100 Days of SPREY – 62

Time is just pouring through my hands like sand or water, but there is no reason to feel bad about it anymore. I have accepted that this is how things go. They call that transience, the experience of time fleeting and all things changing around you. I felt like I was a stagnating solid block in the middle of that many times, I could not take part, but this is not true. If really everything is passing and changing, so are you.

I have been changing a lot lately. Enough that even I noticed it. Last week I learned the basics of UI design. This does not make me an UI expert, but increasing the knowledge from zero to making a sheet of box designs the client likes and approves of is a huge step. And what I learned about learning was even better and bigger. I want to share with you!

Do you have something that you would kind of need in your skillset, but it’s boring to learn, all the explanations are difficult to understand or hopelessly convoluted or you just don’t get a grip on ressources about it or the time or energy to study them at all?

What makes you think you are best served with huge chunks of your time put into these things? Could you be thinking you want to bridge the gap of being bad at something fast? It is pain, agony, to imagine you are really bad at something and despite best efforts will be bad at it for years. Yeah. But if you build the bridge too fast and not stable enough it will collapse again and you will have hurt yourself, too. All the sacrifices you made to rush it did not bring you the desired results and you have still spent the ressources. So I sat down, I had to learn UI design and deliver a first basic sheet within a week, and the first two days nothing gave. I insisted to learn at a speed at which I could observe myself so I clearly could see what the problem was. Anyone can watch tutorials on UI for an hour. But do you know more about how to tackle the concrete UI tasks you have to solve afterwards? Do you know what to do at all? How to translate it into your own work? Day two I still learned more about what UI is but the fog was strong and heavy as before in my head. In my impatient head this should have been a catastrophy. Two solid days of spending tedious time on something without a result. Outrageous. Indeed, one hour of researching UI made me tired like having spent three hours or so on it. I learned that time spent on activities is not equal. Activities are not consuming energy equally. I accepted that and told myself, fine, then I will have to spend more days where I “just” learn a bit UI and do not expect to rush to design it when the head stays empty. But on the third day my brain gave in and I designed what I was told to design without a problem. I could have terribly fought with myself Monday and Tuesday, spent a lot of energy on being angry with myself or my learning speed. I could have tried to force myself to be more productive without knowing what I was actually doing. Instead for once I just accepted what I found to be and happen in reality and worked with that. No expectations. How could I expect a certain rate of progress from myself in a field I did not even know what to expect and how fast? Think about it, if you are new at something…how do you know you are too slow? You have no experience to back up how fast or slow things should be. That comes with time when you have finished the task several times and have developed a routine with it. Also you are not that other person that did it in half or double your time.

So Monday and Tuesday I did what I could, spend the time on UI my brain would give, then spent the other time and focus on tasks that cost me less and got those done, too. Wednesday it clicked for UI and I was able to do the design task in actually an average time for my design and drawing sessions. It had clicked. My brain had needed time to establish all the connections. I also had to rethink what UI is for me and how I place and value it in the process of videogame creation. Turns out UI is actually more important than the actual game art. What do I mean? The user interface the player sees and interacts with shapes the gaming experience. You have no experience without the user interface, even if it is a minimal one! How do you even start the game? Game art of course is important, too, but art itself is not interactive if you think about it. You could also be watching a movie if it was not for menus, choices, health bars and visible consequences of actions in the world. And from there, from this Wednesday, learning more UI was easier. I had completed the task once so every sheet that follows, every research that follows for a different subtask or design element is easier or faster or both.

And I’m sure this works for other fields, too! I am learning about business in little daily steps. And the upcoming weeks in particular I might invest some time into chipping away at perspective. I don’t accept not being able to use this art fundamental at it’s full force. I want to be at least so okay at it that I do not fail at problem solving. Perspective is important for viewing things, you know. My camera angles and such. And this is where we come back to Street Prey (SPREY).

