If you've ever wondered what Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, is scribbling under the microphone during those incredibly long public hearings, it turns out that she's a lifelong doodler. In addition to her duties as a public official for 25 years, Bulova has run more than a few pens dry by making cartoon likenesses of her colleagues.
The drawings tell a sort of truth — from a certain point of view. Once you see them, you'll never mistake the mustache of U.S. Rep Gerry Connolly (D-11th) for another, or the familiar dome of Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland.
"Since becoming chairman, I don't draw and doodle as much as I used to," Bulova told Patch from her office in the Fairfax County Government Center. "I used to doodle in public hearings and I'd draw caricatures of the speakers... I used to draw cartoons of my colleagues during closed sessions when they weren't looking."
Can Bulova Pay Attention While Doodling?
"Yes. It keeps me alert. I suppose I have a restless energy and it exercises the right side of my brain," she said.
It turns out that doodling can actually assist people in paying attention, according to Robert J. Youmans, a cognitive psychologist at George Mason University.
"It's called the 'Incubation Effect.' People's creative insights change after they do something off-task," Younes told Patch. "For example, a lot of great ideas can come from the shower, but it's not the water that does it, it's easing your mind and giving yourself a temporary chance to step away. It solves insight problems and can result in creative solutions. Providing a ping pong table in a rec room can lead to more innovative thinking. Doodling falls in this same category."
Bulova began drawing at a young age (her favorite cartoons were "Winnie Winkle" and "Prince Valiant"), and it got her in trouble in the fifth grade.
"I went to Catholic school and was taught by nuns with great big sailboat hats," she said. "My recollection is that our books weren't ours to keep, but I would doodle on the pages. One day I came to school and in the morning I felt under my desk for my books and they were gone. A couple of minutes later the principal showed up in the doorway and said, 'Ms. Schuster, can I see you in my office?' So, I walked into his office and there were my books... My mother got called and she came to the office and she said: 'She's not defacing property! My daughter is an artist!'"
Bulova, who prefers pastels over ball-point pens, took art classes throughout her childhood. "When I was a little kid in elementary school, my aunt, my mother's sister who was artistic, would take me to summer classes where I grew up, in downtown Baltimore. I took art classes at Seaton High School and took some art classes at NOVA in the '70s," she said, but falls short of calling herself an artist. "I'm not an artist. I just doodle. Always faces. Usually, it's women's faces."
Bulova's Favorite Public Official to Draw is...
"Gerry Connolly when he was chair (of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors). He has a great face that lends itself to drawing," Bulova said.
Bulova served as the Braddock District Supervisor from 1988-2009. She was elected chairman in a special election after Connolly won his seat in Congress and vacated the county chair position. She was reelected last November.
Connolly has 13 Bulova caricatures. "They are very clever because they capture small, revealing features about people, making them instantly recognizable," he told Patch. "That is the genius of a good caricature artist."