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A whole year has passed since my visit to Cali in Colombia, and I still haven’t written a word about it! To avoid further delay, I’ll go straight to the point.

Following a design conference held in Chile just over a year ago, my colleague and I flew to Colombia to visit the design departments of two universities, one in Bogotá, the other in Cali.

As a matter of fact the university in Cali, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, was added on the program in the last moment (on our arrival to Bogotá, actually) and for that reason our visit there could only be very short. Before taking us to meet with some teachers and students, professor Camacho, director of the visual communication program, lead us around the architecturally pleasant and very inviting premises embraced by the beautiful, tropical arboretum.

Along our route inside the walls of the organically arranged red brick buildings we popped into various lecture rooms and workshop spaces. In a couple of them I saw something that one can only rarely see in the Finnish university spaces nowadays, let alone the primary or secondary school classrooms of the third millennium, not since the 1980’s: table top surfaces covered in scribbles which, for being in an educational context and of certain form, also seemed to fit in the category of doodles:

“A doodle is an unfocused or unconscious drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied. Doodles are simple drawings that can have concrete representational meaning or may just be abstract shapes. Stereotypical examples of doodling are found in school notebooks, often in the margins, drawn by students daydreaming or losing interest during class. Other common examples of doodling are produced during long telephone conversations if a pen and paper are available. Popular kinds of doodles include cartoon versions of teachers or companions in a school, famous TV or comic characters, invented fictional beings, landscapes, geometric shapes, patterns and textures.” (See Wikipedia)

Below are a few images to illustrate some typical forms of doodling, including some of the (anonymous) desktop doodles from Javeriana:

My daughter's word doodles on Post It stickers from her teens

My daughter’s word doodles on Post It stickers from her teens

My daughter had decorated the covers of her notebooks.

At 13 my daughter used to decorate the covers of her notebooks with ornaments and dinosaurs.


Doodles made by different Javeriana students tended to overlap but sometimes they would also integrate.

A manga style character from a Javeriana desk

A manga style character on a Javeriana desk



This image made by my daughter in her teens seems tu combine most of the typical characteristics of doodles!

Here my daughter in her teens seems to have combined most of the typical characteristics of doodles!

To be sure, my own secondary school notebooks and even school books (particularly maths!) were decorated with alike scribbles. To some extent also the joint action of creating unique cartoon characters with one of my classmates those days fit the descriptions of doodling. We used to do this particularly on certain kind of lessons, such as religion, history and psychology, where the only ‘activity’ required from the student was listening. Our method was ingenious in its simple yet inspiring open-endedness: each drew some ameba-like outline on a small piece of paper and then gave it to the other to complete and extend with features and details. Unfortunately I no longer have evidence of this action from nearly forty years ago, but I remember (of course!) the outcomes often being masterpieces in their own comical cartoon genre!

I still doodle sometimes – old habits die hard – and the urge to do so is still pretty much stirred by presentations and occasions where audience response is not required or even desirable. As opposed to what it looks (dreaming, drifting away), it has worked as a way of staying awake and concentrating in what is being said. According to my experience doodles can also be 3-dimensional. I have often seen people, while otherwise absorbed in a conversation, watching a film, attending a lecture or listening to music, fiddle with a candy wrapping, a match, a piece of string, a shopping receipt, a used ticket, or some other piece of rubbish and leave behind tiny abstract “statues”. I have often made them myself, but cannot prove this because, until now, it never occurred to me to save any of them!

This one I drew with whatever pens available during the lectures of a leadership course in 2008

This one I drew in a small notepad with whatever pens available during the lectures of a leadership course in 2006.

This is a more recent example of my own doodles, made with a ball point pen in 2013.

This is a more recent example of my own doodles, made with a ball point pen in 2013.

The potential of doodling as an aid of concentration has been studied and confirmed by cognitive psychologists, albeit a proper explanation as to how it works is still to be discovered. Andrade (2010) suggests that finding such ways of alleviating boredom and daydreaming and maintaining attention would not only be important in work and educational settings but also in the context of depressive ruminations and worrying, where the wandering mind is difficult to control.

