Cave Paintings in the Digital Era

Whiskers. Spinach. Drip. Beyoncé. How easy do you think it is to draw those words? How about when you have to draw them on a 2-by-3-inch screen with just your fingertips?

From the Editors of American Artist magazine

Draw Something is the new hot app for iPhones and iPads–it's essentially a virtual version of Pictionary. You're given a choice of three words to draw, for either a friend or a stranger, and you earn from 1 to 3 "coins," dependent on difficulty; they guess (or pass) and then reciprocate.

Draw Something screenshot Draw Something screenshot

At first I felt hampered by my tiny iPhone screen and the limited color palette you start with (black, red, blue, and yellow). I was worried my playing partner wouldn't be able to guess what I had drawn. (You see, you and your partner both get points for a correct answer, so you're trying to help them, not stump them.)

But after a few weeks, I realized that the game operates on the "filling in" principle of the brain. As the mind automatically fills in the gaps in a broken line to create a shape, so will it be able to fill in what's not in a drawing, as much as it sees what's already there. I started cropping my drawings to make them more immediately "readable": The Riddler is really all about the question mark on his green shirt, so cropping into the midriff makes the most sense. You come to use the space to your advantage and, like Tim Gunn always says, to make it work.

I also learned to scale back and simplify. While there's no time limit for drawing or guessing, the game videotapes your whole drawing process, then plays it for your opponent. So you're not just seeing someone's finished product, but the whole messy process. That's enough impetus for me to quickly plan out what I'm going to do in my head, lay it in, and hope for the best (there is an eraser tool, however, just in case).

It's also helpful for the collaborative process. You get to watch a video of your partner guessing the word, so you learn where they started to "see" the answer. It's usually right after you nailed the most dominant element of a subject: color (green for spinach), form (a dustpan's shape, for example), or physical feature (Angelina's lips). All the superfluous detail you draw after that is for naught (I drew all of Angelina's six children).

Draw Something screenshot Draw Something screenshot Draw Something screenshot

Draw Something is a lesson in thinking about what visual information is vital for communication–just like graphic design, which is, after all, my profession. Every day I think about how best to tell a story visually within the space of a rectangular magazine page and guide our readers–not stump them. Draw Something has opened my mind to the possibilities of the space I'm working with, regardless of my canvas.

Plus, after I garnered enough coins, I "bought" more colors. A girl just cannot live on primary colors alone.


Amy Petriello is the art director of American Artist magazine.

P.S. Have you used the Draw Something app–or something like it? How was it for you? Leave a comment and let me know.


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2 thoughts on “Cave Paintings in the Digital Era

  1. I enjoyed the article because I enjoy the game. I’m a newbie and while I’ve been reading the magazine for awhile (bought from Barnes & Noble), this is the first blog title I clicked on on the the site. I’m glad to see that the lighthearted, is featured as well as the instructive and inspiring. It’s more welcoming that way.

  2. While I am rather a traditional and conservative artist. I did enjoy the article. It is amazing where technology is at. Draw Something is cool in the sense that if you are somewhere where you did not take a drawing pad or pencil, you can still draw. It won’t dirty your fingers or clothes like charcoal, if you are not in the studio.