Automatic drawing – where one doodles without a specific aim – is a way to tap into flow states and become mindfully absorbed. Darren C. Fisher, Author provided
The many benefits of drawing
I’m a keen doodler who turned a hobby into a PhD and then a career. I’ve taught all ages at universities, in library workshops and online. In that time, I’ve noticed many people do not recognise their own potential as a visual artist; self-imposed limitations are common.
That’s partly because, over time, drawing as a skill set has been devalued. A 2020 poll ranked artist as the top non-essential job.
But new jobs are emerging all the time for visual thinkers who can translate complex information into easily understood visuals.
Big companies hire comic creators to document corporate meetings visually, so participants can track the flow of ideas in real time. Cartoonists are paid to draft innovative, visual contracts for law firms.
Drawing without an intended outcome often ends with surprising results. Darren C. Fisher
Perhaps you were told as a child to stop doodling and get back to work. While drawing is often quiet and introspective, it’s certainly not a “waste of time”. On the contrary, it has significant mental health benefits and should be cultivated in children and adults alike.
How we feel influences how we draw. Likewise, engaging with drawing affects how we feel; it can help us understand and process our inner world.
Making simple repetitive marks is a great way to develop your drawing skills. Darren C. Fisher
Cultivating a drawing habit
Cultivating a drawing habit means letting go of biases against drawing and against copying others to learn technique. Resisting the urge to critically compare your work to others’ is also important.
Most children don’t care about what’s considered “essential” to a functioning society. They draw instinctively and freely.
Part of the reason drawing rates are thought to be higher in Japan is their immersion in Manga (Japanese comics), a broadly popular and culturally important medium.
Another is an emphasis on diligent practice. Children copy and practise the Manga style, providing a critical stepping stone from free scribbling to controlled representation. Copying is not seen as a no-no; it’s integral to building skill.
As researcher and artist Neil Cohn argues, learning to draw is similar to (and as crucial as) learning language, a skill built through exposure and practice:
Yet, unlike language, we consider it normal for people not to learn to draw, and consider those who do to be exceptional […] Without sufficient practice and exposure to an external system, a basic system persists despite arguably impoverished developmental conditions.
Copying art styles adds to your ‘visual library’. From top left: Herge, Tezuka, Brunetti, Miller, Kirby, Woodring. Darren C. Fisher
So choose an art style you love and copy it. Encourage children to while away hours drawing. Don’t worry about how it turns out. Prioritise the conscious experience of drawing over the result.
With regular practice, you may find yourself occasionally melting into states of “flow”, becoming wholly absorbed. A small, regular pocket of time to temporarily escape the busy world and enter a flow state via drawing may help you in other parts of your life.
Follow along in this ten-minute video as I show you how to begin an automatic drawing.
Together with mindful doodling, drawing from observation and memory form a holy trinity of sustainable proficiency.
Drawing from life strengthens your understanding of space and form. Copying other styles gives you a shortcut to new “visual libraries”. Drawing from memory merges the free play of doodling with the mental libraries developed through observation, bringing imagined worlds to life.
With time and persistence, you may find yourself producing drawings you’re proud of.
At that point, you can ask yourself: what other self-limiting beliefs are holding me back?