Sketching Comics – My lessons

Currently, more things are happening at a faster pace than I can document them.

I’m in the second week of working on chapter 3 of my Street Prey (SPREY) comic – so how did it go?

I am grateful every moment that it worked. It is as if I never had left, my brain and body have accepted the daily comic panel back without much resistance. Some of the pages do put a good fight up, but I have worked my way through all of them so far, no matter what storytelling or art problems to solve they have thrown at me. A lot of woes I had in the previous chapter did not cross over to this one. I know at least a bit what I’m doing when it comes to backgrounds and environments now, a multi panel layout doesn’t overwhelm me anymore and my linework is worlds better (but still there’s room upwards).

The retro frame was a victim of circumstances. It had to go to make experimenting with several panels on a daily square possible. Also, to Styx from now the frames around the panels might have been a bit garish and distracting from the comic itself. JUST A BIT. But I’m sure the wildness isn’t gone, it’s now in the story itself and will resurface in time.

And now for the main lessons of the chapter so far.

My work on a page starts with loose sketches.

  1. I do not have to invent pages from nothing. My story dictates what must happen next.
  2. A great question to determine whether a panel is any good: Does it advance the story? If not, does it at least tell me something about the characters or their relationship? When in doubt, go for the thing that drives the story forward.

    And specific questions for my way of doing things with a daily deadline: Have I given my reader something worth coming back for today? A new development, an interesting detail, a sort of mini cliffhanger where it is uncertain what direction the situation will take from here, and I’m not done exploring all possibilities yet.
  3. Feeling confident when making page layouts comes from practical experience, it builds by sketching and drawing pages. Learn making comics by making comics.
  4. Always sketch and write your ideas down, don’t just think them.
  • Reason 1: Otherwise you will not know whether the idea actually holds up. Sometimes a page layout that looked brilliant in my head just doesn’t look any good on my actual canvas. Sometimes things just do not translate well out of your head. You either let go or find ways to adapt the idea and make it work.
  • Reason 2: Fail and succeed faster. If it doesn’t hold up as a sketch already, guess what, putting hours in to render it out will not make it better. So solve the biggest problems a panel, piece of artwork or anything you can pack into thumbnail has in small, simple and easy to iterate on sketch drawings. Go through everything that doesn’t work and you’re arriving at something that does work faster.
  • Reason 3: Helps you to actually create. Now hear me out. In our head things often appear flawless, beautiful, unachievable, but oftentimes quite vague at the same time.

    Think of one of the great ideas for an art piece that has been haunting you for a while and still rests in your head. Would you know what you want to draw in every detail, how it should look and feel like and how to draw it from start to finish? And if so, why haven’t you drawn it yet? Usually, you will not have all the answers already when you sit down to work on a piece.

It is okay when you cannot envision something 100% before you draw or write or say it.

You do not have to. Most often getting active and at least thumbnailing will help you understand more about what an idea you have and how it looks in detail. And what doesn’t work about it and what to change. Creating an art piece IS figuring it out. You are luring a nebulous vision out of your head and making it concrete. Remember my “perfect” page layout that I can only test if I actually sketch it down and see how it would look in reality. Drawing it, giving it a form, will entail loss, as when you draw something a certain way, you decide against many other options you would have had of drawing it. But what is your idea worth when it lingers in your head as that great, flawless something that is awesome to dream about, all it’s potential untouched and available… but it has no visible form at all that you could enjoy yourself or show anybody? How do you know it’s good when it isn’t there and you never actually made it?

So: make your sketches.

I hope this helps!
See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 22

With the prior blog entry I have defined and committed myself to a core of my comic project. This is important, because there will always be a lot of temptations to pivot away or otherwise water it down later. Before I can enter the process of developing finer details of Street Prey (SPREY) more, there is a last layer of chains to break.

I have mentioned it before, but SPREY is actually an old idea. In 2011 I thought to myself while riding home from university on train and subway: wouldn‘t it be great if a hacker and a cop, a very unlikely pair, were trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel system with some cannibal horror rockers and had to learn to get along and fight their way out? With a lot of synthwavey and cyberpunky color play and 80ies horror movies cheese please, thank you. Apparently, the idea and the characters evolved a lot since then. But there must be something about SPREY that was so memorable it never left my brain again. It was just waiting for it‘s time to come later.

Maybe this even is a completely normal, natural cycle of creation: When you are young, you have a lot of time to explore media and a lot of playful ideas, but no means to create properly. And later in life, if you chose to evolve the toolset to create, you would actually not dream up big ideas like these anymore. But you yourself are still moved by them. So what you love and grew up with, you will consciously or unconsciously try to bring back to the world. This contributes to the cycle of trends returning every 30 years or so, when those who grew up under the influence of certain works of art and other media are in positions where they have a say in what gets created either as creator or as paying customer.

