Doodling

Too many of us believe we can’t draw. Nonsense! All of us draw as children, with joy and without self-consciousness—until it’s schooled out of us. So much mystique builds up around the things we don’t do. Drawing could not be more natural—it’s simply making marks on paper. With practice, we learn to draw what we see and also to observe the world around us with greater clarity, or even invent new worlds from imagination. Doodling, perhaps drawing’s most humble form, may be all most of us have left now. But let’s not dismiss it. It offers gifts we might hardly have noticed and may be our way back to full expression, visual or not. First, let’s look at what a doodle is. The restless hand picks up a pen and grabs whatever paper is near—a napkin, the backside of a receipt or perhaps a fresh sheet of computer paper. Anything will do. Some need propels us. It could be a boring phone conversation with the washing-machine repair man, perhaps the hideous task of filing yet another tax return or the subtle evasion of hard work that awaits. Doodling saves us. We take the pen and begin to idly make marks, circles or scrawls, perhaps something more representational like cartoon faces or tea pots or falling leaves. One thing morphs into another. We can begin anywhere and where we start or go doesn’t matter. Once done, we take a quick, half-lidded glance, scrunch it up and toss it away, like trash! Doodling has relieved our mind of too much focus on the unpleasant or the challenge we aren’t quite ready to face. It has allowed us to feel peace yet we think nothing of it! That is doodling in its simplest, most unconscious form—what most of us employ. Yet doodling has more to offer. To take it further, we can expand the scale by selecting a large piece of paper and a drawing utensil we really like—pen, pencil, crayon, whatever strikes our fancy. Working big is like breathing deeply—we get more reward. Now, we say—Enough of tax returns! We will draw! But we have no need of drawing a fine picture, of capturing the wrinkles of the ancient oak in the garden or the hairs on a squirrel. That is perhaps for an artist to explore. We want to scrawl upon the page like drooling idiots at the bar and see what shows up. We begin with a stab of implement on paper. Who cares whether it swoops with elegance or resembles a hobbled chicken scratch! The thing is not to pause but to allow the hand to stay in constant motion guiding us from one form to another, letting every feeling and impulse spill onto the page. We hold nothing back. We are playing, making a mess and remembering what it is to be free. Doodling trains us in spontaneous, clear action. After, we can scrunch this paper up too and discard it. We have no need to keep doodles. The gifts are within us and not on the paper. If we take doodling yet another step further, we might make a practice of it, showing up each day for fifteen minutes and letting our hand go where it will while our mind is released from the constraints of thoughts. Each day we can forget ourselves and come into the place of simply being—that same place that Eastern sages lead us to through the practice of meditation or yogic posture. Doodling is meditation too if we allow our minds to be fully focused on our hand and what emerges on the paper. In time, doodling teaches us detachment—to observe without judgment or any need to force. It’s in that place of allowing, we discover, that compassion resides. When doodling, our minds engaged in simple action, other feelings and concerns fade away. The winds of fresh insight soon caress us. Of course, in doodling as in life, one thing leads to another. Very often our doodles give us the itch to draw in other more considered ways. Doodling can be an invitation of the most casual sort. We may discover we’ve arrived at the party without the hassle of choosing special attire or having our hair coiffed. Suddenly we’re looking with fuller attention at what’s in front of us, then we’re sketching it. But now we know that our sketches can be the same comfortable exploration that doodling is. We can allow things to unfold. No longer do we consider drawing with a sense of intimidation or futile comparison. We’re content to show up and see what happens. We know every line we make has value. No small achievement. That’s it really. For the artist, doodling may be a way of forgetting the fear that is starched into the blank canvas or the fact that skills are still rudimentary and must grow in time with attendant compassion. We’re all artists; we mustn’t forget. We are creative at core; it’s what distinguishes us from fish. To know our true creativity we need to learn to elude our puffy selves of grand import or the knotted ones of shy refusal. No matter our art, doodling can be a way to loosen up and catch a sense of our innate freedom when we sit down to work. Doodling reminds us that a scratch is just a scratch; we can just be ourselves as we are and where we are. Perhaps this simple primal act, so discouraged in school, is meant to bring us back to a fullness of being. To go even further, we can try doodling on even larger paper or taking a crayon to the wall as a wee child might. We can feel the joy. We’re not in school any more. ©Cat Bennett2011 [Essay for book on writing by Robert Atwan]

Leave a Comment