SPREY Log #26 – Ingame Books and Fan Dragons

Welcome back, everyone!

My life is moving so fast right now. Currently, „Your Land“ has it’s first anniversary. Organizing the subevents and celebrating with the community is keeping me busy, as well as a few smaller commissions. And yes, there is pressure, but I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they say.

I’ve mentioned last blog post already how I let go and went programming for a while, let go of everything (that is not the same as giving up) then realized „less is more“. I have then also tested this new paradime already by writing several ingame books in Your Land. Our game has this amazing feature where players can copy and paste a text up to 10.000 signs into an ingame book. My husband had even collected most of the past books written by players into a library. It was in an okay state when I took it over, but now with me as a driving force behind caring for the library and encouraging players to write new fun books at all occassions, the amount of books is skyrocketing, and so is the number of readers and writers, and the library is thriving. We have an organically grown literature scene now. I have heard from others again and again what I have learned ingame as well. „I had no idea how fun writing can be!“ We have all just forgotten how fun it is.

These ingame books are my playground, my experimental ground to finally stretch and strengthen my writing muscles far enough to get to a state where I can write a finished anything. You can do a lot with 10.000 signs it turns out. I don’t think any of my ingame books even scratch at that limit, I’m rather comfortable at 1.000 signs. Everytime I finish an ingame book though, something magical happens. Something in me listens up, realizing me and storytelling is not a lost cause, adding more curiosity, confidence and just a bit more ambition to the next work.

The next benefit of practising my writing in a videogame is that I get to experience a whole pipeline from idea of the book to finding the book on the shelves in a relatively self-contained, secure environment without added costs. Yes, even in a game where less forces than on the actual market are influencing what is read you have to advertise your stuff. You still have to proofread and edit and offer this service to other writers, too, in exchange, as none of you get paid. You still have to finish things. You still have to show up to write on the regular. You have to make the time to do all of this. And what I also had to do was to learn how to socialize at all. I think I finally got over the bump with that. I am running a well known Candy Shop in the game’s spawn city. And none of the players would believe my old shy „true self“ that isn’t true anymore. And no, this is actually not a case where I’m confident on the internet alone, it already crossed back over into the real world. Streaming works better than ever for me and I enjoy the resulting conversations a lot.

And it is actually true, if you have finished a couple of stories, your perspective on writing is changing up. You have more of a grid to work from in your head. It’s easier to keep the structure of the work together mentally as you’ve already worked through some of them in their entirety before. And having a good theme, really having something to say, doesn’t seem that difficult and abstract anymore, too. That was actually one of the things I learned fastest. Writing 1.000 signs is not hard, you can do it in a day or two. Writing 1.000 signs that give a meaningful or even pleasing experience to both reader and writer, that is harder. When you are thinking to yourself „Why bother?“ your current work probably does not have enough substance yet. For me, the fun at trying new things and testing how far my writing can go within the constraints has soon and quickly taken over.

I think my stream even taught me something very important the past days. I met Shiro4K, an old friend, again who now streams videogames now. He told me an anecdote from the day he met me in 2016, that I had forgotten myself. I was tabling at a convention and he jokingly asked me to draw something I had never drawn before. So I asked the tabling artist next to me for a fan you can draw on yourself and drew a dragon. I saw a photo of it, it doesn’t even look like it was drawn by me, but still works. That taught me something very important about myself, that I haven’t figured out without the reflection from others. Apparently I was never one for a uniform look of the art. I am rather one that relentlessly experiments, always moving forward and shaking perceived own limits. And it is fun being around me when I am like this. You can shake your head and go „what is she up to now?“. Let’s admit, that dragon could have gone terribly wrong, especially with my limited skillset back then compared to today. I was drawing it live on a convention. A stunt like that requires bravery. Apparently there’s more of it in me than I tend to show nowadays. It turns out again and again that I was worrying about the wrong things all along. I’m currently writing a sonnet written by an orc (with orc grammar and everything, but still attempting to keep up with the rhyme scheme and structure). I can’t say I’m good at poetry, but I’m taking the challenge. I am exactly the right person for something like this.

