We’re an art school in Georgia. As such, it isn’t too much to expect us to understand the benefits of drawing and doodling.
As self-identified culture warriors and artists of the New Art Renaissance, they’re kind of our stock and trade, really.
But in recent years, a lot of information has come to light that delves more deeply into how people benefit from drawing and doodling. What’s more incredible is that these benefits have little to do with art making in the art school sense.
Instead, people from the worlds of education, psychology, medicine and business have proclaimed that drawing and doodling might just be life-changing.
Still, old habits die hard. Many of us wonder: How can I start doodling, particularly if our time is limited. We forget that when we were kids, the daily doodle just kind of came naturally. We also forget that a simple daily doodle only takes a couple of minutes.
It’s no secret that children love to draw. However, we’ve become so far removed from the childlike wonder that our daily doodles brought us. We’ve become far too grown up for these activities. We now think ourselves above filling our art journal pages with pictures of the world’s best superhero drawings like we did when we were kids.
However, attitudes about drawing and doodling stand at a crossroads. Now that respectable scientific and education journals suggest that our doodles may mean more, we’re ready to listen.
That being said, many of us kind of feel like we need a refresher course in doodling.
So, here it is, a primer for doodling that explains five benefits of drawing and doodling for the beginner and experienced doodler alike.
First things first… Some things are better understood when you examine their opposites.
In this case, let’s first answer the question: What is doodling?
If you were to go by the Google dictionary’s definition of doodling, you’d be convinced that doodling is just absent-minded scribbling.
If that is the case - that doodling is just some absent-minded scribbling - then why do people even search the web for doodling techniques and ideas?
By its nature, scribbling is a kind of make-it-up-as-you go activity. No research required.
But really nothing could be further from the truth, according to an article on Psych Central.
Research suggests that people who doodle while doing other tasks, like chatting on the phone or listening to a class lecture, possess a greater ability to concentrate than those who don’t doodle.
It’s not an absent-minded pursuit at all.
Quite the contrary. We often encourage our students to find their super powers. Doodling is a way to completely engage the deepest part of the mind and find out what that super power is.
It has also been discovered that doodlers retain almost 30% more information than people who just take notes. Part of the reason why this may be so has to do with the number of modalities of learning that doodling activates.
In fact, some researchers go as far to suggest that one of the benefits of doodling is that it triggers discoveries that words alone cannot produce. It can be an unexpected catalyst for discovery and growth.
In applied cognitive psychology terms, doodling simultaneously activates your visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities of learning. Over time, drawing eventually changes the brain for the better.
Milan Art Institute art coach and owner, John Milan, spoke in an interview about this phenomenon.
Spending time in this semi-deep concentration mode helps clear the mind, refresh the mind and offer solutions to the world’s problems. It helps the artist or sketcher use parts of their mind and to share insight with others.
In other words, more learning modalities equals more brain connections and more solutions to our problems. When we tap into these modalities, it’s easier for us to maintain attention in our university classes or at work. It also allows us to access the information in our brains that might otherwise be lost.
It’s no wonder that Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, encourages people to pick up a pencil and start drawing. Who knew the content of our drawings could aid our human development so much?
According to an article on the National Geographic website, the history of drawing is the history of language. Some anthropologists suggest that the geometric drawings found Blombos Cave in South Africa were actually “external representations of internalized thought.”
Drawing, doodling and mark making in general may actually be a part of the brain’s hardwiring. Once upon a time, humans could not express themselves verbally: The spoken word didn’t exist the way we know it today.
Early humans drew instead.
The spontaneous mark-making that we find on rocks and on cave walls represents a symbolic system of communication, and these symbolic representations may have eventually led to higher levels of cognitive processing.
Literally, humans are wired to leave their mark on the world. They’re an important part of our communication skills sets that need more development.
Today, we still use little cartoons, doodles and drawings to express the thoughts, feelings and perceptions that arise from the subconscious mind.
Finally, there are patterns to how people use their doodles, too. Generally speaking, men typically draw geometric shapes when they doodle. Women doodle until a face emerges from the tips of their pencils.
Speaking of doodling faces, it was the act of doodling Wonder Woman’s face over and over again that eventually inspired artist Nicola Scott to become a graphic novel illustrator.
In an interview with W Magazine, Scott admitted that she was always scribbling Wonder Woman’s face on bits of paper while she was talking on the phone.
It finally occurred to her that she wasn’t asking herself the right questions about what she should be doing with her life.
