Draw Along with Beloved Cartoonist & Educator Lynda Barry: Free Drawing Exercises Online

How do you rescue a day that’s gone pear shaped?

Stopping to drink a glass of water is one of our longtime go tos.

If there’s a box of matches handy, we might perform Yoko Ono’s Lightning Piece.

Most recently, we’ve taken to grabbing some paper and a trusty black felt tip to spend a few minutes doing one of beloved cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry’s all-ages draw-alongs.

Barry began uploading these videos early in the pandemic, for “friends at home who are about to turn four or five or six or seven or any age really.”


Each demonstration begins with an oval. There’s no prologue. Just dive on in and copy the motions of Barry’s slow moving, refreshingly unmanicured hands, captured in a DIY god shot.

Less than four minutes later, voila! A smiling crocodile! (It’s magical how a facial expression can be changed with one simple line.)

The soundtracks to these little narration-free exercises are an extra treat. We’ve always admired Barry’s musical taste. It’s a real mood booster to cover a cheetah in spots to the tune of a marimba orchestra.

Barry’s also a big cumbia fan, conjuring a kitty to Lito Barrientos’ Cumbia En Do Menor, a lion to Los Mirlos’ Cumbia de los Pajaritos, and a Stegosaurus to Romulo Caicedo’s Cumbia Cavela.

Now that you’ve got a cheetah under your belt, you’re ready to progress to a ScorpionLeopard, one of Draw Along with Lynda B‘s “strange animals.”

Barry does offer some commentary as these cryptids take shape.

We suspect her pioneering work with a group of four-year-olds in the University of Wisconsin’s Draw Bridge program leads her to anticipate the sorts of burning questions a pre-schooler might have with regard to these beasts. Her classroom experience is evident. Whereas others might think a steady stream of bright chatter is necessary to keep very young participants engaged, Barry’s thoughtful words develop in real time along with her drawing:

This is a tough animal. It has a big stinger on the back. This is a rough animal… angry.  Put the eyebrows like this. It makes them look angry. What kind of teeth do you think this animal has? I don’t think they have little bitty teeth. I think they have big fangs.

Others in the “strange animal” family: a CatDogSealFish, an octophant, and a catterfly (featuring a cameo by Barry’s inquisitive pooch’s snout.)

Draw along with Lynda Barry on this YouTube playlist.

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Watch Cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Two-Hour Drawing Workshop

Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Google App Uses Machine Learning to Discover Your Pet’s Look Alike in 10,000 Classic Works of Art


Does your cat fancy herself a 21st-century incarnation of Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of the Rising Sun, protector of the household, aka The Lady of Slaughter?

If so, you should definitely permit her to download the Google Arts & Culture app on your phone to take a selfie using the Pet Portraits feature.

Remember all the fun you had back in 2018 when the Art Selfie feature mistook you for William II, Prince of Orange or the woman in “Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife”?


Surely your pet will be just as excited to let a machine-learning algorithm trawl tens of thousands of artworks from Google Arts & Culture’s partnering museums’ collections, looking for doppelgängers.

Or maybe it’ll just view it as one more example of human folly, if a far lesser evil than our predilection for pet costumes.

Should your pet wish to know more about the artworks it resembles, you can tap the results to explore them in depth.

Dogs, fish, birds, reptiles, horses, and rabbits can play along too, though anyone hailing from the rodent family will find themselves shut out.

Mashable reports that “uploading a stock image of a mouse returned drawings of wolves.”

We can’t blame your pet snake for fuming.

Ditto your Vietnamese Pot-bellied pig.

Though your pet ferret probably doesn’t need an app (or a crystal ball) to know what its result would be. Better than an ermine collar, anyway…


If your pet is game and falls within Pet Portraits approved species parameters, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Launch the Google Arts & Culture app and select the Camera button. Scroll to the Pet Portraits option.
  2. Have your pet take a selfie. (Or alternatively, upload a saved image.)
  3. Give the app a few seconds (or minutes) to return multiple results with similarity percentages.

