As a kid, I drew and doodled constantly. My high school notebooks were crammed with illustrations filling the margins and any blank spaces. As a graphic design major, I took a ton of drawing classes in college. Despite all of the warnings from my professors, after graduation I largely stopped drawing and sketching.
A few years ago, I dipped my toe back in. It was a little scary being so out of practice, but I started sending my Brooklyn-based stepson daily postcards highlighting the reasons we missed him. These were a blast to create, but when my son was born in 2010 these slowed to a trickle then stopped entirely.
Even if life gets in the way and I veer off course, it seems that I eventually come back to doodling.
Very recently, I finally came to terms with the fact that my husband and I are not the people I thought we would be when we registered for wedding gifts. I cleared our buffet of everything we need for the fancy dinner parties we don’t have time to host and safely packed it away until we become those people. In its place, I filled the buffet with Crayola markers, colored pencils, fancy pens, paper, and other creative supplies. Now it’s more inviting to sit around the table and draw.
Lately, I’ve been drawing a lot.
So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled on a Huffington Post article titled 5 Big Benefits of Being a Doodler! Nothing like finding out something I’m already doing is good for me.
Here’s how doodling is a part of my life…
Doodling allows me to focus
When doodling with my kids, I feel more present. I’m less likely to jump up to go do something else, or get distracted by something that needs to be cleaned or taken care of. Better yet, I’m less likely to get sucked into a social media vortex. Drawing slows me down and has a calming effect. According to Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, doodling can help you stay focused. That’s true whether you’re connecting with kids, or at work.
Doodles help me stay in touch
Having kids has allowed “sanctioned” doodling (hey, I’m spending time with my kids!) to evolve into even more drawing. While my kids draw, I write letters to keep in touch with far-flung friends and relatives. I decorate the envelopes when my kids want to mail their drawings. This year, I even decided to try creating fancier Christmas card envelopes.
The other day, my 3-year-old daughter wanted to make valentines. She suggested I make one. So I sat down to make a huge Valentine for a friend on maternity leave…then my daughter promptly hopped off to do something else. And you know what? I sat there and finished that Valentine, completely relaxed and enjoying my cup of coffee.
Doodles can help me learn and improve memory
Ten years ago, I set a goal to read one book about every president. But when asked last year about the project, I realized I retained painfully (and embarrassingly!) little of what I’d read over the years. Luckily, I experienced the perfect storm of inspiration. I attended Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote workshop at a design conference and I listened to an episode of Gretchen Rubin’s podcast that discussed personal quests. On top of that, I now owned three fancy Moleskine sketchbooks I bought for the conference, but didn’t know what to do with. I vowed to use the sketchbooks to keep track of interesting things I learn on my presidential voyage. (Note: “interesting” involves a lot of low-brow facts. I’m not very sophisticated… You may recall I replaced my wine glasses and appetizer plates with Crayola markers). I also create infographics to visually tie the presidents together.
With the help of a local friend I met at the design conference, I also named my quest — Project POTUS Pages: Oodles of Presidoodles. (Thanks, Dana!) To jump start my reading, I named a campaign/minigoal — 20 by ’20. (Read my lips! I will cross off 20 presidents by 2020). Not only am I reading more as a result, but I’m remembering more of what I’ve read. Sometimes even the smallest drawing is enough to trigger a larger memory. It’s not just me, though. Studies have shown that doodlers retain 29 percent more information than non-doodlers.
Doodling helps the information sink in more effectively. The sketchbooks also tie different presidents together and find commonalities (presidents with a tie to Schenectady, for example. Or presidents that we know by something other than their birth name), even when separated by generations.
BONUS: In researching for this post, I unexpectedly stumbled on a stat about doodling presidents: 26 out of 44 American Presidents doodled. Check out some of their doodles! (Note to self: add Presidential Doodles to reading list.)
Doodling keeps me offline
Obviously, any time spent with a pen in-hand is time spent offline. That’s a huge bonus. But I also used to track my presidential progress with Pinterest. Switching to analog tracking keeps me offline a bit longer even after I’m done drawing. It’s much more rewarding to have something tangible to show for my time – rather than wasting time scrolling through endless Facebook updates.
Doodling is therapeutic and reduces stress
When going through my sketchbooks to find photos for this post, it surprised me how many doodles were about frustrations I was going though. I’d found humor in everyday pet peeves and illustrated them for the amusement of myself and others. (No examples shown to protect the identities of those involved.) I don’t think I consciously thought of it at the time, but doodling is very therapeutic for me. Studies support this – no matter how artistically talented people are, making art of any sort (including doodling!) reduces cortisol levels.
Doodling preserves memories
I draw things my kids have done or said, without really thinking about it. Sometimes to share with family and friends. Sometimes to occupy myself when they are taking forever to do something. Looking back on these is amazing. So many tiny moments that I’d otherwise have forgotten.
Doodling helps me give back … and spread happiness
Last year I became obsessed with sidewalk chalk. My kids and I decorated the sidewalks at school nearly every evening during the warmer weather. We left friendly messages for students and staff to find the next day, or funny little obstacle courses, or had contests to see who can draw the scariest monster. I enjoyed it so much that I was asked to decorate the entry for Harry Potter Night last fall. A friend (and fellow parent) and I spent an afternoon drawing characters and quotes from the books. (Drawing + Books + Harry Potter = So. Much. Fun.) I also volunteered to create birthday cards for staff at the school.
Doodling increases my creativity
I learned not to be timid. By wanting everything to be perfect, I wasn’t drawing at all. I’ve given myself permission to mess up. For the most part, I purposely don’t use pencil, which means I sometimes spell things wrong or leave out words. That’s ok. I’d rather have a big sketchbook full of flaws than a pristine empty sketchbook. (And honestly, even if I do get something perfect, there’s a very good chance that a little person will come behind me and leave their mark. Literally. See scribbles for evidence.)
Not only are my drawing and typography skills improving, but even when I’m doodling on personal time I get inspiration for work-related projects. Drawing nonsense helps me think and break outside of the box. While drawing with my kids recently, I came up with a solution to break down a complicated message for work into something fun and easier to digest. If I just tackled this dilemma in the office (sans markers!), I wouldn’t have come to the same conclusion. It would have been something more expected and less creative.
I asked my coworker David why he doodles. Not only does he just plain like to draw, but it helps him process information. He thinks of things graphically and creatively. When he takes notes, it’s more than just words – and it enables him to digest what he’s putting on paper. Even if he’s not drawing what he’s brainstorming or thinking about, “the mere process of doodling is like releasing a creative pressure valve.” To quote Sunni Brown again, “I can’t tell you how important it is to draw. It gets the neurons to fire and expands the mind.”
So, what are you waiting for?
Grab some paper and a pencil. Start doodling and get your neurons firing!