Lynda Barry on drawing as a message

Quote

Sometimes you freak out about your drawing ability. But what if you consider your drawing as a message from a part of you you don’t know much about? Some part of you that is still trying to communicate in spite of being hated.

There are so many ways of drawing, styles of drawing, ways of working with a line. How can any of them be wrong? It’s like saying a tree is wrong. Or a grasshopper is wrong. Or a lake is wrong. Or orange and yellow are wrong.

Lynda Barry, October 31st, 2016

The street is not a street


I am diving into comics poetry this Autumn, inspired by Bianca Stone‘s online poetry comics class.

What is a comics poem and how do you go about writing/drawing one? In the happy absence of fixed methods and definitions, I began checking out this mysterious territory.

I started with the text from my recent poem, Fox, writing it out by hand and cutting up all the phrases so that I could see each one separately. Certain phrases jumped out at me, suddenly potent when freed from their neighbours.

I drew 4 panels inspired in part by the original poem, in part by the new arrangements of text that were emerging. The images in turn led to new text choices, this time word by word.

If you compare the 2 poems, they are completely different. Or perhaps the comics poem brought out a layer of meaning from the original?

One thing I find interesting is that when I originally wrote Fox I had some idea of what I wanted to say with the poem. However, with this comics poem, I’m not sure what it’s about! The construction of it was more intuitive. There are more open spaces and possibilities of meaning.

I think I’m going to enjoy this adventure!

Fox

I slip into the in-between,
the alleyways and underneaths.
The world is full of turning wheels
and blazing screens,
full of people talking
to themselves.
You don’t see me.

Long before houses
when the street was not a street
but a field
and before that
a forest,
I lived here.
Still I roam free,
dine with the moon.

See me curled in snow
with my companions.
I’m not afraid
to look you in the eye.
I know how to walk
among humans,
how to miss the rush,
take the quiet streets.

I have never been tamed.
Even now, I am of The Wild.

Chapter 4: The Great Rodeo in the Sky

In which our heroine meets old friends, takes part in the Great Rodeo in the Sky, and traverses the universe on the back of The Great Bull made of stars.

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I hope you have enjoyed ‘The Cowgirl and the Golden Lasso’. Thanks for following our heroine on her adventures!

You can catch up on previous chapters here.

Chapter 3: The Gypsy on the Moon

In which our heroine lands on the moon, eats Portuguese custard tarts with the moon-gypsy, and has her fortune read in the cards.

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To be continued…

Join our heroine tomorrow for the concluding chapter: The Great Rodeo in the Sky!

You can catch up on the story so far here and here.

Chapter 2: The Convention of the Birds

In which our heroine flies on the back of an Eagle, joins the Convention of the Birds atop a great mountain, and catches hold of the moon with her golden lasso.

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To be continued…

Join our heroine tomorrow for Chapter 3: The Gypsy on the Moon!

You can catch up on Chapter 1 here.

Chapter 1: The Cowgirl and the Golden Lasso

In which our heroine attempts to bale a barnful of hay, dances to the music of the fiddlers three, and is given a wondrous gift.

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The story continues tomorrow with Chapter 2: The Convention of the Birds!

* * *

I wrote this story for a dear friend, drawing on the experience of story-writing I had with Lynda Barry on the recent Writing the Unthinkable workshop.

One of the most enjoyable things we did on the workshop was to create a complete zine in the space of an hour. We made a booklet out of a few sheets of paper folded in half. (Hey presto!) At the start of each chapter, we drew a frame. then we went on to write a short, timed section of the story, returning at the end to draw a picture within the frame.

When writing a story by hand, it’s always interesting to know that at a certain point the pages will run out. By the time you reach the last page, you must somehow wrap things up and reach the end of the story.

According to Lynda Barry, there are books on story structure because it exists. It is something we know intrinsically. In the workshop, when we did each piece of timed writing, she would let us know that we had a few minutes left, a minute or so left, and when it was time to finish the sentence or phrase we were on.

With only 5 or 7 or 9 minutes to write a story, you might think most of our stories were left dangling somewhere in the middle. But when my classmates read their pieces to the group, they almost always rounded the story off perfectly. Even though none of us knew where we were headed when we picked up our pens, somehow we reached the end of the story as if we were headed there all along.

I hope you enjoyed this first chapter! The story continues tomorrow with Chapter 2: The Convention of the Birds.

You can read more about my experience at Writing the Unthinkable here.

Where was her skin?

Today I returned to an exploration of the selkie folk tale, ‘Sealskin Soulskin’. 

The seal woman is missing a part of herself — her Soulskin — and she can’t thrive without it. But just as she longs for this reconnection, the other seals, too, are waiting for her. She is pulled toward the sea. They are calling her. They are ready for that moment when she dives back into the water.

