Long answer: there's a delicate balance that predicates the functioning of the human mind.
Modern medicine has made many breakthroughs in the field of neuroscience, which is the study of the workings of the human brain. While the wealth of knowledge gathered about the brain is too vast and extensive for a mere blog to do it justice, I'd like to mention one main point that should be understood by anyone who has a curiosity about the value of doodling, colouring and other forms of art in life: the brain has two main hemispheres, which are called the right brain and the left brain. The right brain is responsible for our creative thinking, which includes visualization, problem solving, spontaneity and observation. The left brain is responsible for our formulaic thinking, which includes language, memorization, following instructions and internalizing rules.
For example, in baking, following a recipe is left brained; throwing ingredients together based on personal taste is right brained. Teachers who read out of a textbook then ask standard questions about the material covered are using the left brain to convey the message; teachers who set up centres with themes for their students to discover the lessons for themselves are implementing right brained spontaneity. In legal practice, knowing the law is left brained while bending it and discovering how and where it can be differently interpreted is right brained.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with doodling and colouring; stay with me here:
Kyung Hee Kim, an educational psychologist, has linked the propensity of addiction to video games and television to the lack of creative activity in general and art education in schools in particular. In general, American (and Canadian, and probably most other countries, too,) parents typically value athletic ability and academic success over artistic ability and spontaneous thinking. While of course physical health and academic learning are important, our thinking ability and brain power becomes lopsided and incomplete if sports and core subjects aren't paired with art and spontaneity. The problem, according to Hee Kim, with the kinds of activities most kids - and now, adults, too - are doing when not studying or practicing their sports, is that they are just mentally stimulating enough to entertain without actually encouraging creativity. Even activities that seem like they offer creative options really don't; for example, playing video games may seem to offer us the opportunity for endless options to win, but the options are not endless; they are, in fact, finite, and exist within the framework created by the video game designers.
Doodling, on the other hand, allows the right brain to play while also occupying the left brain. Experts say that regularly doodling, which means drawing freely and spontaneously without pre-planning the composition just for the joy of drawing, (or to pass the time,) without investing into the end result of the image, helps the brain in creative problem solving.
"You may find that the solutions to problems come to you when you take breaks to doodle," says brain researcher Regina Paul.
Colouring is the same way; it's a meditative activity that allows the right brain to be occupied and stimulated, while the left brain is free to wander. This means, you'll often stumbling upon answers to questions you've been searching for, or bringing back long forgotten ideas, while you colour.
Intelligence is about more than just grades on a report card; intelligence includes the ability to memorize data and also creatively use that learned information in life. But besides just balancing the brain and thus increasing our intelligence, doodling and colouring also give us something much more, which is vital for a happy life: creative gratification.
Anyone who has ever written a book, composed a song, completed a sculpture, made up a cartoon character or finished any other kind of right brained activity, knows the value of creative gratification. Artistic fulfillment. Satisfaction. They also know that being production is much more stimulating, and makes for a much more contented feeling, than consuming.
In my book Free Yourself from the International Conspiracy Against Enlightenment, I dedicate a sub-chapter to this subject: the difference between being a consumer and being a producer. Obviously, unless you're self employed and live off the grid, you're a consumer. So am I. It's not a bad thing, but it's also not the best thing. Consumers are those who purchase the products of others. If you watch a television show, you're consuming that show. If you eat a cake, you're consuming that cake. If you read a book, you're consuming that book. Producers, on the other hand, are people who create products, whether for sale or personal joy. When I refer to producers in this context, I don't mean publishing houses or production companies, I mean creative individuals who spend some time making things. Baking a batch of vegan cookies is a form of production; you'll feel more like you've achieved something when you finish a batch than if you just buy a box. Folding an origami crane is producing something; buying one from a Japanese gift shop is consuming. Again, you'll feel the personal accomplishment when you fold it yourself as opposed to buying one that someone else folded.
This is where a lot of people feel frustrated; thanks to the cuts to arts and creative courses in school, (relegated to the supporting role of "optional" classes compared to the mainstay "core subjects,) a lot of people feel like they have no actual talent. Hobbies seem to be a thing of the past. I remember spending weekends with my grandma and grandad as a kid; these were always so much fun. My grandad would build and paint model airplanes, teaching me the history of aviation as he explained the tiny detail brushes for adding just the right touches of colour. My grandma always had a myriad of creative passions; with a shelf full of craft books, she made the coolest greeting cards, some with pop-ups, always with different colourful papers; she folded origami boxes, and even made the jewelry that went into them. She also sews all her own clothing, (which looks better than store bought,) which she tailors perfectly using a plaster of paris bust of her own body that she made in a local sewing guild workshop. Their house was a haven for a creative kid; since my grandad was the director of curriculum for the local school board, he kept a drawer full of educational toys, and gave me a set on each visit- a boxed set of balloons with googly eyes and construction paper to make balloon heads; a book of paper flyers so I could make my own airplanes to throw around in the back yard; geometric magnets to make patterns, a spiral graph... and my all time favourite, a peg board with differently coloured rubber bands. I never watched television at their house; I spend hours and hours and hours drawing, folding planes and figuring out which one would glide the farthest, making jewelry out of Fimo and a cool shrink-art substance called Friendly Plastic...
My mom, as a teacher, would pick my up from my grandparents' house with more fun boxed projects; I remember at least three different candle making sets, more origami paper than I knew what to do with, sets of paints and kids craft books. In fact, whenever it was my birthday or Christmas, I asked for only one thing: art supplies, and I was never disappointed.
