The Art of Deliberate Doodling

To think, or not to think. Is that the question? I will claim that through doodling, you can do both. Even simultaneously!

A doodle is a drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be composed of random and abstract lines, generally without ever lifting the drawing device from the paper, in which case it is usually called a “scribble”.

Definition from Wikipedia 

I guess most people have made some doodles during their lifetime, like on a napkin, a notepad, in the papers or in the margins of their school notebook. Probably it was done “while your attention was otherwise occupied” as Wikipedia defines it. For example while talking on the phone, sitting in a meeting or listening to a teacher. For me it’s difficult not to doodle and scribble when I have a pen in my hand and a sheet of paper under it. It goes automatically. In school and education I found that my scribbles actually made me remember things better. Looking over my doodles later I could recall what the teacher had talked about during the different parts of the doodle. Doodles in connection to memory is an interesting topic, but here I will focus on how doodles are an important part of my creative work.

The way I work with doodles is probably a step further from the common definition. The main difference being that I deliberately sit down to doodle. Then the randomness and absentmindedness doesn’t come that easy. I will write about how and why I use doodling as a creative method and as a relaxing exercise, and the connection between these and my creative flow. I hope you will find it useful and maybe explore “the art of deliberate doodling”!

LETTINg go – not to think

There are several problems you might face when you’re doing creative work. A common one is the difficulty of getting started. You might not have an idea. You might find it difficult to choose a style, technique or tool to work with. That blank page is staring right back at you! There is A LOT of ways to face these problems, and I think creatives find their own preferred methods. Doodling can be one of them.

The foremost trick of doodling is letting go. If you’re having a doodle-session, my advice is to use a sketchbook or type of paper that 1) you like and 2) works with your chosen tool, BUT 3) isn’t your finest materials. If you are using very expensive stuff, this can be a hindrance to you “letting go”, because you will be afraid to waste quality materials. Several times I have readied paper to make watercolour illustrations, but instead ended up doodling on them because I did’t have a sketch or any ideas (ex.1). I’ve allowed myself do this when the paper has not been of great quality anyway.

Test different paper and tool combinations while you are doodling, and maybe you’ll find something that really works for you. My favourite doodle-tool is a Pilot G-TEC-C4 pen, and I especially like to use it on soft sketch paper.

When you have that blank page in front of you; don’t think! Let your hand and whichever tool you are using do the work. Sometimes I find this difficult. We always have some activity going on “up there” don’t we? 😀 I have developed a sort of “start-up-kit” for these occasions. It consists of a range of hand movements, that in my case often lead to drawings of organic plantlike things (ex.2). Maybe you have something like that too? If not, try to find some shapes, lines or movements that comes natural to you, and start there if you’re stuck. Don’t let your start-up-kit be anything too specific though, because that might limit the doodle-process.

What is most important about “not thinking”, is not thinking about any results, aesthetics or where you want your creations to end up. The doodles should lead you, instead of you leading the doodles. If that makes sense?

Example (1) doodles with watercolours and pigment liner pens.

to think

If you find it difficult letting go, if your mind is blocked or too controlling, it can be helpful to find distractions. Something like podcasts, conversation or TV. Then you might think and not think simultaneously. You’re thinking about the information from the podcast, and not thinking about what you are drawing.

BUT! This can lessen the potential of doodling. Because I believe that within the process of doodling lies the potential of thinking productive thoughts, that are in different ways useful to your creative work. Thoughts that will help you build creativity, rather than bring it down. Thoughts that will get you into a creative flow.

A kind of Meditation

These are examples of productive thinking (for me):

  • Observation of what is unfolding on the paper
  • Reflecting on what is unfolding on the paper (but not judging)
  • Experiences with past and present creative works
  • Discoveries, ideas and how I can use them (f.ex. drawing techniques)
  • Things that are going on in my life that are connected to my creative work
  • Things that are going on in my life in general

During a doodle process I might think of a lot of different things. Also feelings and thoughts that are connected to daily life, not just creativity related. My productive thoughts then takes the role of the podcast, through being a distraction from critical or inhibiting thoughts. I let my thoughts run freely alongside the doodling and keep an open mind to things that occur. This is kind of like meditation. Sometimes I find it can help me divert my thoughts and feel relaxed, and other times it can help me focus and organize thoughts (be it creative/non-creative/productive/inhibiting).

Going with the flow

Creatives often talk about “flow” and how they are chasing those moments or periods of creative flow.

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

Definition from Wikipedia

Doodling on a regular basis makes it easier for me to get into a flow. Because doodling helps me get ideas, discover different ways to draw, explore different techniques, reflect on how I work, make sense of thoughts and feelings, to relax (etc.), this definitely affects and potentially fuels a flow state.

Even if I am right in the middle of a period of flow, I might take a break from more serious creative work to have a doodle-session. For me this has a positive effect on keeping that flow going.

Example (4) of a “relax-doodle”
Example (4.1) – the yellow lines are showing the lines that were there before I started doodling.

The doodle above (ex.4) is from my sketchbook. The yellow lines in (ex.4.1) show what I had drawn at an earlier time, but then given up and moved on. When I went back I was in a creative flow. It was easier to let my thoughts run freely and just DO IT! This is a typical relax-doodle for me, where I purposely want to feel relaxed or diverted. In comparison the doodles in (ex. 1 and 2) are more typical exploration-doodles, where I’m trying to get into a creative mood or searching for ideas etc.

don’t dawdle – doodle!

  • Find some favourite (not too expensive) tools and materials that you like
  • Develop your own “start-up-kit”
  • Let the doodles lead you
  • If you need it, use thought distractors (podcasts etc.) while you are training your “doodle-reflex”
  • Find a balance between thinking and not thinking
  • Make room for productive thoughts (whatever those are for you)
  • Try doodling while you are in a state of flow and see how that works for you

Happy Sunday everyone!