Creative Survival

I talked to you about how to get more work out in the blog post before, but today I’m returning with a blog about a related topic. Creative survival. I might possibly return to this topic somewhen later in this blog, but here’s the wisdom I have to offer about this right now.

Why creative survival at all? Yesterday I finally finished working through concept artist Nik Hagialas’s “Art RPG”, a great introduction course to concept design. I’m immediately embarking on the follow up “Creature of the Deep” right now. The book doesn’t waste any time either, the first task is a profound one already. Before you even take a shot at the drawing tasks, the author wants you to think about a time you have overcome a huge obstacle and see what you can learn about your strategies – and then apply them on large creative projects that can feel like a huge calamity at times, too. I thought to myself, if I’m writing it down, why don’t I blog about it, so that others have something from it, too?

1. What is a strategy

First of all I had to do a websearch what a strategy is. Originally, this is the art and science of leading and moving an army. Imagine it like this – you and me can decide to go for a walk on a whim, but try to move thousands of armed people in a sensible way, even on a day march from one camp to another. That requires planning effort and foresight how the movement of the troops might impact the troops themselves, the locals, the area itself, what to do when something goes wrong during the operation.

Businesspeople have adopted the term strategy for the context of the development of companies, too. After all, leadership has to “lead and move” the employees and ressources of a company towards defined company goals and predict as well as possible how employees, clients, competitors, markets, governments or any other players will react, how it impacts the company assets, the environment and other circumstances and what to do when things go terribly wrong.

If you are reading this you are probably not an army or a multinational corporation. Most people don’t have or want a complicated manual on how to govern themselves and go about reaching their goals. Yet we could profit from looking into how they solve problems efficiently and successfully. You have goals you set yourself, too. You want to get things done, go places with your career.

Also, everyone will have a certain amount of survival strategies already without naming them as such. If you are in unexplicable and lasting strong pain you make a doctor’s appointment to find and eradicate the cause of your pain. If you run out of money you are looking for a job or apply for welfare to help you through the worst.

2. My academic paper nightmare

So how did I go on about big challenges in my life? Preferably one with lessons that seem like they could be easily applied to art, too? The first thing that comes to my mind was having to write many many papers in university. One in particularly, the biggest and last one that counted directly into my final grade, was a dreaded and awful thing, but I actually have no residual bad feelings about it. No grudge. It started off horribly. I had a time limit, although I’m not sure how long, I think it was a month. Day one when I got my topic the secretary accused me of forging one of my report cards of a previous course that qualified me to attempt this paper at all.

I did still brainstorm how to tackle my paper’s topic and collect some first ressources like I planned to in the library of the university the same day, but I also had to exchange some e-mails with university administration and student office and make a couple of visits in more offices over the next days. It did not help that I also some heightened pressure to succeed from an unsuccessful attempt before, I was absolutely not allowed to fail this one or I couldn’t graduate. But that day, that time, I employed a harsh strategy to go through the nightmare: I suppressed all my emotions, I shut myself out. People tell you, you have to acknowledge, respect and feel your feelings, yes, you do, but not in the circumstances I just described. If I had listened to my fear, my rightful anger (I hadn’t forged anything), my sadness, the agony of academic pressure I would most definitely have done or written or said something stupid and botched everything in the first week, even before and outside writing the actual paper. Or I would have deleted myself. Instead, I focussed on the work and work only. There was just proving my academic certificates and report cards were real and writing the paper, and I made sure to put most of my energy into writing the paper. I did not shut off my critical thinking though and have some thoughts on my university, the secretary, hierarchies and other topics, but that here is not the place for them. Administration confirmed the authenticity of my certificate, I wrote and finished the paper and got a good grade, graduated, and the bold secretary hopefully doesn’t carelessly accuse other students of forgery today.

3. Learning from this for art

Now I wonder, how can this help you and me in art? Obviously, you do not get graded and you set most deadlines yourself or negotiate them with customers. Also it’s hard to question your qualifications unless you outright lie on your resume or accuse yourself via impostor syndrome. If the latter happens, just ignore it. It goes away when you do the work and get ahead in your art career. If you listen to impostor syndrome, you don’t get your work done and end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy where your self-doubt keeps you from getting things done while getting nothing done in return feeds your self-doubt.

Other than that, I do not wish it to you but you might get into circumstances where you reach stress levels that are a threat to your wellbeing. Long term creative projects can do that to you. Usually it’s not the project alone, but personal problems and very unlucky other circumstances joining the mix. Temporary(!) shutting off your emotions and fighting until the bitter end to get the job done might be a way to do it. It would be preferable to not end up in a situation like that at all, but if it happens, that might be a way to get you through it. And please be gentle with yourself afterwards. I think I came through this experience at university so well, because I didn’t try to make harsh survival mode my default mode for the rest of my training. Also, I worked through that experience in private later, taking some time to heal from it. There is no shame in doing that or in seeking professional help to help you doing that.

