SPREY Log #21 – A change in perspective

Hello, everyone!

It has been some tumultuous past weeks. I finished my mentorship, am knee-deep into grinding light, shadow and related art fundies and also dared to take up a course on 3D animation and programming. This time around I wouldn’t even say that I’m scattered. I need this in my toolbox for reasons present me cannot comprehend. But it feels like ultimately I will use everything for my webcomic SPREY, in one way or the other. Yeah, and for the future videogames I’ll be making. Too much sticks as for it to be scattered.

Recently, I feel the longing to return to and continue SPREY. I’m still owing you a finale for chapter 3. I haven’t designed what happens at the junkyard for it going to waste. I’m just not moving at the pace that I would like to move at right now. But it is alright, sometimes it is like this.

Only yesterday did I understand more about mastering art. It does take a lifetime and never stops, but not for the reasons that you think.

I’m still heavily inspired by a video about Russian academic drawing training that I watched recently. Russian art schools are tough and the training to even get in starts early. Russian children willing to go that path probably have stronger developed art fundamentals than some Western art school graduates. And yet, pure skill isn’t everything if it’s about having an art career, so the Western pros are fine. But classical art and classical art training is far from dead either. How can this be?

From an outsider perspective of someone who hasn’t been taught in any art institution, my suggestion is this. Classical training follows tested and proven paths towards an artist skillset, that would make you on par with an „old master“ and enable you to create complex paintings like the ones you see in museums. The big disadavantage is that you have to go through years of mundane things such as drawing Roman pillars until you are „allowed“ to express yourself.

Modern Western art training has broken free and shaken off that rigid corset of rules and conventions and sets the self expression and messaging part of art ahead of everything else. You can skip Roman architecture at all if it doesn’t serve your art goals. The big disadvantage here is that with so much freedom you alone are also responsible for building up the skillset you need for your art. You are not only the artist, you are also your own art instructor. It can work out for you just fine, but it can also send you ina spiral of despair, when you have a taste for complex and stunning paintings but can’t draw and render a cube…and do not know this, that you are stuck on that cube level. And then just nothing works.

A self-taught artist like me must be the most extreme example of an artist who puts together their own toolkit. I’d even add another layer of complexity as I’m responsible for what I’m creating and whether anything I do serves my art goals…yeah, and I need to know myself and my goals. That might actually be one of the hardest parts.

So, creating art, improve your tools, understanding and finally knowing yourself, finding the right outlet for your creativity, …that indeed takes a lifetime. Also you and your tastes will change through the years, so you’re in for some loops and repetitions.

But I appreciate the now broadened perspective a lot. When I’m lost, I can always look at academic art and what they would consider fundamentals I should learn before what I’m trying to do. But I’m not caught in a rigid grid where I have to learn everything like an ant, whether I like and need it or not. Also I have a suspicion that an academic painter in larva stage has no idea what they are and what they want to express either, but over the years of creating art they might find it. What if I’m so confused, because I just have to create more before I know? Lately, I feel I learn something about myself with every piece I do. Those old curriculums are up to something. They do not deliberately „hide“ the self-expression part from newbies. They accomodate for newbies who have nothing to say yet. But not everyone is like that, so that path is not for everyone.

I cannot undo my life until now, so I’m continuing on my own free path. I’m so ready to fill the gaps in my fundamentals so that I’m an unstoppable force of art. I just wish I was faster.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #20 – The Void

A lot of things are in movement right now. Recently, the server for our game “Your Land” moved. I had no idea what extra work such a server move entails, but we’re doing good I think.

My courses are going well, although I’m permanently tired since a migraine last week. My best guess is that I didn’t have time to fully recover yet. The deadlines from the courses and freelance work won’t stop, you know. But I’m taking away from this that I have to plan better in the future, that I do have the time for my health. And also, that despite my will to crunch, I can’t crunch right now, otherwise I’ll be even more exhausted the next day. The smart move is to cap the daily workload so that things get done, but the energy level doesn’t fall even lower.

