Archive Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Scribble and the Anatomy of the Line

Chapter 1

A Free Course About Interpretation

Institute of Projective Drawings

The scribble and the 

​Scribbles are everywhere: on the side of a notebook, on benches, on playground paving stones, on walls and in public bathrooms.

The psychological interpretation of scribbles (doodles) is an excellent field for the study of everyday psychopathology.

(You can find more figurative art therapy techniques here as the Nonexistent Animal Technique, the Draw-A-Couple Technique, the Five Step Intervention or the Drawing Together Method.)

According to Freud: „to the keen observer they (symptomatic actions) often betray everything, occasionally even more than he cares to know. He who is familiar with its application sometimes feels like King Solomon, who according to the Oriental legend, understood the language of animals” (Freud, 1901/1960 p. 162).

The spontaneous scribbles produced while talking on the phone or in meetings are especially interesting.

The order of family drawings

A spontaneous doodle by a university student drawn in the margin of his notebook during a lecture. Conscious control is relaxed during scribbling and the subject openly reveals what is on his mind.

While the conversation occupies conscious attention, the content appearing in the scribbles is less controlled, preconscious material.


Because it was not created with the intention of representing something, it just came about, while the person making it was doing something else.

In spontaneous scribbles, the efficiency of censorship in the psychoanalytic sense is reduced in a manner similar to the case of dreaming.

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This is the reason why spontaneous scribbles and doodles can be very honest and they can express contents of the unconscious. 

How To Understand A Spontaneous Scribble?

The two most reliable methods are the interpretation of associations and the anatomy of the line (Vass, 2012). Let’s quickly review these in turn.

(1) Association

In order to solve the scribble ”puzzle” you need to know the circumstances during which the scribble was made (the situation). You need to know what the person was talking about while scribbling, and his or her own associations. Ask:

  • What do you think of when you see the scribble? 
  • What is it similar to?
  • What do you think it’s about?

(2) Anatomy Of The Line

The other tool is the anatomy of the line. The line can contain coded emotions and psychological concepts.

Always examine:

  1. how the line starts, 
  2. how it continues,
  3. how it ends?

Anatomy Of The Line: Basic Guidelines

According to psychological research (Vass, 2012):

  • lines illustrating positive words contain more curves,
  • negative ones in contrast are more angular,
  • the number of angles and curves are often a function of emotional intensity,
  • irregular, zig-zag and sharp lines correlate with anger, hate, pain,
  • the rising line often signifies strength, energy, ambition,
  • the descending line indicates weakness, listlessness, depression in the most cases.

Of course, you cannot directly translate these observations into interpretations as if you were reading a dictionary.

However, they can be a good guideline to understanding scribbles.

So how exactly is this done in practice? This will be revealed in the next chapter.

Now It's Your Turn

  • Do you ever catch yourself doodling the same thing over and over again? What you tend to draw reveals honest information about you. Start collecting your scribbles or doodles and stay tuned – you will learn more in the next chapter.
  • What are your thoughts on spontaneous scribbles? Let me know in the comments below!


Freud, S. (1901). Psychopathology of Everyday Life. New York: Macmillan.

Vass, Z. (2012). A psychological interpretation of drawings and paintings. The SSCA Method: A Systems Analysis Approach. Budapest: Alexandra.

In the next chapter: How to use motor empathy for understanding scribbles – A step-by-step guide