It is not inherently bad to do it like this. You just have to make sure to bring what you cherish back in a way other people outside of your bubble understand it, too. Many movie makers I love from the 80ies were inspired by horror and sci-fi movies of the 50ies and brought elements and references from them over to their own movies. While the 80ies will always have a special place in my heart, I‘m not as strongly connected to the 50ies. Still, I can enjoy the movies, I can see where my heroes are coming from and respect their roots, too, as a neverending cycle of artists being inspired by other artists who came before them. One day someone will look at my beloved 80ies and 90ies influences, shake their head and say „Well, not my thing, but I can understand where she‘s coming from.“ just like me now.

And there we have it. The movie makers of the 80ies did not seek to recreate the past slavishly. They couldn‘t, the audience wouldn‘t buy it, just like I couldn‘t recreate an authentic 80ies experience if I tried. I haven‘t culturally lived in that era. We cannot move back in history, at least it is not healthy to do so and ignore what was learned since then as well as ignoring societal progress. You cannot successfully exclude reality ever and reality is progression of time and change. Everything changes and you have to adapt. Also, my favorite 80ies movies have been made already. While I can learn from them and try to bring their appeal or lessons from them to my works, I should not try to be them like my heroes did not try to revert back to the 50ies.

If you are thinking to yourself right now, everything of this is obvious, why am I making such a fuss, you are a lucky lucky person! To me, nothing of this was clear ten years ago. Even now I‘m still learning and repeating to learn how to stand on my own as a creative brain and not get swept up in trends or fandoms. Did you ever wonder why we get self-indulgent works of art, especially movies, where the ageing creative mind behind the work brings back something they invented and cherished from their youth, even if nobody asked for it, the present audience doesn‘t understand it anymore and the creator stubbornly makes no effort to adapt to anything. They have worked hard and have made many sacrifices to come to a place where they finally can create their dream project, so of course they are unwilling to compromise. But then the creation might not have the impact it otherwise could have had. You are indeed alone when you are creating, but you are not alone when you unleash it onto the world.

Have a counter example. My knowledge of Russia of the 1800s is quite limited, but the great old novelists like Chekov, Tolstoj and Dostojewski still manage to make me care for the fates of their protagonists and what the works tell me about life. I can enjoy the old literature, even if I do not understand every reference without looking it up. I think this is because they managed to capture the essence not only of their times but of a timeless human experience. Flaws, passions, despair over seemingly inevitable failures, small sparkles of joy throughout a mundane existance, the pain and uncertainty of growing up. All this, to an extent, resonates with every human being. We all arrive at places in our life where we ask ourselves comparable questions, where we face comparable problems, but of course, nothing is ever an exact copy of itself. Therefore, seemingly old stories have to be told again and again with new coats on top. One day we will bore future generations with what was novel to us, maybe like early social media and it‘s opportunities and risks.

And now the big question – what are the consequences for my comic?

I just laid down my current design and worldbuilding philosophy for you. I had this grandiose idea to make SPREY 80ies technology cyberpunk, but clean and sanitized like synthwave, with hidden gritty horrors under the stylish surface. That is a lot, and that requires a lot of work to get right. I was all about learning the rules of those genres and preparing to follow slavishly. I do not have to. The big cyberpunk works of the 80ies and later have been done already. I will never be Akira, Blade Runner or Battle Angel Alita and I don‘t have to. Synthwave has been done already, too. I must do more than just use references. There must be room for me and what I can bring to the table myself, even if it is just that I want to make a mature romance out of it.

And instead of asking myself how and whom I can impress by getting all the details right and learning a lot of things by heart…what can I add on top of the core of my story that will make the core shine even more and add to what I have to say, not detract from it? Suddenly you do not have as many paralyzing choices as before while being very free. But unfortunately, the answers are not there immediately. They want to be discovered and fought for in many hours of exploration, trial and error and research. But now I have a chance to actually work with the core of my own comic instead of just slapping an aesthetic over it like someone else‘s worn skin.

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!

100 Days of SPREY – 10, 11, 12

One of my reasons to start art blogging at all was to document my own journey towards „making it“ as an artist.

My original idea of this was, that all the successful artists – artists that have a large following and are successful and beloved – have one thing in common. There must have been a point, where they turned from a havenot and wannabe to a sort of cultural hero that actually gets jobs without effort instead of having to struggle for the smallest things and not getting ahead.

And I didn‘t want to be like those artists about it, who give you some vague hints but never actually talk about that one point.