Also related to all of this, I have a fantastic teaching advice for you that you can use both as a student and as a teacher. You cannot tear down without building up. What do I mean? Imagine the typical situation where your teacher has to inform you that you are doing something wrong. They must not only show you how your way is wrong, they MUST absolutely show you how to do it instead in a way that you understand it and that you can practically apply it in the future – and that it is actually useful to you. It is irresponsible to just ‘destroy’ a student. Whatever inefficient or insufficient thing you did until now, it at least brought you here. If someone just takes it away from you, destroys your confidence in this specific part of your process and doesn’t give you something else at hand, something that YOU can actually use, your whole current process could implode from that faulty bit. Then your destroyed confidence compounds, as suddenly nothing is working anymore. And then you are left with nothing. And that is not a good place to be in psychologically. Luckily I’m resilient, so I was out of the void again after about three days. But no teacher will ever pull this on me again. And I will not be that teacher either. It is especially frustrating when you know your teacher is right, but you just can’t follow them over to the place they’re at and they can’t explain it in a way that you can go there either. You are free to ignore for now and move on, it will click later with more mileage, practical experience and research. That’s what I’m doing at least. Having a faulty way of creating for now is better than having none at all anymore.

There seems to be another level of difficulty to the whole problem that has nothing to do with an individual mentorship, it is rather a broader, conceptual problem. By now I know there is a group of artists of unknown size all over the world that is like me. I would call them visual storytellers for a lack of a better word. An artist, that cannot help but look into fictional universes and come back with long form stories or whole worlds. A writer, that is in the body of a visual artist and that has grown up on movies, tv and music videos, knows and loves their aesthetic and wants to create something that feels equally…grandiose. We do not ask for this, it comes to us. But returning to this world we are told, we cannot do this. People have the nerve to tell us both that you should start small and that you should forget it, as you need a whole team to get anything of significance off the ground. Also, there seems to be this shared sense that you have to “earn” pursuing your own stories after waiting in line for many years, drawing some rocks or otherwise support other people’s visions, jumping through all the hoops all other people had to jump through, too, and then end up with a compromised version of something you would have liked to do as the pinnacle of your corporate career. But at least you had a team working on it and the approval of a corporation. And you did everything right and according to the rulebook.

Life is too short for that. You need time to get good at storytelling. My short dip into the void showed me again that I have no time to spend on getting anyone’s approval. I need to create what I was born to create and I need not be distracted with a flurry of other things anymore. The world is pretty good at distractions by the way. You must be better.

See you next blogpost!

SPREY Log #12 – Hunting for a theme

Okay, before we dive back into dry writing craft, I have realized something.

I’m feeling young again. I’m feeling a specific feeling of youth I’m surprised I still remember. Many years ago I was an actual literature nerd, actually interested in reading, literature history and the technical and practical aspects of the craft of writing. Then I got a taste of literature how it was taught at the university I studied at. Not saying all universities are bad. That one probably was. It made me lose all passion and interest in pursuing writing and reading at all within a year. If that was “real” literature I didn’t want to do anything with it. Now I feel this is gone again, finally, after many years and I’m back to where I was.

And just to be clear, I’m not blaming the university, after all no one held a gun to my head and told me I may never read a book again. Everything that happened, I did to myself, in my head. I just needed the wisdom of many years to come to realize it and undo it. I would even go so far to say I dumbed myself down from then on, further manipulating my further endeavors for the worse. How could or should I ever succeed with any writing if deep inside I didn’t want to do anything to do with it?

I consider myself very lucky that I got behind it after all. Now I can deal with everything I must deal with in peace and without self-manipulation. Writing and literature should have always been a part of me, to whatever extent. I think this will improve my art, not distract from it. And just as a general reminder, me and you do not need anyone’s approval to pursue literature and writing and learning about it. The knowledge is out there, not discriminating, it’s there for everyone. And it wants you to learn about it and use it in your own writing as you see fit. And as anyone can publish books today, truly no one can hold you back but you. Apparently you have to be confident but humble. Confident, so that you don’t give up when you don’t get anyone’s approval first, and we’re talking years possibly, but always humble so that you don’t stop listening and working on your craft.

And now back to writing SPREY.

After last blogpost I made myself a list of bullet points what I have to establish in order for the story climax to work. And fascinatingly, I got a complete looking list of what belongs in the first and second act. This is spectacular to me, as writing had been an incredibly difficult cascade of guesswork for me before. The distance to bridge between first and third act seemed to be impossible. Never did it occur to me that not all story parts are equal, independent from each other, just boxes to tick to hit the “right” act structure. Pretty much everything before the climax is dictated by the climax. There is no guesswork. And now I see how this structure is the bones that hold the flesh of the story together. I was just sculpting the flesh before. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a scene where Rich is about to get sacrificed but then is saved by Willard? Isn’t that villain monologue lovely? I can still have ideas like that and see whether I can work with them, but they can never substitute the underlying structure.

