Why you should doodle more


Eliabeth McLaughlin, Editor

When was the last time you translated a thought into an object? An abstract idea into a tangible good? When was the last time you doodled? I hope the answer isn’t elementary school, or even last week — in my ideal world, the answer is as recent as yesterday. Contrary to popular belief, doodling should not be reserved for those with innate artistic talent. If we all doodled more, the world would be a happier place.

Think about it: we all used to (or some of us still do) doodle in the margins of our notebooks or on scrap pieces of paper. We used to draw little stick figures, houses, dogs and misshapen faces with no regard for proportions. Put in other words, we used to have more fun. That’s what I keep thinking as I round out my college career, about how I used to have so much fun as a kid, doing kid things like playing on the playground and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Well, duh, Liz, of course kids have more fun… you’re an Adult with Real Responsibilities looming in the past, present and future. But I refuse to accept that we can’t hold onto our childlike wonder as we age. What better way to do that than to make crappy little doodles in the margins?

One thing I always hear from non-artists is some variation of, “I wish I could do that.” My answer? Same. You think I was born able to write calligraphy? Looking back on my childhood sketchbooks, it’s clear to me that my skills are mine because I was relentless in their pursuit, not because of some natural-born talent. (I’ll admit that this natural ability does come into play, but I think to a much smaller degree than one might believe.)

But my other answer to that quip is as follows: “Who cares?” The day I realized art doesn’t have to be good to be worth making, my entire perspective opened up. Once I broadened my outlook to one that validates crappy art, I started having way more fun. Let me give an example. I mainly use Strathmore 5.5” x 8.5” Mixed Media sketchbooks, and have been regularly doing so for about two years now. Prior to that, all my drawings were on loose leaf or in random notebooks. Anyway, once I committed to this format, I had this unwritten rule with myself that I couldn’t let any page go to waste. I had to finish the sketchbook in order, from front to back, not letting any page fall victim to crappy art.

Little did I know, that is a terrible way to approach art. Over time, I began realizing that I preferred to draw on the right hand page, so I began filling books by only ever drawing on the right hand page. And when I needed to, I’d use the left hand side to doodle or practice or gauge proportions; basically, to mess around. Or, I’d use the left side to provide context to the drawing on the right. Once I finished the sketchbook this way, I’d go back to any blank left hand pages and make more art. And perhaps the most important acquired element of my drawing process? My designated doodling page.

My doodle page where I experiment.

An example of a sketchbook page with context on the left.

An example of a sketchbook page with context on the left.

An example of a page where I didn’t care how it looked. I was curious as to how other people drew circles so I had my roommates draw circles.

One day, I realized that my arbitrary rule that I had to make every page count was counterintuitive and downright stupid. By prohibiting myself from doodling, I was negatively impacting the quality of my oeuvre. This doodling page, always the last one in my book, allows me to experiment with different colors and mediums; to see if I can draw a face that looks half decent or not (the answer is usually no… I’ve kind of let anatomy fall by the wayside. Oops.). My doodling page eliminates (some of) the anxiety and pressure associated with wanting to make good art.

After all, isn’t that why you don’t doodle? Because you don’t think it’ll look good? Well, yeah, with that attitude, you’re probably right. But so what? The act of doodling is worth as much as, if not more, than the end result. It’s therapy. A lot of my art is word-based. For example, when I’m anxious, I’ll write my thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness style in my black sketchbook. Sometimes I’ll alternate marker colors with each line, other times I’ll try to write as illegible as possible, a la graffiti hand style.

Lots of times, these doodles never see the light of day again, and that’s okay. Art doesn’t always have to be shared or evaluated. If that were true, then it would mean that art is only worth anything when someone else’s eyes are on it. It would negate the many benefits of the process of art-making itself. Having made both kinds of art, the kind to be seen (and worn) and the kind that hides in the corner of my closet, never to be viewed by anyone but me… I can definitively say that art is still worth making even when it doesn’t look good; even when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. At the end of the day, I’m convinced no artist actually knows what they’re doing. They just look like they do.

And at the end of the day, I hope you doodle more. I can’t tell you what you’ll get out of it because that’s subjective and unique to each individual. Maybe you’ll hate it. That’s cool, too. At least you can say you made something, not out of nothing but out of yourself. Think about it, it’s so simple but so amazing to me: you can just have a thought and then translate that thought onto a piece of paper using a bunch of markers and crayons?! I hope you read that in your inner child’s voice; they have way more fun, anyway. And, lastly, please send me your doodles, if you want. I would love to see what you create.