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!

Design

You know there is some rapid development going on when you did this last week and it’s old news already – but for surprising reasons.

So I’m finally taking a design course. For this and other constructive reasons such as my gig I am very tired in the evenings lately. Let me tell you a bit about beginner problems that could unknowingly affect you, too, with a couple of pieces I did.

First of all, you are looking at sketches I did on the topic “design sketching”. My first mistake was that I only this week learned what design actually is – and what design principles are. Last week I did not even know I did not know this, so I actually had no chance to do my homework as it was intended to.

What am I talking about? In the following you will find pages of gorgeous nature studies. The problem is, it is not and should never have been about the rendering or art skill itself.

Designing is uncovering the internal patterns and functionings of the world and conveying them to the viewers or users in an understandable and appealing way. You have to dive deep into how the world works or fictional world would work you are working with to be believable and you also have to know a lot about the human psyche to know how to win your audience over. It is human viewers after all that you are designing for and you yourself are one, too.

Here my study group intervened. They sensed I was putting my focus into the painting and not exploring design principles, but couldn’t articulate what exactly was off. So a classical misunderstanding happened. I got the feedback I should scale back and just do linework because this exercise is about lines. No, it is not. It is just another way to create art. Design doesn’t care whether you employ lines or not as long as you are minding the design principles and your set design goals. I had none of this. Plus, I was more insecure then and that was to the detriment of the quality of my work for the rest of the week.

I had incredible luck with the carriers, though. This page itself is not so remarkable except for that is the first time I ever explored the topic. I was lucky as this sheet cought the eye of a more experienced concept artist. He seemed to know without words in what deep trouble I was and recommended me the Visual Design Basics course by Alex Senechal. My natural curiosity kicked in and I indeed bought the course and started listening on Monday. I feel unstoppable since. I’m climbing quite the steep and lonely mountain now though. Actually developing your own design sense is quite the undertaking.

If I had the time, I would redo this whole exercise with a few simple but very impactful changes. Instead of recreating the given references from the course I would first sit down and make sure I know what I’m doing and why. Design does not start with action, design starts with planning and planning starts with an intent. One possibility that I can see would be a topic such as exploring the 70:30 distribution rule and evenness of proportions or exploring patterns of nature with a very narrow range of subjects such as plants of the same type, but with small variations – so that these count. These must count.

Funny enough my insect and bird eggs go into this direction already. That was the sheet that was not commanded as official homework of my study group. I came up with that myself after watching Feng Zhu talking about less is more for design beginners. I thought to myself drawing eggs instead of full creatures must fall under this. I almost got it right.

Me and my group will continue to make mistakes. That is part of the human nature. I beg of myself to be more confident and listen to my intuition, but also keep listening to critique and giving it to others. We are all in this together.

Climbing up a cliff

At first, I did not realize I lost my way. I thought to myself, what could it hurt to take a week off? To prepare some things for the next chapter of my comic Street Prey (SPREY)? Being nice to myself for a change yielded some surprising results. My art almost instantly „improved“ now that I suddenly had a bit more time to breathe and experiment. And quick first successes made me want to exercise more. At the same time my concept art career received a massive boost with my first gig as a concept artist for a small indie studio.

Suddenly I have new perspectives for my work. Suddenly I got a first contract pay in that was very real. My true luck is not the money itself, although I appreciate the pay very much, but that it caused a massive boost in professionalism in me. I have studied hard since then, even harder than before. And this lead to more gains. And then more good things started happening to me, because it is always like this. Only if you have some momentum already you are given more. By now I‘m thinking that studying the ways of concept art and focussing on this for a future day job might be or bring me closer to my ikigai.

I am still committed to making my comic and everything else on my to do list. It just seems that the concept art training I‘m seeking out is the key to push things to a completely new level I could never have imagined sitting in my old comfort zone. How did that all start? Imagine I was browsing Artstation and Pinterest and thought I wish I could bridge the gap. I thought and wished that for a long time, months, maybe years. I wish somebody could teach me, anybody. What if I could have a shred of the Feng Zhu School of Design? And then suddenly this opportunity came up to take part in a course inspired by his school and Youtube channel. I knew it was an important decision. I would have to make time for it constantly, a lot of time, while also working my contract and continuing SPREY. I haven‘t regretted a single moment. I also took up the good habit of setting aside at least 20 minutes a day to study a bit about business. I still have no idea what I‘m doing, but I still know more than before already. Time passes really quick at the moment. I am realizing that you sometimes get the best results when you focus on one or a maximum of two projects per day. But this thesis needs more testing.

I took this day to go over the last week a bit. I realized I did so so much that I cannot sensibly squeeze this together in one blog entry. It might make it harder for you to learn something from it if you are inclined to do so. So I’ll split the week up in several entries that I will post over the next days. Hopefully I will catch up to the present, soon.

To my surprise – I drew lightnings all week as warm-ups and actually finished that mini- lightning project fornow. The first tasks in the course were all about (re)discovering simple line drawing exercises. Just by chance did I discover that lightning must indeed be my personal element. But I will not stop at this and will explore other elements in the next weeks. Learning at least the basics of how to draw them and spending more time with them and documentaries on how they work are an investment for lifetime. Fire, water, rain, earth, all the elements, weather effects and natural phenomena – that is never going to go out of fashion. You just have to find your own way of how to deal with understanding and depicting them.

