Surrealist Drawing Game: Exquisite Corpse

EC (1)

Exquisite Corpse is a drawing game that the Surrealists played frequently to produce collaborative drawings and images; this version was made up in the 1920s in Paris by the surrealists Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. The name, “cadavre exquis” in French, was extracted from “le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau’ (the exquisite corpse will drink the new wine), a phrase mentioned during one of the early attempts at playing the game.

To play:


  1. Fold a piece of paper horizontally into three sections, or one fold for each person playing the game. I find the game works best with three people.
  2. Draw a design, landscape, figure, words, or whatever appears from your imagination in the top section and leave a few lines at the edge of the next fold, so that the next person has a few lines to pick up and continue drawing from. Don’t think too much about what to draw, just enjoy the freedom!
  3. Alternatively, you could agree on a set of rules for your drawings, or set a theme, or make it clear the sections should produce a figure; with the top being the head and shoulders, the middle the torso, and the bottom the legs, etc—but it is also really fun just to try it with no rules!
  4. Make sure no one spies on what you are drawing, and do not spy on the other participants! You might have to come up with a makeshift barrier to avoid this temptation (big books held up by bookends works, or laptops with the screen up and turned off).
  5. Fold your drawing under so as to make sure it is hidden (except for the few lines you made at the edges of the fold), pass the paper to the next person, and you will all repeat the step.
  6. Once everyone has added their section to all of the papers passed around, reveal each page one at a time, and be prepared to laugh and be amazed by the weirdos you are friends with. 


This drawing game produces silly but often surprisingly affecting and clever drawings, and it can inspire other creative projects and ideas.

I highly recommend playing this with friends or family during your next arts and crafts night.

* The above Exquisite Corpse was made several years ago with two of my friends; a freaky thing happened and my good friend and I ended up both drawing a bird holding a heart in its mouth, in a very similar position—to be fair, we were going through a phase of drawing many birds, but it was still odd. 


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