Chicago festival aimed at doodlers of all ages

By Alex Stedman

For many, drawing is the most natural artistic endeavor. It requires only a pen and paper, and it’s not hard to find both children and adults doodling wherever they go. However, with the chaos of day-to-day life and school art programs facing budget cuts, it may be easy to forget about drawing. Enter The Big Draw Chicago, a 30-day drawing festival in conjunction with Chicago Artists Month in October.

Though this is Chicago’s first Big Draw, The Campaign for Drawing started the festival in 2000 in the U.K. Since then, cities around the world have participated, including New York and Los Angeles. Starting Oct. 1 in Chicago, it’s 30 days of informal, mostly free drawing programs designed for all ages and skill levels.

Elory Rozner, producer of Chicago’s Big Draw, described the initiative as “bringing people together to draw, think and share.” The biggest event, called the “Draw-In,” is on Oct. 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. Participants will draw on 12-inch by 18-inch pieces of cardboard. Events scheduled are each day of October, including a “scavenger sketch” at the Field Museum and a workshop for participants to create their own comic books.

Though The Big Draw has a long history in other cities, Rozner said organizers had to build the festival from the ground up in Chicago. This required the involvement of a wide range of organizations, including the Chicago Cultural Center; 826CHI, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center; and the Inventables, a design oriented hardware store.

“That’s one of the great things about a festival like this,” Rozner said. “It brings you into organizations and institutions that you never heard of, and even some neighborhoods you’ve never been to.”

It also gives larger organizations a chance to appear in a different light, Rozner said. She used the Newberry Library’s “Picturing Books” program as an example. While some may consider The Newberry intimidating because of its extensive collection, its program is light-hearted and allows participants to create a book cover based on one of the five subjects in Newberry’s collection: Chicago, American History, Native Americans, maps and travel or music and dance.

Rozner emphasized that a goal of The Big Draw Chicago is to encourage people to use drawing as a means of starting a conversation. Elena Kaiser, an art therapist in Evanston, said drawing in groups gives people a deeper look into their own—and


She added that people can use drawing as a means of self-expression, not only for themselves, but to communicate with other people. For example, a child she was working with drew Homer Simpson, symbolizing his lazy father. Kaiser said that he could have never told her that in words and he used arts as a means of showing his feelings.

“Drawing doesn’t come from the part of the brain that language comes from,” Kaiser said. “It’s the part of the brain where we dream, and we dream in symbols and images, not words.”

Though the Big Draw is geared toward all ages, many in the art field have plenty to say about the impact art can have on children and their learning abilities. Rozner said drawing helps children build “C skills”: which are creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.

Layne Jackson, a Chicago artist and art teacher at Layne Jackson’s Art Shop, said the freeing aspect of art is something children need.

“Kids can’t operate within too strict of a structure or they explode,” she said. “[Art is] a universe where the kids can be completely liberated.”

But children aren’t the only ones who can reap the benefits of drawing. Patrick Miceli, a Chicago artist and Columbia professor who teaches Ceramics for Non-Majors, said his adult students often say art serves as a break from their daily grind.

Beyond that, he believes there are many practical uses for drawing and art that many don’t see, including his own father, who used to joke, “Picasso’s laughing all the way to the bank.”

Miceli said whether a person is trying to figure out where to position furniture or how to develop a stage set, drawing is a good first step and foundation. He also said art can be a vital human need.

“I think there is this desire in each one of us to be creative,” he said. “I think it’s sort of innate. I think it’s part of the human equation.”

Adults can experience social benefits from drawing as well. Kaiser said groups of people drawing empathize with each other, even when not conversing. She also said it’s a great nonviolent emotional outlet. Someone can portray “murderous rage” with drawing and not harm themselves or others.

Rozner emphasized that The Big Draw mostly strives to bring the community together and showcase Chicago’s art institutions. She said the programs will attempt to integrate Chicago’s people, places and history, making the city’s festival one-of-a-kind. Plus, drawing is an activity almost anyone can do.

“Drawing is a really powerful tool and it’s fundamental,” Rozner said. “It’s really basic. It’s not trendy. It’s not going out of style. Anyone can draw.”