The Art of Compulsive Drawing – article

The Art of Compulsive Drawing

 By Ina Leonte


Architects gain the habit of doodling on the side of notebooks in meetings or on napkins while taking a call just like every other person. They maintain this compulsion because drawing becomes a common means of expression throughout their professional life. However, being trained as an architect tends to make one overthink every squiggly line and blob as if gravity were involved and doodles could collapse.

Paradoxically, being serious about doodling is forgetting about all these educated interpretations. This is what I found out from Laura Leonte, the creator of CompulsiveDrawer a website that runs on doodles. I can’t say I stumbled upon this revolutionary premise, since she is my sister and I get to find out all the cool stuff first but I can say it made me see doodles as drawings outside the box. Laura defines compulsive drawing as something that happens when you are doing or thinking about something else. She believes this unfocused state of mind is where unbridled creativity lives and she sees doodles as manifested creative freedom that is treated unrightfully by its creators. Compulsive drawings don’t belong in a long lost notebook on the verge of being thrown out, they must come out in the open and stay there. That is what CompulsiveDrawer is for, to show these drawings online and offline. To acknowledge the fact that even if they are created as a background process to another activity, they hold a message.

An architecture office is a place of beautiful pens, large sheets paper and interesting people who know how to draw. One could say it is the Shangri-La of doodles. A lot of drawings that look compulsive can be found it this place. However, most of the doodles lying around an architecture studio are concept sketches that may seem pointless and contorted, but are in fact concentrated nuggets of intention deemed to become houses, skyscrapers or office buildings. Doodling is part of the job, but a purposeful one. We know Frank Gehry took doodling so seriously it became most of the job. This led to challenging existing fabrication methods so that the doodles aren’t transformed into straight lines and right angles. This was a victory! However intuitive his concept drawings may be they don’t qualify as compulsive. Doodling is taking a break from conscious decisions and naturally unleashing the seemingly pointless. The epitome of compulsive drawing is the doodle on the school notebook margins. It’s where it all starts. We asked Laura what she used to draw when she was a student. It was onions. Why? Because apples and other things seemed so mainstream. I was a hipster, says Laura with notes of self-irony.

Laura Leonte believes compulsive drawing is actually an engine of creation with no constraints and that is why she is looking to log all the surprising works of the unfocused mind. She has worked as a copywriter for the past 10 years and is continuing to do so in a super-cool advertising company in Bucharest. Hovering around the creative people of the advertising clique she noticed the most common feature of creative ideas: they hardly ever make it to materialization. And those who do are always transformed, sometimes far from the initial spur of creativity. This is how she started thinking about the power of the doodle and the fact that drawings in all phases mean something. Ten minutes later CompulsiveDrawer was born.

CompulsiveDrawer is an online platform that encourages people everywhere to exhibit the drawings they make while doing something else. Its main drive is to help doodles break surface instead of getting lost in some notebook that winds up in the garbage bin. We met up with Laura, a compulsive drawer herself to talk about the site and whether there is more to it than a collection of funny doodles that enhance the experience of some boring meeting. We started from the beginning and asked how the initiative took off.

I was in this “just do it” phase, making things happen was my thing, Laura tells us. We were supposed to get rid of some stuff in the agency: some notebooks and other stuff. While looking through them some drawings caught my eye. They were so different from one another. They looked very silly. They were alive. Once I saw them I thought they should not just disappear, one cannot stay indifferent to such drawings. All this combined with the frustration of not being able to use good ideas because of all sorts of constraints urged me to build CompulsiveDrawer in 10 minutes.

This happened back in July 2010, so we are closing in on three years since a sudden but strong decision started creating CompulsiveDrawer aficionados everywhere. Laura’s dream was to get a submission from anywhere in China. That has not happened yet, though CompulsiveDrawer has fans all over the world now. The positive feedback she received from other compulsive drawers has been an excellent incentive for Laura to start thinking about this initiative as a social network for doodlers. She wants to make people draw even if they have no clue how to do it because every one of them has loads of stories to tell. This is the CD manifesto.

There are drawers who don’t know what to draw anymore and people who have so much to say but they stumble on their maladroitness. This is the reason behind Laura’s intention of opening up the small community that CompulsiveDrawer has drawn together and which has been growing by itself, with no expansion strategy to guide it. Laura still believes in the drawer community and this is something she wasn’t expecting, she confessed, but is urging her to upgrade the endeavor. Compulsive Drawer has manifested mostly on-line, but Laura is planning to create more events where the contributors actually meet and exchange thoughts about their works. She is planning an exhibition with drawings submitted in the last years and starting a book of written and doodled stories. Something like a comic book that will be mailed to people all over the world for their contribution.

Generally, the people that provide content work in the creative industries and students. Copywriters are the best source for compulsive drawings, but they can’t draw. They make the most delicious drawings because they have ideas which end up looking like nothing you’ve ever seen. Obviously, the architect in this interviewer couldn’t help but feel excluded from this list so I made the case for all of us who doodle our way to creating a concept, or around it. Any architecture office that hasn’t gone completely digital is a great environment for compulsive drawing. Hey, in my experience, Post-its suffice to doodle some funny character saying something silly about the boss or about deadlines. Never about clients. They are awesome. Especially lately.

We could all use an outlet for the bottled creativity that stays latent while looking for a mission. Laura seems to draw energy from the acknowledgement that a doodle is the gate toward endless creative possibilities. She believes that it’s great to just make stuff. One must make anything he/she can think of. Every idea has something great about it even if at first it’s hard to see a way to put it into practice. Another thing she goes by is that great ideas survive:

The most wonderful thing about it is that a truly great idea grows on its own and finds the energy sources for evolution by itself! When you stop believing in it there’s someone who comes along and makes a suggestion about what you can do with it. That’s why I believe compulsive drawer has to work as a community! says Laura with great enthusiasm.

She believes that it is the lack of constraints that empower the doodle. The compulsive part of it is where the creative genius can just take over, not thinking about the following steps toward accomplishment. When you doodle it’s just yourself and you and not even that at times. When you’re not completely aware of what you’re doodling is when the crazy results ensue!

Laura is pushing forward with a strategy for expanding this initiative into a larger community of compulsive artists. After all, the whole point of it is that everyone can draw and they should. But the challenge, she argues, is to keep this raw energy until the end. We asked Laura if she thinks that encouraging the community to become aware of compulsive drawing might soften the explosive, intuitive, raw character of the doodle. There is a difference between doodling and graphic design but no matter how professional the artist, part of the work is still compulsive, argues Laura. Art for the sake of art always starts with a compulsive thought. The fine line between intentional and unintentional will start to be expressed when the drawer community evolves, but CompulsiveDrawer wants to encourage people to be brave and acknowledge the freedom of the raw idea, the naked truth. This is why it will grow around the compulsive character of the submissions, not around the mastery of the hand.

Starting this fall Compulsive Drawer is going to connect artists who are acknowledged or not and their works in online and offline events who will celebrate the things we do in-between the things we mean to do.

Writer credibility can be an issue, so I attached a short description that might help.

Ina Leonte is an Architect and an Assistant Teacher for the Department of Introduction to Architectural Design at the “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Planning Bucharest. She is currently doing her doctoral research and working as a collaborator with Parametrica Computational Design School.