A Page of Scribbles

Scribbling is fun, I’ll say that. I’m learning, too, that scribbling is an important part of art, far more important, in fact, than I once thought. A good definition for scribbling is this:

A scribble is a drawing composed of random and abstract linesgenerally without ever lifting the drawing device off of the paper.”

Scribbling is, of course, associated with young children. I’ll venture to guess that each and every one of us picked up a pencil, a pen, or a crayon and did a lot of scribbling as toddlers. It’s an important part of a child’s development, and according to the Penn State Extension Service, scribbling is a pre-cursor to writing. They offer a lot of tips here, in an article titled Scribbles Have Meaning.  You can click to read the article online, and you can also download a PDF copy.

The problem here, though, is that we often tend to associate scribbling only with childhood, thereby failing to see it as a useful tool for artists of all ages. We consider scribbling to be childish, immature, and messy. But, surprise, surprise! Scribbling is a great method for improving our drawing abilities. It’s also a useful technique in its own right when it comes to graphite drawing.

Several years ago I wrote about scribbles and one way in which they’re helpful. At the time, I’d just joined my first art club. I was so intimidated when I sat down with so many talented artists! I found scribbling to be a great way to get over my “fear of the blank page.” In Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner, Claire Watson Garcia recommends scribbling as a great way to get over any “art jitters”. She’s right. It does help. 

Back then — in 2017 — I saw scribbling and doodling as very much the same thing. I’m learning now that doodles are a bit more purposeful. Genuine scribbling is different. It has no plan, no purpose really. Lines and loops go everywhere. It can be fun; it can be relaxing, and yes, it can be useful. Scribbles are often used to create an illusion of texture in graphite drawing: leaves on a tree, bushes, flowers in a garden, fur, hair, and many other elements can be “drawn” by use of scribbles. Along with other techniques such as hatching and cross-hatching, scribbles can also be used in shading. 

I played with scribbles today as part of my on-going drawing study with Bert Dodson’s book, Keys to DrawingThe chapter I’m working on has focused on the drawing styles of various famous artists. It’s been interesting to see the differences between Delacroix’s approach and Rembrandt’s approach, to look at Matisse’s long elegant lines and compare them to the various marks made by van Gogh. It has helped me understand that drawing isn’t a science, that there’s no single method that’s right, and consequently no method that’s really wrong. We each have to find what works for us. This chapter in Dodson’s book is helpful for developing our unique approach. 

Today’s “featured artist” in the chapter was Edgar Degas. I was excited at the prospect of looking more closely at his drawing methods. Previously I’d seen how he often “restated” lines, going over them without erasing, trying to get his drawings “just right”. It was nice to see that his drawings weren’t perfect right from the start.  I was excited, too, because the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City is featuring a Degas exhibition: Encore Degas! Ballet, Fashion, and Movement is currently on display, and I plan to visit soon. 

When I reviewed the lesson material from Dodson, I learned that Degas used a lot of scribbles. He made drawings that were really little more than scribbles — some more carefully composed than others. He actually used his scribbling techniques not only in graphite, but in pastels, and also with oils. Look closely at Blue Dancers, and you’ll see that scribbling is the primary technique Degas employed in painting it. 

He often made quick “gestural drawings” with lots of scribbled lines. In one drawing, illustrated in the book, Degas drew a seated woman and used a form of scribbling for both the shading and for the background. This appears to have been a “study” for his painting, “La Chanson du Chien“.

Here, Dodson shows the “scribbling technique” Degas used: 

These are simply “back and forth” lines, going in random directions. This, I could do. So, I did. I had fun making a few scribbles, and then using a 3B pencil, I made my own “quick copy” of the Degas study. Mine’s not as well-done as his, needless to say, but all the same it was fun to grab a pencil and fill the entire page with a drawing made mostly of scribbled lines. 

When I began, I initially tried — somewhat — to make my scribbles similar to those of Degas. But then I put that idea aside and began exploring my own scribbling methods, making my own unique marks. Oh, what fun it was! In the end, yes, I had a messy, sloppy, childish-looking drawing, but I’d enjoyed the process, and I’d learned about making my own marks.

And this, my friends, is another aspect of scribbling that’s sometimes overlooked. It’s not just a child’s “precursor to writing”. It’s also a helpful method for developing our drawing abilities.

At “Artists’ Network” you’ll find an excellent article by Greg Albert on “The Art of Scribbling“. You’ll also find “The Surprising Artfulness of Scribble Art” by Sandrine Pelissier. A quick online search will also turn up a number of tutorials and examples of scribbles in art.

So, it’s been a fun morning for me, and I’ve learned a lot. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post, and maybe you’ll grab a piece of paper and do a bit of scribbling too. It really is fun. 


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