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!

100 Days of SPREY – 14, 15

I almost didn‘t update my comic yesterday! Almost.

I was very tired in the evening, so tired that for one and a half hour of drawing time nothing of significance was down on the digital canvas. It was as if I forgot how to draw entirely. Then after a surprising second wind that felt like waking up while being technically awake already I created the art, updated just in time, and with two sister panels! I sought to bring more balance into my life, relaxation, and the price seems to be that exhaustion is a thing again, a constant companion even. And changing from a mode of relaxation to working invites resistance. The other option, just ignoring all of it and working beyond all limits all the time, is not a sustainable way to go as it would surely result in severe health issues later down the road. You can maybe even do this for a couple of years, but not a lifetime. And I‘m here to create for a lifetime.

I think my increasing struggle actually comes from a good place. I might be at the beginning of a new cycle of my development as an artist. While I am somewhat competent at art I am helpless like a newborn at the moment, like a crustacean that has just shed it‘s old shell and is soft as butter until hardened out again. I have a lot of new work to do.

First of all, I would love to simplify what I‘m working on. I‘m juggling too many projects at the moment. This is not even a complaint, just an observation. I am doing my best to finish them up and focus on fewer, bigger things for the future. Focussing on Street Prey was a really good idea and is a good goal. Other than that my wish to impress anyone, making free art for friends and family, or create random art for my social media feeds has effectively died off. Of course I wish I had a larger following, but I can‘t force that. Not every artist gets recognized in time or at all. What I can do is continuing to make my art and cultivating myself.

Secondly, I would like to simplify my way of working. For the longest time I lacked a grip on my own process, even when I knew that was a bad thing. I just couldn‘t do anything about it and made art anyway. Now with Street Prey, I‘m confronted with a reoccurring set of problems to solve every day. While the tasks vary in detail question, many things are returning, so I‘m getting the repetitions in, other than with standalone illustrations that can switch styles like crazy. Repetitions mean automation of some problemsolving over time and opens the brain up to focus on bettering other aspects of the problems to solve. Therefore the artist believes they are endlessly struggling while they are struggling through solving different problems consciously that build up on each other. There is just never a moment of rest, relief or joy that is distinct from the joy of small successes in day to day work such as making an important line right at the first attempt or finding something that will change how you draw a reoccuring element such as noses from here on.

And then I‘m discovering a new layer of „Less Is More“. That is one of those evergreens such as „Just Draw.“ You don‘t need to collect all the techniques, you don‘t have to know all the masters anybody could ever be inspired by, you don‘t have to work in every medium or have tried to work successfully in every art form there is, was and will be. And you don‘t have to work on every idea you have. That does in no way mean you should shield yourself from all these things. If you have much to choose from, you have a better chance of picking up what is the best for you. What Less Is More instead wants to teach you is that you don‘t need to worry and switch so much. Stick to few things but put all your energy in them, and you have a higher chance of finishing your projects and getting really good at what you are doing. But I get it, it can be really hard to determine what you want to do and how you want to do it. There is so so much to choose from.

There is no solution for this that works for everybody. I can only tell you what seems to work for me:

1) Realizing that there is more out there that you could hope to explore in depth within a human lifetime. (goodbye, fear of missing out)

2) Realizing that if you tried to work on every idea you ever had you would be busy longer than a human lifetime, too. (goodbye, impulsive decisionmaking)

3) Realizing that I have only one human lifetime and I don‘t know it‘s length. (goodbye procrastination)

4) Realizing that most of your ideas and works, even if you did not pursue the obviously bad ones, probably aren‘t and won‘t be that good. But it‘s never about the many that don‘t work, it‘s about the few great ones you accomplish amidst them. Those will be remembered and you can only get there, if you still make all the others and learn from them. (goodbye perfectionism)

5) Some people know what their authentic art and message is when they are children, some define or redefine it later in life for themselves. How do you know it‘s authentic? When you want to work on it, even if you are not getting paid, attention, or any other reward from the world. (goodbye choice paralysis)

That was a lot!

Should I send my comic into a hiatus before my new shell has hardened? No, it would be a form of waiting until I‘m „good enough“. We don‘t do that around here anymore. So I‘ll endure my next evolution while working. I will need to draw a lot outside of the comic itself, practise a lot and to explore my personal „less“ of Less is More.

See you next blogpost!

Restructuring II – Flatting and Perfectionism

Reflecting on my process and how it‘s developing I came across an interesting thing.

Shouldn‘t flatting be something relaxing by it‘s very concept? Flatting is the process of filling in shapes separated by linework with single flat colors in digital art to have an easier time playing with the rendering on top. The uninitiated would compare it to painting by numbers. Yet, flatting is unforgiving. If you leave out any small patch of pixels, it creates a bright hole and look worse with every filter and layer of paint you apply on top. So it is something that is simple and relaxing by concept but unforgiving in execution. Some tasks in art making are like that.

I‘m always stressed out about the flatting mistakes I make, but what if that is how it should be? Mistakes aren‘t a possibility, but a reality. They WILL happen. To anybody who ever wrote a text – the first draft is never perfect. No matter what, you can always correct or cut something afterwards. Why should it be different with flatting or art in general?

Why should my number one goal be perfect flatting in one go? Isn‘t what wins the day my hard earned ability to find and eradicate the mistakes I make before proceeding into parts of the process where my flatting errors are multiplied and can only be solved by a general correction layer slapped on top of the panel? And does anybody care for my works in progress at all when the result is alright for it‘s purpose? Of course, a good process gives you a better time getting there, but it‘s not everything.

I think that is the part of perfectionist thinking that robs you of energy, always a little bit. „I couldn‘t avoid mistakes today“. And then you are more tired than you would have to be, even if you have avoided risky, playful and experimental decisions that would have most likely lead to mistakes or failure, too, but also given the opportunity for greater rewards? So if you can‘t escape it, why not embrace it and learn to trust yourself that you will fight your way out to a great final result again?

As for today‘s voting results –

75% of you want Rich to greet the guys. On Instagram this was quite the close call – 4:3 votes. On the eligible discords on the other hand things looked quite different. Only 4 of 22 votes would have preferred that Rich minds his own business. As always, thank you very much for voting!

So you want Rich to tackle life full front, even if he himself isn’t the most extroverted guy. Well, he does his best to comply!