Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Book-A-Day #190: Picture This by Lynda Barry

Note: As happened in the original 2006-2007 run of Book-A-Day, I had to scratch a number (189, in this case) because I doubled up earlier in the year (60, which I hit twice). Sometimes even simple counting can be very difficult.

In 2008, Lynda Barry taught us how to write -- or at least how she writes -- in the inspired and inspiring What It Is. Two years later, she came back to talk about the other half of cartooning: the art. (And it took me four further years to get that book off my shelf and read it.)

Just as What It Is was a very idiosyncratic book of how-to advice on writing, Picture This is equally idiosyncratic on the subject of drawing. As she assumed we all used to tell stories in the prior book, this time she assumes everyone used to draw as children, and that drawing again as an adult can only have good results -- and that the techniques here, both the ones she developed herself and the ones derived from Chinese brush techniques, are the ways to get back to drawing.

As before, it's inspiring and bracing to have a teacher so sure of herself, even if some readers might suspect this would not be a terribly useful program for them. Also, the advice here could be seen as contradictory to that in What It Is -- the Picture This Barry calls for would-be cartoonists and others interested in drawing to just start moving their brushes around on a piece of paper, which will get ideas flowing, while in What It Is she had specific writing exercises to drive creativity. (And only ambidextrous multiple personalities could do the two things simultaneously with different hands.) But the two books have the same end: to get ideas flowing. And they both start from imagery rather than from ideas or stories or motifs or any other devices: to Barry, apparently, all art comes from an image, and blossoms out from there into a larger work.

Barry constructs Picture This the same way she did What It Is -- with collage-driven pages that spiral around the subject, coming at it from all angles, but always obliquely. This is not a book that will give you specific steps to follow: it's a book to inspire you to pick up a brush, dip it in ink, and move it around on a piece of paper. (Or a pen, or a pencil, or some other implement: Barry isn't worried about the raw materials, and she isn't worried about the "quality" of the final product. She's much more concerned with the mental state and happiness of the person drawing -- this is less a series of art lessons and more a plan to make yourself happier and more centered.)

I found Picture This a bit less inspiring and thrilling than What It Is, either because it is a second book in the same style to the same end, or because I'm not as inspired by creating pictures in the first place. Would-be artists, and those who used to doodle a lot but gave it up as too childish, are more likely to be deeply inspired -- Barry is a gentle friendly voice, with vast power to draw people in and get them thinking. If you want to art, this is a great book to pick up.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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