SPX!

Blog, let’s stop meeting like this okay? But I guess it’s good that I’ve been too busy to write? Right?

 

SPX IS IN THREE DAYS, EVERYONE!

Ever since I finished the GPM comic, I’ve been fully focused on getting things ready for SPX. Namely…

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TADA! The first seven pages of my new webcomic will be making it’s debut this weekend! Tokyo HEART Story has been something I’ve been working on for several years on and off, so it’s really really awesome for me to finally have printed pages of it in my hands that I can share with the world X3

I finished the final touch ups of formatting the book this weekend, and spent Sunday evening collating, folding, and stapling. That’s right, every one of these books was hand crafted by me (like 95%, since I didn’t print them personally, but I did everything else lol). This is the first time I have prepped my zines myself, as I’ve always had the printers do it. I feel very attached to this comic, so I wanted to oversee the presentation myself, which meant even folding everything page by page. Yes, it’s a little crazy, but the books look so cute, so it was totally worth it.

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I have a very limited number of these books, so if you would like to buy one from me, please find me early! I also made some fabulous Tokyo HEART Story postcards to give away.

Along with the preview, I will have postcards of my paintings, prints, and copies of the SugarNinjas volumes I’ve appeared in, and I’ll also be taking commissions at the show. I’ll have some watercolors, a selection of Copics (maybe?), and I will have blank paper covered Moleskines and a few shikishi if you are interested in a commission on one of those.

If you are coming to the show, please stop by table 83 and say hi! I even made a map!

 

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This will be my first comic convention I’ve ever tabled at. In the past, I’ve always tabled at anime conventions. I cannot express how nervous but excited I am about this weekend. I finally get to meet people I’ve been talking to online for year(s), and be a total comic nerd the whole weekend.

P.S. you can also talk to me about Dragon Age, but I may never shut up about it so… do so at your own risk!

In Which Comic Pages are Made

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I LIIIIIIIIIVE! Okay, so I’ve been incredibly busy with getting the pages done for the project for NASA that I talked about in my last post (three months ago *cough cough*). All the finished pages, including cover and the like, were sent off this week! Like I mentioned before, I was sharing quite a bit of my progress on social media, but in case you missed it, I thought it would be neat to break down my process for creating comic pages.

 

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When making comic pages, it’s incredibly important to start with a plan, so your storytelling will make cohesive sense– so thumbnails are crucial, despite me hating every moment of making them. They are a necessary evil. Just like outlines. You can see that I like to keep everything rough and flowing as much as I can. This is because I have a tendency to try stiff figures, lacking any dynamism. So if I start with things having lots of energy, my hope is to keep that energy going into the final version of the page. Also important, although I don’t have it pictured here, I thumbnail my pages in groups of four at a time, so I can check to make sure I’m keeping my layouts varied, and also helps give me an idea of what the pages will look like side by side.

Also note that from the very beginning I’m thinking about word balloon placement, and how it the reader’s eye would move from one thing to another– because having to cover up a character’s head up with a word balloon due to the fact that you have no place else to put it is a very bad thing.

While I don’t get into hyper details for the figures or faces, and they are mostly stick figures with easy to read expressions, but I will build off of that to create the final drawing in pencils. After the thumbnails are done, I scan them in, and print them at my rough draft size in light blue ink (1/2 the size I ink at, and the size the comic will be printed at).

 

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This is where things get a bit bananas visually, but it’s my system of working, so I guess it only needs to make sense to me? Building off of the print out I did of the roughs, I start to draw the figures in using blue and/or red pencil, depending on what I am working on. As you can see on this page, I’ll put the basic word-balloon/text-box in red for future reference. Once the pencils are finished, I scan the page in again, this time super large so it can be doubled in size when printed out for inking. With the pencil drawing on the computer, I will digitally adjust anything that needs adjusting (sizes of heads that got away with me, different placement of characters, etc), and then blue the lines and print it out on 11 x 17 400 grade britsol paper.