And now comes the clue, I’m not writing this down for the sake of me. But this gave you a taste of an authentic Styxcolor, maybe even just a glimpse of it. And if people hear about other people being authentic, it tends to encourage them to show a bit more of themselves, too. People do appreciate you when you show yourself. Go out there, try it, even on a small scope. You will probably not want ot miss it again. If you need to write books in a videogame to figure out and work on your true skill level, so be it. I bet there’s other venues to get started or repair your skillset as a storyteller, too. See you out there!

SPREY Log #025 – Advent

I have a new blog entry to make and what a blog entry this is.

So last time I told you about how I cut back on social media. I didn’t have any dramatic reasons. I didn’t expect a specific outcome and the last thing I want is to sound like one of those clickbaity videos or articles about how quitting social media changed my life. But it did change my life. It’s uncomfortable to admit that. I decided to make a big step years ago and struggled to live as an artist since then. But even with being on the right path, something always felt off. My life felt spent, not lived. And I couldn’t have expressed it to you like that and did not know any remedy. Less social media did not cure me, but it gave me more time and energy to focus on working instead of worrying.

I worked my behind off and finally learned how to code. I wouldn’t say I’m good at it yet, but it is enough to help my husband out as a second coder (mostly bugfixing) on Your Land. This brought a lot of movement and change into my life. It seems that I became so passionate about it and about Your Land, that I even became more sociable instead of less. I know more people online than before and my Twitch streams are not empty. Coding also gave me a new, completely different perspective on art and visual storytelling. First of all I had an identity crisis because I found something that was more fun to me than making art. Seriously. The joy of seeing a problem fixed ingame or a new thing given to the players to enjoy. That was a threat to my art unheard of before. I know how it is to fend off things to make room for art. But how and why do you fend something off that you love more? Should’t you let more love in your life instead of less? After the first shock of two weeks I started drawing again, though, in small scope still, but artist Styxcolor is not a memory of the past. Coder Styxcolor is more grounded though which might be one of the reasons to more happiness from doing it. This is such an interesting change in perspective. For the longest time I was desperate to invent and tell really big complex stories but unable to write even a short one, and I knew there was something wrong but never got behind it.

Suddenly I’m coming from the other end where you’re happy you can make anything work and don’t actually dream about big castles made of code (at least I don’t). And at the end of the day, if you do your job well, you have something in your hands you and other people can enjoy. Art shouldn’t be different.

Also, my media consumption has fallen through the floor. I appreciate every work of the arts there is more than ever now..but I just cannot consume so much of it anymore, at least not in a binge. I also cannot literally eat so much anymore. I want to have the time and bandwith in my head to really experience something and think about it. No more background youtube, not even background music sometimes, and there is no ban on it, I just choose to focus fully on the work ahead. I have no trouble sleeping at night and no trouble getting out of bed at all. I’m eager to get out of bed and get to work.

As you can imagine this is quite a confusing experience. What if all of this doesn’t actually take away from artist Styxcolor but adds to my qualities? Apparently videogames are a good outlet for creativity in general and storytelling, too. If that is my way of grounding myself, may it be so. Also, in hindsight, I might always have asked the question wrong. Should I become a such and such artist? Should I focus on gamedev instead? But what about my own stories? When the actual question is, what are finished creative works that I can actually do and repeat the process so it’s building up a body of work over time? I wasn’t very good at consistency and finishing in the past for various reasons. I wrote two ingame books in Your Land that are a proof of concept to me that I actually can write and finish stories and that even a piece of atomic scope can be worthwhile. This is a new frontier and I’m researching with the passion and eagerness you know from me. Nothing is lost, all is won, and I’m entering a new phase in my life and creations.

Oh, and this is brand new – I can finally admit that I can’t write SPREY or maybe possibly anything else. I will have to break my universe down and make very small wrrks out of it to get them out at all. And this doesn’t even sound like a downgrade, more like an upgrade! I want it done and out! And you can be sure there will be substance when there is no need for any filler. I’m not even afraid that I will have to cut some if not most things. If this is how I make it happen actually, how I become a functioning storyteller, then be it so! What if I needed all these years of struggling to arrive at this point where my mantra becomes „Smaller/condensed is better“/“Say it with less“ because I know from my own experience how it doesn’t work the other way around?

SPREY Log #24 – Understanding the world

Hello, everyone!