My point? I was the kind of kid who always wanted something to do. I wasn't at all high maintenance, though; a grownup could give me any kind of set and I'd figure it out and start doing. If not a formal "craft," I could happily entertain myself with a simple pen and paper just doodling. When I started babysitting in junior high, I had fun bringing my bag of craft supplies to do the same projects with the kids, and they loved it, often telling me they had never before thought of writing a story book and drawing their own pictures, or making a necklace out of buttons, or drawing pictures that don't mean anything.
I hope you're still with me; this blog isn't meant to be a tell all about my lifetime love of crafts; it's meant to be an invitation for you to take up two of my most favourite art hobbies; hobbies that I've carried with me from childhood and continue to enjoy even today. (And honestly, which I do literally every single day.) First, doodling.
Now, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the word "doodle." It was a nickname my mom gave me when I was a toddler. ("Come on, little Doodle, time to go to Grandma's house.") It was also a put down one of my art professors used during a critique of one of my studio projects in a university class. ("I don't get it... this just looks like a big doodle...") The art community looks down on doodling as the drawing equivalent of speaking in broken slang, because usually, when doodling, the doodler doesn't care about the end result of the picture. It's just something to do to pass time, without much care for skill level or attention paid to composition. It's also possible, though, to doodle at a highly advanced level. When I doodle, for example, I don't think of it as doodling at all, but as abstract drawing; like fine non-objective art on paper, experimenting with different pen and ink techniques, lines, dots, shapes and patterns. Even though I do it more for my own enjoyment than for selling or displaying, I like to challenge myself; to pay attention to the interactions of different elements within the drawing; to the details and also the big picture; to the positive and the negative space in the compositions. And I encourage others to do the same, too!
Doodling is something anybody can do, any time, anywhere. Even as you read this, wherever you may be, there's bound to be some kind of paper and pen or pencil to which you have access. You can finish reading this blog, then immediately pick those up and start putting imagery on paper. (And... for the record... I hope you do!)
Colouring, on the other hand, is something I came to later in life. While I previously mentioned how much I used to love crafts and art projects, one thing I hated, (and I mean, I would never, ever, ever do it...) was colouring. Why?! It might seem like just the thing a kid like I was would have loved! But I did not. What I didn't like about colouring was that someone else already had the fun of drawing the picture, and there was no room, as far as I could tell, for creative self expression. There was an expectation of skin colours, hair colours, the colours used in the grass, sky, flowers... I do remember once in class colouring each flower petal a different colour, making the sky green and the grass blue, just because I could, and the teacher told me I was wrong. That was it... I was done with colouring, and instead, would turn the colouring sheets over and doodle on the back, then fill in my doodles with colour. That I liked. Those were the days before mandala colouring books, abstract colouring books... when colouring books were either Disney, and no crayon or even pencil crayon wielded in the hand of a 6 year old could ever make them look as good as the actual movie illustrations looked; it was a time before the recent trend of "adult" colouring books was even conceivable to people. In fact, (as probably many people like me around the world must also believe about themselves,) I often wonder if I started the trend of colouring books for grown ups when, in high school, my friends and other random kids in the school would pay me a dollar for a xerox copy of my full page abstract drawings so they could colour them in class. They, like me, enjoyed passing the time by filling a page with something new, unique and beautiful. And abstract designs, unlike the fairytale princesses and superheroes that graced the pages of actual colouring books of the time, offered endless possibilities for colour, blending, style and even allowed many to add to them, filling in more dots, patterns and designs.
Back to how doodling and colouring can awaken our creative expansion and increase our intelligence: Every time you pick up a piece of paper to doodle, you have before you an opportunity to make something brand new, which nobody else has ever seen before. A blank paper is, like the late Bob Ross would say about a canvas, "your own little world." You can draw literally anything. If, like me, you enjoy abstract drawing, this is even more the case; the blank paper allows you to weave and work any kind of like, shape, dots, spirals, symbols of your own imagination... and not only the elements in the drawing, but also the way they interact with each other, is your own style, which nobody else alive will have exactly. It's like your creative thumbprint- it's unique. In the same way, if you really engage yourself in colouring, and opt for designs that allow your imagination to run wild, then colouring will offer the same escape as doodling and drawing, and beyond that, if you're colouring in one of my colouring books, you can also use the drawings as doodle starters and instead of just flatly colouring them, you can draw your own designs into the lines provided.
When you get into doodling and colouring, you'll have fun expanding your skills, and maybe even decide to start sharing your art with others by posting it online.
Now, don't think I'm biased and only enjoy abstract art; I also love representational drawings and paintings, too, and if you're looking to expand your skills at drawing from real life, I highly recommend the book that got me started in my research into art and neuroscience, Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards. She takes her reader on a journey into seeing the world clearly in order to reproduce it on paper accurately, in a way that's fun and guarantees great results.
For those ready to jump into abstract doodling, though, I invite you to check out a big book I made a few years ago, that I still get great comments on, called Awaken Your Creative Consciousness. In it, I share my love for abstract drawing by giving step by step tutorials on doodling, making drawings out of words, doing geometric art on grid paper, and much more, then at the end of 54 pages of unique drawing lessons, I include 56 colouring pages all hand drawn by me. If you'd like to tour the book before you buy, check out the flip through. I've also made this book available as an instant download in my Etsy shop.
I've also made a YouTube video with 5 unique tutorials if you want to learn some abstract techniques right now. In fact, I love sharing my art so much that I've made a whole playlist of art videos.
And... as my little gift to you, to help you get started, here are two free printable colouring / doodling pages, right out of my books. You can choose to either colour these, or add your own doodles and drawings into them. Just drag and drop these images oner a pages or word sheet, enlarge them to your preferred size, print and play. Enjoy!