It’s OK to Draw Houses on Fire


Last week, I did an internet search for photos of houses on fire, and drew them in colored pencil. One of my new drawing habits is to think of a word or phrase, like “giant skeleton” or “kangaroo resting” or “emotional bird”, do an online image search, and draw from the photos for about twenty minutes. Sometimes I put them on instagram. Sometimes it’s an enjoyable break, a way to fuel my curiosity and get new ideas. This time, I was feeling emotional about some anti-LGBTQ legislation in the Kentucky state legislature. I scribbled really hard with the pencils.

It also felt like something I needed to explain when sharing. The kind of drawings someone looks at and then asks, “hey… are you… okay?” My friend Elizabeth said, “they look like drawings that would get a kid in trouble at school.”

She’s not wrong. Years ago, while researching school rules for The Real Riley Mayes, I came across an elementary school’s discipline guide. In it, school administrators state that drawing a school on fire is a higher tier offense than attempting to set insects aflame with a magnifying glass.

I had thoughts. A: Do kids in the year 2023 burn ants with a magnifying glass? It sounds like something from Andy Griffith. And B: Why is DRAWING a fire a serious offense?

The idea that we shouldn’t draw houses on fire– just made me want to draw nine-hundred houses on fire. Out of curiosity. What does drawing houses on fire feel like? I scribbled flame and bricks in canary yellow, neon orange, and dark blackberry. I thought about what it might feel like to have to escape a fire, or be a firefighter. I looked at how the flames change color, and how they tend to bust up out of windows. I’ve had nightmares about house fires, but when I took the time to observe it and draw it, it became less scary. It was also a healthy outlet for my emotions.

I strongly support drawing houses on fire. Just be ready to explain yourself.

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