Download the Google Arts & Culture app here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Tate Kids Presents Introductions to Art Movements: Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism & More

Tate Kids has a solid grasp on the sort of hands on art-related content that appeals to children – Make a mud painting! Make a spaghetti sculpture! Photo filter challenge!

Children of all ages, grown ups who skipped out on art history included, will benefit from their breakneck overviews of entire art movements.

Take cubism.


The Tate Kids’ animation, above, provides a solid if speedy overview, zipping through eight canvases, six artists, and explanations of the movement’s two phases – analytical and synthetic. (Three phases if you count Orphism, the abstract, cubist influenced painting style married artists Robert and Sonia Delaunay hatched around 1912.)

Given the intended audience, the fond friendship between the fathers of cubism, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso looms large, with nary a peep about Picasso’s narcissism and misogyny. And it must be said that the narrator’s tone grates a bit – a bit too loud, a bit too wowed.

The Impressionists come off as the real cool kids, with a different narrator, and nifty collage animations that find Camille Pissarro throwing horns and a Mohawked Alfred Sisley as they reject the Salon‘s insistence on “myths, battles and paintings of important people.”

Their defiant spirit is supported by criticism that most definitely has not stood the test of time:

Pure evil! 

Wallpaper! 

Like a monkey has got hold of a box of paints!

Kid presenters seize the controls for an introduction to the mid-century Japanese avant-garde movement, Gutai.

Their conclusion?

Smashing things up is fun!

As are manifestos:

Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops…Lock up these corpses in the graveyard!

Yay!

Those who are poorly equipped to stomach the narrators’ whizbang enthusiasm should take a restorative minutes to visit the museum oranges in hand, with 12-year-old Jaeda and 9-year-old Fatimatu. Their calm willingness to engage with conceptual art is a tonic:

When I started art, I though art was just about making it perfect, but you don’t have to care what other people say. That could still mean an art to you.

Watch a Tate Kids Art Movements playlist on YouTube. Supplement what you’ve learned with a host of Tate Kids activities, coloring pages, games, quizzes, artist bios and a gallery of crowdsourced kid art.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Harper Lee Gives Advice to Young Writers in One of Her Only Interviews Captured on Audio (1964)

You know the character Boo Radley? Well, if you know Boo, then you understand why I wouldn’t be doing an interview. Because I am really Boo. 

— Harper Lee, in a private conversation with Oprah Winfrey

Author Harper Lee loved writing but resisted interviews, granting just a handful in the fifty-six years that followed the publication of her Pulitzer Prize winning 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird

Go Set a Watchmanher second, and final, novel began as an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, and was published in 2015, a year before her death.

Roy Newquist, interviewing Lee in 1964 for WQXR’s Counterpointaboveprobably expected the hotshot young novelist had many more books in her when he solicited her advice for “the talented youngster who wants to carve a career as a creative writer.”

Presumably Lee did too. “I hope to goodness that every novel I do gets better and better, not worse and worse,” she remarked toward the end of the interview.

She obliged Newquist by offering some advice, but stopped short of offering career tips to those eager for the lowdown on how to write an instant bestseller that will be adapted for stage and screen, earn a perennial spot in middle school curriculums, and — just last week — be crowned the Best Book of the Past 125 Years in a New York Times readers’ poll, beating out titles by well regarded, and vastly more prolific authors on the order of J.R.R. Tolkien, George Orwell, Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison.

“People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don’t know what they’re doing. They’re in the category of those who write; they are not writers,” she drawled.

Harper Lee’s Advice to Young Writers

  • Hope for the best and expect nothing in terms of recognition
  • Write to please an audience of one: yourself
  • Write to exorcise your divine discontent
  • Gather material from the world around you, then turn inward and reflect
  • Don’t major in writing

Listening to the recording, it occurs to us that this interview contains some more advice for young writers, or rather, those bringing up children in the digital age.

