PICTURETHIS

Design Arts Daily reviews PICTURE THIS

Lynda Barry’s Cure for Fear of Drawing

Design Arts Daily    |    Peggy Roalf    |    December 1, 2010

Lynda Barry’s new book, Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book, takes her invention, the graphic memoir, into uncharted territory. She brings back Marlys and Arna, characters from her previous book, What It Is, and introduces the Near-Sighted Monkey, a cigarette-smoking alter ego from Hell. Through these tough cookies, she poses questions that no adult in their right mind would ask. For example: “Why do we stop drawing? And why do we start?” Or “What is the difference between torn and cut (paper)? Which do you prefer?”

As you squirm in your seat, remembering how boring childhood often was, and how we sometimes squandered our time and talents on coloring books (they destroy creativity, according to Marlys) in order to conquer our fears about making pictures . And so, for the days when we don’t feel that we can draw, the kindhearted artist offers a stand-in chicken to use instead. We can trace it, cut it out, and paste it into our own drawing space. “The Dear Chicken is on the job!”

Cover and inside pages from Picture This: The Nearsighted Monkey Book by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, 2010).

“What happened on the day I realized I could not draw?” Now that’s an ugly thought, but the courageous artist assures us that “it happens to almost everyone.” She explores the fear that a blank drawing book, or even a blank sheet of paper can conjure up, then proceeds to annotate the process of making ugly and pretty shapes, collecting them into nice piles, and then “finding your way back to the place where the shapes are happening.” Another piece of sage advice about overcoming our inherent inabilities is a blinding glimpse of the obvious: “The trick is to stand not knowing certain things long enough for them to come to you.”

“Try dots when you are blue,” the thoughtful artist urges. This section explores in detail the language of dots; how they differ from lines and how it made her feel as a child when she covered things in dots – “it was like a dare.” Picture This covers just about every kind of art crisis imaginable and what to do about it. “What makes you able to endure uncertainty. What makes your mind wander? Why do we lose focus?” Part of the solution is “You have to be willing to spend time making things for no reason.”

The prolific artist obviously lives her good advice; the pages of this miraculous book are wall-to-wall jam-packed with pictures, art fragments, torn, cut and pasted printed matter, lettering, writing, and ideas. “It took a long time to realize that I didn’t kneed to be in the mood to move my brush before I picked it up,” she writes. “All I needed to do was move the brush and my mood would follow the trail.”

As Marlys becomes braver, she draws herself and her cohort Arna. A chapter-like section of the book details this process, starting with pictures of Marlys in different guises: dancing, boxing, eating grilled cheese and other fun stuff. Then she deconstructs what makes drawing herself or Arna such a different exercise. Later on, Marlys uncovers her Rosetta Stone. “I had an idea for a party,” she writes, “where people made pictures together and the rule is you can talk about anything except the pictures. What happens when we make pictures without talking about them? Why would we not talk about a picture? What does not talking give us?” And so, dear readers, as my friend the English art director likes to say, “Suck it and see!”



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