SPREY Log #19

With the first half of my mentorship with concept artist Nik Hagialas over and having started to attend Dorian Iten’s The Shading Course as a supplement, I have new insights to share whether mentorships and courses are worth it for us self-taught artists.

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: My mentorship turns out to be a great catalyst for personal and creative growth and moving towards a better art quality. I’d say the two biggest achievements of the mentorship so far are not even teaching me more routine in the design process or doing homework.

Firstly, the mentorship showed me where I really stand, what my current and true skill level is. You could say I crashed and burned in week 2 with studies, that went over my head in complexity and art fundamental knowledge, but I didn’t take damage from this at all. On the contrary. Now I know where I am and what is still missing. That’s also where the Shading Course comes in. I can’t work around missing knowledge in the field of light and shading. And as there’s no time to learn all of this in the mentorship itself, I went out there and was lucky to find Mr Iten’s course. Would recommend to everyone, as it starts at zero knowledge or a completely intuitive person like me. I don’t know how, but I survived on pure intuition on this point. I have tried to read Scott Robertson’s “How to Render” in the past, but it feels like reading a telephone book. I’m asleep after two pages. I recognize there is a lot to be learned from Robertson, but I can’t do it with closed eyes.

As for the second, even bigger benefit of the mentorship, I don’t know how Nik saw it, but he somehow knew a lot of my problems stem from a lack of confidence. And he did not “fix” me or anything, he just gave me a push into the right direction. One of the weirder homeworks was to post on Instagram both in story and the timeline. I don’t see myself as a very beautiful or interesting person, but I complied. And after a couple times of showing my face, I started taking an interest in videocalls, now I will make a videocall whenever I can, with a proper webcam. And I started streaming again just yesterday, now with showing my face and talking to the audience. I am surprised with how many conversations with great people I’m having lately. And I feel well integrated into many groups and some friend circles. Nik did not fix this. I am almost becoming someone else from within myself, much more outgoing and probably better balanced. I also started working on my looks in a modest way. Now that I see myself too all the time I am better motivated to see a more polished version of myself. A lack of confidence is a silent killer. My Manul Zine that I am about to finish right now had a delay of more than six months…and I couldn’t explain why, I just couldn’t finish it. I was just lacking confidence. I wasn’t confident enough to pull that off or believe in it, when the Manul illustrations really are one of my most successful projects. Just so you wait until my mentorship and the Shading Course is over, SPREY should sweat nervously already. I feel like I’m better equipped for it right now already, and in a couple of weeks that will be even better. On the other hand I don’t know whether I will return to SPREY as is or rather tackle something more downscaled.

See you next blog post!

SPREY Log #18 – Anatomy of a Failure

My friends! It’s rare that something happens, that is so big, that it changes the course of your life or at least strongly affects your future decionmaking. Today I’m sharing with you, how a humble anatomy study taught me who I am and how I work and gave me a clearer perspective on what to do with my webcomic. Especially ambitious and impatient artists and storytellers, listen up, this one is for you. Hopefully sharing this experience saves you some time on your own journey or makes you want to pick it up again.

Failing at an anatomy study…

Yesterday, after a long time of abstinence, I sat down to do a study of the skeleton and muscles of the upper body and then do a painted study of the reference on top. I haven’t done such a study ever before. I was aware you can dissect a reference image like that, but I haven’t ever done it. I managed to study easier things around that but never go in that deep. And I’m not experienced at painting at all. I always liked anatomy though. It’s that good, quiet friend who’s always looking out for you, but never saying anything when you neglect them. So with a good dose of confidence and an ‘if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting’ mindset I started translating my reference image into skeleton. So far so good, with the help of a lot of references I understood things enough to make it work. I congratulated myself that I didn’t try to do a full body and only stayed with this scope. But I had a sophisticated hand pose in stock for myself, I don’t want to study anything, I want to study the best and most aesthetic things. My luck ended with the muscle layer though. If you have several layers of them, don’t have rock solid knowledge of their functions, looks and origins and the anatomy references do not differentiate what is an “important” muscle and what is not …this gets overwhelming. I somehow made it through the chest and rectus abdominus, I surely left a whole group of muscles out on the side, but I couldn’t imagine them in 3D and on my model. But with the arms, it absolutely ended for me. Too much information, too confusing, muscles look absolutely different bent and from an angle than on the flat diagrams of the anatomy book. And not only that, the overload was so real I stopped drawing for the day and just went away to do some chores. I wasn’t in pain or anything, I just was exhausted mentally and did something else for the rest of the evening. Later I sat down to sort my thoughts through writing. Then it struck me that I know this feeling of overwhelm and this specific pattern of struggling.

