Index Card Portraits
This is the forty-seventh installment of The Curious Creative, weekly 10-minute writing exercises for busy individuals interested in exploring their creativity. For the complete rationale, click here.
One of the best ways to get into the writing mindset for me is to draw. It quiets and calms my mind-chatter, but it also centers me into my physical body and presence. It’s possible that engaging in any right-brained activity would help one access another creative activity- dancing to write, drawing to dance, etc. Personally, I drew a lot as a little kid and am not sure which came first – writing or drawing. But to this day, I place a lot of importance on the act of physically holding a pencil and channeling images or words through my arm, that this physical act is a completely necessary first step in anything I create.
Lynda Barry, cartoonist and creativity teacher, swears on this as well. In her book, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, she writes “The trick seems to be this: Consider the drawing as a side effect of something else: a certain state of mind that come about when we gaze with open attention.” In the course she teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “What It Is: manually shifting the image,” her students write, draw, paint and cartoon entirely by hand. In this week’s exercise, we are going to try an assignment she gives her students a few times each semester.
- Take a stack of index cards and a drawing pencil. Go to a public place.
- With whatever time you have, whether it is 10 or 45 minutes, draw people, one on each index card.
- Try not to get caught up on perfection, details, or verisimilitude. Rather than spending 45 minutes drawing one perfect portrait, it’s better to draw a handful of portraits, rudimentary ones like those you drew as a child. Draw characters out of simple shapes (circles, triangles, squares) with minimal features. Barry calls them “quick and workable alternative[s] to stick figures with a lot more soul.”
- Later, ink them in with a black pen. You can also fill them in with watercolor or colored pencils.
- The purpose of this exercise is purely to exercise your creative muscles, but something surprising might appear on your paper. You might end up using one of these images as inspiration for a future art or writing project.
How did you do? Did you keep your hand in motion the whole time? Were you able to turn your language-brain off and not think too much as you drew? Did anything original appear? Could any of these characters be inspiration for a story?
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Inspired by: Linda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014)