediate perception of the moment, or "mindfulness". 

Not just for visual artists, but equally valuable in corporate and business environments, the seminar helps us past the L-mode (linear, "left brain" ) allowing us to address creative projects with increased awareness of the context that define the components. We gain an enhanced, mindful appreciation of the dynamic relationship between figure and ground, in all their manifestations.


You are doing such a lovely job of bringing these important ideas to your workshop participants!  
I’m sure you will soon be hearing, over and over,'This workshop changed my life!' 
Dr. Betty Edwards, best-selling author of Drawing on the Artist Within and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain


Drawing on Emptiness™ seminars empower the non-linear and non-verbal mind, allowing us the space and time to perceive subtle patterns and creative avenues.


The eye does not see the black on the page, it sees the white — Ieuan Rees

 The discovery of Emptiness, (ie, boundless space in all its connotations) is a deep positive source of creativity. Observing 'hidden' spaces is an exercise in perception of negative space and non-obvious pattern relationships.  

Drawing these 'dark' forms engages the non-linear mind, directly feeling the tactile engagement of the hand as we make abstract marks with pencils, markers, and the east-Asian brush.

Explore non-linear and non-verbal awareness and creative space through calligraphic and drawing exercises, contemporary neuroscience and techniques of Zen mindfulness. Exercises range from Shodo (Zen Calligraphy), to tactile drawing without looking, to carved rubber stamps, cut from plastic erasers with a scalpel to experience the physical meaning of negative space. 


The hand is the mind in the world. — PF

We also focus our awareness toward the four essential components of the mind/hand connection—intention, attention, action, release. Every action we take in the world is comprised of these four, and within each action are many sub-actions, each of which is also comprised of the four components.

 "Look" after Emperor Tai

Shodo : "Look" after Emperor Tai

The workshops focus on the inner process of making marks rather than the end product. Using the East-Asian Brush or a chisel-edged tool, we’ll make deliberate calligraphic marks, allowing the space surrounding to shape the line, rather than the other way around. In addition, we will use soft pencils or graphite to explore the awareness of negative space. Each exercise contributes to a deeper awareness of space and our essential mark making. This enhanced awareness allows us to aspire to greater achievement in our practice, whether calligraphic, or contemplative.


The principles behind this series have been inspired by the groundbreaking work of Dr Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and "Drawing on the Artist Within", as well as the teaching of Welsh master calligrapher and lettering designer Ieuan Rees; Zen Shodo master Kazuaki Tanahashi; and my many other honored teachers.


Yet, the power of emptiness is not solely in the visual realm, but every art and domain.

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides — Artur Schnabel


 The lasting benefits are an increased awareness of one's own 'boundless' inner-space and an introduction to methods of accessing the well of creativity within.


Any of these workshops can be adapted for institutional seminars, university or corporate retreat settings.


Amor Vincit Omnia - Three-color Letterpress Note Card - Figure & Ground Study - card from SlowPrint by Peter Fraterdeus

Amor Omnia Vincit — Three color Figure/Ground study – ©2008  P. Fraterdeus — Letterpress note card (2008)


Modes of Perception

The eye doesn’t see the black on the page, it sees the white. Ieuan Rees 

The Right Brain or R-mode provides the 'negative' space against which thought (Left Brain or L-mode) marks time,  sequence and order. This is the quiet space, the empty vessel which holds the mind, yet is the mind's easel. It is the complementary, the ground on which the figure plays, yet is also primary, for without it, thought itself could not exist, as we cannot perceive form without its context.
We can think of L-mode as Logical and Linear,  while R-mode is Reflective, Receptive — spacial and immediate. While these are not exclusive to the physical hemispheres of the brain, they are models of perception. 

Life in exoteric, materialistic, Apollonian cultures tends to favor the L-Mode with its linear logical sequential processing. But the Arts, Meditation, Music, Passion, Exhaustion, Trauma, Psychoactive Herbs and Alcohol — the Dionysian influences— all can be paths to R-mode awareness. Yet it's fleeting...

Betty Edwards developed practices in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain ( which are designed to quiet the chattering, 'rational,' sequential, symbolic mind, allowing the intuitive perceptual mind to come forward. The conscious recognition of entering R-mode is like a light turning on, a veil lifted, or a window suddenly blown open by a fresh breeze. 
In fact, enlightenment is a term used for the attainment of that continuous conscious state, when both R & L modes are fully engaged! Drawing (letterforms) is as good a practice as any! It challenges both analytic reason and intuitive perception in much the same way that music does.
Our approach is to inform the 'rational' mind, but to prefer the pattern-recognizing, synthesizing, relationship-appreciating mode of the 'empty' mind, which takes what the eye offers without judgement, in order to see 'negative' space as something real and substantial. To perceive the substance of emptiness.

Designing forms, seeing space, consider Lao Tse's advice to designers in the Tao Te Ching:


"Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub; It is the center hole that makes it useful. 
Shape clay into a vessel;  It is the space within that makes it useful. 
Cut doors and windows for a room;  It is the holes which make it useful. 
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;  Usefulness from what is not there." 

(trans J. English & Gia-fu Feng 1989)


Marks may be made with the pencil, graphite sticks, brush, the drawing pen, all with consideration of the power of emptiness.

Western letterforms and East Asian characters are observed and rendered as pure figure and ground relationships. A variety of techniques push our boundaries of observation, using the eye, the mind, and the hands to open doors of perception.

Perceptual drawing exercises help us develop a toolkit of practical approaches to drawing glyphs or sequences of letters. The same exercises also strengthen and refine pure drawing of any subject.


Download the Drawing on Emptiness table card PDF

Download our two-page brochure. (v1.2)

Sign up for our email list (very occasional updates)


Peter Fraterdeus has taught seminars on calligraphy, type and printing, in Berlin, Venice, Barcelona, Chicago, Two Rivers, and elsewhere. Full Bio 

He is a calligrapher, typographer, photographer, fine-printer, and life-long student of consciousness and symbolic communication forms. 

He’s a two-time winner of National Endowment for the Arts grants in the letter arts (1980, 1985) which included studies with Ieuan Rees and Hermann Zapf.


Peter is the founder of Emptiness Design (, and Slow Print Letterpress ( 

He teaches in the US and beyond.


Seminars and Workshops from 1 to 5 days.
Longer workshops can include elements of instruction in carving and inscribing forms in various materials.
Conducted in English

#emptiness_is_a _design_pattern


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