Doodle Outreach

Recommended Reading, Feb 2018

I read somewhere that as little as six minutes of reading can soothe anxiety. I didn’t look for any scientific proof. I just kept it in mind, and I picked up books and disappeared into their pages.

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Well, I’ve been at it again, reading kids’ books galore. Added in with a few audio books and some other self-development stuff, I’ve been cranking in the reading department, and absolutely adoring the library and its generous sharing.

Take advantage of your local library, people! They have tons of books and will likely deliver your requests to your local branch. Also ask about their streaming services. My library has both Hoopla and Libby, through which I can stream audio and video to my phone and other devices, and I can also check out e-books to read.

Here are a few books that I’ve read or listened to lately that have made a difference for me (click on the images to link to the books’ Amazon pages — by the way, I’m not affiliated with any of these authors nor do I get a cut if you buy the books; I just like to share):

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
This first in a series of three offers the mysterious tale of people living in a city with no natural light. Everyone goes on like normal, except that the city itself, and its electric source of light, are breaking down. Our young heroes, of course, go on a journey to save their city. The writing is poignant and the ideas original. I’m in the second book of the series now, and I’m equally as captivated.


This Dark Endeavor (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein) by Kenneth Oppel
What’s more fun than the back story of the characters we’ve known – or at least heard of – since childhood? Recommended to me by a librarian, this story meets young Victor Frankenstein when he’s 16 years old and is just turning on to science. This book is filled with passion and adventure. (I haven’t read the next in the series of three yet, but I did read another book by Kenneth Oppel, The Boundless, about the world’s fanciest train and the Big Foot tribe that haunts its creation. Also filled with lots of action and adventure — what do you expect from a train ride on the world’s fanciest train?).


The Magic Mirror (Concerning a Lonely Princess, A Foundling Girl, A Scheming King, and a Pickpocketing Squirrel) by Susan Hill Long

Just a few days ago, I finished reading this charming, warm, funny, fun, and smart book. And I adored it. After the intensity of the stories above, this book – set in a fantasy land of travelers and bandits, castles and hidden identities, a pickpocket squirrel and a strong heroine in a young girl with a limp – was a delight. At first the quirky writing took me a a while to get used to, but when I found myself laughing and smiling at the writing, and when I got excited and wanted to know what was going to happen next, I knew I had a keeper.




On Audio Book (and also available to read — I just happened to listen to these):

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I say this book found me, rather than the other way around. And it was just in time. I was looking for something to listen to one day while doing a several hour task. I’d been struggling in the mornings, having trouble getting going, feeling a bit lost, but I wasn’t looking for anything specific about mornings. When I came across this audio book on YouTube, I thought, well, I may as well have a listen. (By the way, my library’s free audio book streaming system also has this book. Check out your library’s availability!)

The book offers compelling reason and evidence for taking control of one’s morning in a super uplifting and focused way. Using tools that many of us already use and compacting them into an extra-focused morning routine, Hal Elrod gives reader the opportunity to take conscious control of the first part of the day such that the rest of the day benefits. I’ve been doing the practice for 35 days now (and intend to write about it on The Therapy Booth blog one of these days!), and I am experiencing benefits, including: more confidence and energy, feeling happier, and definitely losing a little weight. I’m getting more done each day and am noticing how well I’d been doing that I wasn’t giving myself credit for. If you struggle in the mornings, check out this book!


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I will admit to you readers that I was reluctant to read this book for a long time out of, yes, jealousy. But one day I was in the library looking for audio books, as I find myself in the car a lot more lately, and I wanted something useful to hear while driving. I saw the CDs of Big Magic on the shelf and set my ego aside long enough to begin listening to this fellow creativity encourager. I’m very glad I did. I experience benefits as I’m moving into my own work/s in ways I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had a listen (I both listened to CDs in the car and streamed the audio via the libary’s free app). Any book that nudges me in any way to keep going with my creative output, no matter what it might be, is worth having a listen (or a look, as the case may be).



