In Which There is a Summer Convention Wrap-up!

With Inktober so close to the horizon (two days away omgerd!), I’m finally sitting down and working on typing up a wrap-up for the last two months of conventions. And yes, this is absolutely a case of me putting this off way too long up to the point that I can’t wait any longer if I’m going to get this done, SO HERE WE GO!

Otakon 2017

Me and my table at Otakon 2017Ah, my old friend, Otakon. I am probably one of the few who was completely jazzed that the convention was moved to DC, because not only is it easier for me to get to, it’s location is prime for delicious foods that I normally don’t get (also, any excuse to get to ride the Metro is a good excuse).

It’s been six years (!!!) since I’ve had a table at an anime convention, so I will admit I was very nervous about what to expect. Especially since I purposefully have stripped all fanart from my table– and knowing that fanart is pretty much the bread and butter of an anime artist alley.

My Dragon Age Nerd ShowingHowever, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout of sales. They were lower than I hoped, but higher than I expected– if that makes any sense. I had a lot of people stop by the table and want to talk shop– specifically about my watercolors and my technique. This gives me hope for my goal for next year– starting to stream (or at least record) my painting.

I also had a lot of awesome Dragon Age fans stop by my table and talk Dragon Age to me (well, I did have a sign after all). It felt me feel more in touch with the convention– as I am hopelessly out of date with what anime fans watch these days. I like YOI just like everyone else, but other than that? Yeah, I’m probably not into it and/or haven’t even watched it. Most of my fandoms have always been on the outside of what is “popular,” so I’m used to that. But boy, did I feel it more than ever at Otakon this year.

A commission in progress
A commission in progress

I was completely wrong in my assumptions of what items people would want. I thought my holographic posters would have flown off the shelves like hotcakes, but I didn’t sell one. I was completely shocked. Everyone commented on how pretty it was, but no one wanted it. It could of been a case of pricing?

Another thing I thought was going to be popular was the makeup bags. And again, I was completely wrong. Not one sold. People were far more interested in the tote bags, which I sold out of, and just glanced over the makeup bags.

Finished commission
Finished commission

The most popular thing, however by far, were commissions. I got so. many. My only conclusion for all of this is that, my art style was appealing to people– just not the prints I was selling? Or the prices? And it’s not really a case where you can go up to people and be like “IS IT MY PRICES? ARE THEY TOO HIGH?” without having them run away screaming for security.

Walking around the alley, my prices pretty much matched with what else I saw, so it was just confusing. It could also be a case of people willing to pay a price for fanart of a character they know and love, but not so much for an original character they have no connection to.

The whole table, for now, was a lot of space for me. But it was nice being able to spread out, and also having table room for doing the commissions. I didn’t feel cramped in the slightest– and I really liked the idea of not being boxed in by an overhang display.

Final Thoughts

Next year, more totes, less posters. Also, apparently people don’t really go to flip through portfolios anymore, so I have to think up a different display. Commissions were my bread and butter here, so maybe also next year, I don’t need to make as many prints. Utilize your space better, maybe by setting up the stuff for sale on one side, then leaving the other half for a display of me drawing/painting?

Small Press Expo

SPX set-upSPX was a separate beast all to itself. Instead of having an entire table, I had 1/4 of a table– which became clear very quickly was not enough room. The wire set up also blocked me out completely, which made it hard for people to see that I was there, or you know, talk to me.

Back in the Spring, when I ended up not getting a table in the lottery, I pretty much resigned myself to focusing on illustration and portfolio stuff for the rest of the year. And so I did just that, finishing at least one illustration every month. Little did I know, my pal Spenser ended up offering to share his half table. But I got that invite less than three months before the convention. My summer was super busy with a new job and commission web work, which left me with no time to plan, much less draw, a new zine for the expo.

I was zineless at a zine event.

You can guess how well that went.

Spenser peddling our wares
Spenser peddling our wares

I’ll just come out and say it– it was kind of a disaster for me. Sales really were bad for me. The only thing I really sold were, again, the tote bags. I sold out of tote bags within the first two hours of the show!

Since I knew I didn’t have much to offer comics wise, I figured that sales wouldn’t be great, so I didn’t have a hotel room. In trying to save money, I ended up driving back and forth from my house, an hour plus drive. It was really draining to know after a day of very slow sales, I had a long drive to still go home before I could finally sleep. Yeah, it wasn’t great. Not doing that one again. Hotel rooms ftw!

But that’s not to say the entire show was bad for me. I had great conversations and met some awesome people– like Nilah Magruder, who is an amazing artist, and my new favorite person (psssst check out her art). Also Gale Galligan, who I hadn’t seen since SPX 2015, had some adorable zines that I picked up and just devoured. They are so cute. Not to mention, I made a fool of myself fangirling over HamletMachine and her art (I’ve been a Starfighter fan since it’s launch so many years ago ;_;) . It was also great to hang out with Spenser again. He and I haven’t seen each other since before I moved to Japan, so it was great being able to see him and catch up. I may have also ruined Civil War for him, but shhhhhh don’t bring it up.

