I used to be a big doodler. As far back as I can remember, I would scribble, sketch and draw at every available opportunity. As a kid, I would doodle rocket ships and cartoon punk rockers in the margins of my schoolbooks. If caught by the teacher, I’d get a telling off, and I’d often get back my homework with angry red notes about the nonsensical drawings that regularly flanked the words in between.
Turns out, though, that old teach’ may have been misled in her scorn for my scribbles. Science has gone on to prove that the many benefits of doodling actually include improved concentration, since the act of aimless sketching gives the mind’s natural inclination to wander a place to go that doesn’t allow the thoughts to drift too deeply into our hopes, dreams, and plans for the weekend. Doodling can also aid with productivity, idea generation, and it’s an outlet for our pent-up creativity.
It’s the latter benefit that has been highlighted for me lately. I love to draw, but as I am often heard to say, it’s sometimes difficult to find an outlet for those creative yearnings that lay a couple of lines down the to-do list. I write every day in my ‘day job’ and my biggest creative desire outside of that is to write fiction, sometimes poetry. Drawing is further down the list, music another notch down again, and there are only so many hours in a day, so finding outlets for these things can be very liberating.
Much like writing, I find doodling offers the added benefit of allowing me to get feelings down on paper, and, in some way, outside of myself. I’ve experienced anxiety most of my life and have invested a lot of time and effort into finding ways to reduce and manage it, from mindfulness and affirmations, to meditation and journaling – you name it, I do it, and it all helps keep the anxiety down.
Recently, drawing has re-entered my life as a means of creative expression and anxiety control, in the shape of Brian. Brian is a character I invented back in my university days (yes, when I ought to have been listening to my prof give his lecture). A rudimentary stickman, Brian’s head is a whirly, scratchy mess of contradictory loops and lines, the look of which was, I think, inspired by some of the cover art from Radiohead’s OK Computer album. A nice guy, Brian was always trying to find his place in this world, much like his 19-year-old creator at the time. He suffered from a fair bit of anxiety and, even though things didn’t always seem to go his way, he made the best of every situation.
Recently, I was reminded of Brian and a light came on. Here was a way to give myself an outlet for my desire to draw, that was relatable so that others could perhaps get something from it, sometimes funny, sometimes a bit tragic, always likeable. And, whereas in the late ‘90s Brian could only find a home in my notebook and entertain my immediate friends, now I could unleash him onto the Internet, where rudimentary art with a soul fits quite nicely.
The biggest benefit? Brian isn’t a big draw on my time (pardon the pun). Crucially, the intentionally simplistic art style allows me to doodle up a Brian cartoon or comic strip in a matter of minutes. I just need to have an idea – usually something that strikes me as funny in the run of my day – and I can sit down and turn it into something shareable, something outside of myself, in a jiffy.
In fact, I set some casual parameters for myself to ensure the process of drawing Brian never becomes too time consuming or in any way a drag. I don’t erase and redraw, for the most part. As much as possible, I draw everything in pen right off the bat, which makes me think about what I’m doing and ‘get it right the first time’. It also adds, I think, to the ‘doodled’ aesthetic. Things never look too polished, which I think is central to Brian’s charm. (After all, in his world, nothing ever seems quite perfect – a reflection of my own deep-rooted perfectionism, which I am always trying to ease myself away from.)
I’m having fun reconnecting with Brian after almost 20 years, and 37-year-old me has also come to realize that Brian represents my own anxiety and personality quirks. His scribbly head represents my ever-racing thoughts. His actions and experiences are drawn from my irrational fears and the silly stuff that goes through my mind on a day-to-day basis. It’s pretty cathartic to give that form and have fun with it.
I already have a half dozen or so Brian sketches added to my website and plan to keep doodling, so please have a look and be sure to share. I think there’s a little bit of Brian in all of us.