Your Brain on Doodles
Turns out us "doodlers in class" were onto something.
Helloooo DrawTogether Grown-Ups Table.
A few fun things before we dive in:
I was blown away by the enthusiastic response to #DrawTogetherOneMinute (Or #DrawTogetherToSee? Title in progress) and how many people have volunteered to become a facilitator. If you reached out, you’ll hear from me soon. Please have patience and hold off for a bit. I have plans, and promise it will be worth the wait.
And in “news you already knew”: the Grown-Up Table continues to grow and be the best creative community on the internet - and now in real life. Inspired by the spontaneous in-person GUT meetup in Tasmania last week I started a location thread so folks can share locations. GUT member Kathleen is mapping us! Here are some highlights:
Head to the chat to share your location, too. Lots of you have expressed interest in meeting up in person to draw like the Tasmanian GUTs did. I’m looking into easy ways to do this - that might take a bit, but something fun to look forward to. (Or just DIY, peeps! I’m cheering you on.)
Finally, the amazing GUTster Dana gathered everyone’s Chance Drawings and turned them into a downloadable zine. I’ll send it out in a dedicated members dispatch mid-week, along with some questions from Dana about creating more in the future. Thank you Dana!! <3
Y’all GUTS are too much.
✏️? 🙋♀️! 🔒? 🔑! ✅! ❤️✏️❤️! (Translation: “Join The GUT!”) 🤓
Okay, enough kvellig. Let’s draw.
VERY SERIOUS ART TOPIC THIS WEEK:
Yes, the doodle.
I’ve always doodled. I got in trouble in high school for doodling during class. I doodle while talking on the phone and during meetings. I make doodley grocery lists, to do doodle lists, electric bill doodles. Doodles everywhere. And I kind of just assumed everyone who draws doodles, too. But recently someone who draws told me he doesn’t doodle. WHAT?? He said he doesn't know how. My heart broke a little.
I thought doodling was hard baked into every visual person. Don’t we all mindlessly cover every surface with flowers and stars? Don’t we all relax by letting our pens flow into unexpected shapes and designs?? Maybe not after all.
This made me wonder: What is a doodle? And what makes a doodler doodle? Why doodle at all? Can a non-doodler become a doodler? And what do doodles DOOOO?
Well, Grown-Ups Table, you didn’t ask. But I found answers.
Let’s explore …. The Doodle.
First, let’s look at some doodles by some folks who are not known for their drawing, but are pretty darn impressive doodlers none the less.
Did you know Obama was a doodler?? Me neither! Back in 2012 The Washington Post reported Obama saying, “I'm also a pretty good doodler. See folks don’t know that about me… [I doodle] all kinds of things. Faces, people. So sometimes when I'm in a big important international meeting and you see me writings stuff down, it might be that I’m just drawing some, drawing some folks.”
Some might think that means the President wasn’t paying attention. But studies show the opposite - that doodling actually improves memory. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) Also, one of Obama’s doodles sold for over $11,000 at auction. A pretty solid side hustle.
Doodle vs. Drawing
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the doodle as “An aimless scrawl made by a person while his mind is more or less otherwise applied.”
Judging by the variety of doodles styles in the images above, there seem to be a lot of different kinds of doodles: abstract, figurative, illustrative… so many ways to doodle. What do they all have in common? They are loose. Like the OED states, you can see that the doodler didn’t set out with an idea of what they wanted their doodle to look like. It emerged organically through the doodling.
I guess that’s one big difference between doodling and drawing. When we doodle we are concentrating on something and processing it by moving our pens around a page without thought or a goal. When we draw, we do it with intention. Even if it’s abstract and we don’t know how it is going to turn out, we are working towards the goal of making a complete drawing. (What do you think? We can debate this in the chat.)
What Good Does Doodling Do?
Oh my gosh, so much.
Let’s start with memory.
In 2009, psychologist Jackie Andrade asked 40 people to monitor a 2-½ minute dull and rambling voice mail message. Half of the group doodled while they did this (they shaded in a shape), and the other half did not. They were not aware that their memories would be tested after the call. Surprisingly, when both groups were asked to recall details from the call, those that doodled were better at paying attention to the message and recalling the details. They recalled 29% more information.
People doodling recalled 29% MORE information!!!!!
Why? The researchers believe that doodler help people keep alert. It keeps our brains focused just enough to keep us from being bored. It keeps us engaged.
SOUND LIKE DOODLING IN HIGH SCHOOL ANYONE??
If only educators knew this back when I was in high school I could’ve avoided a LOT of trouble. Doodling has helped folks like me stay tuned IN, and was never an indication of tuning out.
Now we know. Onwards.
Does Doodling Reduce Stress and Anxiety?
This study that discusses doodling’s impact on stress dates all the way back to 1938! And this fascinating paper on Doodling published more recently (2011) in the nation’s top medical journal The Lancet states: “providing pencil and paper to the anxious, the distressed, and the disturbed might even have unexpected therapeutic benefits.”
Carol Edmonston, author of The Healing Power Of Doodling: Mindfulness Therapy To Deal With Stress, Fear & Life Challenges, says “doodling can actually help calm the racing mind and bring it back to a more quiet, restful space, not unlike meditation.” (Forbes.)
And this is super interesting, too: a study published in 2018 suggests that the materials we doodle with impacts our decrease in stress, and found that Oil pastels are the number one anxiety-reducing art supply. *Wendy immediately adds an oil pastel artist to the Guest Artist line up.*
That’s a great question.
There is so little research done on how drawing and doodling impacts on our brains, bodies, hearts, and minds. I have my theories (if you’re a researcher and want to discuss doing some studies together, holler) and I’m sure you have yours. But I bet we all agree it has something to do with that magic that happens in our brains and hearts when we keep our hands moving and breath flowing as we create something out of nothing, without fear of judgement. Drawing and doodling are both physical experiences. They calm us down, lower our heart rate, deepen our breathing and bring us into the present. It’s a meditation. And for those of us with jumpy or judgy minds, it’s medicine.
Alright, enough blah blah blah. Let’s make something.
I’m going to teach you my three favorite de-stressing doodles. Then I invite you to share your OWN favorite doodle with fellow GUT members in a chat. We have a lot of wisdom in this group, so let’s learn from each other.
I’ll start with my #1 fave: