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2011: A cup of nostalgia

5 Jan

Looking back on this project, I remember how my heartbeat would begin to race every time I received an email with “DrawHappy submission” or “My happy drawing” in the subject line, when I would get a package in the mail, or when I approached a stranger and left that interaction with a sketch in my hand. Here are a few drawings with my own vivid memories attached to them.

The Iceland 100

1. Kindness by Arnar Snær

“When I see people do an act of kindness, that makes me feel truly happy.”

When one does a project, she will always remember the first stab at it, mainly because of the memory of feeling like a complete idiot, that the project wasn’t good, that the objectives weren’t thought out, that I should probably just go on being yet another tourist in Iceland and go hunt for the Northern Lights. But this kid was so nice and accommodating in spite of my unpracticed spiel. Moreover, “kindness” was something I did not expect and remains one of the most touching drawings I have ever received.

2. Family by Maria Sigurdordottir

It was closing time for most stores in Laugavegur, one of the big commercial streets in Reykjavik, and naturally I was turned away by most shopkeepers. This sketch, however, was from a girl who didn’t need to be forced into drawing; she held the sketchbook as a drill sergeant would hold a clipboard, and drew in the very precise strokes of a fashion designer. I walked back to my hostel feeling very accomplished and cold to the bone.

3. Stillness by Barbara

Earlier on in the project, I was in a bookstore’s cafe in downtown Reykjavik, trying to catch another stranger’s eye when I felt her staring at me. When I shyly asked her if she wanted to draw, I was almost apologetic, but she nodded understandably and said, “But all of life is a project!” I also appreciated her sketch especially because she wrote about the difficulty of drawing due to the intangibility of happiness.

4. Me on a sailing cheese by Swantje

Points for sheer imagination! This was in Iceland, and I left my Moleskine with her, went upstairs to take a shower. When I came back to the lobby, this is what she had. It’s one of the best uses of a pencil I have ever seen, done in less than two hours.

5. Control and attention by Rosa R.

I realize that having a stranger come up to you and being physically identified with your sketch may make people be extra-mindful of what they drew.  Sketching what arguably seems to be the darker side of our human desires was refreshingly raw and honest.


6. Moving forward by Humberto Martinez

Not only is it a gorgeous sketch, but the subjects of graphic designer and illustrator Humberto Martinez’s work, hummingbirds, is replete with symbolism. Hummingbirds are a symbol of love, joy, beauty, and resurrection. It is also the only bird that can fly backwards, and is therefore a reminder of looking back on one’s past. Did I mention it’s so gorgeous?

7. Jiu jitsu with my friends by Marta Ássimos

I loved this sketch because I do taekwondo and like her, martial arts is one of the things that make me so, so happy!

8. Godzilla by Jamiel Pridgen

I remember this drawing very clearly for the method in which I acquired it. Back when I was an intern at the American Museum of Natural History, I was line in the cafeteria when this extremely hyperactive guy in front of me started telling us a story. I told him about this project and left, thinking it was the end of it. A few days later while getting tickets for the planetarium, a security guard stared at me and asked, “Is your name Catherine?” He called Jamiel on his radio and he arrived, bearing three copies of this sketch and telling me he’s been looking for me everywhere. Quite fitting for someone who works in a natural history museum. Remind me to start making business cards.

9. Joy on sneakers by Brian Foo

I often receive gloriously imaginative drawings. On rare occasions, I get gloriously imaginative drawings by a joy evangelist. This has always been one of my favorite sketches.

10. Sun is joy! by Ilana Paterman

According to media art student and designer Ilana Paterman, this is a six-year-old sketch done during her first winter in Germany. I can relate, it being winter here in New York.

11. We still have options by Timothy J. Reynolds

I am always impressed by what can be done with a Moleskine. Very inspiring!”

12. A letter from Samah El Hakim

I love getting things in the mail, and this one from Lebanon made my day.

Were there any sketches that left an impression on you? Email me at, or leave a comment in this post!


