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!

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.

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!