SPREY Log #18 – Anatomy of a Failure

My friends! It’s rare that something happens, that is so big, that it changes the course of your life or at least strongly affects your future decionmaking. Today I’m sharing with you, how a humble anatomy study taught me who I am and how I work and gave me a clearer perspective on what to do with my webcomic. Especially ambitious and impatient artists and storytellers, listen up, this one is for you. Hopefully sharing this experience saves you some time on your own journey or makes you want to pick it up again.

Failing at an anatomy study…

Yesterday, after a long time of abstinence, I sat down to do a study of the skeleton and muscles of the upper body and then do a painted study of the reference on top. I haven’t done such a study ever before. I was aware you can dissect a reference image like that, but I haven’t ever done it. I managed to study easier things around that but never go in that deep. And I’m not experienced at painting at all. I always liked anatomy though. It’s that good, quiet friend who’s always looking out for you, but never saying anything when you neglect them. So with a good dose of confidence and an ‘if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting’ mindset I started translating my reference image into skeleton. So far so good, with the help of a lot of references I understood things enough to make it work. I congratulated myself that I didn’t try to do a full body and only stayed with this scope. But I had a sophisticated hand pose in stock for myself, I don’t want to study anything, I want to study the best and most aesthetic things. My luck ended with the muscle layer though. If you have several layers of them, don’t have rock solid knowledge of their functions, looks and origins and the anatomy references do not differentiate what is an “important” muscle and what is not …this gets overwhelming. I somehow made it through the chest and rectus abdominus, I surely left a whole group of muscles out on the side, but I couldn’t imagine them in 3D and on my model. But with the arms, it absolutely ended for me. Too much information, too confusing, muscles look absolutely different bent and from an angle than on the flat diagrams of the anatomy book. And not only that, the overload was so real I stopped drawing for the day and just went away to do some chores. I wasn’t in pain or anything, I just was exhausted mentally and did something else for the rest of the evening. Later I sat down to sort my thoughts through writing. Then it struck me that I know this feeling of overwhelm and this specific pattern of struggling.

…and finding the experience mirrored in the SPREY experience

Wasn’t SPREY the same experience on a larger scale?
I haven’t done a comic of this kind ever before, actually, there are so so many firsts in there for me, like sci-fi cars and various kinds of combat, even combat on motorcycles. When I started out I didn’t even have the capacity to draw a whole page with several panels. Also something like a character turnaround was three chapters away. And of course, I couldn’t paint. I couldn’t and can’t even write long scripts. I was lacking more on the color and light front than today, making any rendering a game of luck. From today’s perspective, my style was never the problem, my lack of knowledge and inexperience was.
I always liked the subject matters I wanted to tackle in SPREY though. Who doesn’t like cool action scenes? Which synthwave fan wouldn’t enjoy an 80ies inspired, retrofuturistic and extremely eyepleasing slasher romance?
So with a good dose of I need to draw this or my life makes no sense and an “if it gets tough I’ll just keep fighting” mindset I started making SPREY, one panel a day. That worked for two chapters. And with a ton of sweat, research and effort I made it through two chapters. I congratulated myself that SPREY is not a twelve volume tale, but only a one-shot. But of course, SPREY is an extremely ambitious project with new and ever more complex things waiting around the corner for me to draw. I don’t want to spend my time with creating anything, I want to create the things that are important to me and that look most aesthetic pleasing and stunning to me. My luck ended with the third chapter though, when things became more real and panels became pages. I got good enough to tackle more difficult environments, I started to design and draw vehicles, perspective and light got more complex. But I still had no clue about so many things, I was constantly overwhelmed. Other than with the anatomy study I didn’t have one day where I just exhausted myself, it happened a lot of times. I had an art block and life crisis after every chapter, later in chapter three I wanted to escape my torment after quite some of the complex pages. But I kept fighting until even I ran out of energy and sent SPREY into hiatus. Then I wasn’t in pain at all, I could just go about my day and do anything else. And then indeed I started looking for what was wrong. First I looked into books like Invisible Ink to find out about invisible armatures behind things, then my search for answers lead me far away from SPREY…and it lead me here, where the circle closes.

