Tag Archives: doodling

Celebrate the doodle!

The doodle returns! It has been buried beneath more important and worthy projects such as book writing, editing, printmaking, gardening and even dog walking. But now as the year closes down, in the long dark evenings – kerpow! – doodling is back!

It’s hard, though, not to be dismissive. It’s just a doodle, a repetitive mark making exercise, a trifle, only valuable for using up the backs of old envelopes.

But in a past life of psychotherapy training, wasn’t it a possible route to deciphering ‘the unconscious’? Wasn’t it something that once decoded could provide valuable insights into the mysterious interior processes that shape our lives? So I find myself once more reading passages from Marion Milner’s ‘In the Hands of the Living God’ – a detailed account of her 20+year professional relationship with a female patient where drawing/doodling was a key aspect. In many ways I find it a difficult read now but it is still a fascinating testimony to the communicative power of ‘art’ in a therapeutic relationship.

Most of us, however, are not doodling in that context; we are more likely to be stuck in some situation such as a lecture, meeting, phone call, where our attention is split between what we are supposed to be attending to and the shapes emerging from the end of our pen. For my part the resulting doodle is generally despatched to the recycling box without a second thought these days.

This is the doodle that emerged as I was thinking about this blog post…. probably ripe for analysis!

 

But here I am, obviously thinking about the process again. There must be some magic pull in the doodle – why does anybody do it?

Often it involves repetitive mark making, going over and over the paper with the same hand movement. There is something soothing in this, but also like many other repetitive movements such as knitting, it seems to free up some part of the mind to wander.

Being ‘just a doodle’ rather than a drawing or a sketch frees it from any judgment of artistic merit, and it can wander where it will, liberated from criticism. In a parallel fashion, our minds can wander too, sometimes making their way to that very mysterious and wonderful place we call creativity. Inspiration can often spring from doodling! (Claudia McGill , artist, is a good example here!)

It works in psychotherapy settings too. I’m thinking of a supervision group for group facilitators where the introduction of ‘doodling’ has had a very liberating and creative effect. It seemed difficult to generate a freely flowing conversation, despite it being a group that was experienced and committed to reflexive practice. When we explored the inhibitions, some were about fears of judgment; not good enough, not thoughtful enough, and some the familiar  ‘your business is more important than mine’ theme.

Doodles are not open to either of these restrictions. One person’s doodle is as useful as another’s; doodles are neither good or bad, they just are. Once we got hold of the idea that when we spoke in the group, we were doodling, and that we could doodle together, the conversation could breathe…. And we got to some very interesting and creative places as a result.

Let’s celebrate the doodle!

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.

The colourful therapist

It’s been a good week for drawing, and for meeting other sketchers. I’ve seen some very impressive painters too, but I’m at the stage where colour  seems a step too far – or so I tell myself. But then look at this, from the latest episode of The Wednesday Group. Doodling on the iPad is never colourless. Somehow in my mind this is completely different from the drawing that I do. Is this dissociation?  Pencil split off from iPad?

Stevie's volcano of anger

Stevie’s volcano of anger

I had another interesting conversation this week with a poet and writer, talking about styles of writing, and the sorts of books we prefer. I ‘m not very patient with descriptive, carefully crafted prose unless it can carry me along with an energetic story line. I want to know what happens next, rather than how sensuously the voile curtains are catching the breeze through the open French windows…. if you see what I mean. Is this somehow related to my focus on line rather than colour?

Maybe this plays out in the therapy room in my search for a coherent narrative, and a degree of impatience with the colour? I wonder what the colour consists of in this case. It isn’t the same as detail, because those are often fascinating. It’s very hard for the beginner to draw hands and feet, but unless you get them right, the figure never looks real. That carries over into therapy. There are certain details that jar, or don’t make sense, that have to be looked at much more closely. There are key areas that you have to work at repeatedly in order to begin to grasp the whole figure.

So what could colour mean in this context? And what makes a colourful psychotherapist? In our attempt not to overwhelm or impose upon the other person in the room, do we end up as 50 shades of grey? (That would make a great sketch, incidentally!)  I’m going to ask Phillipa Perry – she stands out for me as a potentially colourful psychotherapist. Anyone else you can suggest?

Chris