The First Zentangling President?

Since Zentangle appeared on the scene, there has been a heathy debate around the practice of doodling. Lots of people aimlessly make pencil marks on paper while otherwise occupied – in a meeting, on the phone, etc. Many of us call that doodling. Some people do considerably more with their pen in the margins. If one makes a detailed drawing on the side of their page, is it still a doodle, or is it a drawing?  What about an elaborate, planned pattern, drawn one stroke at a time – still a doodle?

All of those styles and more are covered in this neat 8″ x 8″ book, Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles, and Scrawls from the Oval Office squiggles & scrawls from the Oval Office. With George Washington, I see order, formality and penmanship that borders on calligraphy – this man could have had a side gig addressing wedding invitations in the 20th century. Ulysses S. Grant was a legitimate artist. It’s in the 1950s and forwards where you really see the doodles forming on the side of the page…maybe because of the volume of meetings and saved papers from those years.

I was surprised the most by the papers of Herbert Hoover, an engineer who became president between 1929 and 1933. He drew patterns:


From the papers of President Herbert Hoover.

Many of Hoovers drawings seem to start from the middle out

According to the book, eventually people noticed the patterns the president was drawing, and the press wrote about them. People debated the meaning of the patterns. Hoover wasn’t very happy about the attention diverted to his drawings, but the public was fascinated. One of his drawing was actually translated to a surface pattern and printed as fabric:

Surface design pattern based on Herbert Hoover’s doodles.

A few other Zentangle-like drawings stand out from other presidents:

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

John F. Kennedy

Richard Nixon

Book Report: Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles, and Scrawls from the Oval Office squiggles & scrawls from the Oval Office

Official Summary:  What were the leaders of the free world really doing during all those meetings? As the creators of Cabinet magazine reveal here for the first time, they were doodling. Our Founding Fathers doodled, and so did Andrew Jackson. Benjamin Harrison accomplished almost nothing during his time in the White House, but he left behind some impressive doodles. During the twentieth century–as the federal bureaucracy grew and meetings got longer–the presidential doodle truly came into its own. Theodore Roosevelt doodled animals and children, while Dwight Eisenhower doodled weapons and self-portraits. FDR doodled gunboats, and JFK doodled sailboats. Ronald Reagan doodled cowboys and football players and lots of hearts for Nancy. The nation went wild for Herbert Hoover’s doodles: A line of children’s clothing was patterned on his geometric designs. The creators of Cabinet magazine have spent years scouring archives and libraries across America. They have unearthed hundreds of presidential doodles, and here they present the finest examples of the genre. Historian David Greenberg sets these images in context and explains what they reveal about the inner lives of our commanders in chief. Are Kennedy’s dominoes merely squiggles, or do they reflect deeper anxieties about the Cold War? Why did LBJ and his cabinet spend so much time doodling caricatures of one another? Smart, revealing, and hilarious — Presidential Doodles is the ideal gift for anyone interested in politics or history. And for anyone that doodles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.