SPREY Log #14 – Back to Action

I have understood the next truth of what I’m doing today. Writing a story, creating anything really, is an organic process. Organic means I will have branches and some of them will wildly sprout or die off and it is just a natural process. What I can do is cultivate what I want out of it. My approach to theme seems to be a pretty natural one. Most people will not think about abstract questions and answers first, but about interesting bits of plot and characters. No one starts out as a good gardener of stories, so patience is needed on the road to get there and a lot of mistakes are to be made. Maybe I was starting to stress too much about the theme. What I need to do now is to jump right back into the SPREY script and watch out that I don’t document more of the journey than actually travelling it and doing the legwork for it. But me having those self-doubts is probably the best indicator I’m not procrastinating on that. Keeping vigilant.

After a couple of days where I was too scared and dumbfounded with new things to draw more than just doodles, I have started to work through “If it’s purple, someone’s gonna die” by Patti Bellantoni to challenge me on the color side of things. Gurney’s book on color somehow never worked for me, but this one does. And it does wonders so far. You can see my first thumbnails influenced by this book as picture for the blog. I love them. This is also a Willard slasher look reveal of sorts, as this is where the design is so far. Changes are possible. Of course, color theory for art works for everyone like a natural law and has to be learned, but Bellantoni reached me emotionally, reached my emotions, which Gurney absolutely didn’t in the past. And I didn’t know it was that. That and a lack of confidence on my side. Whatever you start, you cannot succeed if you aren’t confident enough to go all the way in and go that way until the end. Gurney’s book was never the problem. I’m left to wonder now whether I can train myself to be confident directly. What seemed to work so far was to decide if I was a hero’s journey character myself the last thing I would want to do would be to be outgoing and confident. So I’m doing that every day now, probably for the rest of my life. Bleak.

Now excuse me, I need to get some writing on the new SPREY script out.

See you next blog post!

SPREY Log #06 – You Vs You

I had a blast last week, this week is more of a pain. What’s the difference? I took an extended weekend off and therefore lost all momentum. Now I’m fighting strong resistance to spend another lazy day every morning. It happens to all of us. Sometimes that voice is louder, sometimes you’re faster at your desk working before the thing even had it’s morning coffee and could try to dissuade you from starting. That is a great place to be in, a great amount of momentum. Obviously I can’t get back to me from last week but I can get my momentum back through doing the work. Also nobody is above breaks, we need them to process things or take care of matters that do not revolve around the craft.

The War of Art

I’m rereading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art right now and probably heavily influenced by it right now. Just by quantity it must be my favorite book. I’m reading it the third or fourth time now and I’m amazed how I still find new things that are relevant to me right now and weren’t before or how I could forget so many important points since the last reading. It teaches you the mindset how you actually get to write the book of your dreams, paint what you know you should have been painting years ago and so on. It can’t do the work for you though, that’s on you. What The War of Art can do really well is remind you that you are your worst enemy if you let your inner resistance get the better of you. Resistance almost becomes a mystical villain entity in the description of it’s nature and it’s ways, but maybe that is exactly the playful approach needed to cope with it. After all, if you are a creative, how do you like the prospect of lifelong anxiety and struggling and knowing it’s you that does that to yourself? And it will never go away. With discipline and experience you’ll just get better at distinguishing actual fatigue, actual important tasks that can’t wait from anything that broadly falls under comfortseeking and procrastination. Give The War of Art a chance, if you are interested in this cluster of topics. Steven Pressfield even gives a part of The War of Art away for free as a series of videos you receive when you subscribe to his newsletter.

