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News Release

Oodles of doodles: They're just not mindless squiggles
January 22, 2004    by:   Ray Hogan - Staff Writer

It's a habit that extends from the classroom to the boardroom, and those who partake have little control over it.

Not an illicit behavior but the time-honored tradition of doodling.

Words. Geometric shapes. Squiggly lines. Think of any image, concrete or abstract, and there's a good chance someone's doodled it.

"It's like freedom of expression without a goal. We do it simply for the pleasure and hopefully we're not judging ourselves as to how it looks," says Katherine Q. Revoir, a San Francisco-based creative mentor and author of "Spiritual Doodles & Mental Leapfrogs: A Playbook for Unleashing Spiritual Self-Expression" (Red Wheel/Weiser, $16.95). "There aren't a lot of things in society that aren't judged on how they look."

Laura Newman, a public relations specialist in New Canaan, figures she fills one to three legal-size pages with her doodles daily. In her case, it's random words and letters, squares and geometric shapes. The words have no significance, yet she can't stop writing them and embellishing their shapes. "I have to force myself to get the pen out of my hand," she says. "It's almost like biting my nails. I feel this need to move pen to paper."

It hasn't been hard to find habitual doodlers; our own newsroom has several. Their creations, they say, are both subconscious and random, usually geometric and not something they think much about. They also say that, despite conventional wisdom, they are listening pretty intently while the subconscious impulse takes over.

"It's like a release outlet and it actually helps me sometimes, thinking of things that someone hasn't thought of yet," says Charlie Ponger, general manager of interactive for Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc. "I'm always thinking of things from a different perspective, not thinking of anything new about drawing."

Joe Fucigna, coordinator of the art department at Norwalk Community College and a member of the Stamford Loft Artists Association, says he consciously draws and subconsciously doodles.

"Your mind is relaxed when doodling and you can have the opportunity to stumble upon ideas," he says. "But you also look at people who doodle and they doodle the same thing all the time so you wonder if they stay within a familiar territory."

He doesn't believe his own doodling has led to any grand ideas in his art career but thinks it must provide seedlings. "If people looked at their doodling and looked at it just for the sake of visual thinking, they might be surprised at how well they do it. In many ways, we all draw. It's one of the first things we do as children."

Doodling is a right-side-of-the-brain activity, the half associated with creation and intuition. What is important about ride-side exercises, according to the author Revoir, is that they temporarily shut out the more analytical and regimented left side. "Doodling is such a great thing for people who don't think they are creative to be creative," Revoir says. "The truth is that we are all creative but we don't take creative risks and we don't try out avenues of creative expression. People say, 'I'm not creative,' or 'I'm not an artist.' That's just not true. We're creative about how we get out of bed in the morning."

Fucigna also likes the freedom it represents. "A lot of it has to do with pattern and repetition but I don't think there's any pressure on anybody because doodles aren't thought of as anything important," he says.

They can be important to someone like Mike Kahlowsky. He is certified by the National Society for Graphology, works for writematch Profiles International in Florida and has studied writing habits for 10 years. He says random sketches can tell as much about a person as his penmanship.

"When you find someone doodling, it can because they find it a fun method to relax and release energy," he says. "They are doing things on their own terms and there's no rules."

By examining a mindless drawing, Kahlowsky can derive information about someone's physical condition, health, whether they are under the influence and their integrity level.

For instance, he says someone who doodles heavy-handedly isn't releasing enough energy through natural ways, or is stressed. Round shapes typically indicate an easygoing, flexible personality, while straight lines signify an analytical, rigid mind. Someone who draws the same thing over and over might be compulsive. Boxes are often a sign of organization.

"There's a lot of different angles you dive into when you analyze a doodle," he says. "It's not linear, it's the overall picture."

It might also be a matter of stunted creative development.

Revoir says that during adolescence, people trade their outlets of creative expression for a will to conform. Ask a 4-year-old if she can sing or paint, and the answer will invariably be yes. Ask a 15-year-old and the opposite response is almost a given. The author believes this has to do with good intentions gone awry. A youngster may paint a purple tree only to be told trees aren't supposed to be purple.

"We arrest ourselves at that place," she says. "If we ever go back and want to draw again, we will start again at that place where we left off. That's why most adults will draw a stick figure."

Copyright © 2004, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.