Another day, another blogpost. So I cut back on my social media the day before yesterday. Something like this disrupts a routine, even if it’s just thinking patterns worrying about keeping up with the platforms in question. And it creates a gap. The path of least resistance would be to fill that gap up with playing videogames or watching videos. While I love both like the next person, I was aware it would not help me with my current goals from the start, so I resisted doing that. My goal is to get more of the work done that is right in front of me.

I found help with that where I didn’t expect it. My curiosity made me listen to a bit of Miyamoto Musashi’s philosophy, just a bite. And I also listened to a summary of Marcus Aurelius’s meditations on my daily walk. Nothing of this was forced, I was just curious and wanted to know about these ideas for a long time. Obviously, I can’t digest all of it in a day, but I have finally made a start digging in at all, taking action. I am also aware of the danger of the illusion of getting things done while actually just listening to things that can broadly be categorized as „self-help“ or „self-improvement“ . But it couldn’t hurt to listen to thinkers whose way of seeing and navigating the world still hold up enough that people still are interested in their ideas. And an impact it had.

You see, Musashi and Aurelius don’t have anything to do with each other. They’re from different times and cultures, but weirdly enough the timeless wisdom they’re famous for, kind of overlapped in my head. At least I didn’t find obvious contradictions on the superficial level I’m on. Both lived lifes of an admirable level of focus and commitment. And apparently walking away from places where you get shallow approval by random strangers is exactly what both would advise to do. Trying to collect things or people instead of dealing with the work in front of oneself will not help, complaining about how unfair or challenging something is just for the sake of complaining will not help, even if it’s true. Looking for a solution to problems will help, doing the actual work, while not spreading oneself too thin. Aurelius says it better than me. Doing less things better leads to a more tranquil life. Not avoiding adversities, they are unavoidable, just hoping you are strong enough in character to persist and overcome them and grow through them. I really like these ideas. I even got offered an answer for what’s the goal in life. So it’s not about popularity or material success, there’s something that is even more important and that’s to never stop learning and developing the mind and to serve humanity with whatever you were given to serve it. Can you imagine how rich this is, especially when it’s coming from a Roman emperor? Aurelius, at one point, was the most powerful man in Rome, but his diary said he saw himself as a servant. And that probably kept him sane, who knows?

I think it makes a lot of sense to think this way. Without humility, you have sky high expectations of what you are and what you are entitled to and you’ll get burned, even if you actually get it. It’s a recipe to divulge in drama and lose one’s way. Also your sight and foresight probably isn’t that great when there’s a mountain sized ego in the way.

I had trouble to define who I am and what I want and need to do for many years. It is hard to navigate and interpret the world, there’s a lot going on all the time. But if I try to think of myself as a servant of humanity and my own virtues, not a slave, it gets a bit easier to get a grip on it. And then…there’s nothing new. No new insights. Like most people I already know what I should be doing, what I should be creating, I’m just scared of it. I would also never have thought that Miyamoto Musashi would give me another puzzle piece to get a grip on my future works. I was needlessly flopping around like a fish on land trying to establish a main medium and specialization, anything. And then comes swordmaster Musashi just saying if you have a favorite weapon or tool you are less deadly. You should be flexible and deadly with mostly everything. I cannot express how helpful this is. No, I’m not thinking about art like about martial weapons. It is about the underlying abstract principles of that statement. Yes, if you have a favorite tool you know everything about it, specialization does help you to be really good at and with this one thing. But what do you do when it is not available to you right now? I have a very real example for that. So I made some efforts to get good at using Clip Studio Paint. But now that me changing to Linux is in sight…well, I sadly can’t take that one with me, CSP does not run on Linux and whether it runs well in a virtual machine is not guaranteed. Time to deal with other programs such as Krita again. Specialization and having favorites is natural, it does happen all the time, but it must not be or become an obstacle. Apparently, anything, at any time, can be taken away from you, but new opportunities open up the same way – and you better be flexible then if you wish to make use of them. It is okay to not be a 100% specialized is what I’m taking away from this. It is okay when my works are not all in the same medium made in the same way. I can rather put my focus on making them well and finishing them. There’s endless ways of telling a story and endless ways of telling it well, but you still got to tell it from start to finish and to make it clear enough the audience can make any sense of it.

See you next blogpost!

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!