4. Academic papers and long term creative projects – birds of a feather?

Maybe writing an academic paper is not that different from getting a long term creative project done. You set or are given a goal in the beginning, you brainstorm how you want to approach it and what you need for it, you collect information and whatever ressources you decided you need, then you work on it…probably every day. You must live with the pressure that you will not see results immediately, that some days will be bad despite best efforts, days in which you do nothing hurt you, so better not procrastinate at all, but that you also may not do too much per day, otherwise you spend your energy too fast and burn out.

And then don’t forget that you get numb in the end. What do I mean by that? When you have spent weeks, months or even years with a thing, you are too close to it. You cannot tell whether it is good or bad and you will not see obvious flaws, and probably you don’t even want to see anything anymore, just get it done. You are numb. Therefore do not plan on finishing the evening before due date. You need time to let other people check your work. If the scope of the work is really big, also think about breaking it down in smaller parts that people can check for you without going numb themselves. If it’s a private project and you haven’t announced a release date yet, maybe even take a couple of weeks off yourself and either relax or work on other things or a mix of both, then return to the thing like someone who hasn’t created it themselves and experience it as a reader or player. You will be surprised what you will discover, what a difference in perception that break can make.

That’s it for today. Happy creating, everyone!

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!

100 Days of SPREY – 08, 09

Whops! My week was so demanding that I unfortunately couldn‘t keep up with the blog like I would have liked to. Most importantly: all the comic work got done, the rest of the time was eaten up by commissions, a lot of reading and learning and on Wednesday my very first appearance as a guest on an art podcast! It was the Turaco Art Cast with comic artists Frank Salazar and Anna Raub. That was a pretty exciting and unique experience!

Unfortunately I paid for all the important work that got done with being quite exhausted in the second half of the week.

It is indeed a fine line between „Don‘t destroy yourself with crunch“ and „You do not need to feel good and comfortable all the time, otherwise you will never tackle any challenge outside of your personal comfort zone“…which you happen to need for growth.

I read „A short history of myth“ by Karen Armstrong this week and after a long break continued reading Robert Henri‘s „The Art Spirit“. Especially the latter one baffles me. How could I have spent my whole life drawing while apparently not knowing anything about art? Henri is like the well-meaning experienced art grandpa mentor I never had. He puts the reader aside and tells them what it‘s really all about without preaching. If you are inclined to do so, check out his book for yourself! At least for me it helped me to enjoy art in itself, whether by me or others, more again.

The books also made me attempt an experimental mindset shift. The myth book was a refreshing breeze that showed me how differently other cultures interpret and depict the human condition and our basic and most important struggles. The unfair and struggling nature of life comes to mind and how to deal with death and mortality for example. And after that book made my brain softer and more open to new ways, there came The Art Spirit. We artists really are in a great and ungrateful position at the same time. We get to experience and play with human emotion all the time, stories, uncovering secrets in the human psyche and in one way or the other influencing the people around us and helping to solve problems in a creative way. While many instructors seem to agree that the best art, writing and any other creative endeavor is done best in a state of selflessness, the artist has no chance to get there without meticulously exploring themselves and their own life and tastes first. That almost seems like a contradiction. Won‘t looking at and into yourself all the time make you an egoist on the canvas? Wouldn‘t you be tempted to paint self-indulgent pieces nobody else would even attempt to connect to? I‘d argue knowing yourself very very well gives you the freedom to reach out in the first place and maybe even forget yourself for a moment. Meeting other people who disagree with you or do the very same thing you do, but better, or people who just don‘t care about your work at all, won‘t shatter you anymore. You will even be readier to accept that they have an inner life as vivid as yours and that your art does not have to be part of that if they just don‘t connect with it.

There is another exciting thing that I found in the book and need to tell you about immediately. Henri argues that it would be an ideal state for an artist, if they created what is genuine and authentic to themselves and what they are here to create all the time and without compromises. That would be their way to live their life to it‘s fullest. And playfully engaging with that creation every day would be the thing that creates any form of success as byproduct. So…the success is not the goal, it happens on the side. Bold thesis, don‘t you think? But it might as well happen that the success never happens or at least not in the lifetime of the artist. If that is so, how should you know whether you are doing it right or not? Apparently outside validation is unreliable to see whether something is good or not. Almost in all times people have rejected new things only to turn around and claim them as new proven standard later, how things should always have been. But then worrying about money is just a reality of life, worrying about being connected to people and not ostracized. I guess we artists should not ignore that, as that would be ignoring reality, but we must be ready to sacrifice our comfort or tendency to seek it in order to rise above.

See you in the next blog entry!