Playing with Materials—Doodling Takes Many Forms

December 9, 2013

131025_angelguyLeft: 8 x 8 inch piece of Fluid hot press 140 lb watercolor paper. Sketching from imagination with 3 watersoluble colored pencils: red, blue, and yellow; with Montana Marker, wide tip, to lay in background.

I don't really consider myself much of a doodler. I don't have anything against doodling, I just don't find making patterns and shapes in a random or meditative fashion very interesting to me. 

I enjoy looking at the doodles of others, but I long ago accepted that my brain works in a different way. 

This doesn't mean that I don't pick up a pen and fill edges of journal pages with pattern from time to time, or that I might take a scrap of paper and start growing a design on it while I'm on hold listening waiting for my call to be answered.

Let's say I'm ambivalent to doodling.

That doesn't mean, when I consider some of the drawings I make that I don't consider them doodling of a sort, like today's sketch. So I think some of this is a fluid definition, a semantics issue.

But I've been thinking about this issue enough lately, in odd moments now and then, that when I cast my eye down on the list of topics I had assigned to this week I saw it's basically a week about doodling, in a broad sense of the word.

And for me that means doodling includes fantasy sketches—sketches which just come out of your mind. For me these sketches come after a chain of related sketches (e.g., after a week of drawing faces I'll do faces from imagination, just start structuring a face and work out from there). They happen when I'm tired but still want to sketch. They happen when I haven't sketched all day and want to sketch something before I go to bed. They happen when I want to try out some new materials without setting up to do an involved painting or drawing. (Today's image falls in the last category.)

To my eye these are typically hideous, misshapen things. I really do like to sketch things from life, not from my imagination. But sometimes things are so hideously ugly they kind of appeal to me. This happens sometimes with my pre-painted backgrounds when they get involved, textured, and tortured. It also happens when I just start playing with materials.

If you've read any of my blog posts you'll already know that I'm a proponent of playing with materials. If you do this when you're doodling, or you do it when you are drawing from your imagination, or you call your results a mess and not doodles—whatever is going on linguistically if you were involved in using a tool or medium and just puttering around, with your internal critic turned off, just looking for what might happen without trying to drive the result, then I think that's doodling. (And by extension some of what passes for doodling is too controlled and thought out to really qualify.)

I think we all need some of this type of play from time to time.

I have been finding it particularly useful in the last half of 2013 while I've been working with an injured elbow and shoulder. Often times the types of sketching sessions I would typically do aren't possible for me because of lack of range of motion or pain. I've still got to sketch so I adapt what I can do and what I can use to that moment.

I'd like to encourage you all to think about what doodling means to you. (I try to set up the blog with series and themes and because of that I can say that this week's posts are really variations on this theme.)

I'd like you to think about how you define doodling and how you use it or don't use it in your drawing and painting practice. I'd like you to look at ways, if you don't currently use it, you might use it in the future. Think about how you might turn quick doodling exercises or brief doodling sessions into ways to generate collage material, thumbnails for paintings, to clear the gunk out of your brain, to turn off your internal critic (he can't criticize that which you already admit is going to go right into the bin, that which isn't of "permanence").

Look also at how your definition of doodling effects your productivity. If you lighten up on your definition of doodling, or any judgements you have about it perhaps there are moments in the day you'll be able to reclaim with sketching practice.

Also look at ways you let doodling (however you decide to define it) become a warm up that allows you to step into the next phase of your drawing practice on any given day. 

Isn't it better to seamlessly move from one activity to another than to stop and analyze whether it's useful or not, or "valuable" or not? 

It seems to me that drawings that lead you to the next thing are valuable for that alone, and it's fun to look at them as markers on your path.

You have the added benefit, when testing materials, to have no pressure to make a beautiful drawing. All you have to do is move the materials over the page and register what the experience is like. You can do that much when you have a cold, you're in pain, have vertigo, or simply feel out of sorts.

And the benefits are huge—you're warmed up, you have tested the materials and can mark something off on your to-do list if that matters to you, and you get to that next place where you stand and decide where you want to go next, and what you want to take with you.

Here are some past posts where I've mixed ideas and approaches to create "doodles" which are explorations of where I am thinking of going.

Thinking about doodling and practice can lead you to mix materials you might not normally use or bend lines in ways you might not normally bend them. See Playing with Paint.

I've fiddled with shape and color exaggeration when doodling with paint and pencil.

I've played around with creature people here and in "Productive Play—Yep, More Gouache on Nideggen Paper."  

When you work this way you can just start drawing from memory or you can use references (live models, photos, your other sketches) to start with and then depart.

Just have some fun with it, embrace the play.

    • Linda
    • December 10, 2013

    Hey Roz, Hope your Mr. Turkey day was well:)Mine not so much just lost my dog and have been down. Really enjoyed this piece you have written, I have injuries also shoulder and its hard for me to draw well cause everything turns out wonky my injury came before I could get well with my art journey so reading your article here I know just what your going through but thank the stars you have had many art journey paths you have been down before you had to go through this.
    I get so much reading what you have written even if I cant do a lot because of my arm I still love this thing called art and had to write to thank you for your words,incouragement, and the laughter that you bring to me on days where the pain is leading the dance for the day,
    Thank you,

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