Instead of asking myself, ‘What can I do with drawing?’ I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do with drawing? What do I want to draw?’ And straight away I thought, ‘Oh my God! I wish I could just draw Wonder Woman.’ Because up until that day, I still drew Wonder Woman all the time.
A full, very successful career in graphic novel illustration started with a doodle.
And a lot of grit, perseverance and bravery. According to Scott, she willingly moved from her native Australia to the U.S. to pursue her dreams, because she felt that her chances of working as an artist in the comics industry would improve if she did.
Turns out she was right.
And a little closer to home, our own John Milan is an inveterate doodler. He even teaches workshops on fine art doodling.
He has this to say about drawing and doodling:
I choose to start my process with mini-drawings. Sometimes, I lightly draw with pencil and then go over that with permanent ink. Something happens to me, when I get the pen to the paper. I completely get focused in. Now is the time to choose what in the world the picture will be.
Doodling allows him to enter the creative flow. But the benefits of drawing and fine art doodling are more than that to him.
“Drawings are the start of an idea!” John says.
“They are so important and society has a great need for these every day! Drawings make the entire world go around.”
In other words, drawing and doodling allow us to transcend our boundaries and to create a new world.
All art schools in Georgia teach students how to build drawings using a variety of techniques. These can include line drawings, subtractive drawings, and contour drawings.
There’s even a place for the scribbling aspect of doodling in fleshing out a drawing.
Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, talks about using the “scribble method” to flesh out the superheroes in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
In one section of the book, he and co-author John Buscema explain how it’s possible to start a figure drawing by drawing a modified stick figure.
Once the stick figure part of the drawing is complete, the Marvel authors advise students to scribble in the details of the drawing until the superhero’s body is fleshed out.
However, this method isn’t just good for drawing superheroes. It has practical applications, too.
If you’re into urban sketching or travel journaling, scribbling as a doodling method allows you to quickly sketch in the details of people sitting in a cafe or capture the movement of a tiger at a zoo.
This type of drawing promotes the kind of loose approach we suggest that our students take in their drawings and paintings. It gives them the ability to capture the movement and vitality of people and animals in a few loose strokes.
It additionally allows them to continue drawing as they continue to develop the fine motor skills they need to draw successfully. Finally, drawing and creating art allow students to develop the problem-solving skills they need to create works of art.
The Atlantic points out that to draw or doodle is to change your brain state. People who doodle can go from feeling frazzled to feeling calm and collected in a relatively short amount of time.
Researchers theorize that it’s the rhythm and repetition of drawing that produces the calming effect. This isn’t just pie-in-the-sky thinking.
Drawing, doodling and other art-making activities have been shown to actually reduce the cortisol levels in the body. The calming effects of art making are so profound that studies even show that cancer patients benefit from creative activities.
In other words, doodling helps to improve your mental mental health, reduce stress and regulate your emotions.
Or course, for students in art schools in Georgia and around the country, one of the biggest benefits of drawing and doodling is that these activities spark the creative process. A sketchbook filled with drawing ideas or doodling prompts can later become a painting or a sculpture.
But what if you have trouble coming up with doodling ideas? No doodles equals no finished paintings.
We like the advice that Julia Cameron, author of the book The Artist’s Way, gives to the readers of her books.
Go on artist dates.
Cameron doesn’t specify exactly what you need to do on your artist date. It’s up to you. The activity just needs to fill your creative bank account.
The images you see and the experiences you have on your artist dates get put into a creative bank account of sorts. Later, you’ll pull ideas from this creative bank account whenever you’re ready to write a book, make a painting or mold a sculpture.
However, we’d like to make a suggestion. At least some of the time, include drawing and doodling activities when you’re writing out your artist date ideas.
One easy way to do this is to take up urban sketching if you need drawing prompts. Or replace urban sketching with travel sketching if you’re doing an art workshop abroad.
Go out to a coffee shop or sit near a public fountain and fill your sketchbooks with images of the streets around you.
This does two things. It improves your live drawing and observation skills. It also ensures that your visual bank never runs out of currency.
If you’ve ever asked yourself: Why do artists keep sketchbooks, it’s safe to say this is one of the primary reasons why.
Artists who have books full of daily doodles and little drawings never run out of creative ideas that allow them to leave their mark on the world. If you'd like to learn about fine art doodling, consider a free trial for Milan Art Institute's Art Club. You'll learn new ideas each and every month to help you improve your drawing skills. You'll also get fresh ideas for cool doodling activities, too.
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