Herein lies my invitation to you to find something — anything — that holds your attention and entertains and enriches you. I love to read young adult fiction because it keeps me in the realm of all possibility. Our young heroes are always doing great things, often in magical lands. Why not keep that alive in ourselves as so-called adults? Magic and creativity — see Big Magic, above — also go hand in hand.

Now get out there and play in some!

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Give Me Details!

I may have blogs scattered all over the internet, and notebooks and random sheets of paper scribbled here and there, and a few over-flowing DropBox accounts, but my themes stay consistent over the years.

I began today’s conversation about eight months ago in a blog post for The Therapy Booth. In it, I was complaining that when my friends were expressing themselves, especially over social media, they were being too vague for my liking.

I’m been contemplating this again lately and looking at how it relates to creativity.

I’ve doodled with hundreds of people over the last several years. I have stacks of note cards from Doodling with Strangers sessions, all from personal questions shared with strangers. For a long time, I remembered the majority of the stories behind the doodles. Now there have been so many and over so much time that I don’t remember as much anymore, and, when I share the pictures, there’s something vague about them without the details, without the annotation and the person’s heart.

This is not true all of the time, however. I have left blank doodle books in public places and have found great pleasure in whatever interpretation I see in the personal pictures (prompted by 365 Days of Doodling). But I like to know a little more. I very much like intimacy.

For example, if you saw this picture, only a few of you – I imagine – would relate to it at all. But if I tell you the story behind it, something might come clear. Or clearer.

The prompt was to make a non-dominant hand doodle of a story I liked to tell. It’s me meeting Gabriel Byrne in the seats at a Phil Lesh and Friends show in San Francisco and acting like a dork. Here I am, quoting my favorite Gabriel Byrne moment in movies: from the peak scene of The Usual Suspects. “There’s no coke,” he says, and there at that Dead show, I sat down next to him and said, “There’s no coke.” And he just kind of slowly nodded his head up and down. He was stoic and tolerated me and birthed my favorite story to tell. What a joy that I now have it in a doodle! And now this picture makes sense to you, too. It’s a good story.

I also think of one of the most brilliant lyrics ever written, by Bob Dylan, in the song Sara. The verse goes:

I can still hear the sounds of those Methodist bells
I’d taken the cure and had just gotten through
Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writin’ “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” for you



Maybe a little vague in the beginning, but so super specific in the second-half, not to mention there’s just something about the rhythm of that phrase and the way it wraps around from the the third to the fourth line just blows my mind. And no one else but Bob could have written that line and it be true. That is some searing bad-ass specificity.

When I make up songs, some slice of the moment it’s being written shows up (well, it’s Friday night and there’s cinnamon on the stove … ).

I have to write from my own life. I have to doodle my personal details, a Grateful Dead tank top, my wave-shaped rings and bracelet from Maui. I want to see this in others. I want to hear about what happened that set you off and how do you feel now and what color is it, and does it remind you of anything, and how does your neck feel, and what do you really want? What does your emoji look like right now?

If there is a creative invitation it’s this: juice the details of your individual life. No one else will hear that fan blowing the same way you do right now. Tell us about your moments. Whether a simple emoji doodle or a song about heartbreak or happiness. No one is you nor will ever be you again, and that is why you must create, too, and do so specifically. Please don’t leave me hanging in the vague! And I won’t leave you there either.

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Recommended Reading Feb 2017

I read a few books at the end of 2016 and at least one this new year so far that I want to recommend to you before I forget.

A little plug for reading first:

Since the advent of Facebook and social media in general, as well as the rise in streamable shows, and the library and video stores before that, the amount of reading I’m doing has dropped significantly. I have memories of lying on the beach on summer vacations from school, devouring one huge novel after another.

But in this modern era, I thought I’d actually lost my ability to read books for a while. To wean myself back into reading, over a two-week period, I included 10 minutes of reading a day in a list of things that I was practicing adding in (exercise, time outside, meditation/rest, some Artist’s Way exercises . . . ). I read The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan. It’s a lightly written, sweet story, and it’s not too dense. I’m not actually sure that I finished it all the way to the end, but it showed me that, just because I was out of the habit, I could still — and liked to — read.

