From doodling to noodling, or how to take a line on a walk

From doodling to noodling, or how to take a line on a walk

Most of us doodle. We move our pencil or pen spontaneously and we do not worry much about the outcome. This loose attitude towards drawing — spontaneous, relaxing, and non-judgemental — is the ground state for creativity.

Yet, doodling can be a two-step process and can unleash your natural imagination. The first step is to doodle, to get something on paper, simple and incomplete. The second step called noodling, is when you think what to do with your doodle. ‘Noodling’ is an old illustrator’s expression; if an illustrator was particularly good at precise and detailed work, he or she would be called a ‘noodler’. By separating these two-steps withing a doodle you soon find out that each involves different attitudes and mechanics. Putting it simply, doodling is pure play, and noodling operations are more often rule-based. The steps may be simple but the results are often complex and surprising.

Swiss artist Paul Klee sometimes would begin his drawings by moving his pencil in a free, semi-random manner that he called “taking a line on a walk“. Let’s start with a simple example based on that idea.


You begin by letting your pencil/pen go in any direction it wants — but make sure to wind up where you started so that the line encloses a shape.



Next, you ‘decorate your original doodle. You can transform it in any number of ways by deliberate and controlled operations. Here are a few examples:


Lines are parallel to the outer edge of the doodle, creating progressively smaller concentric shapes.


Straight, parallel, evenly spaced lines laid down at different angles


Stripes radiate from a point on the edge of the doodle, alternate stripes with a solid fill.

Pinwheel or Zebra noodling


Semi-parallel lines are drawn widely spaced initially, in graceful curves, then growing closer together as they turn sharply, giving a volumetric to the doodle.

Undulating noodling


Semiparallel lines (vertical and horizontal) curve in rows. Alternate the squares filling in with black.

Checkerboard noodling


A prickly series of parallel short strokes and dashes that grow along the inner line.

Exercise: Take your line for a walk

Do five of these “line on a walk” doodles, making sure your pencil/pen winds up at the starting place. Then ‘decorate each doodle with a different ‘noodling’ operation. Try your own versions and create your own algorithms.