For the bored, locked-down and lonely

Activity Double Feature: Draw a portrait, write a haiku

I’m so sorry, Bowie

We’ve got a couple of quick and fun ideas for whiling away an hour or two today!

Flash portrait drawing

This is a pretty hysterical way to pass the time and get creative! You can do this with a live person, or even using a photo of someone as a reference. 

-Get a pencil, a pen, or a piece of charcoal, and sheet of paper. 

-Set a timer (1 minute is good, but it can be longer or shorter, just try it out). 

-Pick up the pencil, start the timer, stare deep into the eyes of your subject, and start drawing the portrait. BUT, you’re not allowed to look down at the sheet of paper for the duration of the timer.

– Once the timer rings, look down at your work of art. Your subject is bound to feel deeply flattered.

Try this with a friend taking it in turns to do the drawing, and see whether your art changes each time you create a new portrait! Do you get used to the time constraint? Do you find yourself focusing on specific features or techniques as you get more practice? How does your portrait differ when you change the time limit to 2 or 5 minutes?

Writing prompt: Write a haiku

Haiku poems are very simple: three lines of seven, five and seven syllables. They don’t even have to rhyme.

You can challenge yourself to try and express your mood in a haiku, or describe an activity you’ve done in the day.

It’s also a fun game with a friend, partner or family member. Pick a topic, like, for example: Corona. 

Then, you all write a haiku around that topic, and read the results out to each other:

Pandemic? Please don’t panic.

Instead, write Haiku.

That’s good shit to do. 

Activity: Make pixel art art

The finished product

Pixel art is charming, retro and kinda goofy, and I see no reason whatsoever to restrict it purely to the realm of the computer monitor. I want pixel art I can enjoy in an analogue setting; I need pixel art on my walls; I demand pixel art in my kitchen. And since I’m sure you feel exactly the same way, let’s make some pixel art art together.

You will need:

  • An image editing/painting application such as Photoshop, MS Paint or GIMP
  • Some paper and coloured pencils, a canvas and paint or a medium of your preference (perhaps even cross-stitch kit!)
  1. Set up your digital canvas

A good real-life pixel size is about 1cm square. With this in mind, you need to measure your canvas and figure out the dimensions of your digital canvas. I actually had a couple of cheap canvases lying around so I took this mini one and measured it – it was 20x20cm, meaning that I can work on a digital canvas 20×20 pixels in size. Create a new artwork in your art software with those dimensions and fill the canvas with the principal background colour you want. Then, obviously, zoom right in so you can see what you’re doing.

A 20 by 20 pixel canvas in photoshop

2. Lay out your foundational shape

Rather than drawing an outline like we might in traditional art, pixel art is easiest (I find) when starting with a silhouette. Pick a colour that is common in the object you want to portray, and then draw its rough shape. I decided to paint an apple, since this is going to go in my kitchen – and still-life-style I’m going to use a real apple as a reference. The silhouette doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate; pixel art is more like a cartoon, focusing on the recognisability of an artistic subject.

The silhouette of an apple drawn in a rosy red colour

3. Add in the other base colours

Old-school pixel art for games consoles and ancient computers had serious limitations, one of which being that you only had a small number of colours to work with. We don’t have to worry about these restrictions anymore (unless you want to do pixel art in hard mode) but it’s still worth picking out the base colours in the image and blocking them out on your silhouette to give you a structure to build upon for the next steps.

Now the apple has a green side and a red side
Continue reading –>

Activity: Upcycle old cards and create collage art

Now the festive season is coming to a close, you might have a little stack of pretty Christmas cards lying around which are ripe for upcycling. Perhaps you also have a postcard collection but you’re not sure what to do with it. Or maybe you have lots of old magazines which are destined for the recycling bin. 

