I just discovered Lynda Barry on Friday, 20 April 2018. I very first heard about her book Syllabus on Creative Bug, at some point this past week – but only started investigating her work on Friday. I feel like marking the day is significant because I don’t think I’ll be the same after this.
That night, I ran a drawing workshop at the North Down museum, and asked participants to imagine Bangor in the future, inspired by a project Lynda Barry did. It was a blast. I loved having that hook to draw people in. I spent Saturday listening to her, and reading anything I could get my eyeballs on. And I started drawing. I’m waiting patiently for her book Syllabus to arrive. Meanwhile, I discovered she has shared so much online.
Lynda Barry posts all of her classroom homework and assignments right on Tumblr as The Near-sighted Monkey. A few months ago Lynda Barry posted “For a good time, visit our website’s archive of over 5,000 posts.” She recommends you search for “Homework” and “assignment.” Open Culture collected links and notes from Lynda Barry’s course here.
I don’t want to take away the thrill of combing through her back catalog, but I want to share what I found here to inspire you.
Learn about Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry is an artist and a scientist investigating the links between doodling, memory, creativity, and just being human. This is serious stuff, as much as it’s silly and fun. I feel so vindicated reading her explain that doodling helps you focus, helps you remember things. I want to take this to my 4th grade teacher who confiscated my notebooks and BANNED me from doodling!
Listen to her voice, and you’ll hear it in her writing after that. So good.
Buy her books! Buy her stuff!
I don’t like to link to Amazon, but I can’t find a list from her own site for affiliate links. So, I am linking direct to the publisher here.
Lynda Barry sells her work on Etsy as packed including original drawings and copies of her work.
Discover Lynda Barry’s assignments
It seems if you follow along from the start of a year you could do all the assignments each week. Or dip in and out.
The assignments are very specific. Creativity thrives in boundaries. Her instructions take away the decision making, and I think in some ways they help people get started. Before they have even collected the quotes, they are cutting the cards and they have already “started” the task.
Here’s an example. Quote Collection: Between now and next week, make a quote collection. Her assignment specifies that you cut index cards in half, you collect ten quotes. You identify the location and date on the back. Write each quote nearly in all capital letters on the centre of the car.
There are also assignments to watch and read, with inspirations from cartoons to funk music to split-brain studies.
I can see how she is helping the students build habits for getting started and staying focused. The writing and drawing assignments are often timed. Which is also good to do when you can’t START. She is adamant: use your phone on airplane mode! Here’s an example: Blow your mind with your mind, by drawing faces. These tactics, like working on “airplane mode” and using timers are the kinds of techniques I’ve learned to get focused and working.
She has many assignments related to Ivan Brunetti’s book, Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, which is a textbook for the class. Here’s an example. Draw 9 castles. Fold a paper into 9 squares. Draw a castle in the first square in 3 mins, and then 2 mins, 1 mins, then 45 seconds, 30 seconds, 20, 10, then 5! Faster and faster! Going to put that on my wishlist.
Showing up and doing the work! This is another thing I love about her assignments. She references the discipline of showing up and doing the work. Students will lose credit for unexecused abscences, showing up late, or not bringing their materials. I love this quote from an NPR interview.
The essential assignment: the four minute diary
I’m flat out this week away for work. So I’ve started with this assignment to keep a four minute diary.
Lynda is on YouTube as Aunti Skimpo. She recommends a daily activity of a “four minute diary” – 4 mins! I can do that! In 2 mins, you write down a list of what you remember about the day before or what happened. And in the next 2 mins, you write down a list of what you saw. This helps improve your memory, and it helps you notice what you notice.
I tried the Artists Way. I think I kept it up for 3 of the 6 weeks. But it was… painful and boring. Ugh. I constantly felt like I had nothing to say or worth writing about it. I have the cringe-worth pages still. Yeesh. This 4 mins diary seems much more do-able.
Gather your materials
She is very specific in what materials she recommends students use in the assignments. Specific pens, specific crayons and markers. Though she does talk about using cheap “garbage” materials – which I can relate to so much. Takes some of the fear away!
Ooo. Just discovered you can embed Tumblr posts (see below). Anyway, if it doesn’t appear, follow the link for the supplies list. Seems to be posted a few times – it’s roughly the same each time.
I think some of the materials are cultural references, like the composition note books which you can’t get here easily in UK/Ireland. Well, you can but they cost a lot! I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a Papermare Flair pen, and I think importing the materials for the sake of specificity seems to go against the idea that these are easy every-day things to get . (24 pens for 30 quid?) I dunno! I will have a nosey if I can get to a stationary store this week.
What is in the Art Kit? Seems students buy some kind of art kit. And then assignments refer to watercolour kits and index cards. Maybe it’s in the Syllabus book? I will find out!
For now, for this week, I have plans to show up everyday, and do the work. I think the only habit I can rely on is that I drink coffee every morning. So I’m going to attach the 4 minute diary to that activity, and start from there.