Conclusions

What I learn from it, I’m a stubborn and hard worker and I must have an incredible pain tolerance. This can absolutely play out against me when I keep going too deep into something. On the other hand I can cultivate this like a superpower when catching up again. And it did pay off to keep fighting, I did improve over time and gained some experience with SPREY, that no one can take away from me again. But a very real crisis after every chapter or now in the middle of a chapter? That is just not a way to live. And it is unnecessary. Why? I think I can deduce what to do with SPREY from the smaller scale anatomy study. The failed anatomy study didn’t worry me at all. If it doesn’t work today, you come back tomorrow, do a series of smaller anatomy studies to build up the knowledge and competence to tackle the more complex one. Don’t get yourself into a loop where you are just training, just preparing all the time but never advancing with the stuff you actually want to do. And that’s it. Also, what if I choose to make a smaller anatomy study but it’s still too big for me? Well, I’ll know when I’ll fail. Then I’ll make the scope even smaller and work my way up from there. There is no ambiguity or guesswork. So that would mean for SPREY – whatever I wanted to do right now will not work like this and I can’t save it. For now. I can now break it down and tell a smaller slice of the story or even the backstory, or whatnot. Really a small story unit. Or I can do a different story. And I will know whether it is still too much for me when it doesn’t work out. So there is a potential for a cascade of failing until I get to the point where I’m really at and can work up from there as efficiently and without crisis as possible, cleaning up all the mess I caused on the way there. I don’t know about you, but that sounds great to me. And SPREY is absolutely getting done, but apparently that takes a bit longer than I anticipated. But I’m as eager to get there as always.

Turning Pro

Also- this can be applied to many other things too. Want to make a portfolio but are paralyzed on the spot? How about starting with something smaller than a whole portfolio. Want to design the coolest character of all time but having trouble drawing clothes or figures in perspective at all? Well guess what you will do first before tackling that big character design. Enjoy your cascade of failing, the rise out of it makes it even sweeter. And actually, this realization ends the original ark of this blog. I am a pro now because I have realized how to bring together my ambitions and my actual limitations. I have to respect my limitations while trying to push them. This is what I was looking for. I have turned pro in my mindset, now my skills have to follow.

100 Days of SPREY – 18, 19

I feel like I broke through a wall this week. I am still surprised where I find myself right now and scramble to adapt.

Remember how we left off last time? I was worried because Instagram does not seem like a viable platform for me right now anymore. Well, the next day I started streaming on Twitch. You got to interact with the world and bring your comic to the people somehow. And it‘s going very well so far! Apparently, writing this art blog since months has prepared me well to talk for hours, even if I‘m not given cues what to talk about.

What I also learned very quickly is that if you have to show and explain your own process to people, you think about it differently than when you are staying just in your own head. I realized that my current process is working but probably not the most efficient one. I left that first stream so inspired that I practised and experimented for hours the next day to improve upon it. And then I actually had results!

Both of these things combined, realizing I can „survive“ in a public space and the successful drawing development, let my confidence shoot through the roof and it is great. I like to know that what I‘m working on every day is meaningful. That I actually have a grip on my process and can change things. My new best friend is Krita‘s clipping mask equivalent alpha inheritance now. I seem to really like the crisp edges this gets me. Now I have to follow up with a mountain of color studies to back that up with less guessing and more informed choices on what to actually do with it.

I‘m not planning to leave Instagram anytime soon, though, I am connected to some friends and colleagues that are very dear to me over this platform. And some of them do come to my gallery every day to look at the new panel.

Saturday I spent a very important hour with administration work, restructuring how I organize and view my tasks and finally thinking things through. In the past I might have avoided that not to feel overwhelmed, but I have to face it now. A wild garden also doesn‘t care whether you like it that way. If you don‘t tend to it it just continues growing in all directions it wants. There are always many projects, opportunities, ideas and responsibilities crying for my attention. And finish one, two new ones pop up. Everyday life really is a hydra that grows more heads.

