Long confined to the margins of notebooks, remembered only during boring meetings or lectures and discarded easily, doodling is finally coming into its own as an artform.
At the recently concluded Comic Con in Delhi, Mumbai-based Sneha Sharma's doodles made their debut on T-shirts by the Plain White Tee company. The 26-year-old copywriter transferred her fascination for Batman and the Joker into doodles that "bring out their chaos and order". "I never thought I would be paid for something I've been doing since I was a kid," she says.
For Sharma, doodling is a spontaneous art which happens in one go. She doesn't erase or re-draw anything. "Doodles are free flowing. The moment you hold your pen it starts."
When doodling, the pen, it appears, has a mind of its own. It's a lesson Avantika Agarwal learned during her seven years of college, seated at the last bench and spending long hours talking to friends on the phone. Agarwal's doodles are a chaotic combination of abstract objects mixed with words and sentences, in black and white and just a touch of yellow. They occupy space on notebooks, wrapping paper, magnets and customised cards (prices start at Rs50 and go up to Rs1,500), retailed under her company Yellow Buffalo.
"I started doing this because being married to a defence officer in the air force, we move a lot but I have the freedom of working from wherever I am," says Agarwal, 30, now based in Ooty. Yellow Buffalo began in 2012 and while Agarwal still has some way to go to before she starts reaping in profit, she is happy that "doodling is now out there in the market".
It's a slow-moving market but one that The Doodlers hope starts picking up. The Doodlers are a group of three friends from Mumbai — Abhijit Kalan, Neha Karira and Sameer Kulkarni — who started a company when they realised that they all loved doodling and were good at it.
"For people to appreciate the work, we realised that we couldn't just scribble stuff. We had to get more intricate," says Karira. The Doodlers have come out with two calendars, their 2013 one was a trial version that was distributed among family and friends. The response prompted them to reprint and sell it. This year's calendar (priced at Rs450, also available in separate prints) was divided into four months and distributed among the three. "We've tried to use different styles and different tools for every month," says Karira.
October, which features children stealing stars, is done in charcoal; November — an intricate portrait of Nostradamus — is done with a German-manufactured pen that is used for clear outlines; and July is a pencil rendering of a chillum smoker. "It's the stories that take time to come out, the doodling isn't difficult," says Karira. While she and Kulkarni usually like working with a thought in mind, Kalan prefers to let his pen guide him.
It's a thin line between doodling and sketching or illustration. How does one differentiate between the two? Even though Sharma's doodles are mostly abstract, for Comic Con, she had to use the theme given to her. "It's not a theme but it's more of a direction. When doodling, your subconscious mind is picking up direction. It could be from the television in the background or a song you are listening to. In this case, I just trained my mind to before I started," she says.
The final product, just like any abstract art form, can mean different things to different people. With doodles, it is the white space that gives it a structure, a form. Agarwal believes that just like art, every doodler has a distinctive style which makes their work easy to identify.
"Doodling is a sketching style, it is basic freehand drawing. You can call a doodle an illustration but not all illustrations can be called doodles," says Karira.
Maheswari Janarthanan, 27, would doodle in her free time. After quitting her job, she decided to pursue it full time, and moved on from that to illustration and interior design. "Illustrations are just a step ahead of doodling," she says. She started on paper but has now also doodles on cushions covers, tea towels and walls, all sold under her label Little One's Doodles.
"The only thing that works is if you can do it consistently. You should mature along with it," Sharma advices would-be doodlers.