 

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Inking, I suppose is pretty self explanatory– although it is harder than it seems. When you are inking, you have to think about the line weight you are drawing and how that relates to where it is in the foreground, etc etc. You also have to think about what to leave white, what to color in. I usually go more into depth with where I place my spot blacks– since I generally make comic pages in black and white. Since this was intended for color, I left mostly everything empty. The page feels super thin and bare like this, but it’s what the next step needed so…

 

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I don’t usually color my pages at all, but the few times I have, I haven’t used this flattening technique (which I got from Jason Brubaker on his reMIND website) until this project. The tutorials on the page point to a Photoshop plug-in that will actually automatically do basic flatting for you and you get this amazing color effect with super bright colors. I liked the colors so much on the last panel, I actually kept those colors, but blended them into the grey of her skirt. I only did a few pages using this plug-in, however, because I found that it slowed me down. I instead went back to my painterly way that I usually color my pages. It’s probably all wrong, but it works for me, and that’s what matters!

 

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And then the finished product over many hours of work! The reason why I don’t like coloring my own pages, is because I have to stare at them for so long, I start to really hate my art because I start to see everything wrong with it. It just extends my coloring process tenfold. I am happy with how this page came out, however, so, I guess it all works out (。◕ ∀ ◕。)

 

So what’s next for Aja? Well, SPX is about a month away and I… am not really ready for it, as I’ve been working on this project. But now is the time to start pushing to get everything ready for my indie comic con debut *sparkles sparkles*

 

I’ve decided to go with the romance story, as it is much shorter, and I have done a lot of development for it. So… drumroll please… my next comic will be called Tokyo Story (or Tokyo Heart Story). As the title implies, I’ll be drawing on my experiences in Japan, but the focus will actually be more on relationships and looking into how we fall in love. It’s the kind of story I can play in all day, and I cannot wait to show you all! After SPX, the debut of the webcomic version of it will be sometime in October. I haven’t set an exact date yet, but I will be talking about it a lot in the weeks to come!

Process: ALE-vent Calendar

Ale-vent CalendarSo in the month long hiatus, a lot of things happened. In my last post, I mentioned my new job, which is still keeping me busy. But then there was also a few secret projects thrown in the mix during the end of October, and entire month of November, some of which I can’t share just yet. I may have also been introduced to Dragon Age: Origins, and put a shameful amount of hours into within two weeks. And yes, I am sure Alistair art is coming. Count on it.

This is one of the projects that I can talk about (Hooray!). About two weeks ago, a friend of mine approached me with the idea of making an advent calendar, with beer– hence, the ALE-vent calendar. While I’m not a beer drinker, I really liked the idea. After a long conversation on what the advent calendar’s illustration would become, we agreed on an old-time-y illustration something in the vein of Art Nouveau– which could be argued has been played out recently, but sue me, I’ve been an admirer of the style since I got into art and have been a Mucha fangirl for many, many years.

I was so into the idea of the calendar, that I also offered to help assemble the three boxes of beer into their advent-ness? (is that a word??) My friend did most of the leg work for gathering materials and taking measurements, but he wasn’t sure how it would work or how we would go about preparing it– so that’s where my old 3-D art classes came in handy!

 

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So before starting anything, I gathered all of my materials and made precise mock-ups of how the top would fit on the boxes.

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And when gathering the materials, that meant also gathering the beer. There was so much beer…

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Because this was an ambitious project that took a bunch of space up, no inch of space was spared, including my bed, when we were in the processes of printing and testing how things would work. The illustration was printed out on large Bristol paper, which, when double layered with the template paper for cutting the openings, I thought would be strong enough.

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A final print mock-up measurement sheet of where the tabs would be cut was measured out and triple checked.

