Friday, 27 June 2008

3 - Two (or Three) Card Characters

photo by Paul Tamburro

Not the snappiest of titles, but the most popular drawing game I do by FAR. I had a group of 16 year olds in Carlisle delighted to repeat it 4 times, and we could have gone on. This exercise works just a well with kids and adults, despite actually being quite a challenge and not a doddle. I must thank Steve Bissette, Earth's best comics teacher, for introducing me to this.

I expect that I will be adding to or at least adapting this particular post in the future, as I'm not sure how well I've written it yet.

Preparation - you need to make youself 3 sets of cards. My first batch got worn out with enthusiastic use, so my current ones have be done using good card, laminated then corners rounded off -

Set 1 - ANIMALS. I've got - octopus, giraffe, bear, sheep, walrus, puffin, tortoise, otter, donkey, reindeer, owl, cow, panda, monkey, camel, rat, dolphin, zebra, duck, crocodile, elephant, penguin, hedgehog, pigeon, tiger, chicken, squirrel, lion, fox, snail, (and then what seem to be the easiest ones-) bee, cat, dog, mouse, pig, and rabbit.

Set 2 - PROFESSIONS and PASTIMES. Ive got - drummer, clown, trombonist, doctor, photographer, builder, magician, police officer, writer, guitarist, bus driver, diver, teacher, gardener, chef, cyclist, astronaut, cowboy/girl, hiker, milkman, decorator, burglar, farmer, train driver, sailor, artist, violinist, scientist, vet, pirate, (and then the easiest tend to be -) tennis player, footballer, golfer, fisherman, photographer, and pop star.

Set 3 - EMOTIONS and STATES. I've got - shocked, weak, nervous, surprised, furious, in love, disgusted, drunk, tired, scary, fierce, puzzled, lazy, pained, shy, upset, overheated, greedy, bored, exhausted, confused, glum, crazy, joyful, freezing, messy, sneaky, overjoyed, strong, embarrassed, innocent, excited, (and the easier ones-) happy, sad, angry, scared.

These are what I use, but of course you can use your own ideas. Trying to come up with 30 emotions isn't particularly easy though.

What to do with them-
I'll start by explaining the game, without handing the cards out. I describe how this is similar to the guessing game we did before when we used the Charlie Brown self-portraits, only that the cards are going to tell you what to draw.
A demo is often a really good idea just to get it clear to everyone (plus kids love watching someone draw). I let someone pick an animal card at random for me, then someone else a profession.
Now if the group are older than 11 then I might consider using a third card as well, but more often than not just 2 cards is plenty. If I had a group that were there by their own motivation and in their own time, I'd take it that they would be slightly more confident with drawing and use so all 3 cards. Or, if I had a group over a number of days I might use 2 cards on the first day, then 3 the next. Adults find 3 cards very challenging unless they've warmed up to it, so I've probably only used the emotions set 4 or 5 times. Saying that, the Carlisle group were so into it they were crying out for a FOURTH set of cards, suggesting countries or historical periods!

Anyway, let's just stick with the 2 cards picked at random for now. Say we got CROCODILE and GARDENER - I have the class describe the particular identifiable features of these; long tail, bumpy back, long snout with huge mouth and sharp teeth etc, and a gardener might have wellies on, a sun hat, watercan, wheelbarrow, shove, fork, rake etc, and be stood in a garden surrounded by plants and flowers. So I draw this -

- all the time explaining how the trick is to keep both words in mind while you draw. If you drew yourself a crocodile, no matter how fantastic it might look when it's done, you'd have to struggle to integrate the gardener elements and tag them on clumsily. If you are thinking about both words at once, then you'll know that when you are drawing the jaws, or front legs, that you are going to want to have them clutching a watering can or shovel, and fit it in accordingly.
I tell them that the animal doesn't have to look exactly like it should - feel free to stand them up on their hind legs if that makes it easier, and use cliches if needs be (goofy front teeth for a rabbit, round ears for a mouse etc)- these are cartoony drawings that are meant to be silly.
The group are also reminded about what we did in the previous exercise - just including the important information and leaving irrelevant detail out - keeping it simple and clear, and filling the page. Going around the drawing with a solid black line shows how it's important to make your image bold and graphic.
Maybe if the group are not quite 'getting it', I'll do another example for them. Here's a tiger diver, where I've tried to emphasise his diverness by giving him the goggles and snorkel AND have him doing the action (even though they are two completely different kinds of diving), and his tigerness with stripes, claws and teeth as well as a bowl of Frosties to dive into.-

As I distribute the cards, I make it clear that you mustn't let anyone else see your cards or it will spoil the game of guessing at the end.
Everytime there will be groans of 'no way - I can't draw one of them - I don't know what it looks like', but I resist the demands to change their cards for other ones. I make it clear that I will be coming around to help everyone, so long as you make a start and try sketching it roughly first. I have learned a technique that usually stops some potential frustration with this by keeping the easiest cards on the bottom of my decks as I go round, and give those to whoever might lack confidence in drawing. Sneaky, I know.

So 10 minutes, maybe 15 is usually enough time for everyone to pencil their character and then go over with black felt tip. I collect all the drawings in and the guessing game begins. Depending on the group, I've found it often a good idea to ask all those that have been sneaking a peek at their neighbour's cards to keep quiet and let other people have a go at guessing.
As each set of words is guessed, the artists congratulated on their work - Well done! they've guessed it so quickly because you've done such a great job of making the words so clear to them. The group are asked if there are any ways to make the point any clearer - how might we draw a more chickeny chicken? How could you make it clear that this rabbit is a decorator not a builder? Now if we have the luxury of enough time, and the group are enthusiastic enough, then I might suggest that everyone do a 10 minute redraw, taking on board any suggested improvements.

This game is great fun but also quite a challenge (especially if you are brave enough to take a 3rd emotion card) - stripping the image down to the basics and deciding exactly what to include. It definitely encourages a kind of visual literacy, but is also a good opportunity to introduce the group to the idea that sharing your initial sketches and asking the opinion of others can be a very valuable thing. Having drawn what I think looks like a rat might turn out to look more like a mouse to someone else. I might be confident that my pop star is clearly that, while others might see some other kind of performer.

A common mistake is to emphasise one element more than the other. Say you are given elephant and train driver, this is what often happens-

- they've drawn the train and then squeezed a tiny little elephant into the drivers window - so small you can't tell it's an elephant. One way around this is to get stupid -
This is no way to drive a train, but at least it communicates both elephant and train driver in a clearer fashion.

Next Post -4 - Foreground, Midground, Background

1 comment:

Marek Bennett said...

I like this a lot. I'll bet it sparks a number of new story ideas for your students!