When Newquist wonders why it is that “such a disproportionate share of our sensitive and enduring fiction springs from writers born and reared in the South,” Lee, a native of Monroeville, Alabama, makes a strong case for cultivating an environment wherein children have no choice but to make their own fun:

I think … the absence of things to do and see and places to go means a great deal to our own private communication. We can’t go to see a play; we can’t go to see a big league baseball game when we want to. We entertain ourselves.

This was my childhood: If I went to a film once a month it was pretty good for me, and for all children like me. We had to use our own devices in our play, for our entertainment. We didn’t have much money. Nobody had any money. We didn’t have toys, nothing was done for us, so the result was that we lived in our imagination most of the time. We devised things; we were readers, and we would transfer everything we had seen on the printed page to the backyard in the form of high drama.

Did you never play Tarzan when you were a child? Did you never tramp through the jungle or refight the battle of Gettysburg in some form or fashion? We did. Did you never live in a tree house and find the whole world in the branches of a chinaberry tree? We did.

I think that kind of life naturally produces more writers than, say, an environment like 82nd Street in New York.

Hear that, parents and teachers of young writers?

  • Nurture the creative spirit by regularly prying the digital device’s from young writers’ hands (and minds.)

Bite your tongue if, thus deprived, they trot off to the theater, the multiplex, or the sports stadium. Remember that iPhones hadn’t been invented when Lee was stumping for the tonic effects of her chinaberry tree. These days, any unplugged real world experience will be to the good.

If the young writers complain — and they surely will — subject yourself to the same terms.

Call it solidarity, self-care, or a way of upholding your New Year’s resolution…

Read an account of another Harper Lee interview, during her one day visit to Chicago to promote the 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird and attend a literary tea in her honor, here.

Related Content: 

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Maurice Sendak Created a Dark Nutcracker Ballet

Children are the perfect audience for The Nutcracker. 

(Well, children and the grandmothers who can’t wait for the toddler to start sitting still long enough to make the holiday-themed ballet an annual tradition…)

Maurice Sendak, the celebrated children’s book author and illustrator, agreed, but found the standard George Balanchine-choreographed version so treacly as to be unworthy of children, dubbing it the “most bland and banal of ballets.”

The 1983 production he collaborated on with Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell did away with the notion that children should be “coddled and sweetened and sugarplummed and kept away from the dark aspects of life when there is no way of doing that.”


Tchaikovsky’s famous score remained in place, but Sendak and Stowell ducked the source material for, well, more source material. As per the New York City Ballet’s website, the Russian Imperial Ballet’s chief ballet master, Marius Petipa, commissioned Tchaikovsky to write music for an adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ child-friendly story The Nutcracker of Nuremberg. But The Nutcracker of Nuremberg was inspired by the much darker E.T.A. Hoffman tale, 1816’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

The “weird, dark qualities” of the original were much more in keeping with Sendak’s self proclaimed “obsessive theme”: “Children surviving childhood.”

Sendak wanted the ballet to focus more intently on Clara, the young girl who receives the Nutcracker as a Christmas present in Act I:

It’s about her victory over her fear and her growing feelings for the prince… She is overwhelmed with growing up and has no knowledge of what this means. I think the ballet is all about a strong emotional sense of something happening to her, which is bewildering.

 

Balanchine must have felt differently. He benched Clara in Act II, letting the adult Sugarplum Fairy take centerstage, to guide the children through a passive tour of the Land of Sweets.

As Sendak scoffed to the Dallas Morning News:

It’s all very, very pretty and very, very beautiful… I always hated the Sugarplum Fairy. I always wanted to whack her.

“Like what kids really want is a candy kingdom. That shortchanges children’s feelings about life,” echoes Stowell, who revived the Sendak commission, featuring the illustrator’s sets and costumes every winter for 3 decades.

In lieu of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Sendak and Stowell introduced a dazzling caged peacock — a fan favorite played by the same dancer who plays Clara’s mother in Act I.

