Visiting artist Lynda Barry is a strange combination of artist/author/teacher/cartoonist/comedian – and probably most importantly, a source of total inspiration. Students who attended her talk at the RISD Auditorium on January 14 describe her as a “magical little lady,” “larger than life” and a “quick-witted queen of comics.” In her modest and unassuming way, she gave the audience a chance to glimpse the world through her eyes and to appreciate the inspiration she finds every day by simply paying attention.
As an Illustration major pursing a concentration in Literary Arts + Studies, I had the opportunity to interact with Barry in a more intimate setting during the writing workshop she hosted the day after her lecture. Barry led a classroom of us through meditation, sketching from memory and writing exercises to introduce us to her “open source” creative writing process. She taught us a new method of visual journaling, pushed us to write under tight time limits and encouraged us to explore the wealth of our personal inspiration.
Barry pulled wildly different stories from students by prompting them with simple worlds like “neighbors.” Molly Walsh 13 IL wrote and read aloud a simple short story about a grade school neighbor who tried so hard to turn her face red that she lost control of her bodily functions. She says she felt freed by Barry’s unorthodox methods, explaining, “It was unexpected and refreshing to have someone teach such a comprehensible method of brainstorming for creative writing.... We were able to reach into the backs of our minds and draw out narratives...that were just begging to be put down on paper.”
Barry is a particular inspiration to Illustration students, since we often seek to combine our own images and writing. Working with her felt like I’d been given a glimpse into a private world shared just between the two of us. Sarah Kindler 13 IL, a fellow writer and artist, described a similar experience. “Lynda Barry understands my compulsion to record images. I don't know why some moments stay with me hours, weeks or years after they occur, but being able to single them out and write them down – being able to lend them some importance – is a relief and a blessing.” Fellow illustrator Ebae Kim 13 IL echoes that, saying she recognizes in the visiting artist “that grain of inspiration that a lot of us rode on to get to this place [RISD].”
Everyone who participated in Barry’s workshop or talk – which was full of such one-line words of wisdom as “images are the immune system of the imagination” and “I’d always wanted an imaginary friend but never knew how to get one” – felt like they’d shared something intimate with the charismatic cartoonist. Graphic designers like Kathy Wu 15 GD were “moved to sniffles,” while animators like Simeon Kondev 14 FAV felt “enlightened.” Barry left students from all majors inspired to think even more about their journey through the exciting – but often murky – area where words and images combine. –Samantha Dempsey 13 IL