When I taught English in Japan, I noticed that many of the learning activities had at base the notion of ‘the hidden picture’, where you engage curiosity by hiding images or objects. This week, I noticed similarly that many activities to inspire cartooning use notions of ‘the unfinished picture,’ where the cartoonist adds ideas to the beginnings. This post explores a few of these variations on a theme for future exercises.
Firstly, an Instagram friend, educator and creator, Herma Starreveld posts an ‘unfinished picture’ each Monday to inspire creativity, for example, this week’s post below is unfinished and then finished by Herma (@studio.mastarre, 18-19.01.2021):
I am yet to try this particular version of the ‘unfinished picture,’ but have recently worked with two exercises that work in a similar fashion with the working titles of ‘The Yellow Blobs’ and ‘Becoming the Thingness’ for future workshops.
‘Yellow Blobs’ is an idea posted by Nikki Shaill who runs creativity workshops (@originaryarts 04.01.2021) where you add yellow blobs to a page and turn them into things. Shaill had added instructions to create a playful approach,
‘To counter festive blues, cover a page with sunny yellow circles and then transform them into whatever comes into your mind. Enjoy yourself and the sunshine yellow’
Here is her completed example provided:
This is designed to be a playful exercise, but in my case, it ended up as a sort of ‘brain-dump’ of whatever was going on in my mind, including meeting Sue, ideas about zen, humour construction, enjoying being under the sky, and a good suggestion from Roger.
This ‘brain-dump’ is interesting, because the activity became another way of doing the comics diary. It illustrated the events and thoughts of recent times without even trying to recall events of the day. It was thought-provoking, as well as visually productive, although it is surprising that my result is so different from Shaill’s. It would be good to see how other creators might respond.
There are also other variations of adding ideas to shapes such as exercises with ink blots or splashes. Ralph Steadman uses ink splashes to form the beginnings of his creations (Economist 2014).
This week, I worked with an idea from teacher and zen practitioner, Natalie Goldberg, where you draw objects that surround you and then add doodles as you wish. I was surprisingly nervous about doing this, even with the support of her encouraging and liberating instructions (2014:10-11). Goldberg embraces the little whims of the mind in the instructions,
‘As you draw you might hear your mind thinking. Maybe you wish you had a cupcake, piled high with icing and jelly beans? Go ahead, draw that on the other side of the coffee cup. No one says you have to absolutely stay with the concrete – you get to capture your desires a little, too. Let’s be honest: The cup you drew isn’t a perfect circle anyway. Thank the heavens it’s a bit lopsided. It has character. This isn’t photography. And you’ve probably heard the rule: No erasing, no tearing up the paper. Accept the way it comes out. if you practice this acceptance, more will come out. Space and freedom will open up. You won’t edit and crimp yourself even before you begin to explore’. (2014: 10)
I varied Goldberg’s instructions slightly, by creating two pages of drawings. For the first, I followed Franck’s zen drawing approach (1988), where you don’t look at the page, but work on connecting with the object. On the second page, I looked and drew with pen. I didn’t allow myself the indulgence of pencil that is fearful and erasable.
The different approaches to the drawing offered up different possibilities for doodling and cartooning. However, I found it easier to find the funny with Goldberg’s direct approach, as you could readily identify the objects drawn. Nevertheless, I still think the blind drawing is interesting for finding the unexpected image and idea.
Overall, I loved it, because it has the most potential by giving creators a chance to work to develop a grounding of drawing objects, and then of adding ideas depending on mood and whim. ‘The funny’ can be discovered in odd connections between the objects and the ideas of the creator.
In the page on the right, I particularly liked odd connections to an ex-boyfriend who hated it when I balanced tea on my knee, and one of my ‘badly drawn birds’ laughing at the concept of enlightenment.
Goldberg conveys both how and why to do this in wonderful writing in her book, and I am in awe of her way of describing creativity. There isn’t space to add much here, but it is worth noting her final comments in this section, as they remind me vividly of connections to incongruity theory as a way to finding the funny,
‘My hope is to jostle your mind out of the ordinary, out of logic, and maybe after a moment of shock, snap you into feeling and creating from a non-rational place, where things are interconnected on a whole different level. Writing, painting and drawing are linked. Don’t let anyone split them apart, leading you to believe you are capable of expression in only one form. The mind is much more whole and vast than that.’ (2014:11)
Comics and cartooning automatically embrace and fuse back together the word and the image, so that they are interconnected. They defy sociocultural arcane notions of the superiority of the word and they offer new possibilities for thinking, seeing, and finding the funny.
Economist, YouTube Channel (2013) ‘The Art of Ralph Steadman: A Savage Satirist’available at: https://youtu.be/i6omL2ukk9c (accessed 29.01.2021)
Franck, F (1988) The Zen of Seeing: Seeing Drawing as Meditation. USA: Random.
Goldberg, N (2014) Living Colour – Painting, Writing, and the Bones of Seeing. USA: Stewart, Tabori and Chang
Shaill, N (2021) Instagram feed, @orginaryarts, available at: https://www.instagram.com/originaryarts/(accessed 29.01.2021)
Starreveld, H (2021) Instagram feed, @studio.mastarre, available at: https://www.instagram.com/studio.mastarre/(accessed 29.01.2021)