The threats, in the form of eccentric uncle Drosselmeier, a ferocious tiger, and a massive rat puppet with an impressive, pulsing tail, have a Freudian edge.

The painted backdrops, growing Christmas tree, and Nutcracker toy look as if they emerged from one of Sendak’s books. (He followed up the ballet by illustrating a new translation of the Hoffman original.)

The Sendak-designed costumes are more understated, thought Pacific Northwest Ballet costumer Mark Zappone, who described working with Sendak as “an incredible joy and pleasure” and recalled the funny ongoing battle with the Act II Moors costumes to Seattle Met:

Maurice’s design had the women in quite billowy pants. So we ripped them out of the box, threw them on the girls upstairs in the studios, and Kent started rehearsing the Moors. And one by one, the girls got their legs stuck in those pants and—boom—hit the floor, all six of them. It was like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do about that one?” They ended up, for years, twisting the legs in their costumes and making a little tuck here and there. It was a rite of passage; if you were going to do the Moors, don’t forget to twist your pants around so you won’t get stuck in them.

Rent a filmed version of Maurice Sendak’s The Nutcracker on Amazon Prime. (Look for a Wild Thing cameo in the boating scene with Clara and her Prince.)

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Oscar-Winning Animation of Charles Dickens’ Classic Tale, A Christmas Carol (1971)

I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. – Charles Dickens

Some twenty years before Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, another animated entertainment injected “the most wonderful time of the year” with a potent dose of horror.

Surely I’m not the only child of the 70s to have been equal parts mesmerized and stricken by director Richard Williams’ faithful, if highly condensed, interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The 25-minute short features a host of hair-raising images drawn directly from Dickens’ text, from a spectral hearse in Scrooge’s hallway and the Ghost of Marley’s gaping maw, to a night sky populated with miserable, howling phantoms and the monstrous children lurking beneath the Ghost of Christmas Present’s skirts:

Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread… This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. 

Producer Chuck Jones, whose earlier animated holiday special, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, is in keeping with his classic work on Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. faves, insisted that this cartoon should mirror the look of the John Leech steel engravings illustrating Dickens’ 1843 original.

D.T. Nethery, a former Disney animation artist and fan of this Christmas Carol explains that the desired Victorian look was achieved with a labor-intensive process that involved drawing directly on cels with Mars Omnichrom grease pencil, then painting the backs and photographing them against detailed watercolored backgrounds.

As director Williams recalls below, he and a team including master animators Ken Harris and Abe Levitow were racing against an impossibly tight deadline that left them pulling 14-hour days and 7-day work weeksReportedly, the final version was completed with just an hour to spare. (“We slept under our desks for this thing.”)

As Michael Lyons observes in Animation Scoop, the exhausted animators went above and beyond with Jones’ request for a pan over London’s rooftops, “making the entire twenty-five minutes of the short film take on the appearance of art work that has come to life”:

…there are scenes that seem to involve camera pans, or sequences in which the camera seemingly circles around the characters. Much of this involved not just animating the characters, but the backgrounds as well and in different sizes as they move toward and away from the frame. The hand-crafted quality, coupled with a three-dimensional feel in these moments, is downright tactile.

Revered British character actors Alistair Sim (Scrooge) and Michael Hordern (Marley’s Ghost) lent some extra class, reprising their roles from the evergreen, black-and-white 1951 adaptation.

The short’s television premiere caused such a sensation that it was given a subsequent theatrical release, putting it in the running for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject. (It won, beating out Tup-Tup from Croatia and the NSFW-ish Kama Sutra Rides Again which Stanley Kubrick had handpicked to play before A Clockwork Orange in the UK.)

With theaters in DallasLos AngelesPortlandProvidenceTallahassee and Vancouver cancelling planned live productions of A Christmas Carol out of concern for the public health during this latest wave of the pandemic, we’re happy to get our Dickensian fix, snuggled up on the couch with this animated 50-year-old artifact of our childhood….

