Doodling Makes You Smarter…Sort Of

I wonder what most people would think if they peeked inside my purse. I have the usual necessities such as my keys, phone, wallet with credit cards and license, the checkbook, gum, a compact, hand lotion, lip balm, and…other feminine things (boys can’t know all the secrets in there!). Rummaging deeper though, things get odd. There’s a battered Moleskin and a filthy kneaded eraser. There are pencils, Sharpies, and Microns. Sometimes I’ll have colored pencils or waterbrushes or a spool of black thread. I have found mat and Exacto knives in my purse that I was completely ignorant were even there (oops). To me this lovely little collection has become normal, even essential. If I don’t have something to draw with at all times I doodle in my head, my hand unconsciously drafting on invisible paper what only my mind can see.

One of my favorite places to pull out my artillery and draw is during church, and I’m not the only one. The March issue of Smithsonian magazine features a fantastic article on artist John Hendrix who also doodles during church, creating colorful, symbolic and moving visuals of the Sunday morning sermons. Very snazzy stuff!

It’s not often that you’re surrounded by models sitting rapt in quiet attention. I like to use my time in church to gain more life drawing experience, because staring at people who don’t know you’re drawing them is NOT creepy at all. Here’s a sampling of some of my portraits.

My current sketchbook is a 3.5″x5.5″ Moleskin. Each portrait measures between one to three inches high. I usually only have about twenty to thirty minutes to spend on each portrait, sometimes not even that much. The model may shift position or lean forward or back. It’s good memory training.

For me drawing frees the mind. Although my hand is moving and my eyes are focused elsewhere I always feel like I retain information better.

I used to feel guilty drawing in church, until I met artist Steve Vistaunet, a self-pronounced doodler, who proclaimed that studies have shown drawing or doodling actually helps you to retain 30% more of what you hear. I cannot cite this study beyond, “Hey, Steve said it…so yeah,” but I do remember in elementary school we always had to write out our spelling words three times as practice before an auditory spelling test. So isn’t that kind of the same thing? Or what about the sense of smell being the most powerful memory trigger? I’m interested in studying if the combination of the senses has something to do with information retention.

Drawing for Fun

If you’ve been following my blog like the faithful fan I know you are, you will recall I wrote a post a few months back called You Painted These All By Yourself? If you don’t know what I’m referring to, shame on you and #fingerwag. If you desire to be reprieved from the bitter disappointment of my broken heart, go and read it. Right now. Otherwise the following won’t make a lot of sense. Actually it probably will, but the past post is still a good read so you should read it anyway.

Creating art is a lot of work. There’s usually a minute thrill in the beginning stages as thumbnails, rough drafts, and studies are fashioned and altered to the vision in my head. At the conclusion of the project I’ve been staring at the work for so long that I loathe what I’ve done and feel forced to hide it for fear the world will find it and scorn my meager attempt. I tell myself I suck as an artist. I haven’t the skill. Nobody loves me. You know, really uplifting stuff like that. After a week or so I’ll retrieve the work from its dark hiding place and think, “Hm. I suppose it’s not all that bad…”

All the in between stuff is the actual work. Yes. Art is work too. If you’re shocked, that means you didn’t read my previous post. For shame. Sometimes though, I might bravely set aside what I’m working on if I feel stuck in a rut and do some art just for fun.

What do I mean by “just for fun?” The above piece is an example of a work in progress. I found an old photo on the internet (gasp!) and was immediately drawn to it. I decided to do a charcoal and white chalk drawing on toned paper. Just for fun. With no fear of failure. No set standards or goals for myself. No intentional meaning. Just a fun, pretty, meaningless drawing.

I get a little sullen when artists have to explain their work. Why can’t art be admired for its face value? I don’t like writing artist statements. Using a lot of big words to tell people what I do and why I do it. Or what they’re looking at and why they should look at it. It’s pretty. Isn’t that enough?

What’s funny. When I’m at a gallery or museum studying a piece of contemporary art and then I read the artist statement or the artist explains the meaning behind the piece, I’ll be nodding affirmatively, looking contemplative. All the while I’m thinking, “Yeah, I didn’t get that at all.”

Here’s a parody of an artist statement by Charlotte Young explaining what I mean.

You know, just for fun.

A Recent Commission

I’m still working hard on my post for Learning How to Draw: Part II (a.k.a Learning How to Draw Super Awesome Style Like the Talented Hardworking Folks at the Grand Central Academy of Art). It’s a beast for a post as I’m sifting through all of my notes from the workshop and making sure I am absorbing everything I’ve learned. In the meantime, here are some samples from a commission I recently finished. These are all illustrations for a book of poetry.

These drawings were rendered in Photoshop CS6 using a Wacom Tablet.

Surprisingly, I find drawing digitally to be very similar to the way I would work with more traditional tools such as charcoal or oils. I massed in the large values to create a rough idea of the composition before honing in on the details. The only difference is that I usually have a very detailed drawing prepared when I work traditionally. It felt refreshing and bold not having to do that with my digital work, as something could easily be added or removed with the click of a button or layer. I wouldn’t say that made drawing this way easier, though. It was just a little different but just as fun and challenging.