What doodles reveal about your noodle

Ideas: Unwitting Art

July 14, 2002|By SUSAN CAMPBELL | SUSAN CAMPBELL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Go ahead. You know you want to. The nice, white space on this page begs for it.

No time? Then take this page to work. Sometime during the day, if you have that sort of job, a meeting will go long, your pen will be full and you know what will happen next. You'll doodle.

When things slow down for Bil Paul, a public relations specialist and part-time reporter in California, he certainly doodles. He draws - no, make that constructs - elaborate geometric works that look almost like family shields. He insists he's still paying attention to the goings-on, but if the meeting is two or three hours long, please.

Over the years, he says, his doodles have become more symmetrical. Because he has informally studied handwriting analysis, he knows that means something.

And what does it mean?

A lot, as it turns out. Like a fingerprint - or handwriting - a doodle is a door into the psyche. For example, intricate patterns indicate the artist is under pressure; ladders and arrows say ambition; bars (like cross hatches) show a sense of suffocation, a need to escape.

Ralph M. Larmann, a University of Evansville professor and creator of the online Art Studio Chalkboard, says doodling is often the way artists start a project, although artists call it "unintentional drawing." (Real artists don't "doodle." After all, the word comes from the Greek dudeln, which means "to play.")

"I think doodling is probably important if you're generating ideas," Larmann said. "I know that usually when I have an idea, it starts out with doodling. When I draw, it's usually charcoal. When I doodle, I will use a pen."

Also, doodling may help concentration. Think of it as the graphic equivalent of one of those little white noise machines that drown out other noises.

"I know students who study better when they have the television on. It's sort of a distraction, like you need a buffer zone and I think doodling is more like that," Larmann said.

In the last two decades, authors have seized upon the importance of these tiny drawings and written about them in books including Doodling, Drawing and Creating, by Cameron John or Doodling Your Way to Better Recall, by Lynda G. Smith.

The interest has increased as the study of handwriting has become more popular. As with handwriting, the shape, shade and type of doodles says something about the artist.

So, if the subject is houses, the artist might be striving for domestic harmony. Wide and airy houses mean open-mindedness. Houses with lots of detail mean you're a homey type. Tall houses reveal ambition.

What if cars zoom across your legal pad? The fancier the car, the higher the aspirations. Some analysts say a man who draws cars is obsessed with sex. It may have been a man who said that.

C. Dianne Zweig, a Connecticut psychotherapist, creates elaborate doodle drawings with a complex floral motif. She says doodles provide freedom and comfort, and, like Rorschach tests, they can reflect inner experiences and moods.

Doodle decipherers say plants and/or flowerpots are linked with artists who are friendly, sociable, sensitive.

For their social cues alone, doodles should not be dismissed. But there's also the possibility that they could be worth money some day. A recent auction for the American Foundation for AIDS Research included a heart doodle by Melanie Griffith, and a sad-eyed beagle drawn by George Clooney.

Paul says the doodles he made at the Wisconsin post office where he used to wait for the newspapers he delivered as a boy might have been art in its infancy.

"I think I plan to turn these into paintings later on," he said. "I wonder if these are something somebody would actually look at. In the back of my mind when I doodle I wonder if this has any value, does this have relevance beyond me?"

It does to people interested in knowing the artist better.

If the doodles occupy center stage on a page, the artist is an extrovert in need of privacy. If it's on the left, the past is more attractive than the present or future. Doodles on top of the page show enthusiasm and spirituality; doodles down below show a critical approach - or depression.

Psychotherapists have long used doodles as a tool for revealing a psyche. A method called squiggling was created by British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott in his consultations with children.

To allow children to express themselves freely in a therapeutic setting, Winnicott, who died in 1971, would draw a line or mark on paper and ask the child to complete it. Then he would complete doodles started by the child. Often, the drawings would open the door for deeper conversation about the child's feelings. The method is still used today by some psychotherapists.

Susan Campbell is a reporter for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Drawing conclusions

A few doodle interpretations:

Is the doodle a picture of a tree? Fruit-bearing trees say loving, giving and warmth, while complicated branches mean the artist feels a sense of chaos, and craves organization.

Is the page covered in stars? Various astral shapes, like stars or moons show an artist is optimistic, with a need to prove him- or herself.

Pistols, cannons, weapons in general, on the other hand, say the artists have a need to prove themselves sexually.

Kind of makes you want to cover up your paper, doesn't it?

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