Growing up, I was a good student and I think much of that was from my doodling while taking notes in class. I am a visually oriented person and I think doodling on my notes gave me a visual outlet to help cement and process the information I was receiving - this idea is somewhat reenforced on a TED Talk video I saw last year about the merits of doodling, by Sunni Brown.
Sunni Brown: Doodlers, unite
According to Sunni, the real definition of doodling is "to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think." She continues, "We think doodling is something you do when you lose focus but in reality it is a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus." For me, doodling is even more than that. I think the act of doodling frees our mind from straining too hard for answers. It relaxes our thoughts, opening the mind to receive ideas or content from the our environment, both locally and universally. Frequently, these ideas will provide answers to questions that we may have been struggling to solve.
I figured out all of my most difficult projects and questions by first thinking as hard as I could about them for a day or so and then completely forgetting them. Making myself think about and do different things (in essence, life doodling) allowed my unconscious mind to cogitate on the details without my conscious mind getting in the way. There follows an "ah-ha!" moment where the details become instantly clear, somewhat like remembering an entire dream upon waking.
In the talk, Sunni expounds on her admiration for doodling, saying "under no circumstances should doodling be eradicated from a classroom or a boardroom or even the war room. On the contrary, doodling should be leveraged in precisely those situations where information density is very high and the need for processing that information is very high." She also says, "Because doodling is so universally accessible and it is not intimidating as an art form, it can be leveraged as a portal through which we move people into higher levels of visual literacy."
For much of my life, I produced mostly representational artwork, but I always felt like it was important for my paintings to help define themselves. Instead of trying to make a piece look exactly like the model, I wanted my mark to be visible and influenced by previous marks and colors. I found that the less I tried to control my tools, the more I was pleased with the results.
Around 2004, I started focusing on abstract paintings. These pieces were done entirely in brush work with no preliminary drawing. Then, in 2006, my buddy Browning and I were discussing the layout of a house I had lived in on Oregon Hill. I did a basic drawing of the floor plan and he put some marks on it to help clarify my responses to his questions. Soon after, I was looking at this sketch and it reminded me of some work I had done while I was studying at VCU in the 1980's. I was inspired to add to this drawing and ended up with the first of what was to become my "Elaborate Doodles."
|"Untitled,"2006, sharpie on paper, 11x8.5 inches|
For a time I was re-creating my original drawings into larger formats using conte crayon and oil paint on canvas.
|"236,"2009, conte and oil on canvas, 64 x 35 inches|
Creating an Elaborate Doodle
1. Draw first gesture lines - while lightly holding a sharpie, close eyes and do a loose gestural scribble, across as much of the canvas surface as possible.
|Draw first gesture lines|
|Darken and define gesture lines|
|Add motion lines|
|Add patterns to spaces|
|Finish adding patterns to spaces|
5. Paint washes of pigment - after the drawn patterns are finished, use paint washes in layers to accent or obscure the pattern-filled spaces.
|Dark yellow wash over sharpie patterns|
|Light yellow and blue washes over sharpie patterns|
6. Add final details - when the paint washes are dry, sharpie may be used to add detail or bring out lines that are obscured. Painted details may be added as well.
|Light yellow, blue, and white washes over sharpie patterns and some details|
7. Name the piece - when no more areas of the painting appear to need work, spend some time evaluating the piece. Turn it as necessary until images and ideas begin to surface. Allow these images and ideas to play together until a title presents itself.
|In "Cumuli Grazing" I see both clouds above and sheep grazing below|
Elaborate Doodles are two-dimensional representations of multi-dimensional spaces and events. Lines and color are both physically and chronologically layered so that the piece becomes a record of time as well as space and mass. By allowing the painting to assist in its own creation, I feel that it is easier to access the stories, images, and memes that can be found in the universal well of creativity.