Approval

And now I’m expanding on a nugget of wisdom from The War of Art that moves me a lot at the moment. Do not hope for things to become a success. Do not seek support or followers for support’s or followers’ sake. It is true that no one is waiting for your unproven creations with open arms, but you also do not need any approval by anyone to start making them. Seeking support and followers are open invitations for yourself to distract yourself instead of doing the work. This rings so true to me as it resonates with the experiences I’ve made over the years. I had my share of ambitiously trying to build a following on social media. To be fair, back then I had no clue what I was doing in general and how to get anywhere, so I’m excused. But other than that I never had success with anything of that sort. First I thought that was bad and that I maybe wasn’t born to be a successful independent artist if no one would ever validate me and no audience would ever show up. My opinion on this has been changing over the years though. I do have an audience. It is just not the stadium filling audience of a rock star. And it’s not in your hand whether someone likes your work, they do or they don’t. You can make everything right to please the highest amount of people in theory…and they might still be indifferent. Of course you can put effort into how you present your works and how you interact with other people, but you are not entitled to anything. Pressfield reminded me that the first task of the artist is not to garner a following or support before they even start creating, the task is to create the art. Not any art, but the art that the artist knows they truly want and should be creating if they are honest to themselves. While to some people this sounds obvious, it is usually the thing the artist is afraid of the most and has the strongest fears of getting hurt when it flops.

I have been also very confused in the past as I couldn’t give a simple statement about what type I am and how I would fit in into the art world. Trying to fit in probably is a waste of time, too, but you do want to have a direction you can work with. Therefore I was also confused what I am supposed to make. But as I like to say, mileage is the remedy. This time around good old mileage, the state and process of having drawn hundreds of pieces, hundreds of pages of it, is slowly giving me the answers I was craving.

I’m scared of concept art, therefore I should keep doing it

I was scrambling to become anything and of all things I became a concept artist. Funny enough, I’m apparently repeatedly telling my friends that I don’t think I have what it takes to be one, but I keep getting paid work in that field. I think what irks me about concept art is that it takes the design of things as one of the natural phases of creating art and declares that a finished thing. Other people give you briefs, tell you what you should do, and again, a group of other people, actually interpret your ideas and make the actual “assets” out of them and someone else got the last word of what makes it into the final product. I know a group of people can create bigger and more complex things than a solo creator, just because there are more man hours and more experts of various fields at work at the same time. But still, it feels unnatural to me to just generate ideas and not actually create, at least from the place of limited experience that I have right now. Maybe I will understand more after I have shipped a couple of games myself and worked on more projects. Also don’t get me wrong, concept design is an amazing and incredibly helpful field. My comic profits anytime I learn how to design things better. I guess my concept artist would take the work off my shoulders to have to design the costumes for the scenes, how the locations look like and what has to be there for it to look believable, what fixed light and color schemes I have for the scene, shot thumbnails and so on… but then I would draw the comic and people would just see that. Maybe I am making the same mistake, with a remnant of looking at things through the eyes of the audience, in awe about the vision that looks so consistent, focussing on the story told, not the nuts and bolts of what makes it work and how it does that.

Thinking about it, what if my past and current approach to SPREY is too complicated as it tries to follow the rules of a “professional” process usually undertaken by a team? Not trying to rationalize anything, just a thought. Maybe it is just a natural, flowing development. As I learn more about design, art fundamentals or anything, I’m eager to apply it to my work. Then things first blow out of proportion, take too long, frustrate me a lot, but once I’m used to it, I relax and things deflate again, now richer for a trick or two that I don’t have to look up every time when I want to use them and that keep influencing future work.

Back to defining myself though, I crave to release new zines. The Manul one and the Lickbook 2 one for example. It would feel so satisfying to have those finished and out. Not making the mistake to “hope” for a big breakthrough, it is for real about creating them, just as with SPREY. I’m happy if people enjoy them, but they don’t owe me.

SPREY Log #05 – Being the wrong person

The development of the past days made me once again reflect on my webcomic project Street Prey (SPREY). I regularly had urges to give it up, made a longer break due to a mix of burn-out and intense self-doubt in the beginning of this year, but at the same time before and after I put out a surprising amount of panels and pages for these circumstances.

And now I actually have arrived at a point where I have to say and teach something. And no, it’s not about panel composition or something purely technical. I want to talk about the mindset change I am experiencing working on a monstrous project like this. If you want to write a novel, make a really long form webcomic, an artbook or anything else of that sort yourself, maybe this can help you, too.