DrawHappy, One Year Later

2 Jan

Well, almost. I returned from my trip to Iceland on January 10th, bringing with me a hundred sketches, a sea of stories, and a now-heightened tolerance of the cold that is quite useful for one who grew up in the tropics. I never thought I’d continue DrawHappy, as I’m usually doing other projects and have a really short attention span. But the post-Iceland sketches came in sporadically, and I’ve realized that it was the occasional email or package with a happy drawing that helped sustain me—and I hope those who follow the project—throughout 2011. It didn’t even have to be a fancy sketch; many I’ve received were beautifully simple. But I think it was this simplicity that made these drawings a joy to behold. Others were more elaborate, and I’ve been speechless at the amount of time and effort it must have taken to do some of them.

But first, hurray, we have a logo!

(A little late, but grad school has kept me busy.)

I used a stick figure jumping for joy, since in Iceland quite a lot of people drew that, handing their sketch tentatively and apologetically because their drawings weren’t a da Vinci. But I think the simplicity of it brought about clarity, which was the reason I asked you all to draw instead of write. I loved the sketches, stick figures and all. Thank you for all of them.

Remember the visualization I made after the 100 sketches? Honestly, I did that to pass a class, as I felt I had no other interesting data to use for my final project. But I loved what I learned from the analysis of these sketches, especially where happiness may be plotted on other standards of happiness. It made me ask questions. Why draw? Why record the moment of drawing? So what? Now what?

Why draw?

Drawing is one of the earliest skills we learn; its basic elements are comprehensible to people of all ages, cultures and nations. No one is judging how good the drawing is; the lone requirement is that you embody your definition of happiness by taking a pencil to paper. To draw is to make clear to yourself. The project forces you to dig deep into your memory and pull from its recesses that which sustains you as a human being.

I believe most of us lose opportunities to draw. Our lives are run on devices, which I love and use eagerly; this project would never have had this global reach without technology. But while we can externalize some abilities to our machines, I hope that we don’t forget some of the basic skills that are not just universal, but critical for self-reflection and growth. I consider it a minor triumph to get people unplugged, if only for a few minutes.

A more practical reason for drawing is that while the aspiration for happiness seems to be universal (although I suppose there will always be a lot of masochistic grumps in the world), our definition of it is not. Moreover, there are times when it is difficult to label it; this is why the labeling of the sketch was not required. (I still believe it shouldn’t, though it might help me entitle your post! In these cases, I’ve done my best to simply describe what I saw, and not interpret them.)

Why the moment?

I am a scientist by training; this has given me an analytic stance when doing any project. Our definition of happiness as well as the quantification of how happy we are is dependent on what we are doing in that specific point in time. If you were riding horses that day and were still feeling exhilarated, then naturally you will draw horses. What makes other human beings happy also affected what we think makes us happy; hence, the company you kept at the time of your sketching was also recorded. I recall a time when two friends I asked both drew food. One sketched pie and the other, Pinot noir and grapes.

What I wished for

I hope that this project has made the participants want to pursue their happiness because of this brief moment of having to have considered it. There were some people who told me no one ever asked this of them before, which made me both do a double-take (Seriously?) and a cartwheel (Yes! About time!) I, too, have learned so much about the universality of happiness and how, despite our different zip codes, we all aspire for similar things in life.

Other things I’ve learned

1. Brazil is a very happy country. I hope to physically take this project there one day. Obrigado for the shout out, Super!

2. Beauty comes from boredom. Another reason why it was interesting to examine the moment of drawing:  many drew while they were bored in school, a meeting, a conference.  It must feel very satisfying to take that moment back for oneself. I loved it.

3. One should participate and not just observe one’s projects. I drew my own happiness, too!  It also inspired a lot of sketching projects, such as this and now this. It has also been a great reference to my lifelong obsession with human perception.

Now what?

I really want this project to go on forever. It would be interesting how this would look like in 5, 10, 20 years. I’m not expecting to receive hundreds of submissions a day (though that would be awesome!). I am  fully aware that drawing is asking a lot from people. I hope to take this project many steps further. It’s not just because it’s such a joy to do; more broadly, I want to ask, “Is it possible to have a record of what sustains humanity?” And once we know what does, will we take steps to ensure that we, our community, and our society make it easier for us to grasp them?

Thank you for supporting this project! In the meantime, please do keep sending me your sketches. Or  let me know how this affected you, if it has.

More updates soon!

2011 in review

1 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 49,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 18 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.