See you next time!

100 Days of SPREY – 22

With the prior blog entry I have defined and committed myself to a core of my comic project. This is important, because there will always be a lot of temptations to pivot away or otherwise water it down later. Before I can enter the process of developing finer details of Street Prey (SPREY) more, there is a last layer of chains to break.

I have mentioned it before, but SPREY is actually an old idea. In 2011 I thought to myself while riding home from university on train and subway: wouldn‘t it be great if a hacker and a cop, a very unlikely pair, were trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel system with some cannibal horror rockers and had to learn to get along and fight their way out? With a lot of synthwavey and cyberpunky color play and 80ies horror movies cheese please, thank you. Apparently, the idea and the characters evolved a lot since then. But there must be something about SPREY that was so memorable it never left my brain again. It was just waiting for it‘s time to come later.

Maybe this even is a completely normal, natural cycle of creation: When you are young, you have a lot of time to explore media and a lot of playful ideas, but no means to create properly. And later in life, if you chose to evolve the toolset to create, you would actually not dream up big ideas like these anymore. But you yourself are still moved by them. So what you love and grew up with, you will consciously or unconsciously try to bring back to the world. This contributes to the cycle of trends returning every 30 years or so, when those who grew up under the influence of certain works of art and other media are in positions where they have a say in what gets created either as creator or as paying customer.

It is not inherently bad to do it like this. You just have to make sure to bring what you cherish back in a way other people outside of your bubble understand it, too. Many movie makers I love from the 80ies were inspired by horror and sci-fi movies of the 50ies and brought elements and references from them over to their own movies. While the 80ies will always have a special place in my heart, I‘m not as strongly connected to the 50ies. Still, I can enjoy the movies, I can see where my heroes are coming from and respect their roots, too, as a neverending cycle of artists being inspired by other artists who came before them. One day someone will look at my beloved 80ies and 90ies influences, shake their head and say „Well, not my thing, but I can understand where she‘s coming from.“ just like me now.

And there we have it. The movie makers of the 80ies did not seek to recreate the past slavishly. They couldn‘t, the audience wouldn‘t buy it, just like I couldn‘t recreate an authentic 80ies experience if I tried. I haven‘t culturally lived in that era. We cannot move back in history, at least it is not healthy to do so and ignore what was learned since then as well as ignoring societal progress. You cannot successfully exclude reality ever and reality is progression of time and change. Everything changes and you have to adapt. Also, my favorite 80ies movies have been made already. While I can learn from them and try to bring their appeal or lessons from them to my works, I should not try to be them like my heroes did not try to revert back to the 50ies.

If you are thinking to yourself right now, everything of this is obvious, why am I making such a fuss, you are a lucky lucky person! To me, nothing of this was clear ten years ago. Even now I‘m still learning and repeating to learn how to stand on my own as a creative brain and not get swept up in trends or fandoms. Did you ever wonder why we get self-indulgent works of art, especially movies, where the ageing creative mind behind the work brings back something they invented and cherished from their youth, even if nobody asked for it, the present audience doesn‘t understand it anymore and the creator stubbornly makes no effort to adapt to anything. They have worked hard and have made many sacrifices to come to a place where they finally can create their dream project, so of course they are unwilling to compromise. But then the creation might not have the impact it otherwise could have had. You are indeed alone when you are creating, but you are not alone when you unleash it onto the world.

Have a counter example. My knowledge of Russia of the 1800s is quite limited, but the great old novelists like Chekov, Tolstoj and Dostojewski still manage to make me care for the fates of their protagonists and what the works tell me about life. I can enjoy the old literature, even if I do not understand every reference without looking it up. I think this is because they managed to capture the essence not only of their times but of a timeless human experience. Flaws, passions, despair over seemingly inevitable failures, small sparkles of joy throughout a mundane existance, the pain and uncertainty of growing up. All this, to an extent, resonates with every human being. We all arrive at places in our life where we ask ourselves comparable questions, where we face comparable problems, but of course, nothing is ever an exact copy of itself. Therefore, seemingly old stories have to be told again and again with new coats on top. One day we will bore future generations with what was novel to us, maybe like early social media and it‘s opportunities and risks.

And now the big question – what are the consequences for my comic?

I just laid down my current design and worldbuilding philosophy for you. I had this grandiose idea to make SPREY 80ies technology cyberpunk, but clean and sanitized like synthwave, with hidden gritty horrors under the stylish surface. That is a lot, and that requires a lot of work to get right. I was all about learning the rules of those genres and preparing to follow slavishly. I do not have to. The big cyberpunk works of the 80ies and later have been done already. I will never be Akira, Blade Runner or Battle Angel Alita and I don‘t have to. Synthwave has been done already, too. I must do more than just use references. There must be room for me and what I can bring to the table myself, even if it is just that I want to make a mature romance out of it.

And instead of asking myself how and whom I can impress by getting all the details right and learning a lot of things by heart…what can I add on top of the core of my story that will make the core shine even more and add to what I have to say, not detract from it? Suddenly you do not have as many paralyzing choices as before while being very free. But unfortunately, the answers are not there immediately. They want to be discovered and fought for in many hours of exploration, trial and error and research. But now I have a chance to actually work with the core of my own comic instead of just slapping an aesthetic over it like someone else‘s worn skin.