What’s in a doodle?
Andrade writes that doodling sharpens recall abilities. Maclagan argues that doodling provides sanction from everyday monotony whilst acting as a platform for social commentary. Ellie-Rae’s doodles convey her feminist activism, and her astute observations on the sly reproduction of misogynistic practices. Likewise, her doodles have acted as therapeutic reimaginings in times of struggle. I speak to her about the healing properties of the pen, the nuances of contemporary feminism and the comfort of comedy.
Name: Ellie-Rae (“Ellie-Rae is my first name; I am a double-whammy”).
Occupation: Final year philosophy student at the University of Manchester.
Quirky fact: I’m really into true crime podcasts (and I think perhaps she enjoys Ed Miliband).
Ellie-Rae began doodling in 2018, soon after commencing her degree. She had been accepted to study at the University of Manchester through clearing, resulting in her being placed in unsociable halls. Living away from friends and family and struggling to find her place, she developed feelings of severe isolation.
“I didn’t make friends and I was really shell-shocked. It was quite a dark period of my life; I was referred to a lot of mental health services.”
Thus, Ellie-Rae began to explore the doodling domain to alleviate the loneliness of her first semester away from home. Toying with the idea of dropping out, she channelled her anxiety into doodled projections of a hypothetical life in which she engaged in the meaningful exchanges that she craved.
“I started drawing the conversations and interactions that I wished I was having, whether they were girly conversations with friends from home or the friends that I wished I had at uni. I’m not very good with words, so writing a diary wasn’t really for me. If you’re on your own, you don’t have anyone to say it to; you kind of lose it. So instead of losing it, I would draw it.”
Ironically, her private doodles became a gateway to a wider friendship circle.
“When the doodles started, they were something quite private to me. Eventually I showed someone a couple of the first ones; people reacted to them well. I ended up making a private Instagram for it. It grew into something I met people through; people were following it and asking me to draw experiences that they had.”
Changing Dynamics – A Feminist Focus:
“But the fact that the doodles were growing in popularity kind of became a double-edged sword. I was making more friends – not just through the doodles, but they did help. So I was no longer having these experiences that I desperately wanted to share with people.”
The habit that was once a symptom of Ellie-Rae’s discontent had become its remedy. She grew averse to doodling, since it reminded her of bleaker times.
“I had whole notebooks full of half-sketches from that beginning period, and I just completely fell out of love of doing them for a year. My current boyfriend found the notebook and asked me what the doodles were; he got super into convincing me to get them back. At first I was really against it because it had been my coping mechanism in quite a dark time in my life.”
However, instead of abandoning her doodles, Ellie-Rae began cultivating her project from a different angle; she adopted the cartoon style to portray everyday sexism, using comic tones to make depictions of common interactions light-hearted and accessible.
“You don’t expect the people you meet at uni, who are in the same place of their lives as you, to be sexist, misogynistic, to objectify you. It made me so angry because I hadn’t experienced it like that before. When someone is sexist or misogynistic in the tiniest way, you may not recognise it as sexist. By getting it on paper, in the most basic terms of who said what and how it makes you feel, you can more clearly see what’s wrong with it.”
A particular focus of Ellie-Rae’s doodles is the competition incited between women, resulting in the division of womankind and the perception of male affection as being the ‘reward’ for one’s competitive endeavours.
“By men comparing women, saying things like ‘you’re not like other girls I’ve dated’, it dehumanises the other person. Any practice that dehumanises women, especially if it is promoted by men, is so toxic. When women start to dehumanise each other, it gives men a free pass too. It’s a slippery slope.”
Some of Ellie-Rae’s doodles focus on the societal conditioning that solidifies sexist ideals during adolescence. She argues that if these teenage interactions are not identified as sexism, the imbalance that they cultivate can be resoundingly harmful.
“Teenagers can have such low self-esteem, which is a really good thing to reflect on. It’s important not to romanticise secondary school relationships. That’s something that has inspired many of my doodles; a lot of them are to do with things that you would tell your 15-year-old self. I try to highlight the systematic biases and assumptions that underpin secondary school relationships. Those social, entrenched appearances really do shape you as a person.”
The Importance of the Doodle:
Despite the emotionally complex context of the doodles, Ellie-Rae maintains that their importance lies in their comedic presentation of sombre issues.
“Cartooning and doodling is something that makes people feel good, and is accessible to everyone. That’s so important, especially if you’re using them as a tool for advocacy and therapy. Cartoons say a lot that words can’t; they can bring advocacy to an audience that wouldn’t usually engage.”
Ellie-Rae’s approach to visual activism is unsurprising; her ambitions to work in a role focused on political advocacy allow her cartoons to reflect her professional aspirations. But alongside her career plans, her doodles facilitate a healthy perspective towards trauma.
“I use my humour in everything I do. I will laugh at everything; it’s a very important tool. As a therapeutic mechanism I think it’s really important because you can take something that you are anxious about and put it to paper. You can come out with something that’s overwhelmingly positive, because it’s a cartoon!”
Nonetheless, Ellie-Rae is sceptical about labelling her doodles as an artform.
“I don’t consider them to be an artform; I am objectively awful at drawing. But at the same time, calling them ‘art’ reclaims the idea that you don’t have to be good at something to be able to harness it as a tool. You don’t necessarily need to be good at art to do cartoons which is quite a relief for me. Doodles are a tool for expressing those things that you want to share but don’t really know how to express. Anger is a really destructive emotion; doodles can help to get that thing that’s been bothering you – or someone else – off their mind.”
Ellie-Rae anticipates expanding her doodles’ content to images that encompass facts and data surrounding gender equality.
“Sometimes new studies and data can be a little overlooked. The data surrounding women’s experiences is generally excluded from academic analysis. I would love to get to a point with my doodles when I can include statistics or a bit of research, based on women’s experiences in society. It’s a cool juxtaposition; cartoons are so light-hearted and accessible, and trying to bring a piece of data down to an accessible level is a cool thing to do.”
In terms of sharing her work, Ellie-Rae hopes to expand her online following.
“I’ve only just made a public account for the doodles (@elliesdoodlez) – 16 followers! I’ve become quite a private person; that’s something I really want to work on before I think about growing them. But that’s really what I would like; build a platform for them where I can develop them a bit.
“Also, I have done doodles for canvasses; I’ve blown them up for friends and given them as gifts. birthday cards, Christmas cards, anniversary cards, ‘I miss you’ cards. I doubt I would ever go into selling commissions, but maybe being able to develop them into postcards? I would need to get down a style or narrative first.”
She is optimistic about the development of her doodling, and the potency of putting pen to paper.
“Ultimately what I want to do is live my life to give women’s experiences more representation. I think that information is power. I want to shine a light on the patriarchy; to be able to share that knowledge with other people.”
For more examples of Ellie-Rae’s feminist doodles, check out my blog post ‘Good Girl’.
Give her Instagram a follow! @elliesdoodlez