What’s on the other side?

100 Days of making SPREY – 50

Today I want to share a lesson with you that I just learned. It is very special and it is okay if you don’t find meaning in it today.

At least in some creators, there is something like two souls, two hearts fighting each other, and it can be a source of great confusion. There is one that is sensible and wants to fit the mold society set as normal, such as having a stable job and would settle for just enough to get by on good, honest, and societal recognized work. Then there is the outrageous one that howls in disappointment and despair when you do the sensible thing, one that hates you when you comply, one that wants to go explore the void without a map and without a safeguard to ever get somewhere. Both hearts have their place and your life will most likely be a balancing act between both. But what if your wild heart eats you up for shunning it entirely while the docile heart eats you up for real or perceived irresponsible behavior such as following an artistic passion without compromise?

In a very simplified way, the human brain is a simulation machine. And when we cannot predict what the outcome of a decision we make is, we do not like that. Going off into the void is vague already as a statement. What is this void that artists talk about? Where is it? What will I find there? Will I find anything there that is valuable enough to make a living when brought back to other people? If I am not successful, can I go back in time to still become something socially acceptable? Can I still make something out of my life?

We hate that. But our wild heart still wants us to go there and to explore.

Then I found an answer I did not expect in places I did not expect. My good friend game developer Martin Chow introduced me to the works of Japanese game developer Kenji Eno. This man was so far ahead of his time, it is incredible. So far ahead many of his contemporaries did not understand him – and now, as the biggest irony of all, some of his works look dated to a viewer like me from my time, but then I realize they look dated because he was one of the first. Others became famous with more refined products in the same vein later. I would call Eno a champion of the void, of „the other side“. That is when people cross their personal void and come out on the other side with something. He did not buckle down under social pressure or the pressure to succeed in the games industry and still kept to his original, authentic creative vision. Apparently the pain to comply and bring sacrifices to fit in better was bigger than the pain of not knowing if he would find any success society understands as success ever. But the journey was not a bright-eyed wonderland, it cannot have been. The pressure of society and the piercing stings of doubts and fears never leave us creatives alone. My heart breaks every time when I think about disappointing my parents by not becoming something. If I am to believe the Kenji Eno documentary I will link down below, he went through the same thing. „Oh, he was once a good boy. A gifted child. But look at him now.“

But then, what was waiting on the other side for Eno, through the void?

When I first looked into a walkthrough of Eno‘s game D2, I found myself captivated. I did not like everything I was presented, but I knew I was witnessing a piece of art. And even now I feel like experiencing D2 felt like reading a heavy novel and left the same sort of deep impact that still echoes on. You do not have to like D2, it is flawed, but you have to acknowledge that it is art and cannot help but respect the artistic expression.

But will you personally find something that is like this and has this impact? You cannot know. Even if you tried to emulate Eno entirely, you might end up with something else. And in the worst case, indeed, you could spend your lifetime in the void, where everything is scary and insecure, and return empty-handed except for the experience of having lived that life and having created. From my own limited experience I can tell you that creations change you when you push through with them and finish your creations. But what about material success, your docile heart might ask now. We have been talking about artistic things until now.

Let‘s look at Mr. Eno‘s case. He is clearly underappreciated for what he did and has probably never made insane amounts of money. His lifestyle was not glamorous, in fact, he was a workaholic until the very end. But Eno‘s successes were big enough that he could sustain a family. And he got to live out his authentic artistic visions and moved a lot of people. And overall, he did what he want. This seems like a pretty good outcome.

Does this relax your docile heart a bit? There is so much ground between smashing success and absolute defeat. You might come out somewhere in the middle and it might seem and feel weird, when you can‘t even tell whether you are on the success or failure side, but it is not as scary as imagining the outcome as one extreme or the other and nothing in between.

Kenji Eno is a champion who went all the way into the void and returned. He brought something back that moved and inspired many other people in turn and has inspired this blog entry to help other creatives, too. So Eno‘s story might be some food for the simulation machine that is your brain, if you are struggling with doubt and confusion about your wild heart. This is where it is pointing you towards. This is what could be.

Sources:

Kenji Eno documentary:
https://youtu.be/dLLQm9GjN3c

Gamasutra obituary:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/188282/Kenji_Eno_A_voice_of_dissent_a_champion_for_creative_integrity.php

100 Days of SPREY – 14, 15

I almost didn‘t update my comic yesterday! Almost.

