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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

How Unconscious Reveal Itself In Scribbles: A Classical Method

Chapter 3

A Free Course About Interpretation of Pictures

Institute of Projective Drawings

A Classical Scribble Test

Even more exciting than spontaneous scribbles are the classical scribble methods, in which we ask the respondent to scribble in a predefined way.

The Grätz Scribble Method: Why It Is Our Favourite Technique?

​Try one of the classical methods, namely the Grätz Scribble Technique!

The psychoanalyst Eva Grätz (1978) asked her patients to prepare nonfigurative depictions of specific stimulus words. The method is used as a part of exploratory therapy for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

According to the instruction, the therapist lists a few words and asks the subject

  • to depict the impressions or internal movements
  • elicited by those words
  • using spontaneous lines or shapes
  • that do not depict objects.

Grätz’s Scribble Technique: The client depicts a total of 16 stimulus words with nonfigurative scribbles.

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Required tools: 16 sheets of size A6 plain, white paper (I usually fold a sheet of A4 in half, and then fold that in half again) and a soft pencil.

Required time: 5-10 minutes altogether.

The following instructions should be given:


  1. ”I will say a few words. Please, depict the impression or inner motion you experience in response to the words, using spontaneous lines or shapes that do not depict the objects. You can use one folded cell for each word. "
  2. "When you have done this, faintly write the word on the reverse side of the paper, so that it does not show through.” (modified instruction by Zoltan Vass, 2012)

To make the scribbles we should say the following stimulus words one by one (always waiting for the client to finish before proceeding to the next word):

Stimulus Words:

  1. anger
  2. fear
  3. hate
  4. forgiveness
  5. attraction
  6. jealousy
  7. desire
  8. despair
  1. resistance
  2. safety
  3. aggression
  4. loneliness
  5. a conflict word (chosen by the therapist or the client)
  6. dance
  7. father
  8. mother

Summary: In this method, the subject depicts a total of 16 stimulus words on four A4 sheets of paper nonfiguratively, with scribbles. The sheets are folded in four, resulting in four rectangles on each sheet; the subject uses those to draw.

The order of family drawings

The Graetz Scribble Technique (click to enlarge)

Click on the picture above!

On the left you find the original list of the sixteen stimulus words suggested by Grätz. The bottom two lists of four words are possible versions of the fourth sheet (they feature the patient’s conflict word, chosen by the examiner or, alternatively, a word chosen freely by the subject).

The centre picture shows part of the scribble method of a 21-year-old female. This is a typical scribble in contrast to the next one.

The right picture is a very interesting second sheet of the method of a schizophrenic patient. Instead of abstract scribbles, she used small, identical human figures to depict the concepts. This reaction is called "concretization" (Vass, 2012).

The Two Main Pitfalls – And How To Avoid Them?

Main Pitfall #1: The client does not understand the task or how to scribble.

Solution: Show them a few examples of what a non-figurative scribble means. For example draw the following: "cotton-wool" (circular light doodle) or "glass" (sharp, pointed lines).

Main Pitfall #2: The respondent draws a symbol or pictogram (heart, sun etc.) instead of a nonfigurative scribble.

Solution: Ask them to redraw it but only without making a figurative scribble.

Starting with anger is a good introduction to this scribble method, since it brings out easily very dynamic motor impulses, which gives an initial feeling of success.

Now It's Your Turn

  • Download the instruction sheet below and start experimenting with this technique.
  • Draw your own Graetz-scribbles! In the next chapter you will learn two methods of interpretation.
  • I'm curious to read your comments about this method.


Grätz, E. (1978). Zeichnen aus dem Unbewußten. Stuttgart: Hippokrates.

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

In the next chapter: The Grätz scribbles reveal, what it is the subject has a problem with, how serious the conflict is and how they combat this. Next time you will learn two interpretation methods!