And that’s the point of SPX, right? To chill with your friends and get some comics? So, despite how bad sales were for me,  I can’t help but love the vibe of SPX. I look forward to it every year, and I will definitely try again for the lottery next year.

Final Thoughts

TOTE BAGS. I will have at least two more designs for tote bags by SPX next year, if not more. Not only do people want them at the show to carry their goods around, they are a great way to get my art around a very crowded artists’ room. I also saw a lot of amazing zines this year, and I want to be able to have some of my own next year. Short stories/comics are a huge weakness for me, and I need to face that weakness head on, and challenge myself to knock some out before the next SPX. I’m aiming for two, along with a sketch zine, but if I can do more than that, great!

 

So I guess that’s my next year’s worth of art planned out!

October 1st marks the beginning of Inktober. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be posting each illustration every day, or doing a weekly/biweekly dump. I guess it all depends on how busy the illustrations keep me. I’ve made some of my best stuff in past Inktobers, so I am really looking forward to it this year.

So that’s it for conventions for 2017. Until next year…

Have nugs, will travel
Have nugs, will travel!

 

Playing to Get Work Done

sketchbook00001In my last post I discussed how Juicy Ink’s 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge inspired me to stop the excuses and start working in my sketchbook again. This was kind of important to me in finally letting myself do some ugly drawings– which is a problem I’ve had since before art school.

In my mind, I want everything to be beautiful, and if it doesn’t meet a certain criteria in my head, I just stop working on the piece. Now while there is some kind of argument in being efficient and leaving a piece before working it into the ground attempting to get it to work, I have been so hesitant to make anything not “beautiful” that I’ve stayed in a very comfortable box of always using the same materials (which I am very familiar with) and using the same techniques over and over and over, and you can see why part of the reason I was having art block was that I was stuck very much in a rut. Juicy Ink’s videos showed me a way to get out of that by getting out of that comfort zone by trying to approach materials with a different perspective.

Before my art block hit me very hard, I was playing with toned paper, as I saw a slew of artists I admire starting to use it for sketches. I didn’t get very far experimenting with it then, but I liked the idea of toned paper– so I took that idea, drug out an ooooooooooold pack of Prismacolor markers (some of which were gelatinous, which was very gross), and made some toned paper of my own in my Moleskine sketchbook. The markers bled like crazy, but I didn’t care. I wanted to play, and if that meant I was going to make a mess, then so be it! And thus a punk Sailor Moon was born.

And the thing is, it didn’t matter to me that the anatomy was whacked as anything– or that I squished so many things onto the paper making everything even more wonky. I had fun. Not only did I have fun, I felt inspired. Which was not something I had felt in a long time.

 

sketchbook00002

Taking that inspiration and rolling with it, the very next day I used the same technique on the very next page, this time in yellow marker (the only other marker that was working well), and basically drained it covering one and a half pages with it. And just started drawing. It takes me so long to just draw, I loved how quickly I could just leap into getting an idea down and putting it to paper. Normally, this is such a struggle for me, I will waste hours trying to think of how to pose something before I even touch the pencil to paper. This was game changing. I started playing more, experimenting with pencil and colored pencil to see what it would look like instead of inks– on the yellow it looked amazing— and then decided to see what would happen if I used my white gel pen, and boom! I got a great three tone technique that I could accent with colors.

 

I finally found the thing that clicked.

 

But, as I mentioned, the markers were solidifying, so continuing to make pictures like this using the Prismacolor markers wasn’t really an option. But really, those markers were almost 15 years old. I’m amazed they made it that long. Using my Copic were out, because coloring large swatches of color are very good ways of killing Copic Sketch markers in a hurry.

Enter Copic Wides.

 

image1

I love these markers so much. They are the perfect color palette for me, and they are so versatile in what they can do.

I’m not sure why I like this technique, but it gets me drawing without fussing. It might be the patterns that just emerge in the block of color? When I make a solid swatch of color, there just isn’t any of the blank page hesitation that I usually struggle with– and it might be something so simple as that, but it has really helped me. I’ve started to play with the shapes in the marks that are made and suddenly, I have an idea for a drawing. So instead of waiting days/weeks to open my sketchbook until I have a perfect idea to sketch, I’m opening my sketchbook daily and playing with colors and shapes until I have an idea. And really, I think some of this experimentation has lead to stronger work then I have done in recent months.

IMG_3587

 

I’m still trying to figure out how I can hone the technique into a finished piece, as the solid color swatches give the drawings a rough, unfinished, feel to them, but I love the raw energy that the marker strokes lend to anything I draw on top. I need to work with it more, push a little further, but I feel as if I have made a real breakthrough here. I might finally be finding my artist’s voice in all of this experimentation.