…and finding the experience mirrored in the SPREY experience

Wasn’t SPREY the same experience on a larger scale?
I haven’t done a comic of this kind ever before, actually, there are so so many firsts in there for me, like sci-fi cars and various kinds of combat, even combat on motorcycles. When I started out I didn’t even have the capacity to draw a whole page with several panels. Also something like a character turnaround was three chapters away. And of course, I couldn’t paint. I couldn’t and can’t even write long scripts. I was lacking more on the color and light front than today, making any rendering a game of luck. From today’s perspective, my style was never the problem, my lack of knowledge and inexperience was.
I always liked the subject matters I wanted to tackle in SPREY though. Who doesn’t like cool action scenes? Which synthwave fan wouldn’t enjoy an 80ies inspired, retrofuturistic and extremely eyepleasing slasher romance?
So with a good dose of I need to draw this or my life makes no sense and an “if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting” mindset I started making SPREY, one panel a day. That worked for two chapters. And with a ton of sweat, research and effort I made it through two chapters. I congratulated myself that SPREY is not a twelve volume tale, but only a one-shot. But of course, SPREY is an extremely ambitious project with new and ever more complex things waiting around the corner for me to draw. I don’t want to spend my time with creating anything, I want to create the things that are important to me and that look most aesthetic pleasing and stunning to me. My luck ended with the third chapter though, when things became more real and panels became pages. I got good enough to tackle more difficult environments, I started to design and draw vehicles, perspective and light got more complex. But I still had no clue about so many things, I was constantly overwhelmed. Other than with the anatomy study I didn’t have one day where I just exhausted myself, it happened a lot of times. I had an art block and life crisis after every chapter, later in chapter three I wanted to escape my torment after quite some of the complex pages. But I kept fighting until even I ran out of energy and sent SPREY into hiatus. Then I wasn’t in pain at all, I could just go about my day and do anything else. And then indeed I started looking for what was wrong. First I looked into books like Invisible Ink to find out about invisible armatures behind things, then my search for answers lead me far away from SPREY…and it lead me here, where the circle closes.

Conclusions

What I learn from it, I’m a stubborn and hard worker and I must have an incredible pain tolerance. This can absolutely play out against me when I keep going too deep into something. On the other hand I can cultivate this like a superpower when catching up again. And it did pay off to keep fighting, I did improve over time and gained some experience with SPREY, that no one can take away from me again. But a very real crisis after every chapter or now in the middle of a chapter? That is just not a way to live. And it is unnecessary. Why? I think I can deduce what to do with SPREY from the smaller scale anatomy study. The failed anatomy study didn’t worry me at all. If it doesn’t work today, you come back tomorrow, do a series of smaller anatomy studies to build up the knowledge and competence to tackle the more complex one. Don’t get yourself into a loop where you are just training, just preparing all the time but never advancing with the stuff you actually want to do. And that’s it. Also, what if I choose to make a smaller anatomy study but it’s still too big for me? Well, I’ll know when I’ll fail. Then I’ll make the scope even smaller and work my way up from there. There is no ambiguity or guesswork. So that would mean for SPREY – whatever I wanted to do right now will not work like this and I can’t save it. For now. I can now break it down and tell a smaller slice of the story or even the backstory, or whatnot. Really a small story unit. Or I can do a different story. And I will know whether it is still too much for me when it doesn’t work out. So there is a potential for a cascade of failing until I get to the point where I’m really at and can work up from there as efficiently and without crisis as possible, cleaning up all the mess I caused on the way there. I don’t know about you, but that sounds great to me. And SPREY is absolutely getting done, but apparently that takes a bit longer than I anticipated. But I’m as eager to get there as always.

Turning Pro

Also- this can be applied to many other things too. Want to make a portfolio but are paralyzed on the spot? How about starting with something smaller than a whole portfolio. Want to design the coolest character of all time but having trouble drawing clothes or figures in perspective at all? Well guess what you will do first before tackling that big character design. Enjoy your cascade of failing, the rise out of it makes it even sweeter. And actually, this realization ends the original ark of this blog. I am a pro now because I have realized how to bring together my ambitions and my actual limitations. I have to respect my limitations while trying to push them. This is what I was looking for. I have turned pro in my mindset, now my skills have to follow.

SPREY Log#17 – From now on you only paint

Welcome back! My break took a week longer than expected. After I filled my head up with new storytelling knowledge I knew I would need time to digest that in silence. Also, I had to go back to drawing. I felt homesick for it and for SPREY already. But I didn’t want to just jump back and do what I always do, not this time.

I can be on my own, sit and draw forever, but I ultimately cannot know where I actually stand with my art that way. What I think about myself and my art does not matter, as I am not the person hiring myself for future art jobs, so it would be great to know what potential employers would think if they were confronted with me right now. Following that logic I decided to invest in myself and ask a more experienced artist for guidance. Also I was a bit tired of being out there in the void by myself. So I booked a mentorship with concept artist and illustrator Nik Hagialas. He delivered that needed guidance from the first assessment already and so much more.

