SPREY Log#17 – From now on you only paint

Welcome back! My break took a week longer than expected. After I filled my head up with new storytelling knowledge I knew I would need time to digest that in silence. Also, I had to go back to drawing. I felt homesick for it and for SPREY already. But I didn’t want to just jump back and do what I always do, not this time.

I can be on my own, sit and draw forever, but I ultimately cannot know where I actually stand with my art that way. What I think about myself and my art does not matter, as I am not the person hiring myself for future art jobs, so it would be great to know what potential employers would think if they were confronted with me right now. Following that logic I decided to invest in myself and ask a more experienced artist for guidance. Also I was a bit tired of being out there in the void by myself. So I booked a mentorship with concept artist and illustrator Nik Hagialas. He delivered that needed guidance from the first assessment already and so much more.

Apparently I’m not far away from the level I would need to be competitive in the concept art pro scene, but I’m not entirely there yet. That is a great thing to know. And that is also a great moment to go into a mentorship as it possibly could cut short a last, long episode of searching from further years to months. At this point I have one week of doing study and design homework behind me that was tailored to me and my specific needs. The feedback session for it is up tomorrow, so I can’t tell how it objectively went yet. But subjectively, I took so so much from it already, I feel like a new artist.

Nik has found a brilliant way of teaching. He helps you discover yourself by confronting you with a training IP brief, that means he gives you a document that describes a story, it’s setting and characters. You can choose what you want to design, environments, characters, props, vehicles, there is a need for everything in that training project. But in your four week mentorship you realistically only have time to do one thing, so you have to choose. For people like me that are interested and capable of doing many of these things, that is brilliant. I always had such a hard time to understand myself and what I should specialize in as I know that if forced, I CAN do anything. And see what happened. When I read the document I at first went for the props, of course I did. I was told you shouldn’t even try it as a character designer as too many people want to be one and clog that field. Nik told me to delete that from my memory, everyone is needed. So without that restriction I immediately, and I say immediately, went for elite android AXEL and started designing with such a fire and passion that I didn’t even recognize myself at times. Even now, if I think that there is more work to do on AXEL, I can’t help but be happy because I’m burning to continue. And other people seem to enjoy my work on AXEL as well, the spark is strong enough to ignite their interest as well. I’m grateful for the great people in my life every day. Thanks for all the critiques, feedback and suggestion this week and just thanks for being on that journey with me.

And I have no idea how Nik did this, but he also “fixed” my art further with a simple instruction. He just looked at my stuff, listened to me and my symptoms and just said “From now on you only paint and you will paint until you can paint.” I don’t know what he saw but his instinct was absolutely right. I wouldn’t say I am good at painting right now, but even when trying a bit, my art quality instantly shot up, also noticeable and mentioned by others. Also, painting skills feed from drawing skills, so I’m banking on what I kept building up over the years anyways. It was just that I shouldn’t stop at drawing, I should go further. No “being sensible” limitations. So I will paint on and see what happens down the line.

See you next blogpost!

Originality, the dreaded magnum opus and you

Rereading my pile of notes for past and upcoming blog entries – harshly disagreeing with you from weeks ago is a hilarious thing and it is a thing indeed! What has happened? As mentioned in the last blogpost, the lasting pressure to succeed is gone like a migraine. There is no need to beat myself up over things, insecurities are at bay. There is no need to become so dense about achieving that you start making stupid mistakes because you can’t even see what’s right before you anymore.

What happened? Amongst other things, I made an important discovery. I learned that everything I could hope to do in and with my creations has been done in one form or the other already. After all, works and ideas that inspire me, already exist and will also inspire others! And more works will be created with the potential to inspire future creators. Of course, there aren’t ever 1:1 matches that would make you creating your own version obsolete. There is always room for your version in your voice. But if I die tomorrow, nothing is truly lost. In the most optimistic case, one or two good original ideas I could have in my lifetime would die with me, and a creator voice vanishes in the big choir that doesn’t even sing together. But mostly, it would not affect culture in any way. I’d still feel sorry for my characters who can’t write their stories themselves, but the ideas underlying the characters do not die. They can return in other forms.

This is not self-defeating, on the contrary. Imagine the pressure you are under if you believe you are the chosen one and your future creations are so important that your premature death means the death of something new, that never was before and never will be if you – and only you – aren’t there to create it. In a way, there is some truth in that. You cannot be replicated. But creating something on a cosmic level of originality… these are expectations you cannot possibly fulfill, even if you are objectively good at your craft. At least you can’t force it.

I felt huge relief when I saw everything is safe. I still intend of having a lifetime full of creative endeavors, telling my stories and living life. Even if I fail, I cannot fail so hard an idea or a whole culture dies. I’m free. I am free to create whatever pleases me and I’m free to enjoy it no matter what I believe it’s value is. I had the looming shadow of an anticipated magnum opus over me that kept me from fully enjoying doing the smaller things. A magnum opus is a defining creative work a successful creator is mostly known for. Of course, if you yourself would know what that work is, why would you want to work on anything else? Most decide to wait to work on it for a couple of years, get good first or worse, wait until they feel ready which will never happen. The thing is, you as the creator do not get to decide what work of yours is the most popular one. Your audience and your audience alone makes that decision. So don’t worry about it and create your things, treating them equal and allowing yourself to enjoy them equally. What the dream of a magnum opus is good for on the other hand is bringing you through the difficult years in the beginning where you have to build up your skills from zero. Having a big dream definitely helps to deal with the frustrations of skill and ambitions never matching. You just have to be ready to let go off of the dream later when it doesn’t serve you anymore. And I’m not talking about giving it up. Imagine a situation where you as a child decide what you want to make and how you want to make it and how it is supposed to be. Later, as an adult, you have learned that things actually don’t work this way in reality, you know your craft and your personal limitations and your flawless work from back then actually has some brutal flaws that would keep it from becoming an enjoyable experience for people that aren’t you. Wouldn’t you want to adapt it? Wouldn’t it be an act of love to undo the magnum opus status of your own creation so that you can properly challenge and improve all aspects of it? And what if you have created things that are clearly better in the meantime? How would you deal with that emotionally?

I am lucky Street Prey(SPREY) was never meant as my magnum opus. Actually, it was a quick idea from a subway ride somewhere in 2011. SPREY just ended up as the thing that made it through and that I’m making right now. And I can take the unhealthy pressure out of that, too. There is no need to rush anymore. I have been and I am deeply in love with SPREY, every day, every working session I spend with it. I guess I will look back on this time and say SPREY was the project I figured a lot of things out with. SPREY that killed my future and gave me one.

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!