For as long as I can remember, through all of school and in every job, I have doodled. If there is paper and pen available then I am probably using them to draw swirls, faces, hands, birds,or a tangle of them all. Some teachers and bosses have been more understanding about it than others, but these days there is enough research on the benefits of doodling that defending the practice is fairly simple. My retention of information is generally very good as is my work ethic. Doodling does not appear to have any adverse effect on my reporting duties.
The only problem has been not paying enough attention to what surface is getting marked on, but as I have gotten older I have mainly overcome that. There is no longer much risk that I will accidentally mark up a library book, a final draft of a paper, or a contract as there might have been years ago. I have not drawn on either of my last two cars and it has been several years since I caught myself drawing a swirl on my daughter’s physical form before we turned it in so she could play sports. I have completely stopped doodling in church, but I still draw a lot at work.
My current job involves a fair amount of waiting on databases and applications to do their thing before I can do mine. The best way I’ve found to fill that time is to add a few swirls to whatever piece of paper is close by. Some are very boring, many are too repetitive (endless variations on a theme that has been pretty thoroughly explored), but some are interesting and become sketches for full grown paintings. They have been more about the process of creating them than the finished product, but still I have the problem of folders full of scraps of paper that I cannot bear to throw away.
A couple months ago on a whim I took a doodle that had grown to cover an entire piece of 8.5×11 copy paper and put it into a recently emptied frame. It was sitting against the wall of my room when my father came to visit and he mentioned to me that he liked it and that I should consider including it in my upcoming show. Even though at the time I was not planning to include drawings in the show I thought he might be right. It definitely fit thematically with the rest of the work even if the medium was different. I decided I should include a few more drawings so that it would not stick out as too unlike the others. My evenings and weekends were pretty full of trying to get my paintings finished so I decided that I should experiment with letting my work time doodling be with a bit more purpose.
I brought a piece of the watercolor paper I take on my plein air waterfall hikes with me to work. I slid it under my keyboard and then let nature take its course. Instead of doodling on the edge of reports or in my notebook I just added to the drawing. It grew organically just like a doodle would over the course of the work week. I had to be careful to use the same pen every time and on a couple of occasions when the drawing was going too well I had to move it across the room so it did not prevent me from doing the job at hand. Overall it has been a great way to banish boredom from the basement of the bank and create frame worthy images. By the time of the Nth Gallery show I had four new pen and ink drawings to include and 2 of them (and the doodle that inspired the project) sold!
I am not sure how I got almost to the middle of the month of May before I realized that it is another drawing prompt month. I am late starting but of course I want to play. Like Inktober there are several different prompt lists available but I especially like how Jane Davenport’s list plays with words. Just reading her list made me smile. Since I am starting on the 13th of the month (and it is a very busy month) it is unlikely I will be able to do all of them, but it will be fun to try and draw as many as I can.
My father, Noyes Capehart, has a page on his website called Thematic Variations where he states,
“It is one of the great lessons from the art of the past: the first response to a picture idea – the same could be said of a piece of music or a story – may not reveal its essence. One need only look at Monet’s impressive output of water lilies, or Morandi’s tireless efforts to capture the mystery of bottles, or Picasso’s insatiable curiosity with Manet’s Luncheon on the Grassto see that the first solution is not always the strongest. Beethoven fashioned no fewer than three variations of the overture to his Leonora, and Tolstoy was making changes with War and Peaceas it went to press. I think of a variation in much the same way that I consider an artichoke; the outer, tough leaves have to be peeled away in order to reveal the delicious heart.”
The revisiting I have been doing of the image ‘Perennial Possibilities’ does not find itself in the same category as the master works that he mentions, but I still find it interesting to look at the different ways I have worked with the same blooming face and swirls over the past few months.
The image started as a work day doodle on the back of a report right as I was getting ready to start focusing my attention on creating my Curled, Whirled and Twisted coloring book. The doodle actually ended up being the start for two separate coloring pages as well as the principal image I used for the cover.
