Squiggle birds: a gallery

creativity design gamestorming sketchnoting visual thinking Aug 10, 2020

By Justin Cheong

In 2015, I was introduced to Squiggle Birds by Dave Gray. In its workshop form, it’s a 2–3 minute game where you draw some squiggles, exchange them with a partner, and then each turn those squiggles into birds using a differently coloured pen.

I’ve been starting my workshops with this exercise ever since. It’s wonderful for warm-up, and virtually everyone draws something creative and unique. It’s especially helpful in workshops when you need to prime participants for drawing, as it engages them in many ways:

  • Drawing squiggles: Gets people moving their hands and making marks on paper
  • Seeing squiggles: Gets people perceiving shapes
  • Imagining birds: Gets people engaging their imagination and giving form to an idea
  • Drawing birds: Gets people executing the hand motion to turn their idea into reality
  • Socialising and reflecting: Gets people discussing and observing how they and others approached the problem

Three abstract birds drawn on top of squiggles made by a marker

Running a Squiggle Birds activity

Squiggle Birds scales really well with the size of a workshop. You can have as few as two people or as many as a hundred. To run this exercise, simply give the following instructions:

  1. Grab a marker and some paper, and draw three squiggles on your page.
  2. (For physical workshop settings:) Exchange your page with a partner or pass it around the table clockwise.
  3. Grab a differently-coloured marker. Now turn each squiggle in front of you into a bird.
  4. Here’s a hint: Birds have eyes, a beak, a tail and feet.

Observe the room to see how everyone is pacing, but the whole activity should take no more than a few minutes.

Three abstract birds drawn on top of squiggles made by a marker

Squiggle zoo

As Squiggle Birds has become more popular, sometimes attendees at my workshops have already drawn squiggle birds elsewhere or even run the activity themselves. To keep the exercise fresh, I ask participants who have previously played the game to try drawing other animals. Some fun ones have included:

  • Squiggle turtles
  • Squiggle fish
  • Squiggle dinos

Sketching exercises like Squiggle Birds can be timeless if they involve drawing from the abstract. Simply making it different – like varying the challenge or introducing a variable – will help the exercise continue to engage the creativity of even veteran artists.

Three abstract birds drawn on top of squiggles made by a marker

Squiggle birds: a gallery

Quietly since 2015, I’ve been collecting squiggle birds left behind by students in my workshops, and have aggregated them here in this gallery 🐦👇🏼 http://pinterest.com/visualacademy/squiggle-birds/

What do your squiggle birds look like? And which workshop warm-ups have worked consistently for you?

Check out the full gallery on the Pinterest board here.


Subscribe to Visual Academy

We create content and learning experiences around visual thinking. Subscribe for news, discounts and other goodies.