Hey, you wanna try something new? Try doodling ...

 ... rambling on about art, flying, aging ...

by SilverStringer Don Norris

... a doodle that was colored with granddaughter's crayons.

Have you ever doodled?

Yes, doodled. You know, have you ever picked up a lovely felt-tip pen or a nice Ticonderoga 6B soft-lead pencil -- and drew what you saw before you, or what's in your mind, or perhaps without any preconceptions ... ?

This antenna sat on our TV for ten years before I recognized it as a piece of art.

You don't have to be an artist to do doodles. It helps, but it helps more if you have imagination, or that you can see reality clearly. Ummm, see shapes, and rounds, and curves, and shades of gray, maybe a few colors that coordinate. But most doodling is done without color.

I have done this thousands of times. And from my doodling comes, on occasion, some fairly decent artwork. There were times that such fooling around produced some saleable art. But that was long ago, when I was a starving student. Maybe 25 years ago.

Today, I am a sometimes doodler. Most of us seniors hardly ever doodle any more. I know, for I have asked the SilverStringers to hand in their doodles after a meeting. I got one, from Jim Driscoll, who is NOT an artist. But at least he tried.

But it is still fun. Look here, at this piece I did last week in the living room. It represents a piece of a huge pile of papers, newspapers, books, bills, notes, mail, doctors' reports, computer stuff and junk that I have loaded upon the small table in front of my seat on the couch.

I love a pen. A nice fine-point felt-tip pen where the ink flows freely, and I can create shading with loose lines, straight or curved, cross hatched or not -- yes, a pen is expressive, given some experience.

On the other hand, a very soft lead pencil is great for shaded drawing -- with continuous, graded grays, with quick scibbly scribbling.

Like this piece below, for example. This must be a box of rolled-up topographic maps (I'm a map freak), but I can't remember doing this sketch. Notice the scribbed shading in back of the maps. It changes the center of interest to the rolled maps -- otherwise, you'd look at the detail printed on the box. It's a nice little piece, but of what value?.

Notice also that in using a soft lead pencil, the lead gets smudged on your hand and on the cream-colored notebook paper -- which provides a nice, subtle ground for a box that otherwise would seem to be floating in air.

There was a time when I aspired to be a great artist -- a great doodler. That was concurrent with aspirations of becoming a stock market whiz, a fine journalist, owning my own newspaper -- and a few other things. Looking back on it, my paintings were good but not good enough to support my family. The bit about the stock market worked out okay all through the 80s, and I was a professional journalist for 20 years. Good times, good fun. Easy money, hard work. Or work hard.

But the art remains a hobby. And doodling has become an art. Not by design, but by production. One day I came across a couple of old notebooks, in which I obviously had tired of note-taking. For there were lots and lots of doodles. People, items on the desk, a podium, a scene from my imagination, rows of people from the back.

A good topic to draw are the piles of papers I collect on the long computer table. In a supposedly-paperless world, my computers generate tons of printed paper. And that's mostly because I don't want to take the time to read reams of material on a monitor. So I print it.

This doodle is from a photo that appeared in a recent North Section of the Boston Sunday Globe.

And it piles up. I even had two or three folders under C:\Images, called Computer Room Clutter, and Stacks, and Piles. They are photos of my immediate surroundings, and I find them both comforting and good subjects to draw.

I have even doodled the dashboard of Cessna 182 -- which was based on a digital photo I took while taking a flight out of Beverly Airport last year. That pix was augmented by a four-foot wide poster of the same dashboard, sent to me from Sporty's Flying Supply in Cincinnati, which now adorns my computer room wall.

I had also aspired to become a pilot -- at age 72 -- but found that the cost didn't fit our budget. I was also afraid that my aging mind would not be able to absorb the mountain of information one needs to fly an airplane. I am here, at 73 now, and I recognize this change of life. It is frustrating.

Oh, I can fly a plane on a bright sunny day; I can take off, read most of the instruments, follow a course and land. But if the sun sets, or it starts to rain, or if it gets windy or (heaven forbid) it gets dark, I'd probably crash while trying to read the manuals.

Here's a doodle from some time in the past decade; I was intrigued by the expressions the artists got in the funny papers of the Globe. Really simplifield drawing, rudimentary in some cases, but so expressive with so little work. And so I did a big page of eyes, most out of imagination, some lifted from the funnies.

Even though the page is reduced, see if you can put an emotion to each one of those sets of eyes. You can print out a sheet, then try doing some sketches of your own characters using these eyes for a start. See what turns out -- and if you email (or mail) your sketches, perhaps the editors will let us print them.

In doodling, there is something to be said for spacial relationship. Composition really isn't important now, but spacial relations is/are. In getting everything spacially related to each other. What's in front, what goes behind the most front item (the "frontest"), and what's behind everything -- which is usually last to be drawn, in doodling. In that way, you can push and shove a bit, gets things where you think they should go, and come out with a junior composition that ain't bent all out of shape. It becomes a logical piece.

My heros in the art world would be Pissaro and Monet -- but then that's a different medium, if you get the impression. In the drawing world, Oliphant has the crown for creating a style that he used in political cartooning, that has survived and multiplied for half a century. Shortly after Oliphant introduced his stuff, Jeff McNelly modified the style and added his own interpretation of life, and became a master. Unfortunately he died too early, and a lot of undrawn social and political comments never got said. That was a shame.

After Oliphant and McNelly, lots of young cartoonists jumped on that bandwagon, and they all began to draw alike. The style for political cartooning was cast in cement, and it hasn't changed much -- the characters changed, for they are now the second Bush, a new Khadafi, the French, Saddam Hussein and his bunch ...

I tried the Oliphant style, but he was just too good. I stole liberally from some of Jeff McNelly's animal figures, at which I still laugh. But mostly I do my own thing, my own style, and it has survived in such as the Melrose Mirror.

And finally, I will end with three doodles I did during drollish meetings of the SilverStringers. The people here were MIT guests, and this is a first publishing of their images. I believe they are all graduated now, probably have no more connection to the Melrose Mirror, and so therefore I am probably safe from civil suit.

Okay, now it's your turn. Pick up that pen. Or that soft pencil ...

... Author Don Norris, playing with mirrors, glass signs and a digital camera, again.

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