Why not get your creative juices flowing AND make good use of these things by getting collage-y? Combining these pictures with words cut out of old books or magazines, you can have fun making new stories and maybe even be inspired by the weird and wonderful juxtapositions you create. This activity has a lot in common with ‘cut up poetry’, popularized by writers like William Burroughs who would cut up newspapers and magazines and mix the words and sentences to bring to light new ideas and combinations of images. This method was also used by David Bowie to create some of his more peculiar and surprising lyrics. Many surrealist poets would cut up old newspapers and books and re-combine the words to reveal new stories – and now you can too. 

The coolest thing about this activity is that you never know until the end what you’re going to end up with. Let the words and pictures speak to you, and you never know what might emerge! Depending on the content, the end results can be sent as postcards to your nearest and dearest, be used as bookmarks, or be stuck on your wall or fridge and enjoyed as the works of art that they are. 

For this activity you will need:

  • A few old books, newspapers or magazines which are coming to the ends of their careers as reading material. These can be absolutely anything: tabloids, broadsheets, tatty novels, picturebooks, airport fiction, nature guides, old self-help guides, even instruction manuals…basically anything which has a bit of text!
  • A few postcards, pictures, or photos. You can get stacks of old postcards in bulk on ebay and they’re often available at charity shops. But you can also just repurpose the pictures on old birthday or Christmas cards, or use the pictures in magazines or newspapers.
  • Scissors (smaller scissors or nail scissors rather than big kitchen scissors work best here)
  • Glue (I find liquid glue like PVA or UHU glue work especially well but you can use pritt-stick in a pinch)


  1. Spend a bit of time looking at the postcards and images you have in front of you. Maybe imagine the situations and feelings they evoke. This will help guide you when you start thinking about the text you might combine them with.

2. Start looking through your books, magazines, and newspapers, and cut out any phrases, words, sentences, or bits of dialogue that jump out at you. Don’t worry too much about how they might all fit together at this stage. It’s often easiest to start moving things around and making the combinations once everything is cut out! I use nail scissors to more easily get between narrow lines. 

Note: please don’t be too precious about cutting up books which will probably never be read again. Some people have a kind of squeamishness around cutting up books, but I promise, most of them will bring more pleasure from being upcycled by you than sitting on a shelf gathering dust!

3. Now you have all your words and phrases cut out, start seeing how they combine! Sift through your pictures and words, playing around with combining them, creating stories from the words you’ve cut out. Try mixing snippets from the different texts to create surprising juxtapositions or combinations of tone – for instance, a bit of dialogue from a Victorian novel with a snippet from an article in Cosmo, or a bit of description from a bird identification guide with a piece of action from a detective novel.

Maybe one of your postcards will suggest a particular interpretation of the text you’ve cut out. Maybe just the simple juxtaposition of that picture and a phrase you’ve cut out tells enough of a story. Play with it!

4. When you’re happy with a few of your picture/word combos, glue down the words to your pictures. I find UHU glue or PVA glue works better than pritt stick which can be difficult when working with little strips of delicate paper.

5. Enjoy your upcycled art! Share it with a friend, or hang it on your wall – these babies can be charming, poignant, funny, surprising, and can even be a great starting point for more writing or storytelling.

Tutorial: Easy DIY nail art – glitter placement (extra festive)

Do you have chunky glitter lying around your house but all the festivals are cancelled? Get that shit on your nails! Here is an easy tutorial for making your nails look home-disco ready, with no need for the salon (which is closed anyway). This takes between 20 to 50 minutes, depending on how much glitter you want to cram on your nails. You will need:

a toothpick, chunky glitter, clear polish, top coat, fave polish
step 1: apply your favourite polish. step2: add a generous coat of clear polish
step 3: use the toothpick to pick up glitter (wet the tip first, e.g. lick it)
step 4: place glitter on nails in desired design, working quickly before the polish dries (if you don't have clear polish you can use regular)
step 5: apply a top coat to seal in the glitter and voila!
close up of gorgeous nails
close up wide shot of nails