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!

(New)SPREY Log #1 – Foundations

It’s time to continue documenting my journey! But before I switch over to discussions of my webcomic and diving into artistic detail problems, I want to take this entry aside and examine the foundations on which I work as an artist. Maybe more of this will follow in the future, but my most important goal stays, working through Street Prey and finishing it.

Okay, so I’m trying to get myself together and off the ground to a new level of quality for my creative work. That’s what I always do. Lately, I felt stuck although I’m rapidly moving forward. I haven’t slacked a day, on some days I just didn’t have the quantity or quality of output that I would have liked. And that is okay.

What is important though was the realization how my expectations are not the same as the reality of what is actually happening. Sometimes an expectation I have in my head and reality just don’t match up ever. There is nothing wrong with striving for the best, the highest ideals, but you must be aware and accepting of where this leaves the realm of reality. Would you want to live by and be measured by a mere fantasy that lives completely outside of what you can actually do and outside of what actually happens in reality? You would always be disappointed.

Fact is, I’m perfectly average and on time with my life, I’m just not fully in control of it yet, as I’m not fully in control of the wild beast yet that is my creativity. Having learned to appreciate what I do have while being patient with figuring out how to bridge the gap helps a lot. What if the secret is the following: Instead of trying to match an ideal state that I can imagine and fantasize about – and never having seen or experienced it, so there is no proof it exists- I can rather look at my personal reality. What is there every day on paper and digital canvas before me? What is good about it already? How can I make it even better?

I’m starting to think my day to day work is everything I will ever see. That will be the stuff that creates everything I want to create, the thing that either makes a fruitful creative career possible or not. No periods of extraordinary almost mystical work. Why did it take some time to get here? The day to day work of most artists is quite mundane. You don’t finish up a big illustration every day. You don’t finish up fancy designs every day. Some days you’re just grinding away trying to solve a problem or worse, count the day as success when you have done the bare minimum to stay fit.

I have tried to force ideal schedules and drawing processes onto myself before. Usually, it does not work. By now I believe the biggest problem with those is that other people made them. Other people with different life and creative experiences, different circumstances, different personalities and usually different preferences, too. Also, when you yourself are inexperienced, you cannot live up to the regular schedule of someone who is ten or more years ahead of you. You are exhausted faster than you are even through enough that would make that daily schedule functional. Same goes for “art styles”. You cannot force it. But of course you can listen to others and see what you can learn from them for yourself. You just cannot hope to just copy them and make no decisions by yourself ever.

I don’t have to have everything figured out in an instant. It’s only about keeping your long-term goals in mind and knowing what the very next step to get there is. I can finally allow myself to relax and just enjoy the journey.

100 Days – 04

Time to change

(pic caption: Corvus, Asmund and a tome to prepare them for an important mage exam, reading it in the academy garden)

Today was a day where quite a few non-art things interfered with my endeavours. Some were necessary and unavoidable, some were distractions. Usually I‘d say you can be productive at any time of the day. But today I really noticed how few energy I had left for my work on the comic. Even with channeling my willpower I couldn‘t do my best work – the victim and the culprit of this is the same person, me.

And then I understood another puzzle piece in the riddle why my comics aren‘t out there yet.

What happened?

Measured against the goal of making progress on my comic I have chosen my activities poorly. They have in sum cost more of my ressources(energy, time etc.) than I should and would have given them had I seen this coming.

Revelation one : I never see it coming.

Revelation two: My habits have worked against me today.

Revelation three: My current habits do not align with my comic making goal.

Nobody sets out to waste a precious day with a lot of time for doing meaningful work. I am realizing that I‘m still carrying a lot of baggage with me from my past that still influences my decisions and probably still informs the current habits.

How do you learn things that keep you back? In my case, I‘m coming from a place of a lot of anxiety. That feeds impulses to procrastinate. Fighting them or following them both drains my energy. The results are disappointing working sessions once I get to work. That feeds anxiety again, because I don‘t have made the stellar progress I wished or hoped for, and then the circle continues.

What puzzles me as well is that I seem to have no concept of my daily time and energy budget. If it does not come naturally, then I will cultivate it. And again, the 100 days of making comics challenge is a great opportunity to do that. It makes it easier to set goals and prioritize the things to measure.

What I have done for the comic today

Luckily I read into my script which seems even more lacking to me than before. I decided to ignore my sentiment and still work out a list of what I have to design.

Characters

  • 5 main characters,
  • 6 side characters
  • a nonspecific number of background characters such as guards, zombies and peasants.

Props

  • 3 important props, one of them done already.

Environments

  • one huge one with 3 large subenvironments(rural area where most of the story takes place),
  • one big one (the academy) and
  • a really small urban one for a character introduction.

The good news, I will not need that much new stuff for the following acts. What I do here covers a lot of the story already. But I might have overdone it with the characters. If that is so, that will be a lesson for future comics.

A question of style

In making today‘s fake panel I realized that there are technical reasons to not work at the size you will upload your comic to the web. Working bigger and then making it small for presentation works well. Other than that I‘m at the brink of breaking my own heart. I fell in love with Clip Studio Paint instantly but I‘m not feeling the brushes. I keep going back to Krita for my favourite brushes, but I still love how otherwise comfortably CSP is to work in.

I suspect that the problem might be me, or more precise my style. I seem to have an aversion for clean linework. I like my brushstrokes gritty. But then I can‘t complain when I just don‘t get that clean, quick comic look that I‘m trying to achieve. Wasn‘t I just saying „just draw“ is a bad strategy yesterday? But it seems like I have some style confusion to clear up if I want to get my comic done. I should look up different styles, try to recreate them and see what sticks. I would bet on a chiaroscuro related question to decide the battle. I find myself as weird hybrid of Western and manga styles and I admire both worlds. Chiaroscuro is the question and the answer to the future as it seems to be incompatible with a classical manga style. You cannot stress and not stress light over lines. What will get to dominate my works?

What I have to add to my to do list:

  • Track your times
  • estimate your energy expenditure on activities you do (that will probably not be precise but anything is better than not doing anything at all)
  • find ways to change your habits, especially change your mornings where you should have most of your energy to spend
  • End your style confusion by making one of the hardest decisions in your life so far

See you tomorrow!