Evolution! A How-To Guide
Here is a step by step guide of how I typically do my “evolution!” activity with the salamander-like creatures. In the years since I initially started, I have also done plants, flowers, insects, fish, fungus, and all manner of different things, so do not feel limited by my subject matter, the iterative process I use here can be applied to most everything!
You will need~
1. A whole lot of crayons.I chose crayons mainly because I could get a lot of them. They were colorful, and they usually are not a medium people spend a lot of time on, as I want them to move quickly while drawing. The name of the game with this is speed, and something like colored pencils or markers and pens could slow people down, but you can use whatever you have available. I use two Crayola 96 packs, and gave every 2 people or so their own mini-carton of crayons. This usually meant they had enough colors to make something without fighting over crayons, but eventually people tend to lend or trade each other the colors they need.
2. A whole lot of paper.With six generations times X number of participants you will be going through a lot of paper. Generally speaking at least 100 or so creatures were made in an average group, but it can always be more or less depending.
3. A partitioned folder.I got a bunch of folders with little partitions in them to keep each generation separate, along with a section for the final “timeline” of the group. This includes the direct lineage of chosen creatures for each generation. This is important for later!
4. Tape!(or Magnets)Just some regular scotch tape will do but something like painters or artists tape is even better if you don’t want to risk damaging the original drawings(or surface you’re taping to). You’ll be using this to put up the drawings on a wall or something so everyone else can see. Magnets work even better if you have a magnetic board because you can quickly and easily move drawings around without damaging the artwork in any way.
(optional) 5. Microphone If you wanted to get some recorded sound effects like I had, you’ll need a mic of some kind. I used a ZOOM H2 Mic. You’d also need headphones if you wanted to hear it as you were recording.
And….that’s it! Pretty simple really. Now for the actual process…
STEP 1: Hand Everyone 6 Sheets of Paper
Once you have everyone in one place and ready to go, give them each 6 sheets of paper. Each sheet is for one generation of drawings, so you may not get through all your sheets, or people may need more later. Part of the game is to move quickly and not allow for ‘mistakes.’ If anyone seemed to be second-guessing themselves or trying to flip their page to start over I would try to prevent it and have them keep fleshing out their original idea. I wanted their initial and gut instinct in what they drew.
STEP 2: Give the People Their Crayons
As I mentioned earlier I had two 96 packs of Crayola crayons which are divided into little sub-boxes holding about 16 crayons each. I would pass these out however it seemed to work, but it usually boiled down to something like 1 little box for every 2 people.
STEP 3: Reveal Your Starting Creature
Once everyone is settled, you can begin. I try to have simple drawings to start off with so that people don’t feel too intimidated, and will eventually get a little bored and start producing more and more complex drawings as we go.
From here, I typically hold up my initial salamander (projector/camera setups can also be handy here) and tell them to copy it the best they can, but that it didn’t have to be perfect. I stress that they should copy what they see, but I’m not very specific beyond that. Usually someone will ask if it has to be the same color, as they will panic when they realize they don’t have any of those crayons in their box, but you can just re-assure them that it doesn’t have to be (or not!) If anyone seemed hesitant to draw I would prod them along. Once people start drawing something they usually finish it.
STEP 4: Mark Each Round
Be sure to have everyone label what round it is as they draw. This ensures that even if the drawings get jumbled you can resort them later. To do this, simply ask for everyone to write a 1 in the corner somewhere. This is to mark round 1! Do this for each consecutive round up to round 6, or wherever it is that you stop.
STEP 5: Watch the Clock
I had about an hour for every group, so I had to make sure I moved quickly. I would give them only a few minutes to draw, but as we kept going and things tend to get more ‘complex’ I would allow for a little more time. Usually if someone ‘finishes’ I would stop the round right there, tape/magnet their drawing up, and announce it. This typically sends everyone into a mad rush to get theirs done “in time.” I would let them keep drawing as I would collect all the sketches. If you have anyone helping you, you can start collecting and have them fed to you to start taping up, or have one person taping, another collecting, etc. In any case, don’t give the audience too much time to overthink, overdraw, or do their drawing over.
STEP 6: The Tape/Magnets
After collecting your drawings, begin to tape/magnet them to a wall in rows and columns.