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We attached the illustrations on the Bristol paper to the paper with the cutting template using a spray adhesive. Since the boxes needed to hold for a bit, not to mention cutting with an x-acto knife, the glue was spayed twice, and allowed to get tacky before we attach it. Then it was time to cut out the boxes for the beer!

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Everything all cut and ready to go on top of the box!

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The tops were then taped down to the box, and then wrapped around the sides in wrapping paper. Since I am awful when it comes to wrapping things, that was left to much more capable people. (Seriously, never ask me to wrap any presents– you will be disappointed).

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And here’s the final product, with the sampling of beer for the first night of the Ale-vent!

Resources Roundup #2: Electric Boogaloo (of random)

I’m running behind on my writing this week, as I have been laid up for the last few days with mysterious stomach pains. I got an ultrasound today, and I’ll find out if anything is wrong tomorrow. Sounds ominous, but the lady who gave me the ultrasound told me frankly, if there was something terrible, she’d let me know she was going to call my doctor immediately. So that’s a plus. Doc thinks it might be my gallbladder, but sent me into get tests to double check. I’m sure you want to know all this delightful health stuff!

Anyway, because of this, I haven’t really gotten a good draft of a new writing topic, so here’s a resource list (it’s been so long since I made one!) of some articles/sites that I’ve read recently and were really helpful for the art things in my life right now.

How to Bounce Back After Burning Out
Because we’ve all done it, and while it’s better to identify the problem before it happens, most of the time we can’t until we are already smack dab in the middle of burn out. This article will explain the warning signs, and what to do after it sets in. Very helpful, as I tend to stress myself out too frequently…

Illustration Friday
Okay so I might be the only person who hadn’t heard of this challenge. If you are unfamiliar with it, a new challenge is cast every Friday. Usually it’s just a word to get your old artist noggin to start thinking about things. For people like me, who need some inspiration before starting a piece, this is just the ticket.

Sheilah Beckett: A Fairy Tale Career
A nice career review of one of my favorite female artists, Sheilah Beckett. This article goes incredibly in-depth of Beckett’s career and shows the range of work she did throughout her life-long career. Keep an eye out for her fairytale style work. It’s gorgeous.

Plan an Ergonomic Workstation
I’m still in the planning stages of the art studio (don’t ask), so I’ve been reading up on ergonomic set ups. Chances are, the art studio is going to have a standing computer desk, with my art stool as a chair if needed. Hopefully, next week things I can move forward with my plans.

Marinara Timer
While I don’t use the Marinara Timer, I use the Pomodoro Timer that is also available on this site (under Timers). The technique is simple: work for 25 minutes, take a five minute break. Repeat four times, but on the last round, take a fifteen minute break instead. I’ve used this method of working for a long time, although I didn’t know there was a name for it! I always used episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 as a timer, as the shows roughly are broken down in those periods– but a lot of the time I don’t break like I should. Having a timer that chimes to tell me to stop working is very nice indeed because I listen to the chime! I used this technique last week in drawing, and it was the first time in a long time I didn’t have shoulder, back, and hand cramps after a looooong drawing session, because I got up every break and used my five minutes for stretching and jumping jacks.

On Failure

A few weeks back, my friend Fredrik sent me this great email about failure and how to overcome the inner critic. The email was so awesome, and so inspirational, I asked if I could post it on the blog. So, with his permission (and a few edits to a few remarks about conversations we’ve had), here is his email. Read, be inspired, and go create something!

