I like to doodle, dream on the page, go with no plan, not apply myself and play with a sleepy mind with no particular direction.
My seven year old daughter says she is double minded. She can remember every detail of a story being read to her while she draws, cuts paper, sews. She says it is harder for her to concentrate if her hands are not engaged in something creative. Jackie Andrade published an article in February 2009 in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology entitled: What Does Doodling Do? In it she recounts improved concentration and a 30% improvement in memory retention of participants who doodled while listening to a list of names over the phone versus those who didn’t. So there is something to support the notion that doodling helps to awaken more of our capacity for engagement. Maybe it engages both hemispheres in a more balanced way. All that aside, doodling doesn’t really get the credit it deserves. However I find that it is a rich and valuable way to know.
When I doodle while on the phone somehow I become deeply present with the person I am speaking with while I also understand more about how I am feeling during the conversation while watching an image unfold. I can see how the dialogue feels.
Doodling is also very near to the practice I teach here that involves closing our eyes and drawing a feeling connection with Nature. I wonder if doodling with Nature is any less real than the traditional Nature Journal exercise of accurately drawing what we see?
Accurately painting and drawing what we see in Nature can be very pleasing as though something important has been accomplished. We have seen clearly, we have stilled ourselves long enough to really see what is there in front of our eyes and we have managed to get that onto the page, in proportion with correct markings.
This is a western natural history approach to drawing Nature. Indigenous peoples don’t seem to draw accurate reproductions of animals and plants in their world. There is something more relational about their visual art. There is spirit to the images, a story to be told about the relationship between the being and the artist. The image holds the richness of that relationship. A clear comparison is in the work of BC artist Sue Coleman (www.suecoleman.ca/artcards.htm). Click on one of her artcards and see how she combines both Native and Western art depictions of animals on the same page. When I look at her images I watch how each meets a need in me. The reproduction feels pleasing in that I can recognize the animal, its exciting to see it stilled and in such detail. The Native rendition entrances me, gives me a window into the character of the being and I feel a deep longing to know more.
I wonder how this relates to doodling. It seems that a quiet mind can be obtained from both accurately drawing what we see and doodling. Maybe with doodling it’s that we can see more of what we are looking at. We can access the pattern that connects this animal to other living beings and to ourselves. We move from accurate reproduction of detail to a place where we open our hearts to the being. We feel a connection and open to what a being may have to say to us today. We open to what we may have to say to them. A connection can be deepened over time as we realize that it nourishing to revisit this being over and over again and wonder what has changed, what endures, where we stand. We image ourselves with the being thus giving greater understanding, form and a sense of connection to both of us. The image-making becomes a knowing alive bridge between us- fluid yet solid at the same.
I went for my usual walk up the back roads behind my house the other day. On a isolated stretch of dirt road I noticed two arbutus leaves. Each had intricate wooly doodle on its surface. A wonderfully thready example of Nature’s creativity on a natural creation.
After sitting quietly with one leaf for a few moments, I did a drawing with each hand in turn. My eyes slowed tracked the surface of the leaf while my hands recorded what I was seeing. I didn’t tell my hands what to do or overly control their direction. I simply paid close attention to the details on the leaf and let my hands be the secretary for that experience.
Then I closed my eyes and drew the leaf using each hand in turn. I simply set the intention to paint the connection I felt with the leaf and drew with each hand in turn.
Drawings with eyes opened then eyes closed
The larger leaf drawings were done with my eyes open while slowly trying to see the detail in the leaves while still moving my pen quickly along the page. In the lower right of the page you can see the two drawings done with my eyes closed.
There was a lot of swirling and twisting and turning that happened in these drawings. I loved the repetitiveness of the feeling of my pen moving slowly on the smooth page.
After the drawings were finished I recorded some words that came to mind as I doodled the connection I felt with the leaf.
round and round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows
explore, play, enjoy the feel of it, no where to go and nothing to be done
like ants on a sidewalk, caterpillars on a leaf
knitting the world together one strand at a time
silly snow string sprayed this way and that
filling the space with lacy undulations