I spent some of yesterday morning trying to draw a decent – or at least not entirely terrible – picture of a door handle. I’ve had this door handle for ages, completely unattached to any kind of door. 20 years ago I found it somewhere and put it in my pocket, and since then – warning: I am boring – it’s become sort of a quietly magical object to me. I’ve kept it on bookshelves or in a funny box under the sofa in all of the houses I’ve lived in over the last two decades. I think if I ever moved and found that I’d lost it, I would be slightly winded, in a strange, silly way.
I’ve never tried to draw this thing before. And it turns out it’s quite hard. I’m trying to do a drawing of it where I capture the entire outline of the shape without moving my pencil off the page. It’s got to be an unbroken line. That’s hard enough. Then the job will be to move into the outline, as it were, and do all the detailing. Tricky! This, I have been told, is not really a task about drawing anyway. It’s a task about seeing.
This door handle thing is because of Quarantine Art Club, or maybe #quarantineartclub, which is the creation of Carson Ellis. Ellis is the writer and illustrator behind some truly glorious children’s books. Here’s a piece on Home, which is an absolute classic. Since we’ve all been locked down these last few weeks, she’s been using her Instagram account to set people little drawing challenges. I appreciate this isn’t strictly a game, but it seems game-adjacent at least. It’s about creativity and play.
And a little bit of learning. Each day you get a topic and some instructions. Draw a self-portrait. Draw an object using a single line. Draw the view out of a window. Sometimes, though, when I’m fumbling through the drawing, I learn a little something about the process of creating children’s books. When Ellis told us to do treasure maps, she also told us to draw the treasure and put it as a second image in the same post. Swiping between them would create what’s known in the children’s book trade as an “impactful page turn.” That was a new one on me, but it made a lot of sense. Every Tintin book – this is accurate, check it out for yourself – has a cliffhanger at the bottom of every page. You never really notice it in the books, since it’s a holdover from when they were serialised. Except maybe you do unconsciously get a little jolt from those cliffhangers – maybe they secretly keep you turning the pages. Impactful!
I love this stuff. A chance to learn, have a little doodle, and also see what other people are up to. When Ellis got us to draw butterflies, mine was an absolute botch, but other people did amazing things. Check this one out:
Ellis isn’t the only person doing this stuff – breaking down the read/write barriers of Instagram and the like to create a gamey kind of conversation Christina Tosi, a proper hero of mine, has been teaching people to make stuff from her double-dangerous Milk Bar Store recipe book. I love this book, but I’ve only done the very basics from it so far for competence reasons. Maybe that will change.
And over on YouTube, Mo Willems, the creator of the Pigeon books has been getting kids to doodle along at lunchtimes. Better yet, every now and then he goes through his archives. In the episode below you get to see the original art from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. You also get a little insight into how children’s books are pitched.
Games are everywhere here, I think. Or rather, this all comes from the same space that games come from. Interactivity, yes, but also creativity, a glimpse of another world, and a bit of a sense of dialogue. Fantastic.