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Doodling and the Art of Expansion

I’ve been away from this creative space longer than I expected. I’m excited to be back. My business is growing, so work is busy, and I just ran through a final (for now) reading of my Maine-based novel, a literary suspense, an aftermath story, in which a small-town coastal community grapples to understand the cause of death of a teenage girl.


Last week, I sent query letters to agents. It’s thrilling, the sense of accomplishment I feel, but sadly there has been little time for my mixed media practice which serves my writing practice. Pitching uses a more strategic part of my brain. My body tends to tighten when my focus is on selling my work as opposed to making my work. In the face of rejection, I start to doubt myself in every way. With this full moon and Jupiter so close, I want to experience the gift of expansion and possibility again.

When I’m drawing, painting, or collaging, swirling paintbrush into color, smoothing layers across the paper, striking marks and dripping ink on top of base paintings, and arranging scraps of paper into a composition, these acts soothe my nerves. The feel, the sound, the close-up sight of color­­­, even the scent of working with the media is a multi-sensory act that seems to brighten the imagined worlds I create with prose. In a similar way adding layers of collage involves creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts, putting together pieces of a novel told from multiple points of view seems to be served by a collage-making practice. For all these reasons, I want to do some kind of non-writing image-making, every day, even if it’s something quick and easy. When time is short, I turned back to a childhood pastime, to glorified doodling.


I get out some basic supplies, just a black pen and a tray of watercolors, a jar of water, and spend just 30 minutes re-engaging with the part of my creative self that felt neglected. I get my doodling practice going, simply playing with lines and circles, and colors, in a small journal I can keep right at my desk. I take mixed media mini breaks between clients and classes.


Sometimes I accidentally reach for my paint brush water instead of my cup of herbal tea, or I am tempted to doodle instead of taking notes on a coaching call, but, in my view, these are good problems to have. My art practice, however kid-like and kid-like it is, is back.


If this low-pressure-nothing-fancy-doodling-and-color-wash practice calls to you, then read below and try the art and the writing prompts, too.


Let me know how it goes!


Creativity Prompt


1.) You’ll need to invest in paper that can take water, a permanent marker, or a set of these in varying widths, and some watercolors. I love my pans of 25 opaque colors by Arteza. They’re bright in a way that makes me happy. I use a Strathmore brand mixed media journal with a softbound cover, 8 ½ x 11. This all fits tidily on my desk. I keep a variety of Sharpies and Pigma pens handy.


2.) Take a pen of medium thickness, and draw some simple rounded and varying shapes, nothing perfect, maybe five or six of these, on an open page. Keep it loose. No pressure for perfection.


3.) Next, using circles within circles and adding straight lines, embellish your shapes. This is basic doodling. Remember doodling? Just have fun


4.) Finally, add your color washes. Again, be loose. Don’t worry about going outside of the lines.


5.) An alternate way of approaching this practice is to lay down circular shapes of color wash. Wait for these to dry and then go back in. Doodle circles and lines over the swatches of color. I like this practice best. It frees me from the temptation of perfection.

Note: You can use a hairdryer if you are pressed for drying time. I like to make several pages of color wash base paintings on Monday morning and have them ready for when I have time to doddle over them throughout the week.


6.) Finally, it’s time to write. Take out a piece of blank writing paper. Write these four lead lines on the page, allowing about two inches of white space in between. Set your timer and let the leads guide you. Allow to come whatever wants to come, even if it feels odd or silly or makes you nervous.

~ Circles make me think of…

~ I see circle in…

~ They symbolize…

~ I love the color…

~ Color makes me feel…

7.) Go back and read over what came. Circle your favorite lines or phrases and write them inside and among your doodles. Select word-made images that capture your imagination, words that stand out from other words, and writing that shines.


My page is ready for words.