This art director’s new business is a doodle

The humble doodle doesn’t get much respect as art form, but it’s actually been extensively studied by researchers—who have found a direct correlation between doodling and stress relief, as well as improved memory function.

It’s also an activity carried out by some of the most powerful people in the world, including Steve Jobs, Marlon Brando, and Queen Victoria. Plus, 22 of 44 U.S. presidents doodled (this information was presented in 2016, so it’s not certain if the 45th or 46th presidents added to that tally).

Yet despite its bona fides, the Southeastern College Art Conference Review once called doodling a “marginal and meaningless activity practiced by the bored and listless.” Even its name doesn’t exactly conjure up magnificence. The word “doodle” dates back to the 17th Century, when it was originally used as a noun to describe a fool.

But inveterate doodlers such as Canadian art director Alek von Felkerzam swear by its ability to clear their mind, placing them in almost a fugue state. “It kind of takes over,” he said in a recent phone interview, during which he was doodling as he spoke.

A well-travelled art director whose career includes stops at agencies including Bob’s Your Uncle, H+K Strategies and Publicis, von Felkerzam has been doodling for 30 years. But while most people’s doodles go no further than margins of an old notebook, he has turned his hobby into a new online business called Inkorporated.

He sells merchandise including phone cases, T-shirts, prints, etc. A portion of all sales will go to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, where von Felkerzam is a board member.

Von Felkerzam is also shopping a coffee table book to publishers, but perhaps the biggest opportunity can come through brand collaborations. Brands increasingly receptive to artist collaborations (see: Louis Vuitton x Takashi Murakami; Stella McCartney and Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara), and von Felkerzam has already had preliminary discussions with companies specializing in shoes and bedsheets about using his Dali-inspired creations.

He also recently created his own interpretation of luxury fashion house Bottega Veneta’s $3,010 Paper Bag, placing his own unique design on an actual brown paper bag that he’s selling for 1/100th of the Bottega Venetta version, $30.10.

“The thinking was that it’s a perfect reactive pop-culture piece to poke fun at,” he said. “At the same time, it’s selfishly plugging my own Inkorporated art brand. It was just too good an opportunity to miss out on.”

He expected to sell the bags to diehard supporters like his wife and his mother-in-law, and was surprised when random people saw his Instagram post and expressed interest. He’s received 10 orders for the bags so far, each of which will feature an original design.

He’d just been shopping for paper bags at Dollarama that day, and planned to spend no more than two hours a day on the doodles that will transform them into a work of art. “I need to feel I’m engaged in it, but I don’t want to pressure it,” he said. “I need to bring my own personality and emotion to it.”

Other than some minor online sales, Inkorporated has already attracted attention beyond Canada. It was recently honoured with gold and silver at the International Online Design Awards, and will also be featured at next month’s International Artbox Expo Basel in Switzerland and online.

While all of von Felkerzam’s Dali-inspired doodles are loosely connected by a distinctive style aesthetic, they take on different meanings as they progress, he said. “It’s kind of a beast that just grows. You start from Point A, and then all of a sudden this abstract form takes shape and you really don’t know where it’s going to end up.

“The emotion just starts to build within it.”

Chris Powell