My plans concerning my own stories had always failed in the past. Sometimes I still feel the crushing echoes from this. As I hadn‘t ever finished anything of significance I was also lacking the experience of how to plan, creating a loop of failure. But then the 100 days of making comics happened and I‘m farther into Street Prey than I was into any other personal project ever before. I wasn‘t stupid or lazy, I was just inexperienced. It happens. Time, patience, especially patience with yourself and hard work resolves that. You just can‘t see that when you are walking down the path through the fog yourself right now, especially in the beginning.

So after my initial unease to think about and prioritize everything in Street Prey that I haven‘t done yet but could and should be doing to push it‘s quality, I had a lot of ideas. I wrote them down. If my husband and me could finish a videogame, if I could finish all my smaller tasks so far, why shouldn‘t this work? And when I decided that it must work and I must find a way to make it work, I started to see it. I had made a whole mountain of tasks ahead of me visible by writing them down. I should be grateful for it, as everything is brightly lit and accessible now. I can walk the way, take the steps. It sometimes just is hard to determine which step to take next. Fumbling and falls are inevitable, too. But this is just a new adventure on the big journey.

100 Days – FINALE

Above: to the left – original first post-it for the challenge, drawn in colored pencil. To the right – redraw done today with same medium reflecting the current state of creator and blog comic team of fictitious characters.

It is done! Today is day 100 of my 100 days of making comics.

Unfortunately I haven‘t gained superpowers or completed a whole graphic novel. Even worse, some of my problems as a comic creator persist while other new problems joined.

But on the other hand there is this:

1. I have stopped doubting whether I CAN make comics at all. Yes, I can do that.

2. I failed at what I originally set out to do. Of course I did. But I was lucky enough to understand the reasons for it after spending weeks on other, smaller projects. So I learned a lot out of it.

3. I have learned how to „start small“ by doing a series of „Mikiko“ shortcomics in this very blog, focussing on the adventures and comments of my virtual assistant Mikiko.

4. I have started an interactive webcomic with a story that means a lot to me. I am more than a chapter in by now – so it‘s past the first bump already.

5. I have a much more grounded, realistic view of my actual skills and means and what to work on. Constantly working on one long term project like a webcomic is A LOT already.

6. I met a lot of great people on the road and appreciate those that were with me already, looking at them through new eyes. Although I can behave quite reclusive, I have learned that even I am not an island. We are connected and help each other and influence each other all the time. Thank you, everyone, and a special thanks to my husband, whose patience had no end.

edit: 7. Editing is important.

Above: I’m currently doing my best to improve my environment drawing skills. I usually fill in a row of 5 thumbnails a day with studies. The first reevaluation is at 200.

Accountability

The blogposts instead of videos worked out fine for me as means to keep myself accountable. They were especially effective in the beginning. Having to make a blog post about the day later might have saved one or two days. In the last days of the challenge I combined a couple of days into one single entry. The daily work got done either way by then. I will most likely not stop the webcomic anytime soon.

And what is next?

I will continue working on my comic with the same schedule as now (at least one panel a day), but other than support my husband with his „Your Land“ videogame as much as I can. It soon will be ready to publish! I hope I have built enough endurance during these 100 days to keep my humor and get things done, no matter what.

Will I ever do this or a similar 100 day challenge again?

Actually yes! If it was not for constraints such as time and other responsibilities, I‘d simply add 100 more days of making comics right away. But it‘s part of the artist‘s toolkit to know when you better take breaks, even if you don‘t feel like it at the first moment. I have some other things to build and maintain right now. I‘ll be back in time with new announcements. It depends on how the game launch will go, honestly. If there is a lot of bugfixing and changes to do within the next weeks that might be my project for the rest of the year.

For now, thanks to all of you. Your company has made my journey even more worthwhile and I hope my documented stumbling through 100 days has given you something, too. See you back on the road soon!

Above: what better way to end this than with an interactive choice in the comic? Quick, go to the respective discords I’m sharing that post with vote buttons or to instagram and cast your vote until tomorrow(23.11.2020). For more context – you can read the whole comic on this website. Check out “PREY”.