Over time I found out that this point either doesn‘t exist because it is a point and a constant process at the same time, just like light is a particle AND a wave at the same time, or the point is so laughably small and subtle that the artists might forget about it themselves. Something made them all turn around. The closest to a talk about this one point was a story concept artist Alexander Mandradjiev told on his livestream at the Lightbox Expo 2020. He found himself in a situation where he was the worst player on an art team and just got canned again. All his friends were more successful and nobody could tell him why he was not or help him out of there. He was envious and stubborn, and then this night of being fired again, he said he let go off everything and just did what everyone else was doing…photobashing, which he had been resisting to do all the time before. He sent the art director who just fired him a nice meaty zombie as goodbye card. And the man replied by hiring him again with something the like of „Oh hey, you actually can do something!“. I do not read this as a tale of how photobashing is the future. I am more interested in the change that happened in the artist. I understood Mandradjiev that he always kept something from the calm of that night and never had problems to find work again. The struggle was internal and ended.

I am a stubborn person, too, so I am especially interested in stories like these. Not all people are super open or ever will be, but I can always strive to at least be more balanced with it. Does that mean I have to photobash? It can‘t be that easy or everyone who photobashes would be an instant success. But it is absolutely my responsibility to adapt to cutting edge techniques in my respective field such as using 3D models to prop up my shot constructions and overall quality of forms. Even if I should find that is not for me, I have to have seriously given it a try and then never stop to reasearch and improve on what works for me.

Also, I must not lose sight of why I‘m doing what I‘m doing. That might be another thing why it is hard to tell other artists what to do to be successful. Everyone of us has a different life story, a different way to perceive and interpret things and plainly different things they enjoy. My why and how might not work for you like other people‘s whys and hows have not worked for me. This time of the 100 days of making the Street Prey(SPREY) comic is extremely important to me as it is a period of important changes. And apparently the most important ones happen in my mind. My why is that I‘m here to tell a bunch of stories. I don‘t even question it, it just is that way. And because I‘m a very visual person this will most likely happen within visual media. It is also important to me that I achieve a certain visual quality that seems right and likeable to me. Striving for finger licking realism is out the window already, but I also can‘t fall back on a single proven stylized style. Something is always missing, but I‘m researching already. And this time around it‘s not shocking to me that this might take some time. A webcomic also seems like a great how. You’re forced to draw a a lot and solve storytelling problems a lot.

See you again later today with the repord card for the week!

Restructuring VI – Just Draw

Have you ever heard about the famous „Just draw“ advice? If things are troubling you in art, you don‘t know where to start building your skill or how to get to where you want to be…well, the two words are always there for you. „Just draw“.

I am someone who took „Just draw“ literally for many years. It keeps you productive, I can‘t complain about that. But frantically doing something and hoping something good will come of it is not a strategy.

In my opinion there comes a point where „Just Draw“ alone doesn‘t carry you anymore. As I keep stating in this blog, a beginner can start anywhere with anything and will be equally successfully average until they have built themselves up to understand what is happening and how to make things happen. That is the realm of „Just Draw“. Get the mileage you need until the muscle memory, visual library and knowledge of the craft have caught up to you. And each time you start learning a field such as anatomy in depth you are back at the beginning, first of all busy getting that mileage.

But then, there is a trap. You may miss the point when you should tackle different challenges than just bring yourself to draw daily. When you are even competent enough to grasp a field, subject or technique fast enough to become at least average quickly. Then you could be everything but aren‘t anything, if you don‘t focus on one thing in order to become proficient enough to be SOMETHING. If you miss that point, you will feel like you are doing everything right but still don‘t get anywhere with it.

What is the remedy? Setting goals and working towards them. Putting something on your to do list is not enough, that is only saying something. You have to do it, even if it is 10 minutes a day. 10 minutes a day compounds over time. That might even help you making your studies more effective. You can adjust studies and explorations towards your goal(s) as well, and that will compound over time, too.

That‘s exactly what I‘m doing with the 100 days of SPREY now. Just doing …something…every day that roughly counts as comicmaking doesn‘t cut it anymore. And we might see more successful attempts to narrow the focus in the future. 100 days ago I would have set truly focussing on one thing is not my strength. But so far I keep going. Even if it is not there from the beginning, it is something that can be learned. You can do it, too. And if you lost your trust in yourself, you can regain it, too.

So far the 100 days of making comics seems like the ultimate „Just Draw“, challenge. And for me, it has been worth it. I‘m grateful I went this path and I‘m excited about what comes next during the 100 days of making Street Prey.

This is the final entry of the restructuring blog post series after the first 100 days of making comics. Now that challenge is truly a thing of the past.