Misshapen cats, 3D cubes, a dinosaur playing a guitar. They may look like nonsensical drawings scribbled on scrap paper, but author and illustrator Rebecca Fish Ewan believes those doodles can be the key to unlocking your creativity or beating writer’s block.
The Arizona-based author, who recently published a book with Lancaster-based Books by Hippocampus, says drawing can be an important and often overlooked tool, especially for writers. Drawing and writing are essentially the same, Fish Ewan says, both ways of telling stories by making marks on paper.
Fish Ewan, a professor of landscape architecture at Arizona State University, is a force of creative energy. Her books employ a technique known as hybrid form — a style that incorporates multiple genres and mediums into a single work. Her proclivity to blend words and images is evident in the title of her latest book: “Doodling for Writers.”
She says she arrived at the idea for “Doodling for Writers” while promoting her previous book, “By the Forces of Gravity,” a memoir told in free verse and cartoons.
“I’d be talking about this hybrid book that I’d written and showing drawings,” Fish Ewan says. “And people would come up to me and just blurt out ‘Oh, I’m not an artist.’ It felt like a confession — and a sad one — that they wanted to draw but they couldn’t.”
So while discussing ideas for a follow-up to “By the Forces of Gravity” and other future work with Books by Hippocampus publisher Donna Talarico, Fish Ewan pitched a book that would address the “non-artist-writers.”
“I wanted to respond and offer something to writers to realize they can draw any time they hold a pencil,” Fish Ewan says.
The book offers simple exercises, techniques and practical advice — as well as (and, since this is a Fish Ewan book there is obviously some “as well as”) cartoons, book lists, quotes, humor and some memoirlike personal moments.
Fish Ewan’s tone puts readers (especially those who aren’t confident in their drawing ability) at ease. Before a readers even open the book they are bolstered by the words of encouragement at the bottom of the cover: “If you can write, you can draw.”
The book was released last month — and for some creative types, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We didn’t time it like this, of course, but seven or so months into the pandemic, I think writers could use a little extra inspiration and motivation right now,” Talarico says. “I’m hopeful that people will find this book really helpful now — and in the future.”
Pencil Points: 5 tips for new doodlers
In “Doodling for Writers,” Fish Ewan offers sage advice for people who’d like to draw but don’t feel confident in their abilities. She many reasons how drawing can help creative people see other angles and possibilities in their work. Here are a few words of wisdom from the author.
Don't be afraid to doodle
Fish Ewan recommends getting over your dread of drawing by identifying the worst-case scenario. The worst thing that can result from you drawing is you make a drawing that displeases you, she writes in “Doodling for Writers.” “There aren’t doodle police. You’re not going to like start drawing quietly in your house and have someone knock down the door and arrest you and take your pencil away,” Fish Ewan says.
Don't worry about the results
“Another myth is that anytime you draw it has to become art,” Fish Ewan says. “Drawing doesn’t have to be good in the sense that it’s some sort of beautiful thing. It has to be useful. Anybody can draw a useful drawing.”
Drawings can be useful in that they allow you to visually experience a scene or an idea. And sometimes they can be useful just because you’re actively creating something, even if it’s just scribbles on scrap paper.
Lines have character
As Fish Ewan notes in “Doodling for Writers,” drawing is just another way of telling a story. Different types of lines can add nuanced “voices” to your drawing. Practice making curving lines, jagged lines, scribbly, jiggly or broken lines and notice the effect they have on the drawing.
Draw on your doodle to beat writer's block
In “Doodling for Writers,” Fish Ewan encourages you to (surprise!) doodle when you feel blocked. “Can’t picture your character? Doodle her! Can’t write a believable belt buckling? Doodle it,” Fish Ewan writes. Drawing, she writes, is close to writing. And she asserts that just making marks on a page can free your mind and help you become unblocked.
Get in perspective
Fish Ewan likens perspective drawing to point of view in writing. Two little tips from “Doodling for Writers”: “Things appear smaller, the father you get from them.” She likens this to point of view by advising writers to “Write less about distant subjects.” On perspective, she writes:
“Things appear fuzzier, the farther you get from them,” so writers should “Be precise with details when your point of view is close.”
Fish Ewan admits perspective is complicated. “Perspective is a rabbit’s hole of technique,” Fish Ewan says. “I’ve had so many art teachers try to teach me perspective and it was the most agonizing experience for me. So I just tried to teach the very basics for trying to get the sense that there’s space on the page.”