People have a tendency to think they need to solve puzzles created by others – crosswords, Sudoku – to keep their brains active, but using your imagination is even better. The goal in brain building is to create new dendrites – new connections – in your brain, and making new connections is the primary purpose of imagination! Plus, problem-solving sounds like work; imagination offers many more opportunities for fun.
In recent years, adult coloring books have become enormously popular, and I am a strong proponent of their mesmerizing calming effects after a busy day, but except for choosing colors, they don’t really stimulate imagination, because the design is already created.
Better is an exercise by Marge Engelman in her book Aerobics of the Mind. Ask people to “Draw something,” and they are usually at a loss for how to begin, but put a few lines on paper and ask them to finish the drawing, and you have jump-started their imagination. Two parallel lines of uneven lengths are suddenly a book, a box, a candle, a Pez dispenser.
That same concept works delightfully in Nikalas Catlow’s books, Do You Doodle? and Oodles of Doodles. Each of the approximately 200 large pages has a few words at the top and the beginning of a sketch. For example:
- “What has hatched?” accompanies a broken egg shell
- “Fill the bus” features a double decker bus with a few passengers visible in the windows and half a dozen more windows for you to fill in
- “What’s growing?” features seven empty flower pots
- “Who needs glasses?” offers more than a dozen faces to choose from
There are snowmen, shoes, cakes and presents to decorate and a variety of patterns to finish, and dozens of other whimsical ideas to spark your imagination.
The cartoon-like sketches could be easily dismissed as aimed at children only, but if all ages don’t see the possibility for play here, they are missing the point, and the fun. It is precisely the simplicity of the pre-drawn lines that encourage people of any level of talent to “have at it.” Make copies of the pages, and imagine/create as individuals, families, or other intergenerational groups.