STEP 7: The Mass Extinction
Give everyone a few seconds to look at everyone else’s drawings, as it’s always have fun seeing what other people came up with. Here you can pause for a bit and say what you’d like about variation or genes or environmental factors, and then give some reason for the lifeforms to go extinct (something generic is best like “The swamp they were in has dried up over time”). Pull off most of the drawings from the wall. You’ll probably get a lot of cries of anguish and pleading, but don‘t stop for anything! Now I generally would leave maybe 3 or 4 left, but if time was short or the group seemed very indecisive I would only leave 2. I would essentially be pulling drawings down at random, but I would also go for drawings I thought would be better at illustrating my final point than others (whatever that may be). For instance, I would avoid the more abstract drawings because I knew people would have a hard time copying it. Bold, clear drawings tend to work best. I would also removed anything that went “too far” from the vague rules I had established. So any pop-culture references, high-tech machinery, or wild deviations etc. would be the first to go.
So, let’s say you have 2 or 3 creatures left. Initially I tend to have people pick a creature with no further explanation, but after this first generation I begin to add the various environmental impacts, and to ask them why they chose a creature. This gets people to think about why the creature would be better adapted, or at least defend their position (things they probably weren’t considering very strongly before this point). This is where you can catch people staunchly defending their own drawing, or picking something and then sheepishly admitting they don’t really have a good reason for picking it. I do this line of questioning with all remaining creatures before the final elimination so that people can always get a sense of what other people are thinking. Once a drawing gets the most votes, that drawing then becomes to progenitor for every subsequent drawing for the rest of the activity!
Every generation you’ll be mixing up the environments as you see fit (I tend to go with a desert, then a forest, then perhaps a cave, or an ice age, pick what you like!), and because the audience will tend to try to create the “perfect creature” for the given scenario, you can keep them guessing by continually changing the environment on them. This means that the new “ideal” creature for the new environment is probably a fluke, and happened to have to right advantages at the right time.
STEP 8: File Them Away!
Be sure to check that everyone’s drawing has a 1 for stage 1 marked on the drawing (if they don’t fill one in or you can do it later), and file all the drawings away in your GENERATION 1 section of your partitioned folder.
STEP 9: Repeat Steps 3-8!
From here, do as before. Hold up the new starting creature and ask them to copy it once more. By now they’ll understand the game a little bit more and should start moving faster and being more comfortable with the process overall. Be sure to ask them to mark these new drawings with a 2 for generation 2, 3 for 3, etc. I would also keep mixing up the scenarios, however, as we went along, in this order.
GENERATION 1: The first copy, usually a salamander type thing if you use a picture like mine. End with having them pick a creature they like
GENERATION 2:Typically similar to the first generation, more salamander creatures, but here, people tend to start deviating a little more. End with saying that “It is now a desert, which creature would better survive in a desert?” You can also give them some mental imagery by asking them to think of what desert animals do to survive on earth, and now that resources are scarce, they may have to be more fierce to survive. Generally the creature chosen at the end of the round has ‘desert-like’ colors.
GENERATION 3:Now you should start to see some wild creatures! Typically lots of spines, spikes, teeth and nails. The occasional background element tends to creep in now as well in the form of a cactus. Eliminate the creatures as usual and ask them to now select for a forest environment. Try to include creatures that vary a lot in how they look beforehand so you aren’t stuck with 4 sand colored lizards.
GENERATION 4: It’s usually a greenish lizard that starts this generation. Lots of trees tend to enter the drawings now and sometimes the creatures are interacting directly with the background in some way. At this point narrow down your creatures again, but the final generations I left open. Each group had a different “ending,” with the one in the animation being “Ice Age.” Others included the Underground, The Sky, The Deep Sea, and The Mountains.
GENERATION 5-6:Similar to the first two generations, things just tend to reinforce themselves here. At generation 5 you usually get some kind of transitional form looking animals, and for Gen 6 just keep pushing it ‘deeper’ into that new area. So the ice age creatures get even more hairy and tusky, the sea creatures get even more aquatic, and so on.
End with everyone’s final creatures on the wall, and pull out the rest of the chosen creatures that led up this point, which there should be 7 (6 including your original, which I internally refer to as Generation 0). Here it’s quite easy to see the small but dramatic changes made over time to get to where everyone ended up, and you can have a nice chat about evolution etc. at this time.
From there get your drawings packed away and you’re done!
(OPTIONAL) Sound Recording: Generally at the last second I would record some sounds. I would just pull out my mic and either have everyone file by in a line or they would just crowd around me and record one sound each. Just have everyone be as quiet as possible and record one sound each. If there are only a few people you can keep recording multiple sounds. Of course, there will be laughter, but I left all of that in my final animation.
And that’s about it! You should now have a folder jammed full of drawings, all organized by generation, which you can even then arrange into a kind of phylogenetic tree afterwards, if you’d like!