SPREY Log #03 – Looking for the Fun

General news

I have finished three comic scripts(1st drafts) and sketched a mini comic in thumbnail form this week. I have written a small game and will see that it gets made. The regular weekly SPREY webcomic update is drawn and will be coming in later today as well.

Something must have changed this week. I can’t remember any dramatic happenings or vows to do better in the future. But I do remember a single question that stuck in my head. “How can I make this more fun for myself?” First I was under the impression that this is a silly, selfish question. I feared I would lie down on the sofa, eat junk food and watch cat videos and bad retro flicks all day, following my flawed human nature. Indeed, “fun” has had a bad connotation in my head. But what I wasn’t seeing was how my exerting rigid self control all the time no matter the circumstances actually made me numb to effective self control when it becomes vital from time to time. When the button is always pressed, it’s signal becomes irrelevant.

So I carefully and with preemptive pain and regret slackened my hold on the reins over myself. The result was an increase in everything, even just an appetite for living life itself. And no, sitting down on the sofa and “wasting” the day away did not cross my mind even once. Instead, I turned to tasks I do daily or ought to do, because they are important to me and have the potential for making my life better in the future. The key is not to try to force anything out of your day that takes effort and can be frustrating at times, the key is to have enough fun with them that you keep doing them or are not so frustrated that you don’t come back for another session the day after. Suddenly not sitting all day and not looking into screens all the time are concerns that I take seriously, too. Everything I do or choose not to do I will pay for in one way or the other. And as I’ve stated numerous times before, I want to have a long life full of creating art, so I must behave like that. And my productivity didn’t really decrease. It slightly increased. I’m still quite bad at time management though or at setting and sticking to priorities. But at least I do have that bit more leverage on me that could make the difference.

I’ll keep you updated how things go and whether I learn more about having fun!

SPREY News

I have SPREY specific news for this blog as well. This week I had the great opportunity to try a different tweak in my workflow. From the time I did a page a day I still had that mindset of making a page from start to finish and then moving on to the next. This sometimes exacerbated how different the pages look, depending on my daily form and whether I remember what I did yesterday for what effect and with which colors and shapes in mind.

This week I made three pages, lined them and then colored them in bulk on Friday. I will probably hold the third one back for next week’s update to build up a puffer over time in case a really bad week ever hits me. But other than that, coloring pages in bulk really opened my eyes why comic pros work like that. If you have the luxury to put your mind on “oh, it’s coloring day” drive and think about nothing else, it’s infinitely more fun and somehow faster than switching through every step of comic making every day. I will see whether this was a fluke or is something that always works with next week’s work. I find it weird and funny to think about it.

So, Monday I will make thumbnails and layouts. If I realize that I need some fancy new design or have to do additional studies to get something right, I will try to do that the same day or sacrifice a piece of Tuesday. Tuesday and Wednesday I will line. The rest of the time I will color. It’s also worth noting that I do the speech bubbles in layout phase already. I never retroactively try to fit a speech bubble in a panel that wasn’t planned with one in mind. It could work, but why do twice the work when you can make big decisions like storytelling in the very beginning? And it’s so chill to sit there on Saturday with the work already done and look through it critically whether it needs some tweaks or last minute editing, or whether there are some obvious blunders like forgetting to set the color of the gutter to black. It happened to me twice already! It is also critical that I take Sunday off. It is good for my mental health. It is an opportunity to just play with other things and to come back on Monday with fresh eyes and a refreshed mind for SPREY.

Sounds good? Well, I will test that. And I will report.

See you next blog post!

SPREY Log #02 – Observations

It’s time to share some observations I have made on the journey recently.

1) Reading…helps.

First of all, having taken up reading as a daily task pays off and keeps paying off every day. You may wonder whether it is worth it sometimes. After all you might have to read a (nonfiction) book for four hours to get to what feels like ten minutes or less of bits that are relevant and actually have the power to change your way of thinking. But sometimes it’s more parts of the book that are like this and you never know beforehand.

2) Accepting Intuition

At the moment, I feel especially inspired by Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind”. I’m far from finished having read the book, but even the first part had a huge impact on me already. Haidt claims – based on his own research – that we are actually rather driven by our intuitions and feelings in the first place and tend to rationalize afterwards why it was the right thing that we did or chose to feel and think.

