Creativity Is In Your Fingertips

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Acclaimed artist, writer, and comic strip creator Lynda Barry reminds us our creativity is right there in our fingertips and offers a simple exercise we can do to release it. 

Omega: In your book What It Is, you have a character that says, “The thing I call ‘my mind’ seems to be kind of like a landlord that doesn’t really know its tenants.” What are some of the ways your landlord gets to know its tenants?

Lynda: Learning how to bring about sustained creative concentration is an excellent way for those parts of us that dwell in the back of the mind to be able to come forward. For me, this means practicing a certain sort of physical activity—in my case it’s writing or drawing by hand—for a reliable period of uninterrupted time, and being open to what shows up. 

Omega: What do you think stops people from making art? What’s one of the quickest ways to get unblocked?

Lynda: When little kids draw, they use the paper as a place for an experience. The paper is where this thing is going to happen, and the happening part of the experience is the reason to do it.

When we get a little older the paper seems to change, it goes from being a place for something to happen to a thing with a drawing on it, a drawing that can be judged as good or bad. That’s usually when people quit drawing.

The quickest way to turn the paper back into a place is to fold it into quarters, draw a quick scribble in each of the quadrants, turn the paper upside down and set a timer. Give yourself one minute for each scribble. Your job is to turn that scribble into a monster. There’s no way to do this wrong—or right for that matter. Monsters can look like anything.

When you’re done, pick one of the monsters and on another sheet of paper draw its parents, its grandparents, draw two siblings, draw the monster when it was a baby, draw it with its future mate.

Almost all of us can do this. And not just do it, but feel a particular sort of aliveness while we are doing it. That’s the experience I’m talking about when I talk about a place for an experience. The experience is one of being alive. 

Omega: If you could make a comic that would go in a time capsule to be released 200 years from now, what would you create?

Lynda: I’d make a comic about how to make comics by hand, and how you can use almost anything to do it, even a burnt stick and a grocery bag. I’d make a case for how drawing and writing by hand can set up conditions for discovery and insight in real time.

I’m worried about our relationship to our hands, and the kind of intuition they make possible. One of the things I love to do is help people find ways to reestablish that relationship. People long for creative activity without realizing it really is right at their fingertips.