That was such a relief. 


Me, happily outside in shorts, on February 11.

Reading is so important for creativity.

I heard once that Bob Dylan reads tons of novels and watches loads of movies. He is a prolific writers, and I understood that he was keeping his creative well filled and informed.

Also I read once on Facebook that reading six minutes a day can greatly reduce anxiety and provide instant relaxation. And I’m ALL about that! Six minutes is SO DOABLE. And with the benefit of relaxing, I’m extra in.

So I am recommending it forward. I’m going to share with you a few recent reads that I loved. (I don’t have any monetary affiliation with any of these — I’m simply linking to the Amazon pages for reference. Click the book titles.)


john cogginA Smart, Funny, Adventurous Kids’ Book

The Mechanical Mind of John Coggin by Elinor Teele

I love reading kids’ books to keep my fantasy mind alive. I like to read about magic and no limitations. But sometimes those kids’ books get heavy. On the natural Hero’s Path of a child in a book, there is almost always already a loss of a parent or parents, and things often get worse from there. I had just returned a very angsty, scary young adult book to the library, when I stumbled upon this one.

In it, the kids go on great and varied adventures, but their stress never overwhelms the playful storytelling. Its playfulness is side by side with its intelligent language, often sending me to the dictionary and smiling at the trust the author has in the minds of the readers, no matter what age, to handle her word play.

I loved the book and believe it has the qualities to be a kids’ classic for the ages. Very creatively stimulating.


marinaA Fascinating and Smooth Memoir by a Living Artist

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramovic

I devoured this book. I have already recommended (in a newsletter) the documentary about Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present. Watching that movie, I gained an appreciation for all art, for all people making art of any kind, whether I related to it or not. They are doing exactly what I say I want to be doing all the time.

The memoir goes into more depth and explanation behind many of the artist’s pieces that are seen in the movie. It also talks about her childhood and personal life in detail. As I writer, as an artist, as someone for whom expression is so important, I must read books like this, to be ushered forward in my own focus and expression.

The book is fascinating and spaciously written. Not a light read, but spacious, nonetheless. I didn’t want it to end.







A Timeless Fairy Tale for Adult Reading

The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino

I first read this book in a Literature of Fantasy class in undergraduate school. Being an English Literature major had its high points. I didn’t remember too much about the book, but I remember reading a lot more by Calvino in the years following. I happened to spot this one at the library recently, and I grabbed it. I loved reading it again.

As with some of my favorite books, the translators deserve much credit as well. In this case Archibald Colquhoun translates with warmth and humor, also sending me to the dictionary regularly. The stories are satirical and funny and sweet and recognizeable and fresh at the same time.

I was transported when I read this book, and it made my creative centers expand from enjoying the pages. I could feel it in my brain!



Every Word Encouraged My Own Creation

Blessed Are the Weird: A Manifesto for Creatives
by Jacob Nordby

Okay, I’m cutting and pasting my Amazon review here:

The magic of life: I had an impulse to read this book, and a few days later, one arrived in the mail. My appreciation for it is vast. As a fellow creative and definitely a weird one, every word encouraged my own creation. I am working on a new writing project, and this was the perfect companion to accompany me on the journey to help me keep going. I am someone who has lived outside of the box for years (whatever that even means at this point), and this book was a comfort & encouragement also to keep going, in general, not only on specific projects. It’s a reminder that no one sets our course for us. It is our own, and it is valid. I’m grateful that Jacob allowed the Muses to clink glasses with him and get to writing.

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And I’m sharing all of this with you good folks because I feel that one way to access our Muses is to read what we love. I no longer try to stick with reading something that doesn’t turn me on. But if it does, I want to give it the opportunity to help what’s arising in me be encouraged come on out and play.

Just remember: You can have a positive benefit from reading just six minutes a day. If you are anything like me, you could reduce six minutes from Facebook and not even miss it.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!