But how can it be that I have SPREY current state now with it’s working structure without knowing my theme yet? Shouldn’t the theme sit one level above the climax and govern it? I’m starting to have a suspicion that I was just assuming a new structural model for my works again without fully understanding it yet. But through research I found a new clue. Theme is not message! A theme is asking and describing a difficult to answer problem or question about the human experience, a message is offering an answer to it. By design, the message can only be flawed, as the most interesting problems about being human absolutely have no easy answers and no matter how educated you are, your own perspective will never be a hundred percent and always right. Also, people tend to not like being preached to. Luckily for me, it doesn’t seem to be the job of a writer to solve existential problems and the human nature once and for all. It is my job to unveil that a problem exists and what makes it so hard to solve it in the first place. And that is what theme does. Which questions do I ask and look at about being human through my characters and what’s happening to them? I can absolutely have a clear theme, but it is not me saying something is so and so, it is rather me asking things like “If love always wins, what is about the villain who is also loved and loves? Is his love not good enough?” That is actually hard to answer and I would have to look at multiple cases or facettes of a case within my story. If my climax is the story core and tangible backbone, my theme is the soul. In a way it is ethereal. And yes, you can absolutely ignore it and create something down to earth without dealing with any of this. But I guess the best stories, those that stay in your memory, do ask those difficult questions.

With SPREY my struggle to find one red line might also stem from just throwing a lot of things together that sounded entertaining and interesting by themselves. But this also results in a mashup of themes, leaving us with no clear winner or direction on that front. Let’s take a look at what we got:

1 Love as a terrifying force

If you think about SPREY from an inverse perspective, a whole biker gang gets killed because they didn’t account for selfless sacrifices made out of love. Willard and Rich each get into mortal danger to protect each other, another character dies for people who aren’t even present. That is terrifying from an outside view. Love, that is regarded as a “soft” power actually lures people into death overriding their instinct for self preservation? Love gets people killed who stand in the way of lovers? Well, unfortunately the slashers are pretty bad people themselves, so in this specific case it will be hard to feel sorry for them.

2 The individual versus the group

Maybe I should rather go for the individual vs group angle. A human is a creature that must exist both as an individual and as a member of a group or groups to be happy, but in actuality humans are never happy. We get extreme cases like Rich who is a struggling lone wolf or on the other end of the spectrum the slashers who literally operate like a hive. And then there’s Willard who finds his own balance as someone who wants to be part of a group, any group, but just doesn’t seem to fit.

3 Are humans trying to domesticate themselves into a functioning civilization since the beginning of time

The slashers themselves as a concept ask a very difficult question. We think bounding together to a tribal group was what helped people drive civilization forward. But here a group has formed that actively undoes civilization, rejects rules anyone outside of them made and uses group synergy to harm and kill people. And they build nothing up of their own, they just destroy. Are they a mirror of us when we can’t get over our selfish desires to build a society that works, a failed civilization? This is a tough one.

4 Man vs (human) nature

And what about good and evil and how being amongst some of the most evil people imaginable teaches Willard to be a better balanced human being? As I said, theme is ethereal, doesn’t give easy answers. Ha, wait, maybe this is a good one – the slashers are everything we do not want to have in our modern, civil, urbanized society. They are a form of nature’s revenge. But it is not the environment that comes for us, it is the parts of the human nature that we don’t want to acknowledge or deal with, our own potential for evil. It comes back to haunt us, no matter what we do to shut it out. And Willard is us, he is very cultivated and civilized, first in utter disbelief about facing actual and unapologetic evil, then part of it, then out of it. Rich isn’t that severely affected because he grew up amongst evil already, there is nothing to be disillusioned about.

I will think about that.
See you next blogpost!

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!

On Color

I thought it was time to talk about something that is so important to me that I even carry it in my name. Let’s talk about colors today and my difficult relationship with them.

What happened?

When you have a drive to draw as a beginner, you don’t question it. You just follow your intuition. That’s what I did as a child and throughout my teens. Sometimes I achieved astounding results this way. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I had done or to replicate it but some of my early pieces had no business of being as good as they were for the circumstances. I had no control though, so sometimes, on days where my intuition just didn’t work, I couldn’t achieve anything. But looking at my good pieces I had an expectation to be at least that good all the time. I was mercifully unaware what the Dunning Kruger effect is and that it all probably wasn’t that good in the first place because I didn’t know enough to properly judge it. But it was nothing short of perfect in my own head. I was very surprised when other people didn’t see it that way and so I desperately tried to get better so that I would get the recognition I deserved. I iterate – I was a teen thinking and behaving like a teen. And what always came back, again and again, was people complimenting me for my colors, so I thought that was the thing I was best at.