I was very tired in the evening, so tired that for one and a half hour of drawing time nothing of significance was down on the digital canvas. It was as if I forgot how to draw entirely. Then after a surprising second wind that felt like waking up while being technically awake already I created the art, updated just in time, and with two sister panels! I sought to bring more balance into my life, relaxation, and the price seems to be that exhaustion is a thing again, a constant companion even. And changing from a mode of relaxation to working invites resistance. The other option, just ignoring all of it and working beyond all limits all the time, is not a sustainable way to go as it would surely result in severe health issues later down the road. You can maybe even do this for a couple of years, but not a lifetime. And I‘m here to create for a lifetime.

I think my increasing struggle actually comes from a good place. I might be at the beginning of a new cycle of my development as an artist. While I am somewhat competent at art I am helpless like a newborn at the moment, like a crustacean that has just shed it‘s old shell and is soft as butter until hardened out again. I have a lot of new work to do.

First of all, I would love to simplify what I‘m working on. I‘m juggling too many projects at the moment. This is not even a complaint, just an observation. I am doing my best to finish them up and focus on fewer, bigger things for the future. Focussing on Street Prey was a really good idea and is a good goal. Other than that my wish to impress anyone, making free art for friends and family, or create random art for my social media feeds has effectively died off. Of course I wish I had a larger following, but I can‘t force that. Not every artist gets recognized in time or at all. What I can do is continuing to make my art and cultivating myself.

Secondly, I would like to simplify my way of working. For the longest time I lacked a grip on my own process, even when I knew that was a bad thing. I just couldn‘t do anything about it and made art anyway. Now with Street Prey, I‘m confronted with a reoccurring set of problems to solve every day. While the tasks vary in detail question, many things are returning, so I‘m getting the repetitions in, other than with standalone illustrations that can switch styles like crazy. Repetitions mean automation of some problemsolving over time and opens the brain up to focus on bettering other aspects of the problems to solve. Therefore the artist believes they are endlessly struggling while they are struggling through solving different problems consciously that build up on each other. There is just never a moment of rest, relief or joy that is distinct from the joy of small successes in day to day work such as making an important line right at the first attempt or finding something that will change how you draw a reoccuring element such as noses from here on.

And then I‘m discovering a new layer of „Less Is More“. That is one of those evergreens such as „Just Draw.“ You don‘t need to collect all the techniques, you don‘t have to know all the masters anybody could ever be inspired by, you don‘t have to work in every medium or have tried to work successfully in every art form there is, was and will be. And you don‘t have to work on every idea you have. That does in no way mean you should shield yourself from all these things. If you have much to choose from, you have a better chance of picking up what is the best for you. What Less Is More instead wants to teach you is that you don‘t need to worry and switch so much. Stick to few things but put all your energy in them, and you have a higher chance of finishing your projects and getting really good at what you are doing. But I get it, it can be really hard to determine what you want to do and how you want to do it. There is so so much to choose from.

There is no solution for this that works for everybody. I can only tell you what seems to work for me:

1) Realizing that there is more out there that you could hope to explore in depth within a human lifetime. (goodbye, fear of missing out)

2) Realizing that if you tried to work on every idea you ever had you would be busy longer than a human lifetime, too. (goodbye, impulsive decisionmaking)

3) Realizing that I have only one human lifetime and I don‘t know it‘s length. (goodbye procrastination)

4) Realizing that most of your ideas and works, even if you did not pursue the obviously bad ones, probably aren‘t and won‘t be that good. But it‘s never about the many that don‘t work, it‘s about the few great ones you accomplish amidst them. Those will be remembered and you can only get there, if you still make all the others and learn from them. (goodbye perfectionism)

5) Some people know what their authentic art and message is when they are children, some define or redefine it later in life for themselves. How do you know it‘s authentic? When you want to work on it, even if you are not getting paid, attention, or any other reward from the world. (goodbye choice paralysis)

That was a lot!

Should I send my comic into a hiatus before my new shell has hardened? No, it would be a form of waiting until I‘m „good enough“. We don‘t do that around here anymore. So I‘ll endure my next evolution while working. I will need to draw a lot outside of the comic itself, practise a lot and to explore my personal „less“ of Less is More.

See you next blogpost!