P.S. I’m currently reading Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Other People Help. I had an intense dream last night, and I think it was related to that book! That happened during Walk Through Walls too . . .

P.P.S. I got all of these books but one at my local library. The library rules! Use it!

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The Phase I’m Going Through (Doodle Prompt)

Today I had the great joy of meeting with a good friend on Zoom and making a doodle together. She and I have spent hundreds of hours on Skype, Zoom and the like. We have laughed and cried and sat silently and rested. But we hadn’t yet made a doodle together until today.

We have talked about absolutely everything and have shared in many different (and many similar) phases of life.

Today she said, “I’m in such a weird phase” (with apologies to my friend if I’m getting the words a little wrong). And so, as the intention for the call was to join and do some doodling, we grabbed our notepads and our colors and went to make a doodle representing the phase or state we each were in.

It was so soothing.

doodle with armelle

My friend showed me hers first (not pictured here), and I had to laugh, as I resonated with the pictures and the words she used. As I was doodling what you see above, the word trapped had come to mind. I think my friend used the word stuck, but it felt similar. Hers had lots of questions, and still space and light, but the brick walls were looming. Pressure.

We took our time, as it was just the two of us, and even though “a simple and satisfying doodle can be made in five seconds,” (365 Days of Doodling, p. 12), there is great joy in relaxing into the question and watching the answer appear as if out of your mind and into the world of colors in front of your eyes.

I have been in a feeling sad phase. It’s definitely not all day every day, but the percentage of sad in my day compared to my “normal” (ha ha ha, maybe that’s my problem) state has been a high percentage.

I feel it’s mostly hormonally related, maybe some circumstances in the mix (I don’t like being cold, stuff like that). It all feels passing but also like it’s chewing on my face at times. This morning before joining my friend, I was mentally chewing on a situation that I felt had to be tended to, and I was making myself and others wrong, and it was all really uncomfortable, but that’s just what was coming. I take care of myself. I wrote an extra Morning Page. And when we got on our call today, we got right into it.

We took the emoji doodle to the next level, doodling the phase we’re living at the moment. Taking our time, we both got to experience in a more visceral and less mental way. I felt like I was bound up by the blues. Unable to move in some ways, but not 100% unhappy. As you can see, part of the mouth is turned up in a smile.

And that’s accurate. In fact, as soon as I slowed down and made that picture, the agitation energy burned right off. Whatever story I was running before settled, at least in its hormonal urgency.

I never try to tell myself that I should be different — if I can help it. I mean, come on, we’re all hypnotized like that, so sometimes I do give myself shit for just being myself.

But when I get to experience myself in the moment by mirroring with magic markers or crayons  — simply mirroring without judging or shunning or changing — it is a great relief.

I feel so often that what is needed in the moment is to recognize there’s nothing wrong with what’s being experienced. But so often we attempt to deal with our experiences by talking over and over and over about them and spinning our heads. I know I do, and I know a lot of other people who do too. We can’t help it, but there are ways to soothe it.

Next time you’re really chewing on something, try making a doodle of it first before talking too much about it. Then see if your conversation is different. See if your body feels any different. Invite your friends to do the same with you. See how you feel from acknowledging yourself and your moment that way.

I’m so interested in ways to deepen our interactions from go instead of always jumping into the pits of the mind as soon as we say hello. Know what I mean? I like this one.

Much love and doodle-couragement,


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Is Doodling the Same as Coloring?

crayonsWhen I was a little girl, I liked coloring in coloring books. I had a plastic Capezio bag with a drawstring that my ballet slippers had come in, and it was filled with colored markers. Bag of joy.

I loved my coloring books, actually. I liked the precision of coloring in the lines. I enjoyed the focus and control. It was easy. Satisfying. Something to do.  Peaceful.

The book I remember the most, however, was called the Anti-Coloring Book. It contained pictures, partially created by the author, left open to be filled in by me. I loved the idea of it. I felt something positive in the originality that was being offered, but I don’t remember drawing that much inside of it. I thought I couldn’t draw.

