Mr Doodle: Graffiti Spaghetti

Mr Doodle’s in town and the monochrome mayhem has begun. Emma Clegg visits the Holburne Museum and discovers the extent of the doodle takeover. While she’s there Mr Doodle tells her why doodling is his favourite thing, ever.

To doodle means to scribble absent-mindedly. For most of us it’s a diversionary, dreamy tactic when there is a pen to hand – it’s relaxing, hypnotic and fills insignificant moments of down time. It’s not something you do for a living.

Internet sensation Mr Doodle, also known as Sam Cox, would emphatically disagree. You see he’s obsessed with doodling and he’s made quite a lucrative business out of it, with his doodle-based artwork bank-rolling nearly $4.7 million in salerooms across three continents in just over nine months.

Take his house in Kent. He spent two years covering it in doodles, or ‘graffiti spaghetti’, as he calls it. He started in the bedroom, declaring that “waking up in the room is sort of paradise for me”. At which point he moved on to doodle his whole house, including the stairway, bannisters, the bath tub, basin and toilet, bed, computer, light fittings, oven, kettle, the external façade and the front garden. He says the exercise took 900 litres of white paint, 401 cans of black spray paint for the exterior, 286 bottles of black drawing paint for the interior, and 2,296 pen nibs. It’s merciless for those who love white walls and minimalism and have a tendency towards migraines; but strangely comforting for those lulled by a rhythmic pattern or out for a visually wild experience.

Mr Doodle doodling the entrance to the Holburne

It all came naturally to Sam. Doodling was his passion from a very young age, and he was encouraged by his parents who allowed him to draw on the walls of his childhood home. Mr Doodle became official in 2014 when he was an illustration student at UWE – having hand-doodled all over his clothes, on arrival at college his tutor christened him with the name of the alter ego he then permanently adopted. He started his Instagram account in May 2013 and 11 years later he has 2.9 million followers. Now he prints his own doodle imagery on his clothing, making him permanently merge into his work. So what is it with the doodling, Sam?

When I have a blank canvas or a wall in a room I just want to pick up a pen and cover it as quickly as possible”

“I love doodling more than any other art form just because it feels so instinctive to me. It’s the best way to create art because you can just do it where you are and on any surface. You don’t have to think about it and plan it and it feels to me like the least forced way of creating work. There is no heavy message or statement – I am just creating something naturally and unconsciously and that’s what really draws me to it.”

Sam’s inspiration comes from video games, comic books and cartoons, the things that influenced him as a child – and he still loves those graphic characters with big eyes and smiley faces. The late artist Keith Haring is a big influence, too, along with the characters created by Walt Disney, who he admires for the way he took his creations to a different level in TV shows, films and immersive theme parks.

Mr Doodle’s style is squiggly and freeflowing, generally created with a thick paint applicator – the result is a tumbling mass of evenly distributed weird, smiling characters and cartoon drawings surrounded snugly by other doodled shapes. Pattern is key and there is a distinctive lack of negative space. Most of Mr Doodle’s work is black on white, but he does sometimes vary it with white on black, and even suggestions of colour (the latter often introduced by Mrs Doodle, also known as Alana), but colour isn’t his favourite device.

Above: Lord Mas of Scribble City (replacing School of Frans Pourbus II, Archduke Albert of Austria, c.1600); Above centre: Henry Robert Morland, A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen; Above right: Anti-Doodle Squad Doing Their Laundry, 2024 (replacing the Henry Robert Moorland painting above)

“I mostly use black and white for my work because it creates the strongest contrast. I like creating the lines, the patterns, the shapes and the symbols and filling it with colour afterwards doesn’t feel as instinctive. I just like creating the doodle with lines.”

Mr Doodle has now brought his monochrome shape-forming activities to the Holburne Museum… and beyond. His doodles cover the entrance walls, the stair risers and the walls, floor and ceilings on the second floor. Then there are two doodled benches outside, and further afield in the city centre there are doodled statments in Milsom Street, Green Street, Union Street, Kingsmead Square and the phonebox in SouthGate. He has also organised the removal of certain precious paintings in the Holburne’s permanent collection, replacing them with his own doodle work. Thomas Barker of Bath Self-Portrait c.1794 has been replaced with Mr Doodle of Doodle Land Self- Portrait, and John Constable, Flatford Lock from the Bridge, c.1814-17 with Doodle House from the Gates. Is it safe, however, to give him free rein in the museum?

“I love the idea of doodling the world and I often think about what the earth would look like if it were completely covered by doodles. But I think I’m in the minority of people who would accept that as a reality, so I have to stop myself from painting over everything. I wanted to show appreciation to all these amazing artworks and try and refrain from doodling over anything I’m not supposed to. The temptation is there however.”

Talking to Mr Doodle is quite stream of consciousness. His words tumble out just like his doodles. The application of doodles on the surface is not rigorously planned, and is rather more action based. “I’d say 95% of my work is just completely spontaneous. So I’ll just create shapes like squares and then they will turn into birds, fish or things that are a mixture of elements, or new creatures. I don’t repeat characters – I just try and think of new things and that is what keeps me excited about it. And when I have a blank canvas or a wall in a room I just want to pick up a pen and cover it as quickly as possible really, just have fun with it.”

That’s perfectly understandable.

“Most doodles for me start in the top left corner and they kind of flow down and right and down and left. Most of the time I’m conscious that my hand might smudge it if I go from right to left, so I go left to right, but it depends – sometimes with walls it makes sense to start in a certain position and go a different way.”

Doodling is almost like an out-of-body experience. You’re just indulging yourself in this free-flowing state of creation”

So there is a strategy… tell me more.

“I use so many thicknesses of pen – changing the thickness can make it look like some doodles are closer to you and some are further back. Mostly, however, I like to work with the same thickness so everything is equally significant because in Doodle Land [yes, that’s a thing] there is no sense of order or hierarchy – every character is on the same level.

I detect an egalitarian stance. But actually the groundswell to the doodling is about the spreading of happiness. “I never switch off in terms of thinking what to doodle next and coming up with new ideas. It’s just what I allow my life to be absorbed by, in a happy way. Doodling is almost like an out-of-body experience. You’re just indulging yourself in this free-flowing state of creation. To me making faces with smiles or surprised characters are what drives me to create. It makes me smile to make a character smile. It’s as simple as that really. I love being Mr Doodle and just running round and doodling over everything.”

Mr Doodle! Museum Mayhem is at the Holburne Museum (and in parts of Bath) from 3 May – 1 September.; @mrdoodle

Click below to watch our interview with Mr Doodle!