By Jiji Lee

The Surprising Benefits of Drawing. Plus, Ideas on What to Draw


Drawing or doodling can boost your memory, focus, and creativity.

The next time you’re in an important meeting and jotting down notes to remember key information, you might want to try doodling instead. 

That’s right. Doodles and drawings aren’t just a sign that you’re distracted or regressing into your teenage self — they are examples of your brain trying to process and connect information. So if your manager ever catches you doodling during a meeting, you can truthfully say that you were just working!

Here are some of the ways that drawing can improve your health and well-being. Plus, some ideas on what to draw so you can get the most out of this simple creative outlet. So break out your favorite pens and notebooks, and get ready to activate your brain!

Drawing improves your memory

According to numerous studies, drawing can help you retain more information than if you were to simply write down the information or try to memorize it.

Here’s why: The areas of our brain responsible for storing and accessing information actually weaken as we age. But don’t despair! The areas of our brain that process visual information actually maintain their integrity as we get older.

This New York Times article cites a study in which adults were able to recollect just as much information as younger participants when both groups memorized a list of words by drawing the word, rather than just trying to memorize each word.

That’s why we might confidently remember the interiors of our childhood homes, but have trouble recalling the names of our elementary school teachers. Humans are naturally visual creatures, and by incorporating drawing in our note-taking and studying routine, not only can we strengthen our memory, but we can become more productive in the process.

Want to improve your memory? Here’s what to draw.

If you’re in a meeting, try drawing shapes next to your meeting notes. That way, when you have to refer back to your notes, you can use these symbols to help jog your memory. Also, the physical act of marking up your notes is almost like sending a signal to your brain to remember these salient details. 

If you want to improve your geography, try drawing your own maps. You don’t have to be exact. An abstract shape or estimate is more effective than simply trying to memorize a country’s location. 

If you’re studying a challenging subject or having trouble understanding an abstract theory, try illustrating the concepts that you’re learning. 

You don’t have to be a trained artist to take advantage of these techniques. For example, whenever I’m reading a challenging article, I’ll write down the difficult passages in a notebook and then add arrows and circles to key words or concepts that I’m trying to understand. 

When I was trying to learn how the brain works, I illustrated the different sections of the brain (albeit not quite accurately!) and made simple drawings of how the brain engages and takes in information. Rather than just trying to imagine these concepts in my mind, I made crude sketches to help me comprehend this technical information. 

The next time you have a complex lecture or presentation to tackle, see if you can illustrate the concepts. Undoubtedly, you’ll have an easier time grasping the subject matter, and you’ll have a lot more fun in the process. 

Drawing helps you focus

Whenever I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions, whether it’s with dealing with the insurance company or tackling my to-do lists, I immediately start doodling to regain focus.

Personally, I love to draw circles, and take my time shading them in. Drawing these circle patterns almost feels like a physical manifestation of a mantra or an act of meditation. I become more centered as I lightly shade in the circles with a pencil, feeling a release of stress with each stroke.  Or sometimes I like to draw trees and flowers, focusing on each leaf, each petal, each stem.

Even though these are just simple drawings and sketches, I can feel a huge shift in my mood and outlook.  

Design legend Milton Glaser said, “When you draw an object, the mind becomes deeply, intensely attentive. And it’s that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something, to become fully conscious of it.” 

By drawing one object or designing one pattern, you narrow your focus to the task at hand, which keeps distractions and stressful thoughts at bay.

What to draw to help you focus

Draw a household object. Maybe you have a favorite mug. Or plant. Or lamp. By occupying yourself with the object’s details, colors, shape, you’ll notice that your own thoughts and worries will start to fade.

Draw basic shapes or designs. Zig zags. Polka dots. Triangles. The repetition of the designs will relax your mind and help you concentrate.

Draw a landscape feature. Maybe it’s a tree or beach or sunset, whatever evokes a sense of serenity and peace. Drawing the outdoors can feel just as relaxing as being out in nature. 

Drawing is good for your creativity

We all know that drawing is a great way to unleash your creativity. But did you know that doodling is also a powerful creative outlet? At first glance, those doodles on a cocktail napkin may seem like scribble, but they just might lead you to a creative solution.

Doodles and drawings can also help you make creative connections.  

According to this article, “The act of doodling is thought to stimulate areas of the brain that may help you analyze information differently.” By activating the different areas of your brain, you’re more likely to spark the parts of your brain that lead to creative connections.

So the next time you’re trying to problem solve at work, see if you can spare a few minutes to doodle before finding a solution.

What to draw to help you be more creative

Draw basic shapes and scribbles. Remember: these doodles aren’t meant to be stunning artistic displays. You want to keep it simple and repetitive in order to avoid overstimulating your brain.

Have fun with grids. That’s right, grids aren’t just for engineers and math students. You can use this Grids & Guides Notebook to create simple designs and patterns and visualize your thoughts. Do simple sketches with a pencil or add cheerful color with your favorite gel pens

Still stuck? The 642 Things to Draw sketchbook is here to help – and it's exactly what it sounds like. It offers 642 drawing prompts to get those creative juices flowing, from everyday objects like a pickle to more abstract prompts like “girlish laughter.” The beautiful thing about this book is there are no right or wrong answers. Each page simply has the prompt and plenty of blank space for you to sketch, color, or paint. This book is great for all ages and all skill levels; you certainly don't have to be a skilled artist to appreciate and enjoy this relaxing and entertaining sketchbook.

We’re also loving Doodle Theory Anywhere, a book that’s based on the idea that doodling is good for your brain! Each page comes with a starter squiggle or shape to get your creative juices flowing. Plus, it comes in a travel-friendly size that’s perfect for tucking in your bag for airplane or train rides, road trips, and more. 

So if you’re ever at a crossroads with a work project or coping with the pressures of a work day, take a few moments to draw and doodle in your journal. The simple act of drawing will put you at ease and boost your memory and creativity in the process. And when it comes to figuring out what to draw, the simpler the better. If you’re really having trouble, just ask yourself: what would your teenage self draw during math class?