AT FIRST it looks like tapestry.

Then it seems to be some sort of hieroglyphics.

Finally you see that the art of John Reyner is, in fact, doodling-- virtuoso doodling. Doodling like it has never been doodled before.

The early ones were geometric figures on whose surfaces Reyner drew with a mechanical drawing pen an unending variety of patterns: spirals, squares, dots, zigzags, hatchings, herringbones, egg-and-darts, checkerboards, arrows, wheels, swastikas, cigars, blossoms, musical notes, numbers, letters, people's names and finally words and tiny messages.

Later the encompassing shapes became three-dimensional, owing much to the visual conundrums of Escher. Then the 26-year-old Washington architect took to using plans for buildings, such as the Capitol rotunda: Covered with what he calls his scribbles, it looks like a Mayan calendar or some incredible radial engine.

The most recent works are taken from snapshots which are blown up and turned into black-and-white silhouettes. One is a striking picture of a girl who left him, and the entire surface of her figure is covered with little words that fade in and out of the pattern: "Irealizedthemeaning- offarewellandthepainoflonesome- ness," and so on. It is a remarkable combination of word and image.

"I'm fascinated with geometric shapes, primitive shapes," Reyner said, sitting on an up-ended box in his cluttered two-room apartment on 16th Street. He showed plans for Anasazi Indian dwellings, the Pyramid of Giza, Soleri's city-machines. The idea of snugness seems important to him: A house he designed is mostly underground, focused inward on a courtyard. The Cornell graduate has done several residences and commercial buildings, including Washington's Miya Gallery.

"I spend 100 to 150 hours on one of these scribbles," he said. "I find it very restful. I work to music sometimes."

He will let a friend contribute to the drawing now and then. Once he was working in a college cafeteria and got to talking with a girl, and so she put her name into the inked pattern, "Randi," very small, with even smaller hearts above it. Someone else interpolated a dragon into a picture. There are also phone numbers, casual comments like "I Ching, You Ching" and "I can do anything if I try" and other miscellany.

"The dark parts take three times as long," he said, "but it's not so important if you make a mistake because you can ink it in. I do a lot of erasing before I get the main forms just right. It's all freehand."

One great breakthrough was the turn to colored inks. This added a new element and new problems in esthetic balance. The later work is generally smaller and more disciplined, more sophisticated at the expense of the wild inventiveness in the early pieces.

Reyner said he has been doodling and drawing from childhood. "Actually, I've been doing the guitar longer than this. I've worked on the guitar for 16 years." His mother is a former concert pianist, his father a retired professor of geopolitics at Howard University.

Lately his doodlings have been escaping from the geometric forms that contained them. He has done a nude that appears to be a simple line drawing. Then you see that the line is itself a very narrow, very long doodle. Tomorrow, the world.