My earlier art training

From what I know about art and training art today I then took a very very difficult path from there and throughout my twens. And I’m not talking about something like training in an inefficient way or not working through the best courses. It is true that I never had or could find a mentor when it probably would have mattered. Time could have been saved, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. One way or the other you get to a point where you know enough to be your own mentor.

My big problem was that I destroyed myself with the rebuilding taking over a decade. I’m talking about a metaphorical destruction. If you take a “talented” young person and teach them how wrong they are and how art actually works, you have a good chance of “destroying” their old confident art self. It is a necessary destruction as alas, the art fundamentals do not care, they just are and they are not tolerant of quirks that hinder their execution. On an ideal learning path the person then struggles for 2-3 maybe 4 years to get all the fundies in and then is free to return to their own self in the process maybe even throwing some of the fundamentals out of the window again. I needed roughly a decade, maybe more, because I couldn’t just train 4 years in peace, didn’t immediately know how to train and why and wasn’t exactly uninterrupted. And now imagine the agony of that time. You are robbed of your confidence. Now that you don’t trust your intuition anymore, nothing works when you draw for yourself, the amount of things you don’t know to use but have to train is overwhelming and the practise pieces do not look good either. You work hard and have nothing to show for it. If you expected results fast, you are very disappointed. And then of course, you will have other things in life that require that you tend to them, too. A day job. There are far too many opportunities for distraction. It is understandable that many quit, try to be sensible or just don’t want to suffer so much. Can an art school bring you through that time better? Maybe. It depends on what your art goals are and what courses and teachers you get. Nothing is ever guaranteed. I can’t complain about the self-teaching experience once I learned how to learn and train and that execution and practise will trump pure theory anytime.

So now I am competent enough, have enough control that I can predict what I will do and how to get to a certain outcome in art or how to research and practise to do that. The learning and developing will never stop, but I’m good enough to solve most problems thrown at me to take money for it, which my clients agree on. Now it is time for me to return to my natural state, too. I have avoided dealing with colors on a deeper level so far for the fear of pain, even more pain than with all the other things. Color is emotion and strong emotions still scare me. I already told you how I had to sometimes turn emotion completely off to get through university and lawyer training. No wonder I couldn’t just go home and create awesome emotional and colorful art in the evenings. I could have done a lot of things better back then, even law could have been easier, but that is just the wisdom of hindsight. I’m glad I came through and didn’t give up on art or myself. It is almost a miracle, but I never questioned that I should do art, that I should tell stories and that that’s what I’m here for. I sometimes just would have wished it was something more respectable or a less adventurous and insecure thing and I’m not sure whether these are my own doubts or just doubts instilled by society and education.

How I will train color now

I have watched color theory videos before. Apparently you can learn anything there is to know about the theoretical use of color in under an hour. Then you know how to construct your color schemes. Add some knowledge about how light behaves and the psychological color meaning chart of your choice and you should be good. Well, then you ought to experiment for years until you actually can make use of all of this intuitively. That’s a grim prospect. It rings true though. You don’t fall from the sky with intuition AND control AND a personal style that you cultivated over years. 2021 is a year in which I look into things I have avoided for a long time and finally bring them to an end. Usually, even if I encounter strong pain or shame, it is never as bad or lethal as my brain imagined it to be. My pride has received a couple of lethal wounds already, but even my pride and ego didn’t die from it. I am surprised how I suddenly can admit to myself how I feel and how I felt. It is ironic that I called myself Styxcolor when color is the one problematic fundie that I needlessly feared most for a long time. Maybe I also thought going back to color was the big treat at the end of the road, finally allowed to be myself again, without even understanding the implications of this.

So this time around when dealing with color I have a chance to do everything better. Let’s see how it goes. I’ll keep you updated on things once a first ruleset has crystalized out of unrelated ideas and requirements and problems found while doing work. I will deliberately not create a training regiment, as I actually do not have time for extra training right now that does not serve projects, but I can train while problemsolving within projects. That’s a big change and I wonder whether it will help me. I kind of “graduated” from just drawing practise pieces without a context. You never graduate from training itself, but I guess you don’t train to high jump if you actually compete in sprint next week.