In Haidt’s example, imagine yourself as a rider on an elephant. The elephant is subconscious and doesn’t give a damn about your rational opinions. The rider has some ideas where the elephant should go and what is right, but ultimately it’s up to the elephant what happens in actuality. And changing the elephant’s way or the elephant’s environment is hard. The rider can’t ride without the elephant, but without a rider the elephant has no direction, so there is power and merit in the rational rider as well.

Now there are people like me who tend to completely live in their head and constantly train their rational rider, believing he has somehow more impact on the elephant that way. He doesn’t. Example – I will still choose my colors intuitively and afterwards fabricate a lie why this color was the best choice by color psychology or for compositorial reasons. With more training my lies and justifications will get much better and my color choices possibly a much smaller bit, too.

I bet some people like me would absolutely rail against the idea that they are analytical as whatnot but still controlled by intuitions. I don’t. I don’t even view this as battle because I know what involuntary mood swings are, pain and desperation, envy, serenity and so many more emotions we humans tend to feel. No rational thinking can do away with that and that you will lose control sometimes. That is life. The elephant tends to win, and yet you can serve him and yourself well if you are a good rider that suggests him a great course throughout many small decisions, every day.

3) Immediate Reflections

But this also opens up a new questions and perspectives immediately. Are we artists secretly absolutely dominated by our own tastes outside of the realm of what we can rationally explain? There are still visual problems to solve that require knowledge of art fundamentals and that can be very technical and rational. But there will always be several ways to solve a problem and we will choose what our elephant likes most, whether we like our personal elephant or not.

I was complaining I had no identity from time to time. Nah, I’m fine. I’m quite average actually. I was just oblivious about the huge elephant I’m sitting on. It happens. Just turns out neither me nor the world are as complicated as I thought, they’re objectively complex still, but manageable.

My blog so far was oftentimes a rider wondering why some detail things aren’t working or wondering why they do work. I was missing the bigger picture.

4) Conclusions for Comic Work

And what does this all have to do with SPREY? Everything. If you change the person creating it, the comic will change. My prediction is that the story will not change much and also not in parts that you would know already, but the art style will either go through another shaky period or we will find ourselves in another Back to Black phase where heavy black ink will dominate the panels. I feel this is some part of the later Styx cycle where I always always return to that.

I had an interesting idea while browsing through a book on character design yesterday night. Instead of adding even more influences to my art I should reduce the influences I go by, at least for my current workflow. At no time in history could people access all the world’s styles, art instructions and process demonstrations as easily as it is today. Back then they had like…one teacher and were stuck with them and everything they were lucky enough to find on their journeys throughout their lives. Today’s situation on the other hand creates the opportunity for fantastic and bizarre mixtures of influences, but it can also lead to an information overload. How should you know what works best for you? How should you know you aren’t missing out on the best thing for you if you don’t keep digging? When is it time to settle and is settling bad? I’m happy and sad that I’m quite versatile. I can make a lot of things work pretty quickly. But the cost is I’m not particularly good at anything, not in a specialized manner. I have the suspicion that a 2D outline heavy comic and animation workflow could be my thing as I have trained that intensively since a while. Designing in that style is no problem either. But I would have to put more emotions into my lines and risk messing them up here and there for the sake of the raw emotion that must be slumbering somewhere in me.

The best thing is, I don’t have to change much about what I’m doing with SPREY already.

Let’s see where this is going!

May 2021 Animal Studies

This month I took some time out to explore aesthetics of various vermin-looking beautiful and fascinating animals and how to draw them. I focussed on practising a simple digital art workflow to use and replicate for my future day to day work, but I also got curious and learned some more about the respective animals. A lot of great conversations with great people were had, too, and I want to thank everyone who I met on the journey, who enjoyed the art with me and all suggestions that you made and new ideas you gave me.

(New)SPREY Log #1 – Foundations

It’s time to continue documenting my journey! But before I switch over to discussions of my webcomic and diving into artistic detail problems, I want to take this entry aside and examine the foundations on which I work as an artist. Maybe more of this will follow in the future, but my most important goal stays, working through Street Prey and finishing it.

