This is Yappy Dog. A friendly canine who used to go on all sorts of adventures circa 1981-1983. I’d forgotten all about him until recently when I started to become interested in my own artistic inhibitions and recalled a time when they didn’t exist. Yappy Dog suddenly sprang back into my imagination. All of a sudden, vivid memories of 9 or 10 year old me writing and illustrating stories about him came flooding back. I remembered how much I used to love drawing him and colouring him in. I remembered that, for the last year of primary school, I was regularly invited by my teachers to read his stories to the younger children in reception, drawing huge pictures of him to help stoke their excitement. They loved him. I loved him. Then, for some reason, I stopped drawing him. Yappy Dog was lost in time. Not dead, but kept in suspended animation somewhere deep in my imagination.
It took until April 2016, inspired by this cartoon in Lynda Barry’s inspirational book “Syllabus: Notes from an accidental professor”, for me to get out a pen and draw him again.
As I looked at the simple image of Yappy Dog it was like looking at a photo of a long lost friend. He hadn’t changed much at all and I smiled as I remembered how easy he was to draw. I wondered to myself why I had stopped drawing him. Going to secondary school and no longer having an enthusiastic audience of 6 year olds obviously had an impact but that didn’t feel like the root cause. Staring at the simple picture on the page in front of me I realised that I think that I stopped drawing Yappy Dog at the very moment I started to become self-conscious about my art. At the moment I began to judge him and regard him as a bit crap. Not good enough. A bad drawing.
Lynda Barry has a particular philosophy about art and creativity that I’ve become fascinated by: “I’m especially interested in people who quit drawing a long time ago. I have a theory…about bringing drawing back into someone’s life, which is different than teaching them to draw. I’m interested in using the drawing that is already there. [The drawing that] is still there in spite of everything.“
I took an experiment to The Lab that was inspired by Barry’s question “How old do you have to be to do a bad drawing?” After a short warm up I invited people to draw the last doodle that they drew before they became self-conscious about doodling. An invitation to connect with an act of artistry that they used to undertake simply because it was fun. The pieces that emerged were simultaneously beautiful and liberating.
It was surprising how quickly the doodles came. Some were reunions with long lost characters, others were images that came simply through re-connecting with the spirit of drawing for the sake of drawing, without the constraints of them having to serve a particular purpose or be of a particular quality or style. People spoke of experiencing the freedom of just moving the pen about the page, the liberation and enjoyment of doodling without any pre-determined purpose or objective.
Lynda Barry suggests “The trick seems to be this: consider the drawing as a side effect of something else – a certain state of mind that comes about when we gaze with open attention. The way kids draw, that kind of line we call childish, what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand? A live wire!”
I can’t help but imagine what other creative wonders we might unlock if we were to re-connect with a moment before we became self conscious. How old do you have to be to write a bad song? How old do you have to be to take a bad photo? How old do you have to be to have a bad idea? How old do you have to be to have a bad ambition?
I’ve drawn Yappy Dog a number of times since he became cryogenically defrosted. Not simply because I want to draw him, but because I know he’s missed me and likes it when I do. It’s wonderful to see him come back to life.
As Lynda Barry suggests, “a drawing can survive our disliking. Astonishing!”