 

Hi.Your last blog post got me thinking a bit. I posted my suggestion to go for broke on a comic project, but didn’t really elaborate on why. That was because the reasons are difficult to summarize in an online comment, and I knew that if I started to go into details I would ramble on for far too long and construct a mammoth message of dubious intelligibility. I actually find this stuff fascinating, so I’ve decided to go ahead and construct the message anyway, only in the form of an e-mail. In the hopes that you will also find it interesting or even helpful, I’m even going to send it and subject you to it as well. These ideas are drawn from a ton of random articles and things I’ve read over the years, and I’m going to include some of them for context. You’ll probably be too busy to actually go through all this junk, but if you ever feel demotivated and are actively seeking out distractions, maybe this will at least be a little more on topic than random facebook spam. I don’t know if any of these points will actually be new to you, but a reminder could still be helpful.So, what I’ve been hearing from you is that this project is something you want to do and the main obstacle (life distractions aside) is a creative block. Further, that this creative block likely stems to a significant extent from a fear of failure. How, then, to overcome this fear of failure? One possible angle is to change the way we look at failure.

All this is essentially an exercise in perspective. To that end, before focusing on failure, let’s try to establish what is needed for success. Most of this is drawn from a blog called Study Hacks […] The primary focus of the blog is identifying paths to success for students and knowledge workers, so maybe not an obvious fit for your situation. However, what it’s really all about is learning to optimize your brain and environment for learning and training skills by maximizing impact and minimizing time and effort. That is something common to all areas of human achievement, so I think the concepts discussed here are both relevant and applicable, even if the specific examples are not always so.

Well then, how to achieve success in a creative enterprise? Everything I’ve read on the topic points to the magic ingredient being a highly developed, specialized skill. So far, so obvious, right? To do something awesome, you need to know what you’re doing, and once you know how to do it you can keep doing it over and over again. But why do so many people go to such lengths to achieve great skill and so few accomplish it? This is where things get tricky.

A key component could be the application of what is here referred to as Deliberate Practice. In essence, it’s not enough to simply work hard at learning, you have to do the right kind of work. Moreover, if you’re doing this type of work you’ll end up needing to spend less time doing it to get results. Apparently this type of work is difficult by definition – if it doesn’t actually feel awkward and difficult, you won’t get the same benefits. What it boils down to is that to achieve the skills necessary for great success it’s not enough simply to practice what you already know – you need to be constantly pushing yourself by focusing on the things that are difficult. And if you’re focusing mostly on things that are difficult, it should not be surprising to find that you’re going to fail. A lot.

What all this means to me is that you are simply going to fail. Period. You’re going to fail, I’m going to fail, everyone is going to fail. Whatever project you, or I, or anyone attempts, it is always going to fail, in that it won’t be as good as it possibly could. But that is exactly what you want. Any activity that includes the possibility of failure can be turned into an opportunity for deliberate practice. So whatever your next project happens to be, and whatever point in your career you happen to be at, don’t see it as an opportunity to succeed and show the world how awesome you are. See it as a golden opportunity to fail repeatedly and as a necessary condition for making all your future projects that much more amazing because of it.

Now, obviously these methods aren’t some kind of silver bullet. It’s still entirely possible to fail without learning from it, and to learn without failing in some way (depending on your metrics for success). But I have found, for myself at least, that looking at challenges in this light takes away some of the sting of uncertainty. Maybe things won’t turn out the way you hope, but that won’t mean your time was wasted. More than anything, reading about the mechanisms involved in achievement in this way helps to bring them down to earth and seem that much more attainable – it’s not an epic struggle, more of a daily grind. Hopefully it will help you too.

I’ve also put together some thematically related TED talks, because I will take any excuse to go around watching those. These are less directly on topic, but have a similar underlying message.

Sting deals with writer’s block. Apparently no one is safe!
Everybody should be more wrong all the time!
Everybody is lazy and makes excuses!
Embrace your failures!

So, in short – if the only thing stopping you from pursuing this project is writer’s block, it seems like it would be a good idea to do it anyway and just try to power through it. A poor execution would be more beneficial than no execution, as long as you get some good practice out of it. And a product can always be improved later.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ve been through this sort of thing before. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I am quite curious what your take is on all of this.

My take on this was that this was an incredible resource, and I’ve already thanked Fredrik a bunch of times for sending it. Here’s to powering through and failing! … okay that sounded better in my head.