Apparently I’m not far away from the level I would need to be competitive in the concept art pro scene, but I’m not entirely there yet. That is a great thing to know. And that is also a great moment to go into a mentorship as it possibly could cut short a last, long episode of searching from further years to months. At this point I have one week of doing study and design homework behind me that was tailored to me and my specific needs. The feedback session for it is up tomorrow, so I can’t tell how it objectively went yet. But subjectively, I took so so much from it already, I feel like a new artist.

Nik has found a brilliant way of teaching. He helps you discover yourself by confronting you with a training IP brief, that means he gives you a document that describes a story, it’s setting and characters. You can choose what you want to design, environments, characters, props, vehicles, there is a need for everything in that training project. But in your four week mentorship you realistically only have time to do one thing, so you have to choose. For people like me that are interested and capable of doing many of these things, that is brilliant. I always had such a hard time to understand myself and what I should specialize in as I know that if forced, I CAN do anything. And see what happened. When I read the document I at first went for the props, of course I did. I was told you shouldn’t even try it as a character designer as too many people want to be one and clog that field. Nik told me to delete that from my memory, everyone is needed. So without that restriction I immediately, and I say immediately, went for elite android AXEL and started designing with such a fire and passion that I didn’t even recognize myself at times. Even now, if I think that there is more work to do on AXEL, I can’t help but be happy because I’m burning to continue. And other people seem to enjoy my work on AXEL as well, the spark is strong enough to ignite their interest as well. I’m grateful for the great people in my life every day. Thanks for all the critiques, feedback and suggestion this week and just thanks for being on that journey with me.

And I have no idea how Nik did this, but he also “fixed” my art further with a simple instruction. He just looked at my stuff, listened to me and my symptoms and just said “From now on you only paint and you will paint until you can paint.” I don’t know what he saw but his instinct was absolutely right. I wouldn’t say I am good at painting right now, but even when trying a bit, my art quality instantly shot up, also noticeable and mentioned by others. Also, painting skills feed from drawing skills, so I’m banking on what I kept building up over the years anyways. It was just that I shouldn’t stop at drawing, I should go further. No “being sensible” limitations. So I will paint on and see what happens down the line.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #16 – Back to Execution again

One constant fact of life seems to be change, and having to adapt to it. For the moment it seems I have read enough about theme to put the book aside or only read 10 pages a day and write write write until I’ve written myself against the next roadblock.

By now, the new SPREY script has a climax, a resolution and an ending. Now I will work my way back, writing session for session until I have the full script.

Other than that, a couple of depictions of the Executioner are on the visual menu for this week as well as working on a commission. I don’t like how I had to sacrifice some time lately that would otherwise have gone into drawing, but my focus is not unlimited. Wishing myself and you the best for the week. It might well be that the next blog entry is in a week. Enjoy and use your time well.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #15 – Exploring the Ending

I spent yesterday’s session working on the end of SPREY. The climax is pretty solidified at this point, so I was looking at what happens afterwards. The end determines what else the build up up to it might need. I wrote some villain biographies, motives and relationships down, so that I have a clearer picture who will do what in the final fight. I was focussing on the Executioner until now, because he is…well…easy to look through. He is named after activities he likes to do. The Speaker on the other hand has a telling name as well, but his words have more intention than just making noise. Ryu got some new attention as well, although I’m doubtful he survives until the last duel. And then there’s the old king of the slashers who loomed ominous over the early drafts. I cut him out of the story entirely for a while, but now that I’m reworking SPREY and dealing with a core of civilizations theme, he seems to fit in pretty well again. Let’s not start with Motofiend whom you don’t know yet.

Also a huge shoutout to my friend Vergil who patiently listened to several drafts of my final fight scene and gave me a new perspective on the slasher genre and the deeper seated symbolism. The killer doesn’t come from nothing. He has been either wronged personally in the past or is more, is a manifestation of a whole group of victims now turned into a raging beast past any eye for an eye retribution as they received no justice, turning against the innocent and blindly creating more injustice now. The virgin breaks the cycle of violence. Some cultures sacrifice her, let her symbolically innocent blood be the last spilled, maybe even hinting at political marriages. And some cultures apparently let her defeat the monster instead, laying it at rest again. SPREY does beautifully fit and not fit in this at the same time. My virgin ends the violence by becoming the slasher king and ordering the tribe to dissolve (probably). One small parasitic civilization collapses while also uncovering the rottenness, yet the strengths of the host it tries to nest itself inside. A lot of people fall over their own ego. But my slashers do try to sacrifice one of their worst enemies to avenge their dead and improve their morale again.

Another bit of confusion waned when I found an old fragment I had written. SPREY contains excessive flashbacks. While I love all that is happening I was doubtful whether I shouldn’t just trim that out and be more action oriented in the present. Then I read this little loving conversation between Rich and Willard and was like, no, moments like these probably give my comic soul. I will not spoil it for now, but imagine something like a couple of words lovers whispering into each other’s ears gives me confidence for the whole project…then there must be something to it. I’ll work on making this comic happen, like every day!

See you next blogpost!