Draw it Out with Comics!

As an art therapist, I work with many people of different ages who have different challenges and different levels of experience with art making. One of the things I hear most often is, “I’m not an artist,” or, “I can’t even draw a stick person!” In response to this, I always urge people to think back to when they were a kid, and ask if they knew how to express themselves creatively back then. Did they tell stories? Did they paint? Did they dance? Did they draw? Did they sing? We usually come to the conclusion that as a kid, they probably wouldn’t have shied away from a blank piece of paper and a pack of scented Mr. Sketch markers. Creative expression is a natural outlet for children; it is how they communicate thoughts and ideas, and how they explore and process the world around them. Although it is something we may not be able to access as easily as adults, we all knew how to express ourselves creatively when we were kids.

Cartoonist Lynda Barry says that it is around age 9 when we begin to develop self-consciousness about drawing (2015). We start to listen to others’ criticisms of the marks we put on paper, and we learn that artistic self-expression is reserved for certain people who are deemed “creative” or “talented.” It is also around this age that there is a cognitive shift, and we begin to solve our problems through argumentative reasoning, rather than through our imagination (Barry, 2015). However, sometimes creativity can provide new insight for solving a problem, and drawing things out can change the way we approach a problem. When we draw, letting one line lead into the next, we are setting the conditions for insight and intuition (Barry, 2015). Imagining solutions can bring about perspectives and ideas that we may have never thought possible.

Drawing comics is a way to return to the natural methods of expression that go beyond words. It is a simple way of putting lines and shapes together to form a narrative, and to reimagine new possibilities and solutions. Children naturally “story” their experiences, and as adults we can also access the unique possibilities of comics for telling social or personal stories. Comics are simple; you can portray a facial expression or emotion with just two dots and a line. They also offer the possibility of juxtaposing contrasting ideas, or compressing or extending periods of time. Comics can provide a space for processing new experiences, or reimagining new possibilities and creative solutions.

One of the other great things about drawing comics is humour. Laughter is faster than thinking – you get a joke way before you know why you got the joke (Barry, 2015). Laughter is another way that we can set the conditions for insight and intuition, and it is something that often comes about naturally when we draw comics. Humour creates a safety net for expression, and can offer a lighthearted perspective on more serious topics. For example, a bad experience with a coworker or a customer can be transformed into a funny story with the addition of your internal monologue!

Here is a simple drawing exercise from Lynda Barry that can be done in about 10 minutes. The “Monster To Do List” is a great way to practice simple drawings, and watch how basic shapes and everyday ideas can be transformed into a story!

1. Take an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper. It’s better if it’s a piece of paper you were planning to throw away.
2. Fold it into four quarters, so it’s divided into four chambers.
3. Take a pencil or a pen. On one chamber, make a squiggle.
4. On another chamber, make a closed shape, like a square or a rhombus.
5. On the third quarter, make another squiggle.
6. On the fourth quarter, make another closed shape.

  1. Set a timer for two minutes, that’s how much time you have to turn that first squiggle into a monster. You know – eyeballs, teeth, claws, etc. Repeat for all four chambers.
    8. Make a list of 10 things you have to do that you’re not doing. (I have to do my laundry, go to the dentist, etc.)
    9. Look at that list, and figure out which monster has to do what.
    10. Write those tasks above those monsters. It’s an instant comic and the results are often hilarious!

You can also try “Monster parenting!”

  1. Fold another sheet of paper into quarters.
  2. Take any one of those monsters, and now draw that monster’s parents.
  3. Think about the task that monster has to do — like go to the dentist. Make one parent loves the monster “Honey those teeth aren’t important, what’s matter is you’re happy.” Make another parent hate you “Of course you’re not going to the dentist.”
  4. Just have them start talking about the problem. It’s instant! And the most important thing is it makes you start laughing.

Sources for this post:

Barry, L. 2015. CBC Canada: Lynda Barry dares you to draw like a kid. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-friday-may-8-2015-1.3065520/cartoonist-lynda-barry-dares-you-to-draw-like-a-kid-1.3065525

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