Okay, so I’m trying to get myself together and off the ground to a new level of quality for my creative work. That’s what I always do. Lately, I felt stuck although I’m rapidly moving forward. I haven’t slacked a day, on some days I just didn’t have the quantity or quality of output that I would have liked. And that is okay.

What is important though was the realization how my expectations are not the same as the reality of what is actually happening. Sometimes an expectation I have in my head and reality just don’t match up ever. There is nothing wrong with striving for the best, the highest ideals, but you must be aware and accepting of where this leaves the realm of reality. Would you want to live by and be measured by a mere fantasy that lives completely outside of what you can actually do and outside of what actually happens in reality? You would always be disappointed.

Fact is, I’m perfectly average and on time with my life, I’m just not fully in control of it yet, as I’m not fully in control of the wild beast yet that is my creativity. Having learned to appreciate what I do have while being patient with figuring out how to bridge the gap helps a lot. What if the secret is the following: Instead of trying to match an ideal state that I can imagine and fantasize about – and never having seen or experienced it, so there is no proof it exists- I can rather look at my personal reality. What is there every day on paper and digital canvas before me? What is good about it already? How can I make it even better?

I’m starting to think my day to day work is everything I will ever see. That will be the stuff that creates everything I want to create, the thing that either makes a fruitful creative career possible or not. No periods of extraordinary almost mystical work. Why did it take some time to get here? The day to day work of most artists is quite mundane. You don’t finish up a big illustration every day. You don’t finish up fancy designs every day. Some days you’re just grinding away trying to solve a problem or worse, count the day as success when you have done the bare minimum to stay fit.

I have tried to force ideal schedules and drawing processes onto myself before. Usually, it does not work. By now I believe the biggest problem with those is that other people made them. Other people with different life and creative experiences, different circumstances, different personalities and usually different preferences, too. Also, when you yourself are inexperienced, you cannot live up to the regular schedule of someone who is ten or more years ahead of you. You are exhausted faster than you are even through enough that would make that daily schedule functional. Same goes for “art styles”. You cannot force it. But of course you can listen to others and see what you can learn from them for yourself. You just cannot hope to just copy them and make no decisions by yourself ever.

I don’t have to have everything figured out in an instant. It’s only about keeping your long-term goals in mind and knowing what the very next step to get there is. I can finally allow myself to relax and just enjoy the journey.

Website Makeover

I bring great news!

I am improving my website for a better reading experience and more comfort using the site in general.

You can see some very visible changes already such as the new landing page. Now scrolling through the chapters of SPREY is easier and more fun than ever. I must admit that I have to rethink how to present SPREY chapter 3. The chapter will be quite long, so presenting it in ONE scroll could become a bit tedious. I’ll figure it out!

There’s more to do though! A change like this screams for a new header for the page and a proper comic cover for SPREY. Also, the Manul project will over time give up it’s spot to a portfolio. But today is not the day and I’ll finish the project like it deserves it.

Finally, the blog. At first I thought the change broke it as the blog is “forced” out on the front page now. Then I realized that my blog is actually better off than before as you can easily access and read at least the latest 5 entries without me having to turn to clickbait titles to make you interested in them anyways. And for the other blogposts, I hope putting them in useful categories and also giving you access to the cloud of tags I accumulated over time (calling it the Styxcolor iceberg amicably) should help you to navigate through the rest.

This blog is running since more than a year now! Going through my old posts while assigning categories made me humble. A different person than is writing now has started this journey and put a lot of effort aside to document it and share information with other artists who might struggle and might save some time by not making all my mistakes. The struggle probably does not end ever, but the particular problems to solve change. I am no longer scared of the comic page as an opponent or having to redraw characters again and again. Not saying I am good at it, it is just not as hard as it used to be in the beginning.

I would have had the opportunity to go in and edit or even delete some of the old posts, but I decided against it. You get the full picture with me. A lot of my things didn’t work out in the past. Maybe that is just the nature of creative endeavors, that a lot of them fail. But if you learn from it, they pave the way for the ones that succeed.

And with that I’m returning to the drawing table.
See you next blogpost!