Related Content:

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Secrets of Beethoven’s Fifth, the World’s Most Famous Symphony

Revered by music lovers of temperaments as varied as Peanuts’ Schroeder and A Clockwork Orange’s AlexLudwig van Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers in the Western classical music canon.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor is surely one of his most recognized, and frequently performed works, thanks in large part to its dramatic opening motif —

dun-dun-dun-DAH!

Music educator Hanako Sawada’s entertaining TED-Ed lesson, animated by Yael Reisfeld above, delves into the story behind this symphony, “one of the most explosive pieces of music ever composed.”


Middle and high school music teachers will be glad to know the creators lean into the heightened emotions of the piece, depicting the composer as a tortured genius whose piercing gaze is bluer than Game of Thrones’ Night King.

Beethoven was already enjoying a successful reputation at the time of the symphony’s 1808 premiere, but not because he toiled in the service of religion or wealthy patrons like his peers.

Instead, he was an early-19th century bad ass, prioritizing self-expression and pouring his emotions into compositions he then sold to various music publishers.

With the Fifth, he really shook off the rigid structures of prevailing classical norms, embracing Romanticism in all its glorious turmoil.

The famous opening motif is repeated to the point of obsession:

Throughout the piece, the motif is passed around the orchestra like a whisper, gradually reaching more and more instruments until it becomes a roar.

Besotted teenagers, well acquainted with this feeling, are equipped with the internal trombones, piccolos, and contrabassoons of the sort that make the piece even more urgent in feel.

Just wait until they get hold of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved letters, written a few years after the symphony, when the hearing loss he was wrestling with had progressed to near total deafness.

Whether or not it was the composer (and not his biographer) who characterized the central motif as the sound of “Fate knocking at the door,” it’s an apt, and riveting notion.

Take a quiz, participate in a guided discussion, and customize Hanako Sawada’s lesson, “The Secrets of the World’s Most Famous Symphony,” here.

Listen to the symphony in its entirety below.

Related Content:

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday. 

Behold 84 Great Novels Reinterpreted as Modernist Postage Stamps

Ali Johnson and Jim Quail of Liverpool-based design studio Dorothy had a hit with their music-based graphicswhich recast seminal alternativepsychedelicelectronic, and post-punk albums as oversized postage stamps.

Now, they’ve turned their attention and knack for highly condensed visual responses to the realms of literature.

Their Modern Classics collection, above, synthesizes 42 titles into something emblematic and essential.

How many have you read?

How many would you be able to identify based on image alone?

It’s easy to grasp why the horizon figures prominently in On The RoadThe Grapes of Wrath, and The Road.

And understandably, the eyes have it when it comes to 1984A Clockwork Orange, and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Elsewhere, the visual representations create connections that may take readers by surprise.

(Stay tuned for a master’s thesis that teases out thematic parallels between The Color Purple’s quilts and Holden Caulfield’s red hunting hat in The Catcher in the Rye.)


According to Johnson, she and Quail, avid readers both, fell out several times over which titles to include (and, by extension, exclude).

English teachers at middle and high school level will rejoice at the number of syllabus favorites that made the cut.

Potential stamp-themed creative assignments abound.

The conch may be an obvious choice for Lord of the Flies, but what of The Great Gatsby‘s green light?

Why not the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg?

swimming pool?

Or one of those beautiful shirts?

Discuss!

Then make your own stamp!

Students are far less likely to be conversant in the 42 earlier works comprising Dorothy’s literary Classics stamps, though musical and movie adaptations of Little WomenDracula, and Les Miserables should provide a toehold.

Our ignorance is such, we may need to reread Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jane Eyre … or at least Google the significance of a spoon and all those orange and red triangles.

(Back in our pre-digital youth, Cliff’s Notes were the preferred Philistine option…)

Dorothy’s stamp prints of Classics and Modern Classics are available for purchase on their website.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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