My creation frustration cycle

Usually it goes like this: I make an honest attempt at doing my best work with my comic, let it run for a couple of weeks where I’m constantly underwhelmed with my output both in quantity and quantity but don’t seem to be able to overcome whatever holds me back. Most of the time I cannot even name or understand what it is. Then I hit a point where everything seems pointless. Analyzing my own and my creation’s various flaws I come to the conclusion that I’m the wrong person to do this comic or a comic like this. Thinking things to their logical conclusion I then decide that I should be sensible and either do something else entirely and never do a comic again, or I should first create and finish a bunch of little things, then be ready for a bigger one later. And then I sleep a night over it, do not agree with it and start a new cycle in which I will again do my best with SPREY.

There is a couple interesting questions rising up from this, but for now let’s look at what happened at the end of the most recent cycle.

What went different this time

So I wrote on this blog that I almost sent SPREY into a hiatus again. I experienced what I described in the creation frustration cycle up to the point where I woke up disagreeing with the hiatus and started working on the next page.

So what changed?

First of all, as you are reading this right now, I have realized that I’m in a looping cycle and I’m not shy to talk about it. Various other creators might be experiencing the same or a comparable cycle right now and not have these words for it. What if they don’t know they are in a loop either, so it would be helpful for everyone to speak up about it.

Secondly, I am convinced I have a chance for a different run of the cycle this time. I did not come to the conclusion that I am the wrong person to do SPREY this time. I am still the wrong person in a sense that my skills and stamina are not up to par with where they should be to get this done in a convincing way. But I have a fair chance of getting there. I would say the past cycle began with the stormy beginning of chapter 3 in May and lasted until the page where we hear Rich’s narrator voice for the first time. A lot has happened since May. I keep working on my skills. I was able to accomplish more than I thought I could do in the field of design and illustration both paid and in personal projects. Also quite some efforts were made to improve the writing and designs in SPREY behind the curtains. So there definitely is hope.

And there is a new idea in my head.

Of course I started making SPREY as the wrong person to do so. But within a year of doing SPREY and doing things around and for SPREY I have grown enough that I am less the wrong person for it than one year ago. And I will continue to grow as a creator. What if SPREY is exactly the right project for me to do so? It entices me to do better. It frustrates me, but it never frustrates me enough to give up. I never get tired of it. I literally think about SPREY every day and it does not get boring. I might eventually have to redraw parts of the comic once I have arrived at a final form of it but this is a small sacrifice compared to giving it up and never realizing all the potential and growth I could have had chasing SPREY until the end. I believe SPREY is worth being told, it’s worth being experienced. I’m paying for learning on a premium project like this one by some moments of passionate creator despair, occasional overwhelm and other strong emotions. But I keep going and I’m getting stronger after every cycle that did not hit me out of making SPREY. Also, this time I do not want out anymore.

I have some more thoughts and ideas but I feel I would do them a disservice to squeeze them into this blog post, too, let’s go through them one by one in the next entries.

Thanks for joining me today. If you are sitting over your novel, script, own comic, videogame or other creative project right now and have hit a roadblock in the middle, know you’re not alone and consider not giving into the urge to quit. Quitting is easier than enduring the ongoing frustration and allowing yourself to change and grow. Quitting is not that worthwhile in comparison.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #04 – Resistance

It happened again!

SPREY almost tricked me into taking a hiatus, but I guess I’m not a beginner or not that beginner anymore to give in to that. I have this theory that I keep mentioning on this blog, that any long term creative project actually does not want to get made. There must be reasons not all the brilliant ideas people have make it into a finished and released thing. The project will try to make you hate it and not do it at any occasion. Even if you fend off the desire to give up in an important victory, it will just go away for a while and try to trick you into giving up later again.

Maybe this is my way of expressing what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance”, the term for anything between procrastination, arrogance, self-doubt and other afflictions that strangle your artistic expression from within and it’s you doing it to yourself. It’s actually a great way to explain it and also why different creators struggle with different things. Everyone’s personal resistance is different. Mine apparently is that I start hearing the call to give up much too early. But as you see, it doesn’t work as well as it must have worked on me in the past on me anymore.

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.