Among adults, drawing is generally viewed as a hobby or an activity restricted to artists alone, but research has uncovered many benefits of drawing for both kids and adults. Several research studies over many years have demonstrated why drawing is important and how it can improve our lives on many levels.
Drawing can be a tool used to plan, learn, and remember information, and it can also improve our emotional well-being.
The Drawing Journey
Young children are prolific and imaginative artists. They draw with great pride and freedom. Beginning with simple lines and joyous scribbles as a toddler, they soon move onto more figurative drawings. Sometimes they simply draw a rainbow or flower because it’s pretty and makes them happy. Other times, their drawings portray an entire narrative with a grand adventure and an abundance of details. They display and give their art away proudly.
Then something happens around the age of 10. Many children abandon this once-loved pastime. According to Misty Adoniou, associate professor in language, literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra, “They begin to see their drawings through harshly self-critical eyes as they seek to represent reality and find they lack the skills to do so.”
Many children do not receive drawing instruction that advances them beyond the sunshine, flowers, and flat rectangular houses they took pride in during their early elementary school years. For many, their skill level plateaus, and their interest and confidence sinks.
When abandoning drawing, children leave behind not just a hobby but also a key learning tool.
“Drawing is a means of closely observing the world around us, recording what we observe and using that as the basis for further enquiry. It can be an important player in our internal dialogue as we work through conceptual challenges,” Adoniou wrote in 2016.
Drawing Is a Tool, Not an Art
While drawing can be fun and expressive, it is also a tool that can aid in recording, processing, and remembering information. When taking notes or planning a project, people often rely on words, but drawing is an effective tool for these tasks as well, sometimes even more effective.
Design historian and author of Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice, said, “We have misfiled the significance of drawing because we see it as a professional skill instead of a personal capacity. This essential confusion has stunted our understanding of drawing and kept it from being seen as a tool for learning above all else.”
Anne Quito, in an article on Quartz.com explains further, “Put another way: Drawing shouldn’t be about performance, but about process. It’s not just for the ‘artists,’ or even the weekend hobbyists. Think of it as a way of observing the world and learning, something that can be done anytime, like taking notes, jotting down a thought, or sending a text.”
While drawing can be fun and expressive, it is also a tool that can aid in recording, processing, and remembering information.
Sketching to Plan
Drawing and sketching can be useful tools in many fields, from science and medicine to product development. Sketching can be a great way to take down notes or observations without being confined to words or lengthy descriptions. (Remember, a picture is worth 1,000 words.) What if you made a quick sketch instead of writing down your lengthy plan of action?
Some surgeons have even been known to sketch out their procedures before performing a surgery.
Doodling to Focus
Not only can sketching help us plan and organize our thoughts, but it can also help us focus. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “recent research has shown that doodling is not an enemy of attention; it may in fact be a friend.” In a 2009 study, people were asked to listen to a reportedly dull voicemail message. Half of the participants were instructed to doodle while listening; the other half were not. It turns out those who doodled actually remembered a significant amount more of what they heard than those who did not.
So doodle away—while working, learning, and listening!
Drawing to Remember
While random doodling can help hone your focus, drawing specific items or ideas can help you remember them better. In another study cited in an article on Inc.com, participants were asked to either write or draw words from a list. Those who drew the words had a higher retention rate than those who wrote down the words.
Illustrating to Understand
Reading, seeing, and drawing are all different ways to interact with an object or piece of information. Experiencing something from multiple perspectives helps us understand and remember it all the more.
“Drawing what you have understood from a reading passage, drawing the science experiment you have just done or drawing the detail of an autumn leaf are all examples of engaging with the same learning from a different angle,” Adoniou says.
Recently, read and draw activities and worksheets have become popular as ways to engage children in reading and enhance their reading comprehension.
So when it comes time to study, it’s better to pull out a sketchbook and markers than a highlighter and notebook.
Doodling to Relieve Stress
Doodling has also been known to relieve stress, helping people to make connections within their own memories and gain a stronger sense of self, according to Harvard research.
There’s an entire field of art therapy aimed at helping both children and adults understand and deal with their emotions, relieve stress, and minimize anxiety. While adult coloring books have exploded in popularity in recent years, Carl Jung is said to have promoted coloring and drawing mandalas years ago as a way to enhance psychological well-being and process thoughts and emotions.
Drawing can be a distraction from stress and other negative emotions, and it can also serve to calm people. Doodling or coloring can put people into an almost meditative state, calming and quieting their mind.
Studies have found that people’s moods improved after about 20 minutes of creative activity.
Drawing to Enhance Writing
Drawing, like writing, is a form of communication. However, we tend to overemphasize writing, positioning it as the best means of recording and sharing information. Of course, writing is essential; but drawing should not be ignored. In fact, drawing can enhance writing.
When children draw before writing, their writing is generally richer. Adoniou says when children draw before sitting down to write, their writing is “longer, more syntactically sophisticated and has a greater variety of vocabulary.”
We Should Encourage Drawing
Many of us could benefit from rethinking the way we view drawing and sketching.
For parents and teachers, it is worthwhile to encourage children to doodle for fun, to enhance their drawing skills, and to use drawing as a tool in studying and planning.