Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination: Doodling and Noodling

Originally published on February 16th, 2016, at
Edited February 25th, 2016.
Edited and republished at on March 8th, 2017.

This is my first post in what I hope will be an informative series on working my way through – with my wife in tow – Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination. If you missed the introduction to this series, and would like a bit of background before getting down to the book, itself, click here. The linked post should provide sufficient information regarding both the impetus for and the intended methodology of the series.

Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination
Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination

I knew that this book would be compatible with me just a few paragraphs into the introduction:

Often, ideas don’t occur to you until after you’ve started drawing. So you should not wait around for great ideas. Just begin with simple ideas. Bigger things will emerge out of them.

I begin with an eye – either reptile, amphibian, cephalopod, or human – most of the time. I like drawing eyes. And I like hands, too, so I occasionally begin with those. I also like the process of watching whatever I began with become something completely different. This book seems to support that process, and that means that this book and I are already getting off on the right nib.

But there’s more:

A common experience for both artists and students is to be disappointed in the gap between what we imagine and how it actually appears on paper. Our skills rarely seem up to the products of our minds. This is simply the way it is—and it is true for almost everyone.

Almost everyone. Emphasis – mine – on “almost”. As true as it is for me (and that would be painfully so), it’s apparently not so for my artist friends.

Right, y’all???

What’s not painful, though, is the way this book is constructed. It’s wire-bound, making it easy to lie flat. While that may not seem important before you actually use the book, it’s an awesome feature for any book you may attempt to teach or learn from, simply because it allows you to see the page you’re working from while freeing up your hands to do the actual work.

All instructive books should come with flat-friendly binding, but for art books, in particular, this should be standard practice.

The binding on Keys to Drawing with Imagination allows the book to lie flat.
The binding on Keys to Drawing with Imagination allows the book to lie flat.

Moving beyond the outer layers – i.e., the binding and introduction – one of the first things that Bert Dodson does in this book, proper, is to define the difference between doodling and noodling. I’ve spent almost two decades believing myself a doodler, when I was, apparently, a noodler all along.

Four of my drawings from 16 or so years ago. Lots of noodling going on there!
Four of my drawings from 16 or so years ago. Lots of noodling going on there!

I also discovered that doodling, as it is defined in this book, isn’t something that comes naturally to me, at all. It’s completely doable. That’s not an issue. But barring being told to do doodle by Bert Dodson, I would have zero motivation to do so. It would cross neither my mind nor hand.

In any case, my wife and I both completed the first exercise in the book, with its emphasis on doodling and noodling. It should be noted that I chose the tools we would both use for doing this exercise (and, likely, the rest of the exercises in this book), and that I chose them for what I think are legitimate reasons:

If the goal of the exercise is to increase creativity in your drawing, and not to create a finished work, ink will a better medium than pencil. The rationale behind this is that, if you can erase, you will; and erasing isn’t great for generating ideas. Learning to work, live with, and/or incorporate your mistakes, however, is.

That said, I didn’t want to be held back by my tools, and I certainly didn’t want my wife to be held back by them just as she’s beginning to draw. So we used quality ink in an easy format: disposable art pens. I recommend Derwent Graphik Line Makers, Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens, or Pigma Microns, but I’m sure there are others that will work just as well.

We also worked on cheaper paper than I normally use, so there would be less sense of waste. I’ve experienced being too broke to buy supplies, and too far away from any stores to get them when you need them. Worrying about wasting your last few sheets of good paper is a creativity killer. We each picked up a small, 100-sheet sketch book specifically for working through Keys to Drawing with Imagination.

Here are the results of the first exercise:

My doodles and noodles from the first exercise in Keys to Drawing with Imagination.
My doodles and noodles from the first exercise in Keys to Drawing with Imagination.
Linda’s doodles and noodles from the first exercise in Keys to Drawing with Imagination.
Linda’s doodles and noodles from the first exercise in Keys to Drawing with Imagination.

Do you see the very obvious difference between her work and mine? Given six assignments, I used six pages, and filled up most of the page with each one. Given six assignments, she used two pages, working much smaller and fitting three on each sheet of paper.

This is not an isolated difference. We had similar differences in our work from both the colored pencil and ink painting Smart Art boxes we did together earlier this year. And, while the topic of our differences certainly digresses from writing about Bert Dodson’s book, it does suggest that people with different approaches to art – and the different psychologies which inform those approaches – can benefit from its exercises.

It should also be obvious that, since she worked smaller, my wife’s doodles and noodles took far less time to complete than mine did. I was feeling neither patient nor creative while noodling – I’d forgotten that I’d always called that type of drawing “grunt work”, though I certainly remember now – the third through sixth pieces, but did find some satisfaction with having completed the exercise. Linda and I spent some time visually exploring our doodles/noodles to see what we could see in them. Between the two of us, we found a cat, a rabbit, Batman, and a long-tailed creature wearing a sombrero.

And that was just in one drawing.

I can see how this would be useful for generating ideas.

More importantly, my wife enjoyed the exercise. Possibly more than I did.

And we both enjoyed that – immediately after the exercise – the book included some very basic drawing techniques. I found that inclusion especially useful from the aspect of trying to lure someone into art, and fun from the perspective of just playing with sketches.

Next up: Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination: Finishing the First Chapter