Unplanned sketching. It’s a thing.

It’s an important thing

The illustration shows a sketchbook page by Leonardo da Vinci, made when he was planning an equestrian monument. There are variations drawn to the base, one of the horses has three half-drawn back legs in a range of positions, and the rider's nearer leg looks transparent, because you can see the horse's back through it.
Leonardo da Vinci used sketches to think things through. Yes, he was very good, and his sketches look “professional.”But he wasn’t afraid to make “wrong lines.” The top horse has three back legs, and the rider’s leg is transparent.

It can be a fundamental part of thinking through a problem, or a fun avenue of exploration just for the sake of exploring

But not everyone sees it that way, it seems. Last week, for my post of divergent thinking, I wrote, about brainstorming, “The process has kinship to quick, unplanned sketches for artists,” and compared it to improv for actors or “pantsing” for writers. As usual, I looked for a link to illustrate or expand on my point.

But when I looked, I found tutorials on how to make “beautiful doodle art” or lists of “ideas of things to sketch.” Almost nothing I found admitted that not all doodles are pretty, and not all sketches turn out well.

Like I couldn’t think up my own things to sketch? Like doodles now have to be beautiful? Like there are performance standards?

This makes me crazy.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to come up with a good one, and it’s lovely if your sketches turn out well-proportioned and exquisite. But not all doodles are pretty. Not all sketches turn out well. The very idea of a “sketch” means a rough, freehand, sometimes unfinished drawing. Usually it’s done to explore or capture an idea, or for practice. It’s not meant to be finished art. If your sketches must be planned and your doodles must be beautiful, you’re doing it wrong!

From an article titled, "40 Beautiful Doodle Art Ideas," here's a page with patterns and stylized images laid out in a grid. They're pretty, but using someone else's pre-designed images does not require much creativity.
If all your doodles must be beautiful, you’re missing the point!

And yes, I’m aware there’s irony in that, because of the whole “there is no ‘wrong way’ when you’re brainstorming” precept. But pre-planned sketches are not brainstorming. If your doodles must be beautiful, that also means there can’t be any awkward lines, or any bits that didn’t work out right. It smacks of having to be perfect, of fearing to make a mistake (or an ugly line).

Well, my friend, ugly lines are how we get to beautiful ones on our own.

Mistakes are how we learn new things.

And it’s only possible to grow and explore and expand if you’re not already perfect. So go ahead. I dare you. Scribble over the line. You never know what you’ll discover when you do.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the “three draft images of an equestrian monument” from the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, and to “40 Beautiful Doodle Art Ideas,” for the page of beautiful doodles.