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Doodling classes? Creative pastime gets respect

By Jennifer Forker--Ben Bass is a longtime computer programmer and avid doodler. In elementary school, he doodled World War II airplanes, and doodled throughout high school and college.

Then doodling got away from him. “Parenting and a full-time job kind of drains the doodle out of you,” Bass explains.

Bass thanks a tedious work meeting 18 years ago for bringing him back to doodling. Bored out of his mind, the Affton, Missouri resident started tapping a pen on his notepad, making tiny ink dots on the paper. Eventually, the spots started to look like something — a horse's head — and Bass' doodling days returned with a vengeance.

Today, he doodles in his personal pointillism whenever he's sitting with his hands free.

“It lets me focus my energies. It lets my mind reset,” says Bass, 49. “Those are the two main benefits of it.”

Schoolchildren and adults doodle for the same reasons: out of boredom, to focus, to release pent-up energy. Doodling is a playful way for artists to tap their imaginations. For novices, classes are available online via crafters' blogs and at some small arts and crafts shops.

“It's a good way to germinate ideas,” says Deb Douglas, assistant professor of art history at St. Louis University.

Douglas was featured this summer in Booze Doodle, a series in the St. Louis culinary magazine Feast. Local artists are asked to doodle with a Sharpie on a cocktail napkin at an area restaurant. First they're handed a cocktail to “stir the creative juices,” according to the magazine's website.

Douglas doodled some floral and seashell patterns she'd been working into a painting, she says. On her own, she doodles when she feels stuck artistically.

“Doodling is often a way for me to make lists aesthetically,” she says.

What is doodling, and what isn't it?

Douglas says there's a fine line between doodling and sketching. Doodling involves pulling ideas out of one's imagination or drawing what one sees, whereas sketching is more purposeful.

Pam Keravuori, 67, an abstract painter in Fairfax Station, Virginia, says both sketching and doodling involve carving space with lines, but doodling is more carefree.

“I think doodling has become a popular thing, because it's fun,” says Keravuori. “It doesn't have some big, ulterior motive. And yet, it's practiced.”

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