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.
On 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.
This 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
This 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.
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?’:
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?