The art of the doodle

This August, my family and I stayed at Lutsen Mountain on the North Shore for a few days. We had a great time with our two busy little ones, Charlotte and Lilly. We enjoyed the Alpine Slide, went swimming and rode the gondola. One day between naptimes, we all went for a hike. This was the same hike we did almost three years ago on a fall trip to Lutsen. Barry was with us that time. It was before his frontotemporal dementia (FTD) really took a turn for the worse. Just a few months later, I was looking to place him in a care center.
hot tub
Back on that fall day, we all set out with baby Charlotte on her Dad’s back. We left Barry at the condo watching TV, thinking he would be just fine. As some of you know from reading this blog, Barry left the condo that morning while we were gone. He went to the busy hotel pool and took a hot tub soak totally nude. This is what we now lovingly refer to as the “incident.” Now a few years later, we find the whole event hilarious. At the time, however, we were embarrassed and very upset!
Mounts Oberg and Leveaux

This August day we hiked behind three-year-old Charlotte, who led the way up to the Mount Oberg lookout. The fact that Barry was living in a care center and losing all his memories while we created new ones was not lost on us this summer day. When I stood at the lookout, I wondered how it could be that we have survived these last few years as a family. I am so thankful for this family.

The next day when everyone left for home, I decided to stay and repeat a hike that we attempted that fall up to Mount Leveaux. After the “incident,” the hotel staff told us not to leave Barry alone. So he hiked with us but shuffling along as people with FTD do. He did not want to hike and kept asking, “Can we stop now?” After a half hour, we were hit with sleet and rain so we turned around. Barry was happy to get back to the condo and watch TV.

As I hiked up the Mount Leveauz trail alone, I remembered the doodle I did after the “incident.” I drew Barry in the hot tub and wrote, “Sometimes a guy just needs to take a hot tub!” When I posted the doodle on Facebook, my kids got a kick out of it — although they don’t always like what I post.

How doodles began

I can’t remember who suggested that I draw a doodle each day and post it. The idea might have come from my web guy, Barry or my editor at the time. I remember Barry saying to me one night as I doodled in my sketch book while watching TV that I should submit drawings to The New Yorker or try to get into the greeting card business again. He sent batches of my doodles off to The New Yorker that were never acknowledged. He tried many times after that with the same result until FTD made him forget the steps to mailing a package.

Like others who go into art, I have drawn or doodled every day since I could hold a pencil.My days in school were spent head down, not listening, drawing away and missing years of math class. I would look at the numbers on my math sheet and try to imagination who was the most popular number on the page that day. I would doodle that number doing all sorts of fun things. This is why I never got beyond the fives on the multiplication table!

My early doodle postings were pretty simple — usually done in black and white with one color added for shading. I drew singing pickles, monkeys, candy corn guys, animals wearing jet packs — the usual random things that go through my mind each day. But as Barry started to change and I began getting more and more irritated with him, I took my frustrations out in my doodles. I drew him dozing in a chair and wrote some snarky remark about how boring he is. At the time, I didn’t know that FTD messes with sleep patterns. I also made fun of his eating the same thing and wearing the same clothes day after day. These were also signs of FTD that I did not understand yet!

The day I posted a doodle of Barry sleeping in a chair with the caption, “another exciting Friday night,” my son Pat called me to say that I shouldn’t post things like that about Dad. He was right. It was mean of me and I stopped doing it. I still use Barry as a constant subject of my doodles as I try to explain FTD in a visual way.  If I were singer I would sing about it.  But I doodle, and it is the best way for me to cope. I have created my doodle gang who in a strange way have helped with the loneliness I feel now that I am on my own! The slug and squirrel are two very loyal pals of mine!
As I hiked, I thought about where the doodles have taken me in the last six years. They have inspired new book ideas. They have attracted hundreds of new friends who follow the doodles online each day. They have been displayed at a care center, three hospitals and in a big show last December. I have also made fun of a few politicians along the way. (Anthony Wiener to
name just one!) I have celebrated the right to marry whomever you want many times in my doodles, and I am proud of that. But most of all, my doodles help me cope with all the changes in my life – and remind me of true joys in my life.

Having reached the top of Mount Leveaux, I wondered what should I doodle this night. Maybe the doodle gang and myself at the top of the world!

Doodle technicalities

Many people ask what I use to make the doodles. I use Fabriano, 100 percent cotton, hot press watercolor paper that has a smooth surface. I rip the paper with a ruler into 5” by 7” sheets for all the doodles. Then I take acrylic paint, walnut ink and watercolor to make a wash background on each sheet. As winter comes I will use cool colors, spring is more pastels, my summer and fall doodles have a much warmer wash. I draw over the washes with a technical pen. I rarely draw it out in pencil first unless I have to draw a dang human hand!

Most of the time, the drawings are done by memory instead if using visual references. This keeps it a doodle rather than a more finished drawing. That is why some of my animals look, well, kind of made up! I then color with Tombow markers that I have always used for my rough dummy books. They are bright and can mix a bit like watercolors. I do a doodle every day even while traveling. If I am out of town, I usually post it by taking a picture of the doodle with my phone. If I am home, I scan it. The hardest part of posting the doodle is deciding on a caption. In the picture book business, we say show, don’t tell — and don’t say the same thing twice. So I try to come up with words that do not say what the picture is showing. At five o’clock in the morning, that can be a bit of a challenge!

So that is the art of the doodle!


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7 comments on “HIKE FIFTY-SEVEN
  1. Sally I. says:

    Nancy, this is why we need a calculator at the Christmas sale!! Thinking of you and always reading…. and sending a little prayer your way. Are we on for this year?? I’ll bring my abacus.

  2. Shannon Smead Samuels says:

    Another wonderful post, Nancy. I scroll through so much on FB, but whenever I see “New Post” I open’er right up! I almost feel like a kid…I want to read the next chapter. Thanks for your honesty, and thank you for sharing how you make your doodles!

  3. Beth-Ann Bloom says:

    Proud to join the slug and the rest of the Doodle Gang!

  4. Maryfran Heitzman says:

    Since I work at an Alzheimer’s facility,I am as interested in Barry’s condition as I am in your writing and doodles. I have SOMEWHAT of an idea of what you are dealing with. I am happy to hear that the doodles help you cope. I look forward to each day’s doodle for the color, insight, and for the characters’ support of one another. Please, doodle on!.

  5. Sheila burns says:

    I am “one who cannot draw.” Towards the end of my dad’s life I drew a picture of him sleeping in his chair. He would not have wanted me to do that. In a way, it was an invasion of his privacy. It was my effort to capture something of him, because when he was awake, he was completely unapproachable. I felt a yearning for him as a father, but also anger at him for keeping me at arm’s length all my life. So I understand expressing emotion thru art.

  6. Karolyn Lee says:

    I absolutely love your doodles and especially the slug. Those poor little guys are picked on and told they are yucky!. Every so often I see one in my garden I think of you and the cute slug you draw that I love! I enjoy stopping what I am doing and just watching them.

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