Doodling is not a modern phenomenon. Artists throughout time have let their minds wander, distracted in meetings or at dinners, filling pages with odds and ends of experimental creativity. As the coronavirus keeps many of us in our homes, we’ve uncovered 10 of our favourite doodles from the RA Collection for use as inspiration for the daily doodle challenges on our Twitter.
If you’ve ever been in a meeting or at a fancy dinner and found yourself daydreaming and doodling away, you are in good company. Andrew Carrick Gow was Keeper (headteacher) of the Royal Academy Schools and Librarian of the Royal Academy from 1913 to 1920, but such eminence didn’t make him immune to lapses in concentration. These two sketches from 1913 were made at a dinner attended by numerous ambassadors. While Gow should have been paying attention to his guests, he instead doodled two of the dignitaries. Regardless, we are grateful that he let his mind wander, as the drawings capture the refinement of the occasion.
Almost every page of this catalogue to the 1850 Summer Exhibition is filled with humorous and light-hearted doodles. The artist Richard Doyle made these drawings on a visit to the exhibition, taking inspiration from the paintings and people he saw there. Doyle was one of the most popular cartoonists of the mid-19th century and produced satirical drawings for Punch magazine. He also illustrated fairy tales, and his interest in fantastical creatures seeps into the doodles here. From wry comments on the elitism of the Academy, to fantastical make-belief characters, this catalogue exhibits a humour that is playful and timeless.
Could you draw like this at the age of six? Because that's how old Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais was when he sketched this sheet of disembodied arms. His prodigious talent made him the youngest ever student to attend the Royal Academy Schools, aged only 11. These arms show a keen attention to gesture, musculature and perspective – we just wonder who they belong to! In any case, the fact this was drawn by a child reminds us to encourage drawing, doodling and daydreaming in our young folk – you never know where their talents might take them.
John Gilbert made this sketch on a train from London Bridge to Charing Cross. The train stopped for a moment and Gilbert seized the opportunity to make a rapid drawing of the thatched cottage he spied outside the window. A pencil underdrawing is just visible, implying Gilbert made his initial sketch in pencil before going over the outline in pen and ink.
According to the artist, this curious creature is an ‘affingoffle’. Its head leads directly into its legs, with uselessly short arms emerging above its beard. However strange this affingoffle seems, it is evidently distressed: the caption explains that he is “wondering what is become of his beloved wife!”. This bizarre doodle is from an album of comic drawings by William Daniell and other artists. Daniell was known as a landscape painter and printmaker, depicting picturesque views of the English countryside and faraway lands, mainly India. This doodle shows that even traditional artists like Daniell indulged in a spot of fantasy and imagination from time to time.
John Gilbert was king of doodles, so let's look another of his scribbles. Once elected an Academician, he entertained himself at Council meetings and General Assembly by filling the agenda documents and notecards with doodles. On this sheet from Council meeting on 15th May 1877, Gilbert has drawn several heads; most were from imagination since there were no women present at Council meetings. Beneath the doodles, the printed header of the Royal Academy is just visible alongside Gilbert’s handwritten notes of the matters addressed at the meeting – recurring issues such as widow’s pensions and the copying of works owned by the Academy.
This doodle might be on the slightly pretentious side. The dodo isn’t half bad, but the paragraph in Latin above the bird are the artist’s handwritten musings about a book he read on the history of religion in ancient Persia. He mentions an Indian woman from the book, called Doghdu (or Dodo). Hence the drawing. Hart was looking for anything he could doodle to add a little light relief to his reading. Whether it’s trudging through Persian history or Shakespeare or some sort of small print, we’ve all done a doodle to pass the time, right?
A monk, a frothing beer and some floating sprite-like creatures – what more could you want from a doodle? Perhaps the best bit is that the Victorian painter John Seymour Lucas made this drawing at a fancy Royal Academy dinner, on the back of his menu card. Usually a painter of historical and moralising genre works, this doodle is an endearing example that even stuffy old Victorians couldn’t resist the occasional daydream.
Artists often fill their letters with doodles and sketches, illustrating their lives through correspondence. Here, Sonia Lawson depicts her teenage daughter Zoe in a letter to friend and fellow Academician Carel Weight. In the letter, Lawson mentions how Zoe will soon be starting her O-levels (now GCSEs) – an idea that gives Lawson “butterflies in the stomach & so on” as she prepares to support her daughter through these stressful school exams. Zoe is sketched with her hand outstretched, reaching towards her mother – perhaps a sign of their strong bond and a daughter’s need for her mother’s care and stability.
Unless you find yourself in Wagamama or TGI Friday, it’s usually not okay to scribble all over your menu – at the RA it seems doodling took priority over the food. This is a menu from the fancy Royal Academy Annual Dinner, used by Sir Hugh Casson for a landscape sketch complete with trees and cottages. As one of the leading architects of the 20th century, Casson clearly couldn’t resist a quick doodle even as he was supposed to wining and dining. Moral of the story – whenever an idea pops into your head, draw it. You never know what grand design it might become…