Since the coloring book’s completion I have been refocusing on my painting. I have finished three small paintings this month, one of which is an acrylic on chopping block version of Perennial Possibilities. I thought I was done with the image until I started putting this post together. Now I am wondering if I should revisit it yet again and see what else might evolve.
My coworkers are incredibly supportive when it comes to my artwork. I don’t think anyone finds it odd anymore that my brain does its best work trying to figure out the logic behind a report while my hands are doodling swirls and birds and such. A few especially nice folks have even left me little notes with doodles that made an impression on them which always makes me smile.
Most of my work doodles are the kind that happen when I am thinking about something else. They start with a little flower or a swirl and slowly grow through out the day or even the week. Some are better than others. I have plenty that are easily forgotten and also a few that turn into full size paintings or pages in a coloring book. But the other day I was not just doodling. I was sketching an idea for a painting for my sister’s birthday. I knew basically what I wanted to do, but I was not sure about the composition, so while waiting for data to refresh I was trying out different placement ideas. I then got up to get more coffee or something.
I knew it was not the kind of drawing someone would stop to look at, so I had no idea why when I came back to my desk several people were gathered around looking at my notebook. They were also shaking their heads and talking amongst themselves. When I got closer they asked my if I was okay and if while I had been sick I had “lost it.” And by “it” they meant my artistic ability. I made an attempt to explain I was trying out a new idea, but they didn’t seem to be buying it. So this post is to show them the finished piece in hopes of redeeming my poor little sketch. I feel like it did its job even though it wasn’t a glamorous one.
This little painting (8×10″ on paper) is a bit different from what i normally do. My sister Rachel, who turns 35 today, has always loved and repeatedly used the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back,” so this is my rendition of it for her, cause I love her to the moon and back and back and back, to infinity if you will.
Deciding to make an adult coloring book was more about process than concept. Every step of taking my doodles, drawings and paintings and transforming them into a coloring book was enjoyable. I loved the whole process. I started by going through my hoarders stash of files, journals and sketchbooks looking for images that seemed like they would be fun to color. Once I collected a big pile (I even found an envelope of doodles that go back to my high school days) I went through it again and again, winnowing it down to the ones that got scanned. Once the images were in the computer I brought them into Illustrator one by one and carefully traced the lines as vectors. it tool an average of two hours per drawing. I listened to great audio books and podcasts while I worked. It is very rewarding to click back and forth between the layers and watch a sketchy, perhaps even ragged, drawing turn into a smooth consistent one. I must admit that being able to use the computer’s precision to find the “perfect” line in the midst of several penciled attempts gives me a thrill. The next step was to print, review edit, print, review, edit until each one seemed to be finished. Some got there fast. The swirly profile on the last page of the book needed no revising, others, like ‘Breezy’, needed to be almost completely reworked before they seemed right. When I shared my progress with friends and family everyone was supportive, but almost to a person they wanted to know what my marketing plan was. I kept answering that my first focus was to get the book finished. I was honestly worried that if I thought all the way to how I would get the finished books into people’s hands I would get distracted and never actually complete the book.
But now it is finished. I have held it in my hand and seen it on amazon. Some have been ordered and they are being delivered. The creation part of the project is done. Now is the time to be thinking about getting them into as many hands as possible. But I have founded myself much more interested in thinking about what people will do with them once they have them and how I can get them to share their finished images with me. It is now that the coloring book as art form has become more of a concept to me. This is not visual art to just be looked at for a moment, possibly commented on and then likely forgotten. This is art to be participated in. By taking my pictures and stripping out their color and then inviting others, friends and strangers alike, to reapply it I am asking people to really engage with my art. I am hopeful that my lines and shapes will be just one step in a creative process as people take them and by their choice of medium, hue and manner of application change the mood and even the meaning of images and make them their own.