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The Art of the Meandering Doodle

Updated on February 9, 2020
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I am a trained fine artist. These series of articles share what mediums such as ink, pencil, or paint can do for your artwork.

Free Association Through Mark Making

Believe it or not I don't always have a specific idea in mind when faced with a blank piece of paper, but I do enjoy the simple act of putting marks down on paper. This is a meditative process for me and a necessary part of my creative process. Brush markers are one of my favorite tools to use when starting out. Watercolors also work really well for working out your ideas that are floating around in your sub-conscious.

Symbolism throughout history that represents everyday things in our lives is all around us. Look around and what do you see? The four leaf clover, the five pointed star...hmmmm the star of the Dallas Cowboys, and the eagle of the Philadelphia Eagles comes to mind. There's also some great graphic design out there representing many cities across the US and throughout the world.

All of these designs have one thing in common, they all started with a sub-conscious thought that evolved into a great idea. Think of doodling as the close cousin to free-association writing. It's a great way to create a well-spring of ideas. I am a big believer in keeping an idea journal, only with drawing and paintings. I like to draw wherever I am at, so I usually have a sketch pad, drawing pencil, eraser and fine line Pitt marker with me. I can get an idea down quickly and can create texture with the fine line marker using dots, hatched lines and dashes.

Abstract doodle done on my Kindle Fire.
Abstract doodle done on my Kindle Fire. | Source

Refining Your Ideas

So after you have doodled for a while, look through your drawings and notice what your subconscious has brought to the surface, You will probably see recurring themes or images. Keep drawing and see if they come up again. If they do, you may have enough information for a new painting or design. If you think you do, move on to the next step of refinement. Keep in mind there is no time frame to this free association process.

I have drawings and doodles from years ago that are just coming together now into a cohesive whole and some loose drawings that went immediately into a painting. As you can tell, this is not really a linear process but a more organic process. One important practice that can enhance your doodling is observational drawing. When you have a balance of both of these, you can come up with some brilliant stuff!

hibiscus doodle
hibiscus doodle | Source

The Refining Process

Okay, what theme keeps coming up in your doodles? Is it a road, a person, a particular animal? Ask yourself what this means to you and see if you can come up with an illustration or a design theme based on your doodles. If not, just enjoy the whole free association through drawing process. If nothing else it's a great way to pass the time, relax your mind and have fun.

Right out of my sketchbook.  Color pencil and Pitt india ink markers.  These did not start out as hibiscus , but they were on my mind.
Right out of my sketchbook. Color pencil and Pitt india ink markers. These did not start out as hibiscus , but they were on my mind.

Mixing it Up

Different artist's tools will allow you to create ideas with different moods. Sometimes I like to work in black ink only sketching what I see in front of me. Because it's ink if I make a mistake, I have to move on or morph what I am drawing into something else.

Drawing with a black India ink pen is like ice skating, a little scary, and very permament. Once you make a mark you can't lift it. Welcome the unexpected wobbles that can happen. They may turn out to be the best part of your drawing. Drawing with this medium forces you be free with your drawing because you can't correct it. I usually draw quickly when using ink.

Charcoal and graphite are quite different and a lot more forgiving than other mediums. I tend to work more slowly with these and develop my drawings further.

Watercolor painting is another great medium you can experiment with to create a loose doodle and go from there.

Another one of my favorite options is to draw with oil pastels onto watercolor paper, then add watercolor paint.

You will get some very interesting textural results and the oil pastels will act as a resist against the watercolor. Your painting will combine the best of both worlds. A painting with the vibrant and textural qualities of oil pastel and, because oil pastel will not fill in every groove and hollow space of the watercolor paper, the watercolor paint will sink into the background beautifully.

This started out as a swirl of paint on watercolor paper and  it morphed into an underwater fantastical sea creature.
This started out as a swirl of paint on watercolor paper and it morphed into an underwater fantastical sea creature. | Source

© 2020 Claudia Smaletz

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