Many a budding talent was first discovered in the cluttered margins of notebook pages, dating all the way back to Da Vinci. While absent-minded scribbling may not be a fine art in itself, it’s a habit common to most people – even those without artistic leanings.
Most of us doodle without ever knowing exactly why. Some of us are more modest sketchers who use the doodle as a mnemonic device, while others are quite prolific scribblers, leaving no margin unadorned and no available space free of often meaningless graffiti.
There are lots of cheesy personality quizzes floating around the internet purporting to interpret our random doodles, and extensive psychological analysis (some bordering on pseudo-science). But there is hard evidence that doodling can actually promote mental acuity and enhance memory by visual association. And as it turns out, there is a definite pattern of consistency between certain kinds of doodles and the people who make them.
As with most trivia, it’s partly obvious and partly thought-provoking. Before you read ahead, grab a stray notebook, or an old phone pad, and make a mental note (no pun intended) of the kinds of doodles you find there – and see what category of common scribblers you fall under.
OODLES OF DOODLES
The key features in interpreting a doodle, say the experts (I suppose there are those who study such things?) are subject, location, style, and size. Keep in mind that the nerve centers in the left-side of the brain handle rational or logical thinking, and problem-solving; the right side of the brain is the center of creativity (and the two hemispheres control motor skills on the opposite side of the body – meaning the right hand function is in the left brain, and vice versa).
Studies show that the wide majority of scribbling takes place on the left hand side of the paper, or napkin, as the case may be. (I’d be interested to know whether this is the same in languages written from right to left, such as Hebrew and Arabic?) Right-hand side doodles are rarer and tend to be of a more personal nature. Maybe the right-hand margin is also a more convenient place for left-handed scribblers.
Doodles at the top of the page demand attention – just like their creators. Those daring enough to break out into a spontaneous doodle right in the center of the page tend to be bold and extroverted – no surprise there! Statistically, this is very common among lawyers and business executives.
By the same token it’s easy to construe the differences between delicate, sensitive lines and broad patches of bold, dark shading.
Most common doodles:
- Boxes, squares, and geometric designs are among the most common scribbles. They are a very “left-brain” motif and show organized and focused thought.
- People tend to draw lots of circles when they are trying to get a grasp on a concept or situation, with a circle representing unity or coherence.
Some scribblers take these to next level by creating highly complex repetitive or interwoven patterns. This one’s a no-brainer: they reflect a detail-oriented character with lots of patience and concentration.
On the other hand, abstract shapes and squiggles betray impatience and boredom (think, a totally distracted student in a tedious class). Either way, chances are the same person who makes fun-loving, childish scribbles of candy canes and butterflies would never construct an elaborate tessellation.
Another category of doodles constitutes the more personal and imaginative varieties. They are very typically “right-brain” in terms of creativity.
- Lots of people absent-mindedly draw faces and figures. Generally these individuals tend to be outgoing and sociable. (After all, what would a “people person” be doing sketching cubes and cross-hatching, when faces are such an interesting and ready subject?)
- Just as eyes are the windows to the soul, eyes in scribbles tend to reveal the mood of the scribbler. Because drawings of eyes can be very complex and expressive, they are a favorite doodle among artists.
- Flowers and ornamental shapes also belie the curious, creative, and sociable. The young poet John Keats scribbled flowers along the margins of his books in medical school.
The overwhelming majority of scribbles left by actors and actresses consist of faces of people and small animals, flowers, and the like. Sketches of people are also the most common types of doodles among social workers.
- Houses are common and almost always indicate a domestic attitude. A small, cozy family home is simple to draw and a favorite subject among very young scribblers. Some meaning has been attached to the size and number of windows in the structure; I don’t imagine these details are too relevant, unless the doodler is an architect (or a prospective one!)
Other common shapes
- Arrows, ladders, stars = goal-oriented. Similarly, moving objects like cars or other symbols implying speed show ambition and competitiveness. These are the kinds of doodles most commonly found on the notepads of athletes, team sport players, and game contestants.
- In a dreamy, distracted state of mind, you’re apt to draw clouds.
- Chains, brick walls, and other patterns are obvious signs of tension and frustration.
- Swarms of nervous dots are often seen on the pages of anxious, uneasy, or erratic personalities (aka Van Gogh’s pointillism?)
- Wild scribbles mean you’re bored out of your mind, or you’re having a tantrum.
If you’re still drawing stick people, that’s ok; but you might consider art lessons!
It goes without saying that doodling is more common among artists; in fact it’s a great way to “warm up” and get your creative juices flowing. But all those scribbles, no matter how insignificant, can be a stepping stone to better things – who knows what latent artistic potential you might uncover?
So keep on doodling!