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Doodle Brain: Doodling and Daydreaming

kgould's picture

 Stars, hearts, horseshoes, cubes, faces, stick figures, houses, suns, moons, balloons, Charles Darwin, flowers, apples, eyes, clouds, cars, Sigmund Freud, grass, leaves, gardens, Walt Whitman, skulls, flames, curly Qs, geometric patterns, and Professor Grobstein.

What do all of these things have in common?
Well, they’re all things that I’ve drawn in my notebook or on scratch paper over the past 10 weeks during discussions, lectures, and just while thinking at my computer or desk.

Our first inclination, or at least the first inclination of my elementary school teachers, is to stop students from doodling, to make them pay attention. Because, surely, their need to draw or doodle must distract them from what’s being discussed or whatever work they’re supposed to be doing, right?


In a recent study done by Plymouth University, they found that people who doodled while listening to a discussion or a lecture remembered 29% more than someone who just listened.
Doodling does not take a lot of attention away from listening to a speaker. Rather, it prevents an individual from daydreaming or, worse, falling asleep, and allows them to retain more information.

But doodling is more than just a means to pay attention during a boring conversation.
Just from the way that our brain is constructed, the way that we think—the loops between the conscious and unconscious when it comes to learning—doodling acts as a means for our unconscious to come forward and to communicate itself through images.
Many people believe that, like analyzing dreams or actions to determine “hidden” inner states, analyzing doodles can reveal more about ourselves and the ways that our minds work.

It is this connection between the conscious and the unconscious that we’re going to explore today.

Small History of Sumi-e:
Sumi-e is a style of painting that is characteristically Asian, and has been practiced for well over a thousand years. Literally ink painting, it is an art form that strives to distill the essence of an object or scene in the fewest possible strokes. A few carefully placed broad strokes that fade off abruptly, a few thin lines and a dot, and a bird is clearly called into being on the paper.

Our activity today is derived from the ancient concept of Sumi-e as well as its more recent incarnations, such as Sumi Ink Club in Los Angeles.

What We’re Going to Do:
  • Clear our minds by relaxing, taking several deep breaths, and embracing our unconscious mind
  • Listen to the Doodle Brain Drain prompt
  • Draw small, continuous doodles and fill up as much blank space as possible
  • Merge doodles with other people
  • Have fun!

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Owen Skyton's picture


This is such a cool, informative post, I've never ever thought about doodling that way before. Thank you for expanding my reality :o)

Oh and merry Christmas and a happy new year to you!

Best regards,


Keith Sgrillo's picture

After sharing your Idea

Hey Kate.  I shared this idea with many of my colleagues this summer during a tech training.  They really liked the idea and many agreed that it is important to support students and thier modes of learning and keeping the unconscious busy while we learn.  Just thought that was very positive feedback that you should hear.  A few are interested in trying it. 

cdivo39's picture


As I started doodling I thought of that old addage, "Never put anything down on paper."!

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