I had another book, How to Draw Cartoons, that taught me some basic shapes and how to make a few things, but they never looked “right or realistic” to me, and no one else around me gave me any pointers, and I could always go to my coloring books and enjoy filling in the lines, . . . so visual art, especially drawing, fell away for me as a child.

What I didn’t know then but I know now  — always a basic doodler, hearts, flowers and the like, and now a born-again, albeit around age 40 — is that everyone has a voice, a visual voice. It is unique and it is right on. It is a style of communication that everyone has. We are all seeing images in our minds all the time. Making simple pictures is a way to capture some of those images that may be running but just slightly out of our full awareness and bring them out. “Knowing” how to draw makes no difference here. I don’t care if you can draw or not. I kind of can now, but I really don’t know how to make a lot of things, but I don’t care anymore. I still make them.

That is the voice of a doodler, in the Doodle Outreach way of saying:

doodle definition from og

So where does coloring fit in?

I’d say they are cousins. Or maybe coloring is the younger sibling of doodling. They are related in the creative instincts toward colors and uniquely filling in designs. They are related in the tools used. They are both excellent for focus, quieting the mind, relaxation, distraction, and fine motor support.  I’d say that problem solving is benefited by both. Coloring can put you into a meditative state, like taking a walk, in which new ideas may occur to you. It’s a repetitive motion, like sewing. Something that can be done while you think (or rest your mind) about something else.

Doodling, however, as presented by Doodle Outreach and the books that I write, is also a doorway to a whole new world beyond the structured lines. Neither doodling nor coloring is right or wrong. They are just different.

I started teaching doodling classes some years ago after directly realizing the therapeutic benefit of doodling. The realization came after I was invited to my first 30 Day Doodle Challenge. I was highly on alert for all things therapeutic as I was working as a social worker in a psychiatric hospital at the time of the first doodle challenge. I taught my first doodling class right after I unexpectedly lost that job.  The point is, right away, I saw how the people who took up some thoughtful prompts, who looked into their present experience and brought it forward in pictures — simple pictures — shared several tangible results:

  • relaxation
  • comfort with authenticity
  • the experience of being heard by others
  • immediate connection between people
  • self-acceptance
  • creative problem-solving
  • increased ease with decision-making
  • release of unexpressed emotions
  • surprise at how profound the experience is, especially when shared (This last one still happens to me, and I do this all the time.)

Here’s what I know about all of these things: they must be experienced first hand. I can’t talk you into your own experience. You can find out for yourself the differences and similarities between these two practices if you want. There are coloring books in every grocery, drug and office supply store, at least in my town. Tons of them, on every topic you could want. There is a joy in coming back to the tools of childhood. When was the last time you picked up a crayon? Anything that gets that going is a good thing.

And you can also grab a blank notebook and some fresh markers and just play around with whatever comes to mind, day to day. Stick figures and flowers and words and shapes and colors and you and your sweetheart and you and your dog and what you had for breakfast and what you’re dreaming of, if nothing is holding you back . . .

And you can also buy a really great book, 365 Days of Doodling: Discovering the Joys of Being Creative Every Day, small coverthat I have been using since January 1, which makes this about day #227, and it’s freaking awesome. The book gives an introspective prompt daily, covering our dreams, what we’d like help with, and many subtle slices from the present moment, transformed and keepsake-d, in simple, stick figure fashion. It’s really beautiful. The habit is easy to keep up: I just follow the instructions in the front that remind me that it can both be quick and messy. Deal.

Find your bliss and let that be your path!

for author page* * * * *

Carin Channing is a professional Rest & Creativity Encourager and is the author of 365 Days of Doodling: Discovering the Joys of Being Creative Every Day and the forthcoming follow-up, Doodle Book Junior — 101 Creative Prompts for Kids, due August 2016. She is the founder of Doodle Outreach and can also be found at her other home, The Therapy Booth.

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