9 things I saw while walking in the park

I am usually an introspective walker. While I walk, I’m often more alive to my thoughts, feelings and daydreams than to the things that are going on around me. 

When I went for a walk in the park today, I had the idea to notice a few things and make a comic about what I saw when I got home. 

This totally transformed my walk! I noticed so many things – things too numerous to make it into the comic in the end. Life was running towards me, laughing and playing and kicking the ball across the field. 

Inspired by the quick timed drawings we did on Writing the Unthinkable with Lynda Barry, I spent a minute on each scene. The result is less ‘clean’ but more alive. I also had way more fun with it. There’s nothing like the seconds counting down to put some juice into your pen.

I was also inspired by the list comics we made in Summer Pierre’s Writing and Drawing Comics e-course earlier this year. (If you have ever wanted to take a comics class, I can’t recommend this class heartily enough. Summer Pierre is an awesome, enthusiastic and inspiring teacher. And there’s a new class starting on September 12th!)

I got to enjoy my walk twice today. Once while I was walking and again while I was making this comic. 

Fancy having two walks for the price of one? 

  • Next time you go for a walk, notice a few things. See what catches your attention. Nothing is too ordinary, nothing is too weird! 
  • When you get home, list a few of the things you remember. 
  • Spend a minute drawing each one. 
  • Enjoy your walk all over again!

The self-portraits of ‘Igor Stravinsky’

Self portrait July 25Self portrait July 26

It’s been two weeks since ‘Writing the Unthinkable’ with Lynda Barry. And what an incredible experience it was: 5 days in a room with the rockstar hero of my creative world! Writing, drawing, looking, listening, laughing, crying, and doing it all over again.

Self portrait July 27On the train ride back down the Hudson the day the workshop ended, I felt I was returning home with a sack full of treasure I would be enjoying for a long time to come. Since then, I’ve been wondering how to begin unpacking this treasure.

Like all good stories, why not start at the beginning…

One of the first things we did each day was to ‘take attendance’. We took a blank index card and drew a frame. At the top of the card we wrote our camp name (more on this in a moment!) and the date. We then had 2 minutes to draw a self-portrait, making sure to include the whole body.

Self portrait July 28This was a wonderful start to the day. Before we knew it, our hands were in motion and we were already making contact with ‘the back of the mind’ where all the good stuff is!

The first morning, Lynda invited us to choose a camp name for the duration of the workshop. During lunch I considered all sorts of names, but none of them seemed to fit.

Then I remembered a movie I had seen the week before about Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky and I started to laugh out loud in the dining hall. Yes! Igor Stravinsky! That was it! The name was alive. And I felt alive just thinking about it.

At the center of everything we call ‘the arts,’ and children call ‘play,’ is something which seems somehow alive.
― Lynda Barry, What It Is

Self portrait July 29This was one of many such moments during the week when a drawing or a story or a character made me want to laugh or dance or cry with recognition.

Having a camp name was very freeing. It gave me the feeling I could step outside what I normally think I can and can’t do, can and can’t be.

To add to this sense of expanding possibilities, we drew ourselves as fruits and vegetables, royalty, and monsters. We drew ourselves deep beneath the sea, up in outer space, and dancing our asses off at a disco.

We hung our attendance cards on the walls of the workshop room. Pretty soon, the wall was covered with hundreds and hundreds of drawings. The space felt rich and alive and full of energy. Did we really produce all this work? Walking around the space, looking at our gallery of self-portraits, it was incredible to see how the drawings grew even more alive as the week progressed.

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Lynda dared us to find a ‘bad drawing’ among the lot. It wasn’t possible! And during the week we got to see that there’s no such thing as a bad drawing. Here’s a page from Lynda Barry’s Syllabus that asks, ‘What is a bad drawing?’:

what is a bad drawing?

Syllabus is an incredible resource, filled with course notes from years of Lynda Barry’s classes and workshops. Many of the exercises we did during ‘Writing the Unthinkable’ are in there!

Drawing a self-portrait on an index card is a great thing to do before starting any creative work. In fact, its probably a great thing to do before starting anything at all. Why not give it a go?

A Rainbow of Fire

Your Bobba embroidered that tablecloth with a rainbow of fire, showed the world she was more than just a simple country girl.

Years ago you gave it to your sister, thinking her the collector of heirlooms, thinking you – Lady of Zen – could live without a past.

Now, whether you like it or not, the ancestors have come to sit at your table, to bless the golden loaves, the goblets of wine.

 

Lost in the forest

Lost in the forest

I’ve been thinking lately about the huge benefits to wellbeing that come from making art. Sure enough, by making a comic about feeling lost, I no longer feel quite so lost. I reckon, this is pretty close to magic.