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  • Writer's pictureAmy Burvall

Drawing with the Dormouse: Muchness and Suchness


Yesterday listening to a beautiful rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit by Icelandic chanteuse Emiliana Torrini:

I’ve always loved Lewis Carroll, mostly for his wordplay (and his pioneering use of photography in the early days).


I’ve even done some birthday sketchquotes for him

Whilst thinking on the potential uses for the phrase “Feed your head” I recalled the tale from the dormouse in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

`Once upon a time there were three little sisters,’ the Dormouse began in a great hurry; `and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well—’

`What did they live on?’ said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking. `They lived on treacle,’ said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two. `They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice gently remarked; `they’d have been ill.’ `So they were,’ said the Dormouse; `very ill.’  …


The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, `It was a treacle-well.’ `There’s no such thing!’ Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went `Sh! sh!’ and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, `If you can’t be civil, you’d better finish the story for yourself.’ `No, please go on!’ Alice said very humbly; `I won’t interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.’ `One, indeed!’ said the Dormouse indignantly. However, he consented to go on. `And so these three little sisters—they were learning to draw, you know—’

`What did they draw?’ said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.

`Treacle,’ said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.


Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: `But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?’ `You can draw water out of a water-well,’ said the Hatter; `so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well-eh, stupid?’ `But they were in the well,’ Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark. `Of course they were’, said the Dormouse; `—well in.’

This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it.

`They were learning to draw,’ the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; `and they drew all manner of things–everything that begins with an M–‘ `Why with an M?’ said Alice. `Why not?’ said the March Hare.


Alice was silent.

The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: `—that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness—you know you say things are “much of a muchness”—did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?’ `Really, now you ask me,’ said Alice, very much confused, `I don’t think—’ `Then you shouldn’t talk,’ said the Hatter.

This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Dormouse into the teapot.

…you know you say things are “much of a muchness”—did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?

This is really brilliant. I’ve been doing a lot of work with visual thinking and have even developed some presentations and workshops (one is an all day affair). One of the things I feel is most important is the ability to visualize an abstract concept. I’m fascinated by the similar and dissimilar ways in which we find iconography to depict things that are a bit more esoteric (even started a little volley exercise on Twitter).  Sure, if I say “car” people might sketch out different types of vehicles (my go-to is a VW bug shape). But what if the challenge was “transportation”? Now you might get planes, trains, subways, and boats in addition to “car”. Some might even opt to simply sketch a wheel – kind of a catch-all, or a horse and buggy for that retro-feel.


But what if we abstracted further…

and challenged these visual thinkers to “Immigration”, “Movement”, or “Going”?


A while back I started an online sketch game called “Serendipidoodle”, which I ended up presenting at Mozfest 2014 in London. The idea was to practice both metaphorical and visual thinking – two things I think are quite important for any one and in any discipline – particularly since our media is getting increasingly visual and micro-content dominates. I used a randomizer to generate combinations of adjectives and nouns…some quite obscure…and participants would attempt to make the idea come to life with an image.

Even in a field like science, researchers need to be able to use metaphor in able to communicate effectively to the masses – that is, they need to be storytellers (as seen in my interview with exomoonologist David Kipping) and poets.

Reading this dormouse story about the three sisters living in treacle who draw things that start with M really inspired me. First, I think it would be a fascinating creative constraint to use one letter of the alphabet to frame a drawing challenge. 


Second, I think the concept of “drawing muchness” (or even “memory” for that matter) is intriguing…Plus, if you challenged an entire group of people to sketch out one abstract concept (such as “muchness”), you can use the data (the drawings) to engage in some analytics. You can look at commonalities, anomalies, and trends in the elements to see what can be said about how people perceive the topic, issue, or problem at hand. Think how that would work in a board meeting at a company, for example?

You wouldn’t by any means have to stick to two dimensional paper and pen either – why not visualize in sand, salt, clay, with bodies, sticks, Lego, candy, or ….treacle?

Challenge: Draw your version of “Muchness” and tweet to me @amyburvall with the hashtag #dormousedraw Perhaps I will expand to other concepts later.


#creativity #dormousedraw #LewisCarroll #metaphor #amyburvall #serendipidoodle #visualthinking

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