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!

Sketching Comics – My lessons

Currently, more things are happening at a faster pace than I can document them.

I’m in the second week of working on chapter 3 of my Street Prey (SPREY) comic – so how did it go?

I am grateful every moment that it worked. It is as if I never had left, my brain and body have accepted the daily comic panel back without much resistance. Some of the pages do put a good fight up, but I have worked my way through all of them so far, no matter what storytelling or art problems to solve they have thrown at me. A lot of woes I had in the previous chapter did not cross over to this one. I know at least a bit what I’m doing when it comes to backgrounds and environments now, a multi panel layout doesn’t overwhelm me anymore and my linework is worlds better (but still there’s room upwards).

The retro frame was a victim of circumstances. It had to go to make experimenting with several panels on a daily square possible. Also, to Styx from now the frames around the panels might have been a bit garish and distracting from the comic itself. JUST A BIT. But I’m sure the wildness isn’t gone, it’s now in the story itself and will resurface in time.

And now for the main lessons of the chapter so far.

My work on a page starts with loose sketches.

  1. I do not have to invent pages from nothing. My story dictates what must happen next.
  2. A great question to determine whether a panel is any good: Does it advance the story? If not, does it at least tell me something about the characters or their relationship? When in doubt, go for the thing that drives the story forward.

    And specific questions for my way of doing things with a daily deadline: Have I given my reader something worth coming back for today? A new development, an interesting detail, a sort of mini cliffhanger where it is uncertain what direction the situation will take from here, and I’m not done exploring all possibilities yet.
  3. Feeling confident when making page layouts comes from practical experience, it builds by sketching and drawing pages. Learn making comics by making comics.
  4. Always sketch and write your ideas down, don’t just think them.
  • Reason 1: Otherwise you will not know whether the idea actually holds up. Sometimes a page layout that looked brilliant in my head just doesn’t look any good on my actual canvas. Sometimes things just do not translate well out of your head. You either let go or find ways to adapt the idea and make it work.
  • Reason 2: Fail and succeed faster. If it doesn’t hold up as a sketch already, guess what, putting hours in to render it out will not make it better. So solve the biggest problems a panel, piece of artwork or anything you can pack into thumbnail has in small, simple and easy to iterate on sketch drawings. Go through everything that doesn’t work and you’re arriving at something that does work faster.
  • Reason 3: Helps you to actually create. Now hear me out. In our head things often appear flawless, beautiful, unachievable, but oftentimes quite vague at the same time.

    Think of one of the great ideas for an art piece that has been haunting you for a while and still rests in your head. Would you know what you want to draw in every detail, how it should look and feel like and how to draw it from start to finish? And if so, why haven’t you drawn it yet? Usually, you will not have all the answers already when you sit down to work on a piece.

It is okay when you cannot envision something 100% before you draw or write or say it.

You do not have to. Most often getting active and at least thumbnailing will help you understand more about what an idea you have and how it looks in detail. And what doesn’t work about it and what to change. Creating an art piece IS figuring it out. You are luring a nebulous vision out of your head and making it concrete. Remember my “perfect” page layout that I can only test if I actually sketch it down and see how it would look in reality. Drawing it, giving it a form, will entail loss, as when you draw something a certain way, you decide against many other options you would have had of drawing it. But what is your idea worth when it lingers in your head as that great, flawless something that is awesome to dream about, all it’s potential untouched and available… but it has no visible form at all that you could enjoy yourself or show anybody? How do you know it’s good when it isn’t there and you never actually made it?

So: make your sketches.

I hope this helps!
See you next blog entry!

Starting a new arc

The timeline in very short: after finishing chapter two of my webcomic I decided to take a week off – and then never came back, ended up doing an online design course to fill the most glaring holes in my drawing skills. That succeeded. I learned a lot of things, improved my design and perspective drawing game as well as how to harness the power of 3D, research, and learn my drawing programs faster in the future to use their juiciest features. The price was that I completely lost sight of my comic. It is not as if the wish to continue it wouldn’t have been there. I just couldn’t. I was so strained, stressed out, probably anything could have made me tear apart. That happened in the end, and after some confusion and recovery time, and also listening to the life and business advice of many voices on Youtube and in books, I yesterday returned to drawing SPREY. Chapter 2A is now chapter 3 and has a cover. It is not as if I didn’t do anything about it ever in the meantime, I have some notes and storyboards as well as partly reorganized folders with references. Also the comic haunted me in my dreams. We’re good. I am continuing in the system that worked, at least one panel a day, square format, updating it on my site, on the discords, and eventually on Instagram again, too. I just want to work consistently for a couple of days before I make big announcements, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke and I’m still super dead.

I guess the past months were a good lesson in failing and why you would prefer a sharp cut end to something over slowly dragging along and bleeding out any time. I didn’t bleed out on my comic though, I snapped back in the end. My vast insecurities got the better of me and led me astray. I hope I am not taking all of them back as were into SPREY Chapter 3.

I have humble goals. I really want to make this comic and finish it. I owe it to the readers and to the comic, and to myself. I am standing a 100% behind Street Prey and will do my best. A chapter takes me around 3 months so far and I suppose we will at least have 12 of them (but the number is everything but exact), so that’s some time working on it ahead. I do think that I will become faster as time passes and with more work I have done. My planning skills might become better, too, but only with the experience of hindsight on having substantial amounts of work done already, so everything I make in the future after it profits from SPREY.

I am also eyeing at a day job in concept art or videogame making in general. I have fun designing or just creating games in general. But it takes time to cross over. I am also not a big fan of crunch culture. During the design course I have found out that I can crunch if needed, but that it is not a sustainable way of working, at least not for prolonged periods of time. What do you do with your fast big gains if you lie exhausted on the wayside after the rush? But I will not allow anything to get into the way of me making SPREY. It is too important.

Please call me out if I slip again.

It might happen that I miss a day from time to time when things get very rough or rougher than now, but I don’t want to. I never want to. It is a panel a day or not being me. And why would I not want to be myself? In that sense, see you after the next work session on SPREY later today. A blog can’t be a distraction when it documents action, not dreams about things that never become action.

Annotations to the cover (hey, you should have something exclusive if you read my blog):

If you know the backstory laid out in this blogpost, you can see how the chapter cover is less of a literal depiction of a sad Rich, but the manifestation of the devastating shame and guilt of being a failed creative, a failed creator. I have failed in creating. I have failed everyone, I have fallen. I have a hole of three months in my comic work. And yet here I am, I’m back. SPREY is back. Just taking action again and continue sounds like an easy thing to do from the outside, but do you know about the abyss of strong emotion on the inside? If we didn’t have that, everyone would just do what they knew was right and they should do. Anxiety is a big one here and it will never go away. But apparently you can learn to live with it and not get lured into comfortable inaction that makes you feel even worse afterwards.