The importance of doodling

Learning to paint seems a serious project at the moment, with only the smallest signs of progress. Light relief has come in the way of doodling.

I have a long history of doodling, which has seen me through hours of staff meetings, lectures, conferences, and workshops .Talking on the phone is another great opportunity to draw patterns, fantastical landscapes, and weird animals, on whatever lies to hand. Proper drawing gets done in sketch books, which are always somewhere else when you want them. Doodles are the product of whatever is at hand – the biro and a ‘to do’ list usually. Recently I’ve been doing them whilst sitting in front of the TV. It’s that same divided attention which seems to free up the doodle line and make the viewing/listening experience so much more entertaining.

I feel as if I have been doing this for as long as I remember, and have never taken it seriously. Two things have challenged that lately. The first was posting a tv doodle on twitter and finding that quite a few people enjoyed it.buildings The second was even more puzzling.

In the art class this term I have been working on a series of small acrylic paintings of figures walking away from the viewer. More than once I have been asked what I am copying, and when say that it’s in my head, am met with ‘How can you do that? ‘as if it’s some strange talent. It’s happened often enough for me to think more about imagination. I’ve always believed that imagination is something that everyone has but not everyone develops. People who are musical tell me that of course I can sing, I just need to practice and enjoy it, and I see imagination in the same way. As a therapist I’ve always encouraged people to value and nurture their imagination, that their dreams and phantasies are significant and valuable parts of who they are, and that their creativity is precious. Yet here are people in the art class who are proficient painters telling me that they can’t produce anything ‘out of their head’ and need something to copy. What is going on here?

Copying is wired into us: It’s the bedrock of our development . All our skills from movement and language to relationships start from copying and mapping others. My granddaughter complains that I can draw better dogs than she can, and sets about copying mine – but I am confident that once she can draw ‘my’ dogs she will soon be drawing her own. But these recent experiences have made me appreciate how potentially fraught that transition is, from copying the other to creating your own version. And of course I am not just thinking about painting and drawing here.

So let’s celebrate the doodle, as one possible way to cross this bridge. It’s informality and scruffiness might be just what is need to draw out (!) our own imaginative powers.

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3 thoughts on “The importance of doodling

  1. Frank Verpaelst

    Thanks so much for this post! I have shared it with my Facebook group that I’ve dubbed “Blocked Artistries”. I’m an avid doodler, and feel strongly that governments worldwide seriously neglect to teach the arts and music much to the detriment of everyone.

  2. Pam Lunn

    I’m interested in the brief analogy made with musicality. I think being ‘visuate’ is a bit like being literate, numerate, musical, able to dance, etc: we all have abilities in all of them at varying levels; they can all be taught and improved with practice; the culture we live in does not value them all equally.

    I sing, and used to play an instrument, I can sight-read music but I’ve no ability to improvise – perhaps playing jazz is high-level musical doodling?

    Imagination and the outward expression of what is imagined are two different things. I can imagine visually but I’m unable to represent on paper what I imagine and am always frustrated that the outward expression comes nowhere near the imagined inward image . . . so I say that I ‘can’t draw or paint’. Musically, I can learn by ear when singing – reproduce what I hear without written music – but I was never able to do that on the clarinet; I always needed the music. It’s not entirely clear to me why these were different.

    So I think that there are interesting different components to all of this and perhaps what is recognised as ‘talent’ in a given area is having a particular combination of these abilities, able to work together to produce something?

  3. nesbitteleanor

    Hear, hear! Long live the doodle. I have reams of decorated notes and desecrated agendas and reports. When I had to make a particularly difficult decision I seesawed for months. Then, on deadline day, I knew I had to find a quiet place to go away and doodle. The doodle showed me what to decide.

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