10 pen and paper boredom busters

Don't panic, put pen to paper instead!

10 pen and paper boredom busters

Coronavirus has changed almost everything and if your daily routine (like mine) has had to adapt, you may be finding yourself at a loss. Getting creative offers a fantastic distraction, an emotional outlet, and works both to further skill and keep the brain active. But what if you don’t know where to start, have none of the gear and no idea? At tricky times like this, community matters, and I’ve got your back! Read on for my top 10 boredom busters that you can do anywhere, with just a pen and some paper. 

Some of these require a friend to play along too, but if you’re stuck on your lonesome and have video calling facilities then make the most of the technology and engage remotely – it might help to swerve conversation away from the doom and gloom.  

  1. Hangman

This childhood game certainly stands the test of time – me and my partner still play it regularly! If you’re unsure of the rules then the basics are this: one person thinks of a word, while the other player tries to guess it before the man is hanged. For full rules click here

  1. Exquisite Corpse

An Exquisite Corpse is a collaborative drawing, made by folding a piece of paper several times, drawing on the exposed section of the paper, before hiding it (folding it over) and passing it on, only to open it up when all sections have been created. You can also section off a piece of paper and pass it round, consecutively drawing in each designated area, if you're not so keen on the surprise element. It is most often used to draw figures – with one person drawing the head, before passing it onto the next person who draws the upper torso and arms, then again for the lower torso, and so on until the figure is complete. 

  1. Consequences

Similar to an Exquisite Corpse, Consequences is a collaborative writing activity created by folding over paper and passing it on. However, instead of drawing the parts of a ‘corpse’ (or figure), you write elements of a story, a sentence at a time. ‘And then this happened...’ is a great template to start each sentence/section with if you’re unsure of a format. 

  1. Tonal bar

‘Draw a tonal bar’ – a phrase often heard in drawing workshops and studios up and down the country. Drawing a tonal bar is a fine art exercise intended to educate the drawer on tone and shade, creating the darkest tone possible with a pen or pencil at one side of the ‘bar’ and the lightest at the other. This can be achieved either with pressure (i.e. by forcefully pressing a pencil into the paper, gradually decreasing pressure to shade dark to light) or with density (i.e. by drawing lines (called hatching) or dots (called stippling) closer together to appear darker, slowly increasing the gap between them to make the tone appear lighter). If the situation allows, you could add a competitive element with a friend, by seeing who can create the largest range of tones indicated by whose bar is longer! 

  1. Fortune teller/activity picker

Perhaps you’ve already got loads of ideas of activities you want to do but just can’t choose where to start, or maybe you’ve got a ‘to do’ or chore list, and need a push to get going. If this is the case then a co-opted ‘fortune teller’ could be for you. If you can’t quite remember from school how to make one, or you’re giving it a go for the first time, checkout this handy guide

  1. Battleships

This is another game that me and my partner play regularly, albeit it online now! That being said, there is nothing quite like putting pen to paper. When you’ve got some time to set it up yourself, you can start to get really creative with how the ‘ships’ might look. The aim of the game is to ‘sink’ all of your opponents' ships by calling out the coordinates which you believe they’ve mapped (drawn) their ships onto. It’s best explained visually, so here’s a link to an explainer

  1. Paper aeroplane  

Whether you’re using them to communicate messages with isolated neighbours, or simply seeing how far you can get them to fly, everyone loves a paper aeroplane! There are many ways you can make them out of folded paper depending on aesthetic and purpose, as well as an infinite number of decoration possibilities – imagination dependent! Click here for a library of designs. 

  1. Dots and boxes 

I actually had this as a board game as a child, but it’s just as effective when played with pen and paper. By drawing a ‘grid’ of 4x4 dots on a page (or more for a lengthier game), two players are able to take turns drawing lines between them, with the aim of completing as many boxes as possible. If a box is completed, that person should write their initial in it, and take another turn. The game is finished when no more lines can be drawn across the dots, and the winner is the person who completed the most boxes.  

  1. Guided experimental drawing

If you’re looking to hone your artistic skill, but need some guidance, then pick a subject to draw (whether that’s an object or a person), take a line for a walk and try these experimental drawing techniques: 

  • Draw using your non-dominant hand

  • Close your eyes and feel the subject, respond to its tactile surfaces (this one is easier to navigate if your subject is a physical object, rather than a person!)

  • Continuous line - draw without taking your hand off of the paper until you’re finished

  • Straighten your arm out and draw stood as far away from the paper as you can reach

  • If you have more than a single pen, try taping two together – it does so much more than just create a double line!

It can be helpful to stick to a set time, try two minutes to start with, and work up to 10 minutes or longer as your confidence increases.

  1. Flip book

Flip books are fun and satisfying little projects that can be adapted to any scale, depending on how much time or confidence you have in completing it. They are a form of animation, and can be created really simply. Cut or tear strips of paper into bank-card sized pieces or smaller and draw the same shape or image in the corner of each slip of paper, changing the placement of the drawing slightly with each sequential ‘frame’. When you ‘flip’ your thumb through the booklet (either hold them steady in your hand or bind with tape/glue) of drawings, the image should change and appear to move. 

If you’ve got any more suggestions to add, or if you’ve tried any of these yourself, we’d love to know about it! 

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Header Image Credit: Sally Trivett


Sally Trivett

Sally Trivett Voice Team

Sally Trivett is a UK based artist and educator. She has recently graduated from Wimbledon College of Art, and is currently studying for her PGCE in Primary Education.

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