Finding inspiration in the margins


I think it could be considered the smallest artistic expression. A doodle is quick, cheap, and simple. Not quite a drawing, not quite a sketch even. Perhaps it’s the minimum viable product of art. How can a doodle be the start of anything at all?

Doodles in notebook

I have always been a doodler. As a child, the pages of my school books were filled with quirky sketches, silly cartoons, and simple patterns. I loved drawing designs on everything. This trend continued into adulthood. When I take notes in meetings or on the phone I am constantly making doodles in the margins.

Freedom through pen and paper

When I’m trying to listen, doodling helps me focus. My imagination is notoriously active. I sometimes find it difficult to pay attention. I’m not sure if it’s the physical act of doing something with my hands, or the visual fixation of looking at one place. But, the simple act of making shapes on a page quiets the distractions.

The start of a new notebook. Time to talk about process and values. Plus a hidden gem for you developers out there.

The start of a new notebook. Time to talk about process and values. Plus a hidden gem for you developers out there.

Doodling helps me remember things. I’m not sure where the connections are made, but this was very helpful while in University. I would doodle during lectures. When it came to writing tests, I could recall the information by imagining the doodles on the side of the page.


Doodling helps me think through creative problems. Simple shapes can represent complex ideas. Working with the relationships of the simple shapes can remove blinding complexity and allow me to think more clearly.


Doodling helps me clear my mind when I’m feeling blocked. Doodles are unfinished, unchecked… When I’m doodling, there are no rules. I cannot fail. In a way, it’s like visual journaling. I just have to get ideas out of my head and on the page to get more ideas flowing.


Doodling almost cost me my job

Years ago I used be a graphic designer for a large entertainment company. I was part of a creative team with people all over the world, and we had a lot of meetings. Therefore, I doodled a lot.

Example of meeting notes with very little helpful information, if any at all.

Example of meeting notes with very little helpful information, if any at all.

One day, I was called into my manager’s office. He said that he noticed me doodling in our meetings and he accused me of not paying attention. I felt entirely misunderstood and deeply insulted by his criticism. But, I think he may have been right. Today, when I look back in my old notebooks, it really does look like I was spending more attention to the doodles than to the meetings.

Apparently, the ‘Big Change’ wasn’t that important after all?

Apparently, the ‘Big Change’ wasn’t that important after all?

As I moved on from that job and took on larger leadership roles, I became more involved in meetings. I took fewer notes, but my doodling continued. Instead of keeping to the edges of the page, I had a sketchbook dedicated to my doodles. I pursued creating them with more focus and intention. These sketchbooks had no lines. No margins.


Exploring the fringes

If I think of myself as a piece of paper, I spend a lot of effort focusing on getting the right notes on my page; the clear bullet points, the important minutes, the key details. But, there is always a tension. The wild, loose, fearless, reckless, adventurous parts of my nature are often at odds with the organized, purposeful, and systematic parts. A lot of my joy and satisfaction comes from what is in the margins. When I explore the fringes I feel most creative and clear headed. I do enjoy the structure of life, but I also need to spend time making a mess and causing a ruckus.


The idea of Folk and Wild started somewhere around here. But, there were other influences at work too... That story is for another day.

Read more about doodling

What Does Doodling do?

The ‘thinking’ benefits of doodling

The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory

The higher purpose of doodling

Drawing to Learn in Science

Doodle Your Way to Improved Focus and Concentration