Kids love to draw. Almost all children do it, but adults, not so much. Unfortunately, as we become grown-ups we often lose our connection to this creative impulse. Sometimes a child needs to show us again how making art can not only be fun but even therapeutic. Such is the story of Dorie Cooper, a little girl in 1940s England, whose memory later inspired Draw a Bird Day.
Bird Art as Therapy
The website devoted to this unofficial holiday, www.dabday.com, recounts that a 7-year-old Dorie frequently accompanied her mother to the hospital. There they visited the girl’s uncle, a war veteran maimed from a landmine explosion. Dorie attempted to cheer him up, suggesting he draw a picture of a bird for her. And so the uncle did, attempting to sketch a European robin. Apparently, the drawing wasn’t very good, but that was okay—his mood seemed to improve a bit nonetheless. During the girl’s subsequent visits, her uncle and eventually the other injured soldiers on the ward felt inspired by her to continue making bird illustrations.
Not many details are readily available online about Dorie’s story. Besides the tremendous impact the girl reportedly had on others at the hospital, from patients to doctors, the Draw a Bird Day website notes that the girl’s life was soon cut short due to a tragic accident. She was hit by a car just a few years after her first visit to the hospital. April 8th—the day set aside for people all over the world, no matter their age or skill level, to make pictures of birds—was her birthday. According to the website, it commemorates Dorie’s love of drawing birds as both “a way to express joy in the very simplest of things in life and as a way to help soldiers everywhere forget war and suffering even if only for a short time” (1).
Why Dorie chose birds, rather than, say, cats, dogs, or trees, likely lies in the meaning humans have long attached to our winged neighbors. As a symbol, birds generally represent very positive and dynamic things, like hope, joy, and freedom. So I can easily see how illustrating these creatures makes sense as a means of art therapy. For example, after rock musician Edwyn Collins suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago, he later explained how drawing birds aided his recovery. “Drawing was the first skill to come back to me, so it meant the world,” he states in a 2008 online article in The Guardian. “If I can draw, what else can I do? It gave me back my confidence in myself. And my dignity.” His first bird drawing was of a widgeon. That was the beginning. “Each day I drew at least one bird”, says Collins, noting that he could see the quality of his sketches getting better with time and practice (2).
Of course, besides its therapeutic value, drawing birds can offer other rewards. First and foremost, the activity can just be a fun thing to do. Kids realize this. Also, they usually won’t hesitate to try their hand at something new. Adults, on the other hand, may need some coaxing. Some folks mistakenly believe that drawing is only for children and professional artists. But having fun requires letting our urge to quickly judge and criticize drop to the wayside so that we can move forward. After all, enjoying the process is much more important than any attachment to the final result.
At the very least, drawing can turn into a fun hobby, just like watching birds—or writing about them. So, here’s to Draw a Bird Day. And to that creative “inner child” in all of us!
In anticipation of Draw a Bird Day on Wednesday, this week’s post features drawings from our neighbors’ talented 8-year-old daughter, Kaeli. She’s sitting in this week for my wife. So, many thanks to Kaeli!
- “Draw a Bird Day: in Memory of Dorie Cooper”. Draw a Bird Day (official website): http://www.dabday.com.
- Collins, E. “My feathered friends”, 10/26/2008. The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/oct/27/art-illustration-edwyn-collins.