Day 24. Visual Storytelling: SINGLE WORD STORIES
Pick a word. Any word. Just leave it up to CHANCE.
Here we are on Day 24 and friends, and these drawings y’all are doing… they just keep getting more and more fascinating, thoughtful, unique, experimental, brave, creative, FUN. I didn’t expect yesterday’s lists to yield that many yards and yards of pure gold, but my god, GOLD YARDS IT DID. Each drawn lists tell such a rich, personal story Each one is so different. From an accounting of beloved cats to a roll call of life-sustaining meds, to the lift of each and every bra, we can learn So Much about ourselves and each other through our drawn lists.continues to curate a phenomenal GUT gallery every day. Today’s (at the end of the email, members only!) is out of this world. I’ve also included a note on HOW the gallery is curated. Shocker: it’s not about “good drawings.”
If you haven’t checked out the 1,000+ posts in the LIST GUT chat, move it to the top of your To Do.
10-Minute GUT Drawing Playlists
Before we dive into today’s assignment, I wanted to share this incredible gift GUT membermade for us:
From the jump I was hoping to make 10 minute drawing playlists for all of us to use instead of a timer (still dreaming of collaborating with you,and ❤️) so my heart exploded when Ali just went ahead and took it upon herself to make some. (Leave it to the GUT community!) Each playlist is a different vibe, so no matter what your mood, there’s some great vibes to boost your drawing time. THANK YOU ALI!
Now on to today’s very different visual storytelling adventure. Today we are doing a sort of drawn version of Tarot reading plus Angel Cards mixed with a chance based surrealist drawings game. Totally chill, I swear.
I’m calling it SINGLE WORD STORIES.
Day 24. Visual Storytelling: SINGLE WORD STORIES
I’ve been looking forward to doing this with y’all since the jump.
Now that we’ve used drawing to explore a bit about ourselves, and played with text a bit, combine all that AND pivot to something different. Let’s use drawing and text to tell a story that is based on CHANCE. Totally random.
I’m going to talk to you a little about how we can use chance in our art, and then show you some drawings by a supremely talented author-artist-friend of mine to use as a jumping off point for today’s assignment. Sound good?
Let’s do this.
The Element of Chance
The enemy of art is the absence of limitations. - Orson Welles
If you’ve been with the GUT over a year, you may remember one of my all time favorite GUT dispatches: “Drawing Medicine for Decision Fatigue,” in which we explored using CHANCE to create drawings.
When I first wrote that piece, I was feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and choices. I just wanted someone else to swoop in and make all my decision for me. (Can you relate?) While we can’t really do that in our day-to-day lives, there is one place we can let go and leave it all up to chance: our Art.
A lot of art is decision making. It begins the moment we decide we want to make something. Then we have to decide what we want to make. Then how we want to make it. Next what surface to use. Then what medium to select, what light to use, if we want to introduce color or not… then onto decisions about every single line, dot, stroke, erasure… and on and on and on.
There are a billion decision in every drawing. Each decision narrows our path, helping us navigate forward. That’s why limitations are so important. If we don’t have any constraints to help us focus, it’s almost impossible to start.
If we don’t have any constraints to help us focus, it’s almost impossible to start.
Every artist, writer, musician, choreographer agrees: constraints are a gift. As Orson Welles famously said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
When you feel overwhelmed by choices or burnt out on making them, instead of looking more widely for inspiration, try narrowing your options. Put down the endless news feed or instagram scroll and give yourself some constraints.
Making art is easier and more interesting when everything is not all up to you. When we set up constraints and let go of infinite decision-making, we start to collaborate with the universe.
Let’s look at a couple examples of people who narrow their choices and come up with unexpected art as a result:
Ellsworth Kelly, whose contour drawings of plants I’ve shared with you a couple times in the past month, eventually abandoned figure painting to make minimal, geometric paintings. Soon after he started experimenting with using chance in his painting process. He said he wanted to “remove the ‘I made this’” from the process.
In one of his bodies of work, Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance, he assigned numbers to colors, then randomly assigned those same numbers to squares on a grid on a canvas. Then he cut paper squares of the colors he assigned then glued them in their randomly designated squares on the canvas. Here’s what happened:
Beautiful, right? The universe at work.
Sometimes Kelly created elaborate games and systems to select his color. He even used a slot machine!
Another great example of a chance-driven art project is my wonderful friend‘ s drawing game Transmundane Tuesdays. Every tuesday for several years she pulled three prompts from a hat and shared them on Instagram (then later on her wonderful substack, . She and other artists would then combine those words to create a drawing.
Here is an example of the random pull, and a drawing by Carson that emerged from it.
Love’ work so much.
While Carson retired Transmundane Tuesdays a little while ago, if you feel like giving it a go sometime, we did an episode for kids about it on DrawTogether’s podcast if you want to give it a go.
When we set up constraints and let go of infinite decision-making, we start to collaborate with the universe.
Now let’s turn from the glory of chance to the glory of inspiration. Let’s look at how one particular artist combines drawings and a few words to tell an unexpected, fun, open-ended visual story. Let’s see what we can learn from him, and how we can apply it to our own work - but using chance.
You might know Dave from one of his bazillion books, from a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to The Circle, and most recently The Eyes and The Impossible, which just won the prestigious Newberry award yesterday! What many people don’t know is that before he was a writer, he was an aspiring painter. After college he made comics and illustrations for magazines. (Some people are just so darn prolific!) So it was a joy to see him - like many artists at the Grown-Ups Table - return to drawing later in life.
You know what else is a joy?? See someone not taking their drawing too seriously, and having some real fun with it. I absolutely love his drawings. They combine drawings, usually of animals, with pithy phrases that create a story.
Dave’s drawing skills are obvious - clearly this person has studied and practiced A LOT, but his style of drawing is loose and approachable. His subjects are all so friendly. Combined with the text, his drawings become… SILLY?
It makes me wonder where his text comes from. Does he scribble in a notebook all day? Eavesdrop on conversations? Then connect unlikely image with text steals from the world?
I don’t know. But I know that it’s not as easy as it looks. To get just the right drawing with just the right phrase so it looks like we don’t even try. To make something look so effortless.
Or, wait. Maybe it can be….
By eliminating the effort!
What if we created a random game of chance to create a single world visual story, like Dave’s Glory Dog above or his Nice Bison below….
What do you think?
Want to use a game of chance to create some simple drawn single word drawn stories? I promise this will be fun.
Let’s do it.
First, go grab some scissors. :)