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.

3 tips for getting more work out

Buckle up, it’s quick advice time!

1) Daily word count

I have rediscovered a piece of advice that seems to help to get more writing done. Have a daily word count to meet. It sounds weird to measure texts like that, as the word count tells you nothing about the quality of what you got. And that’s the thing, it is not about the quality. It is about getting you into writing mode at all, writing anything. If it turns out to be something that you will completely cut later, well, that could have happened with your “regular” writing, too. 500-1000 words seems to be enough for the getting into the writing zone effect. You can of course always do more, but don’t expect too much too quickly from you, especially if your focus is short.

You can probably apply this to art tasks such as making thumbnails, too. I will definitely try that out.

2) Rule of thumb anti- burn-out formula

Never give the full 100%. That sounds like a terrible piece of advice, I know. It’s even weirder when I say it, because I’m notorious for sky high ambition. I therefore had my share of burn-out experiences though and couldn’t ever figure out why until recently.

My work cycles used to look like this: raw powerful bursts of work, never letting any energy lie on the table if it was available, followed by periods of equally harsh exhaustion. Usually, the energy was spent so brutally, that there wasn’t any left to end a project if it took too long. I was too badly hurt in the end to bring myself to lay finishing touches onto it. There are a couple of zines I started the world never saw, more than a couple of unfinished scripts for stories. Hordes of unfinished drawings. My webcomic once made a months long break between chapter 2 and 3 for the same reason. The will to continue it was there every day, but just not the energy.

This could have been avoided or mitigated if I had explicitly restricted myself in the doses of daily work. I was trying to appear hard working before myself and others, but work is not about appearances. Although a lot of people will judge you by appearances alone, in the end your work must produce results. If your work can produce predictable, repeatable results of a quality people are willing to pay you for, congratulations, you have turned pro. So when your goal is to turn pro or even to just enjoy what you are doing, you do not want to survive projects barely and dread the next one for the anticipated pains and further exhaustion. Instead draw a clear line between what you have actually seen and experienced yourself do and what you think you ought do and do not go for the fantasy goals and workloads your pride tells you to go for. Most of your days will be average, some bad, only very few ideal. If you have a daily workload that you can fulfill even on your worst days you are better off than someone who has to rely on the good days. You will definitely get more done long term. And you will probably be less stressed out about it.

So do not give the full 100%. You are not holding back, you are not lazy, you are protecting your ability to do work consistently and to FINISH things.

3) Things have ends

This is another aspect of finishing projects. Now especially people who start projects easily but have a hard time finishing them listen up. One of the things that costs you so much energy when wrapping things up is letting go. You have made great experiences, possibly leveled up several times while working on your thing. Of course, you would not want to lose that feeling. Making progress towards a goal is addictive and sometimes possibly more rewarding than the feeling of actually having finished. You also might be deeply in love with your characters and not want to “lose” them either. I am guilty of multiple accounts of this. Once a project is finished, a story told, you have to say goodbye. Even if you were to tell the story of a character from birth to last breath because you love them so and want to drag out until you have to part ways again, you will one day arrive at the last breath. It is the same as with how fleeting life can feel when people come and go, places decay and emerge, things change. Things change all the time and you can’t plan and prepare for everything. Do not be afraid to live life even if that is so. That we do not have people and things forever gives them value, let’s us appreciate them more. The same goes for telling stories which in a way are depictions of life, so they will share some of it’s traits. As a child I have always wondered what fictitional characters do after their stories are told. Do they sit in a little farmhouse and stare at a wall, never having a big adventure again? That seemed more dreadful to me than writing them into ever escalating conflicts that get boring, once you have them overcome any possible challenge and saving not only the world but the whole universe. You can’t escalate from that.

As I have gained some more life experience since then I’m coming to terms with ageing, death(at least a bit) and how the passing of time actually feels. Yes, it is possible that someone does one big deed in their life, has a glorious youth, but then that is it. They do found a family, stare at walls and screens and then they fade. We all do. Some people are late bloomers and have their time later in life. Some are adventurers that never retire. There is no one right way to live. You don’t notice the passing of time from day to day. You would not notice that you yourself fade but you will notice it very painfully at times in the loved ones around you. Creative creations can have a spot in your heart comparable to that. That is okay. You are passionate about them. Yet any creation we can make has a form and the form dictates that it is finite. Value them for what they are. Also value yourself. You give time and energy of your own life and pour it into works that can be enjoyed by so many people now and later, when you are long gone. Things have ends, we have ends, and yet you are on your creative journey and happy to create. So dare to finish your creations and move on to the next.

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.

A challenge in writing

Blogging is great. It helped me to get through some stressful times by blogging daily reminders about my mission and my general thoughts about my progress to myself. Also, it made me write. Don’t underestimate the power of giving your thoughts and ideas a written form over a prolonged period of time. That’s how you get better at writing. And it changes something. My confidence to write anything down went up. Lately though, my original way of blogging stopped working for me and I only realized that after a couple of troublesome months.

How were things before? I took “just write” as a guiding principle and was writing like the words and topics would come. There is nothing wrong with that. Most writing starts like this. What else informed my writing though – I was under pressure a lot and worrying about how to get to success as fast as possible please. I didn’t really define what that success was and I couldn’t. Things began and ended in comfort and comfort was what I reaped. Seeking comfort is not a thing that brings you ahead in life though. You will not live a life if you want to avoid the pains it brings. For the sake of it I was not always daring to observe things as they were or think thoughts until their end. It’s hard to do that when you are rushing by and hoping you are not hurting already or hurting yourself more. You cannot escape the pain though, not without even bigger pain later on once you can’t run anymore. And delayed pain that comes back to you has the potential to be even deeper. Regret and shame are never far away, but you can have them without any particular reason as well.

So what? I’m telling you to not live in your comfort zone? You’ve heard that before. Have you considered how deep such a comfort zone can run as described in the paragraph before? Things are getting better for me lately. I would say I have found calm in myself that is not temporary. And that is also what causes problems for this blog right now. I’m feeling the lack of the spite and pressure that usually was there and don’t know what to do with that gap. I am not lacking anything that I would miss. I can still work. I can work even better than before. But I guess I wasn’t ready for a good change, good emotion. I am questioning myself, how can I be so at peace and happy when I’m not “there” yet with my life. I haven’t made it yet. I guess you don’t need approval or certain metrics to be allowed to feel a certain way. There is a lot of work to do on the way ahead, but I’ll gladly face everything.

So dealing with one’s own emotional development is a thing, at least it is a thing for me on my road. You could encounter something like this on your road, too, and when it happens, you have an edge now. You are not hit by absolute surprise. You can ask one question more what it could be that blocks your path. Embrace that you change. Be curious about it. Dare to feel what you feel and feel it until it is over. You will meet the peace you made with yourself on paper again when you look at your writing or sketches later. And don’t forget that you are in charge and don’t have to accept you developing into something you don’t like. You are free after all.