Everything I’m doing, the whole design course, the contract job that has nothing to do with it but pays and opens possibilities for more paid work in the future …everything is for SPREY and my personal work in general. The better I get, the better I can express myself and deliver best quality to my audience. Apparently you do not always work in straight lines towards that. I’m on a neighboring slope or so right now looking over. One day things will go together. SPREY will either finance itself or I will have enough paid work to finance the time spent on it. I am working hard and doing my best every day. New is that I also accept days that just are not my best. I do not ever regret times I spend relaxing. Having a balance between that and work makes me happier and more productive than trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

I am longing for SPREY though, terribly. The daily draw and upload scheme is unfortunately not possible for me right now, but I will spend this week collecting things and try out the upload it all on Sunday scheme. I will not yet scream it from the rooftops and advertise it everywhere on my social media because this is untested. What if I can’t make it work and have to cease and look for a different approach within 1-2 weeks? It would disappoint readers again if they learn about a weekly scheme and then it doesn’t happen. So let’s test first. This is the privilege of the beginner. Test as much as you want. You have nothing to lose.

See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 61

There must be a reason why I’m uploading a winter holiday piece in February. I better have a pretty good reason!

I started this piece in December. It looked like this and then I didn’t touch it again:

I was in severe creative crisis mode. I hated everything I did, I was very insecure, especially about how I drew my characters, I hated my inability to create any sensible environment, yet I somehow pushed through the rest of this stretch of chapter 2 of the comic in January and then just collapsed. Not literally, but in my head a door closed, daily comic work was suddenly out of the question. Maybe a reaction like not putting weight on an injured leg.

My will to brush it off and continue was there, a nagging voice in the back of my head to not risk any hiatus, but everything else just intuitively went out into the world to see and try new things and let the overstrained comic muscles heal. Time heals that. And now the period of healing is coming to an end as I finally could finish the christmas piece today in one go. It did not hurt. The enthusiasm for SPREY was back and then some.

In hindsight and only in hindsight this break was the absolute right call. I experienced and learned so so much. I just wish it was somehow less chaotic and didn’t let the readers hang in the air. But I must have been in such a bad shape in January that I wasn’t really capable of doing anything elegant about that. I want to go back into SPREY and finish it with passion. The smallest scope is big enough if burning love can flow into it!

But of course, I can’t have that without obstacles. The decisions of old me led to a situation where I have to finish other tasks first before I can jump back into SPREY with full force. This doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything, it is just an interesting dance to get anything meaningful done. I would love to say I can allocate a reliable time and workload to SPREY within two weeks. I don’t want to go back to the daily upload schedule. Not because I can’t pull it off, but because I think I will not deliver my best work this way. The daily upload scheme leaves little room for editing. My friend Shellpresto (I’m so grateful, thank you so much!) suggested a weekly upload of about 7 panels and I’m starting to like the idea. A lot. Maybe it’s even time to go for comic…pages as I know a lot more about layout and design than even a couple of weeks ago now. Just an idea.

I’ll start by reviewing the new script tomorrow. I feel like my first draft will break under the first stress test like a dry tree twig. The true massacre will not happen in the comic itself but when I try to cut the script down. I tend to want too much, more than the essence of the story would require.

See you next blogpost!

100 Days of SPREY – 60

The struggle continues!

I have this theory that no long term project actually wants to get made. Otherwise most dreams wouldn’t just stay dreams and we would swim in awesome creations! Your long term project will throw any problem, challenge and distraction it can at you to keep you from finishing it, but at some point it will give up resistance.

I have good news today about the future of Street Prey(SPREY). I found a surprising solution for it that honestly sounds like I could have known earlier…but I couldn’t. I needed to fall off a cliff, go on a new path pushing my design skills and draw and 3D model many pages of unrelated concept art to realize something. And I hope sharing this serves as a shortcut for you so that you don’t have to go through that, too.

