The Expectation Game

What about expectations?

Let’s repeat our game from the previous blog entry with this topic! What is your first big random expectation that comes to your mind? Write it down, I’ll wait! Also as before – no self-censorship. The answer does not have to be pretty. It is even preferrable if it isn’t, because something that is pretty can trick you easier than a rugged looking opponent. Ready? Here goes mine: I want a giant audience to materialize out of nothing, throwing copious amounts of money at me so that I can comfortably do my best work on SPREY and other works and well…and serve the works to them. This is an interesting one. First of all, I’m glad it’s not completely selfish and lost in delusion land. I am not even expecting people to throw their money at me and get nothing in result. I do think though that this particular expectation is a warped view and interpretation of the world that also mixes up cause and effect, like most expectations like these tend to do. This is not how it works. People tend to exchange money for something of value to them that you already have created or that they trust you to be able to create in the future judging from your past works or advertising and persuasion skills. Also it is not that having a giant audience already (or their financial support) is a prerequisite to do great work or be valid as a creator. We only tend to think it is. Also the audience usually materializes AFTER the great work was done and is out in the world, not before. And another wait a moment, „the audience“ , it doesn’t tend to be a neutral blob, an abstract thing, it is rather a group of lovely people who are all real and individuals of different walks of lifes and communities that happen to like your work. So wait, that abstract „audience“ doesn’t even exist. How about your expectation? Does a look at it with reality in mind turn it into dust like a vampire exposed to plain sunlight? Was it a winding, contorted perception and interpretation mistake like mine?

I need a moment to recover from this revelation. It is okay to have expectations of any size. But it’s always worth checking them under the sunlight, with view towards reality. Vampires suck the lifeforce out of you without giving you anything back, so there’s no reason to let them take what they want unchecked.

(New)SPREY Log #1 – Foundations

It’s time to continue documenting my journey! But before I switch over to discussions of my webcomic and diving into artistic detail problems, I want to take this entry aside and examine the foundations on which I work as an artist. Maybe more of this will follow in the future, but my most important goal stays, working through Street Prey and finishing it.

Okay, so I’m trying to get myself together and off the ground to a new level of quality for my creative work. That’s what I always do. Lately, I felt stuck although I’m rapidly moving forward. I haven’t slacked a day, on some days I just didn’t have the quantity or quality of output that I would have liked. And that is okay.

What is important though was the realization how my expectations are not the same as the reality of what is actually happening. Sometimes an expectation I have in my head and reality just don’t match up ever. There is nothing wrong with striving for the best, the highest ideals, but you must be aware and accepting of where this leaves the realm of reality. Would you want to live by and be measured by a mere fantasy that lives completely outside of what you can actually do and outside of what actually happens in reality? You would always be disappointed.

Fact is, I’m perfectly average and on time with my life, I’m just not fully in control of it yet, as I’m not fully in control of the wild beast yet that is my creativity. Having learned to appreciate what I do have while being patient with figuring out how to bridge the gap helps a lot. What if the secret is the following: Instead of trying to match an ideal state that I can imagine and fantasize about – and never having seen or experienced it, so there is no proof it exists- I can rather look at my personal reality. What is there every day on paper and digital canvas before me? What is good about it already? How can I make it even better?

I’m starting to think my day to day work is everything I will ever see. That will be the stuff that creates everything I want to create, the thing that either makes a fruitful creative career possible or not. No periods of extraordinary almost mystical work. Why did it take some time to get here? The day to day work of most artists is quite mundane. You don’t finish up a big illustration every day. You don’t finish up fancy designs every day. Some days you’re just grinding away trying to solve a problem or worse, count the day as success when you have done the bare minimum to stay fit.

I have tried to force ideal schedules and drawing processes onto myself before. Usually, it does not work. By now I believe the biggest problem with those is that other people made them. Other people with different life and creative experiences, different circumstances, different personalities and usually different preferences, too. Also, when you yourself are inexperienced, you cannot live up to the regular schedule of someone who is ten or more years ahead of you. You are exhausted faster than you are even through enough that would make that daily schedule functional. Same goes for “art styles”. You cannot force it. But of course you can listen to others and see what you can learn from them for yourself. You just cannot hope to just copy them and make no decisions by yourself ever.

I don’t have to have everything figured out in an instant. It’s only about keeping your long-term goals in mind and knowing what the very next step to get there is. I can finally allow myself to relax and just enjoy the journey.

100 Days of SPREY – 43, 44

I was struck with a sudden realization.

I‘m bad.

My art is bad.

Like… for real. Really really bad and it was even worse before the big grind over the last years. I‘m not on pro levels yet.

How do I know?

There is this strange divide.

When I look into the mirror, I‘m seeing a pro, a majestic beast. I‘m doing everything to do this majestic beast justice every day and do my best to create and improve. But the world does not act in accordance to that towards me. I am not pointing at the world and saying it is wrong. The world is reality and reality has this subtle way with the truth. It bluntly hits you in the face if necessary and it is never personal. So apparently my own picture of myself is not what I am yet, but I‘m at least on my way there.

It is not a shame being bad. Look at me. I‘m thriving like a weed dandelion that broke through concrete. No amount of opportunities I didn‘t have ever truly held me back. Apparently my art just isn’t that great. I would have opportunities. I would have an audience. And once the confusion about the divide lifts – now that I grasped what the root of it is – well, what else can I do except proceed doing my thing but now with a more balanced view of myself and more realistic expectations? After all, reality is a friend, not something to keep outside of the bubble.

So… nothing will change on the outside, except for me and you now know the truth. Maybe this has an effect on the art over time though. Might get more free and more bizarre maybe, at least that would be my personal predictions.

I like how the comic work is coming along. There is a clear visual improvement, although I‘d still want to cry sometimes about my value work and environments. But I‘ll get there. I‘m doing a lot of work that will get me there from day to day.

Above: the work for the next update of “Your Land” is picking up while I’m also working on a machinery related concept art gig. I like where things are going and hope to further do my best.
Above: temporarily dug out my old watercolor equipment. I’m 99% digital artist, but there is this fun challenge I want to take part in and only traditional art is allowed. Let’s see how that goes! I’ll be drawing a faerie!

Never give up. See you next time!

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.