On the other hand, doodling has been considered a good way of dipping into the unconscious mind where lie the hidden resources for human creativity, waiting to be unleashed (see e.g. Read 1997). This might catch aptly the point of doodling for the likes of Jekse, my Chilean graffiti friend to whom doodles appear to function as the first stages of sketching new characters in his black book (see the blackbooks).

A sketch from Jekse's blackbook as an example of developing a representative figure from an apparently arbitrary watercolor doodle.

A sketch from Jekse’s blackbook as an example of how a figure can arise from an apparently arbitrary watercolor doodle.

My daughter's symmetrical doodle on a Post It sticker from her teens.

My daughter’s symmetrical doodle on a PostIt sticker from her teens (2006-2007).

Tessa'a further development of and with the symmetrical shapes (2007).

Tessa’a further development of and with the symmetrical shapes (2007).

To the design students in the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, doodling must have a bit similar function as to Jekse: the very first sign of their emerging visual ideas and of their urge to begin shaping them already while listening to a lecture or discussing with their peers. They had been permitted – and, as Maria told us, even encouraged – to cover the big tables in the middle of the workshop classroom with their scribbles. Against what I was obviously used to as a Finn I found it remarkable and inspiring that these thoroughly doodled tables had been purposely left there to stand out from the otherwise tidy order of the Jesuit institution as reminders of and invitations to creative freedom.

A desktop in a graphic design classroom in Javeriana.

A desktop in a graphic design classroom in Javeriana.

A desktop doodle in Javeriana.

A desktop doodle, Javeriana.


A graffiti style desktop doodle, Javeriana.

If a piece of classroom furniture was “vandalized” into such a state in a Finnish school, it would probably be considered unusable and, if the culprit was caught, either he/she or his/her parents would be sanctioned in some way, albeit the damage caused to the school furniture by carving, scratching or drawing might differ in respect to the cost of repairs. Any willful, even if barely visible, penciled notes on the desk surface are also forbidden – after all, they might be written there in preparation to cheat in a coming exam. For some reason this intolerance reminds me of the “zero tolerance” campaign against graffiti in Finland…

Nevertheless, I would not be surprised to hear that similar activities were going on in today’s classrooms. I know for sure that countless children and young after me, including my daughter, have been doodling and scribbling besides their school books and notebooks also in calendars, pencil boxes, rulers, finger nails, arms or almost anything available when overtaken by the urge, even their pulpits and desks. In 2002 a Finnish student wrote about drawing in a web discussion:

“On high school lessons I draw all sorts of comical heads and faces etc. Especially the chemistry course has turned almost solely into drawing. A few years ago some of my drawings were published in Mad. I have got nine and ten (the best grades) in art, my average in high school was 9,75. Our art teacher was a bit strange, but it does not matter, because I have got good marks anyway.” (“Suoraluotain” 26.09.2002)

Informed by the artistic aptitude and passion that “Suoraluotain” as well as Jekse, Cines, my daughter Tessa, many of my ex students, and probably also the design students of Universidad Javeriana possess and display – after all, they have chosen to study art and design – I suggest that yet another educationally significant effect concomitant to incessant doodling is that it improves technical skills needed in fluent image making.

Here are all the previous and a few more examples of doodles from Javeriana and my children:


Andrade, Jackie 2010. What Does Doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology 24: 100–106.

Read, J.L. 1997. Doodling as a Creative Process. On Enchanted Mind; http://www.enchantedmind.com/html/creativity/techniques/art_of_doodling.html (retrieved 18.12.2013)

“Suoraluotain” 26.09.2002 on Bassomedia discussion; http://www.basso.fi/keskustelu/yleinen-keskustelu/piirtaminen/45/ (retrieved 17.12.2013)

Wikipedia: Doodle; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doodle (retrieved 19.12.2013)