Like all of my stories so far, SPREY has been conceived in a vacuum. A version of Styxcolor was at work that had no understanding of how expensive time is and that designing a world properly costs a lot of this as does a huge and cool ensemble of characters. You will never catch me saying a single creator cannot do a thing. But some projects would require you to sacrifice your life to one of them alone and work on nothing else ever. This seems to be an unreasonable project scope to me. I found out, what hinders me from just continuing to make SPREY like before is this: I cannot afford to create a comic of SPREY’s original scope by working hours and pay I don’t get for it and also release it for free, at least not right now. People will understand. Concept art pays. But I don’t have to let you hanging. I am downscaling SPREY. I will try to tell the essence of it, close all arcs I opened and deliver a satisfying ending building on what I already established. And I will ideally do so within the next six months. That is my self declared goal.

I started off today already by writing a skeleton script. It’s pretty exciting as most things fell into place without much resistance. I am still a bit critical about the scope. That might still be a bit too many scenes and places to design. You will probably not see much movement with the characters on the other hand. So tomorrow I’ll trim fat or if I’m still clueless I’ll start to thumbnailing around. Maye that will influence and correct a moments or two as well. But hey, at least the script will most likely not get bigger than it is now!

And no, I feel no pain about SPREY. I’m surprised myself. Instead, I feel enthusiasm. As if that thing can overpower me, now that I found a way to break it down into something present me can do. I’m not sorry for everything we will not see in this run of SPREY. It was formless potential so far, so nothing is really lost if it does not come through. It never “existed” in the first place. Who knows what the future will bring. I have learned yet another valuable lesson from SPREY. And after all, it’s not about me. I’m worried about my readers first and foremost and that they have a satisfying finished comic that was worth their time in the end. I might have been so inexperienced that I didn’t even know how to start small and how to operate small. My new definition of that is: If I’m capable of pulling it off with my current skills and ressources (including time). And how do I know what I can do? The script will tell me. The design sheets will tell me. If I literally can’t do it, can’t write down a coherent version of the script, can’t draw the scene, vehicle or environment for the love of everything, it is too big right now.

And this leads me to the spectacular conclusion of this blog entry. Today I realized that a good chunk of my problems came from inexperience, from the faint hope I would pick up all the skills necessary on the road to become someone who can actually pull off what I imagined SPREY should be. I was dealing in I should bes and I should dos. When the truth was before my nose all the time. If I could pull off the script that classic SPREY would need…I would have done it! It is okay! So I didn’t fall out of the sky as a master. I have a much better grip on what current Styxcolor can actually do and move within a week of unrelated fulltime work. And I can and must go from that. I cannot base my works on someone I am not (yet), on skillsets I do not (yet) have. Imagine trying to buy something with money you will maybe make in the future (outside of the stockmarket). I must stay with what I have right now. Just wildly imagining an epic story without any constraints is easy I would say. It is much harder to bring it into a form that you or you and a team can actually make come true. Keep it real. Less is more. Start small. Your personal “small” might grow over time.

I hope the readers of SPREY do not have to wait for too long anymore. I will still do my best not to rush anymore ever and take the time it needs. See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 59

Today was a big, beautiful day. How does such a day look like for you? Is it a day where the world can’t bother you in your efforts and good mood, even if it tries? A day where everything goes right? A day where everything goes your way?

For me, it is a day on that I find a solution for a big problem. The same problem could still return to me in a different form in a different cycle of my development later, but I will not be entirely helpless about it, if my solution now has any merit.

I was a bit nervous, asking myself whether I had secretly given up on Street Prey and just couldn’t face it. What if I’m never able to continue making it? What should I do about it? How do I find back into making it like before? Or should I change up the schedule? The style maybe? Everything seems so complex, impossible to solve. But then throughout the day a cascade of beautiful insights dawned upon me. I give credit to Chris Oatley’s storytelling podcast on Youtube for the inspiration. A certain passage really stuck with me. Nobody keeps you from starting to build your giant world today, telling your epic story, you will just struggle tremenduously with…about everything. Why? You have routine in nothing. Everything will be new land and a new problem jumping at you. You are almost bound to make big mistakes and try to build upon them. And even if you force yourself to go through the hell of making the project happen with all your willpower…the result might not be that great.

