The art of doodling

A self-portrait by Joe Bollig.

by Joe Bollig

I wouldn’t consider myself an artist or an illustrator. I don’t have that kind of skill. 

But I am a compulsive doodler. I used to get in trouble in school for doodling all over my notes instead of paying attention in class.

Now, I get in trouble with Anita — the managing editor of The Leaven — for doodling during staff meetings and not paying attention.

I think at some point Anita figured if I’m going to doodle, I might as well do something constructive with it, so she asked me to draw for the paper.

I don’t know where the ideas come from. I think, because I consider cartoons to be funny, that I can’t do serious.

They’ve got to be funny, even if the topic isn’t always humorous.

Maybe there’s always a humorous angle to anything, but you’ve got to be careful. All humor is contextual, and you’ve got to get that right or the cartoon won’t work.

You’ve also got to understand your audience.

But no matter how hard you try, there is always the potential of someone taking offence or missing the point. And the Leaven certainly isn’t about making people angry or upset.

A cartoon may be funny and well drawn, but inappropriate — like turning the bishops of Chile into bowling pins.  I really, sort of, regret that cartoon, but since it wasn’t published, no harm done, right?

And you have to be careful with the Knights of Columbus — those guys have swords.

Anita has been really encouraging, and is moving me into a digital format. I think I’ll be drawing more cartoons in the future, but some of them might not be associated with a particular story.

There are three challenges, for me at least, in drawing cartoons for The Leaven.

The first is that most of my energy and efforts must be directed toward writing stories. The second is finding ideas that can be made into whimsical cartoons but not stray beyond the boundaries of taste and propriety. And my third challenge is my own limitations.

Maybe I’ll get better with practice.

There’s an interesting story about Michelangelo and his frescos in the Sistine Chapel. His worst critic was Biagio de Cesena, the pope’s master of ceremonies.

Michelangelo got his revenge by painting da Cesna in hell as Minos, a figure with donkey ears and a snake biting him on the — ahem. The artist put it right above a door in a very visible spot.

Da Cesena complained, but Pope Clement VII was amused and said it had to stay.

This story inspires me, but I’m no Michelangelo.

I have to practice my donkey drawing.

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