I very much find myself in that sentiment that I just summarized. I struggled so much. I did everything I could with what I had, but I somehow couldn’t arrive at where I wanted to be.

And here’s what Chris Oatley and the other speakers presented as different way of doing it: Start your big or small project, it does not matter, but start really really small. Solving small problems will be hard enough in the beginning, such as designing an actually GOOD prop for your comic. It is laughable. But it is true. Looking back, Street Prey had no memorable props so far. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know what and how important prop design actually was. And if many props constitute an environment (at least partly) and you can’t do props…guess what, then the epic environments in your head won’t happen. Maybe your head stays empty when you think about them. At least to me that used to happen a lot. I would have wished to draw better backgrounds in my comic, but I just had no ideas and did not know how to come up with some. I guess all my works would be talking heads.

So pausing SPREY for the moment was not just a crash or failure, it was a golden opportunity to realize how I was struggling, realize that I can change that and find a more sustainable way to work. Room for self-love.

Look at this small piece of sci-fi hallway I modeled in Blender today, following a tutorial by Alex Senechal. This really doesn’t look like much, but it is an important little step towards a better future for my comic and all my works. Imagine what suddenly is achievable with more practise…

The journey stays exciting!

See you next time!

Learning with onions

This is in some way a continuation of yesterday’s blog entry, but you don’t have to go back to understand this one.

I finished another piece of homework that was due last week, but I had to move to this one because of work. My task was to create a page of visual communication study about a plant topic. Still following “less is more” I chose one of the least exotic plants there is. The common onion. And while I am curious and have many things I would like to know and explore about onions, I indeed only had time for one page. And then I decided to give my everything into it, everything my tired evening self after a day of concept art with daily deadlines (at least at the moment) could muster.

This page might not even look like it, but I learned so so much. Let me share my thoughts. Maybe you can use a thing or two for your own design work, too.

  1. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing – wild ambition is no exception to that. I made a series of entomology pages about wasps last week, pouring all my passion and curiosity into them. And I expected no less than roughly eight pages about onions from me this week. But my ambition and reality just didn’t…meet. I love my work, but I am very tired in the evenings. Eight pages will not happen this week, maybe if I ignore all other homework, but that is just not an option. So I let go and told myself – do one page today, do what you can and let go, move on. Focus on one task at a time, one iteration of an exercise at a time.
  2. Trust the process. I cannot tell where this impulse came from, but I thought to myself if it is going to be one page, I will train graphic design. I chose a simple topic that was still interesting to myself and created a page like from a gardening book. I ran the full circle, research, notes and scribbles, arrangement of the elements on the page, changing from Krita to Affinity Publisher mid process for the layout and lettering/font matters, then changing back to the final polish. I am glad I followed my intuition. This is not the greatest page humanity has ever seen, but I’m glad I finished it. It was a great exercise. And it is also more than I would have expected of myself.
  3. Small things add up. In the past, and this is not even long ago, I found myself having an all-or-nothing mindset. I can either do the full thing today and have my result and reward or do not even start doing it, because what’s the point? SPREY has been a valuable factor to break that up. There is no chance SPREY can be done in a day, even the most stubborn version of me will accept that. And with many other things it’s like that as well. You can’t master a skill in a day, build a career in a day, unlearn bad habits in a day and so on. And it does not have to happen in a day. Relax. Look for the small bits of work you can do right now that do not overwhelm you. Maybe reading 10 pages of a book that will help you learn something a day, working 20 minutes on a personal project every day. And it does not have to yield a result immediately. You’ll get your results over time when the small bits of work compound, the solutions you found for very small problems compound and you suddenly deal with bigger problems to solve and it’s absolutely manageable, as the smaller ones are out of the way now. Small things do add up!

And with that, see you all next blog entry!