 

 

So many things.

So watching a blinking cursor doesn’t get a blog entry written. If it did, I would have so many missing blog entries written.

It’s been six months since my last blog entry, and so much has happened, and yet so little?

I’ve worked through a tremendous art block, worked on pages like a madwoman, gotten incredibly sick, re-injured myself, and I could go on and on. Like I said, a lot.

But instead of cramming everything into one blog entry, I’m going to try to spread things out a little bit so I have, you know, other blog entries to write in the next coming weeks.

 

So how did you break out of your art block?

In some ways, I’m still kind of in it if I’m going to be honest. But I stumbled upon Juicy Ink’s 30 Day Sketchbook Challenge (which you can watch in all one convenient playlist here) just as she started it, and went through the journey with her, and realized 1) I too have not been giving my sketchbook the attention it needed, 2) I haven’t played with any new techniques in quite a while, 3) I was going a little crazy constantly working in black and white and I desperately needed to play with some color 4) If I didn’t start to try to break this block, I would be SOL when it came to summer convention time (which *cough cough* is coming up very quickly on my heels, compounding the pressure to produce things, making the block all the worse).

anatomy001Because I was struggling with some anatomy on the pages of TS, I decided to focus on that to begin with. Most mornings for the last two months, I’ve spent around half an hour doing anatomy studies ranging from one to five minute sketches. But not without guidance. I’ve been re-reading the Loomis books in my spare time and taking notes. This has resulted in a 100 page sketchbook almost being filled in this time– which is something I haven’t been able to do since SCAD.

The massive improvement under these few weeks of dedication cannot even be expressed. But the more important part is that it allowed me to make some ugly drawings, which is something that I don’t normally do. I usually will abandon a drawing if things look wonky the instant it does, but I forced myself to at least finish it, and then identify what went wrong.

Things I learned:

  1. I draw heads small to over compensate my tendency to draw heads big when I’m working without a reference. This is something that I will never understand why I do, but I’m getting better at keeping the head size consistent with the rest of the body.
  2. gesturestudies001I draw too fast sometimes. I start to rely on what I know, and not what I’m observing. I used to be much better about this, but I think it’s because I have such a limited amount of time to work on things now, so I don’t want to waste time observing (perish the thought!) and that’s a really bad habit to get into– thus I’ve spent most of this time trying to get myself OUT of that habit. Because of my short time allowance for art, I also start to get impatient with anatomy studies after about 30 minutes. It’s staggering to think I used to take a two and a half hour class on it twice a week in college, and now here I am struggling to make it half an hour. Is it my attention span? Is it because I want to work on other things? When did doing such basic studies become so hard to do?
  3. My anatomy skills are even rustier than I thought, and I need to keep this up.

 

But that was just the beginning. Next, it was time to mix it up a bit– which I’ll talk about in my next entry.

 

In Which I Say, “Hello, it’s me” and a Year In Review

The end of the year seemed to come in a flash! It seems like it was just last week that I was at SPX and launching TS, and now it’s the end of the year! It’s crazy! Of course, health problems and a bunch of work will make the time flash away like that. October and November were terrible for me, to the point that I had to put the webcomic on hold until I got a better hold of my health. That finally obtained, TS will start up again in the new year. I was going to have it start again in January, but because I really want to have a strong return (not to mention a good backlog if this happens again), it will be coming back on Valentine’s Day because I am a huge sap like that.

imageI was looking back at my post from the beginning of this year, and I almost laughed, because I was still marveling that I finally had my art studio set up, but there were still things I wanted to adjust in it. Like those curtains! but it pretty much looks the same today as it did then, except with more paper clutter and various projects in process spread everywhere. And those curtains are still there. But even more hilarious was at this point, I still didn’t know for sure if I was going all of this in vain or not. But, this year I had my comic debut and everything about that is still super surreal. I hold the physical copies in my hand, and just stare, thinking “I made this. You made this, Aja. And it was during one of the hardest times of your life. You can do anything from here!”

While I didn’t talk about it much, I lost one of my grandmothers this time last year, and another in March. They were so supportive throughout my art education and ambitions, and my biggest cheerleaders throughout all of this. I’m sad they aren’t here, but I know they are proud of me. I just wish I could share this with them.

And now I’m crying.

Onto happier things! Or, more sobering things? End of the year means making a plan for the next. Whenever I make these art plans, I always feel bad, because I tend not to follow them, as something unexpected gets thrown in my path. This year, I’m going to try my best to see these through. Some of these are going to get very business-y and may seem a little dry, but I’m trying to shift to working on art full-time, so that means I have to put a lot of work in behind the scenes. I love creating, and I want to get to a place where I can get paid to do what I love– because isn’t that all what we want?

  1. Social Media Presence
    Facebook
    If you follow me on any social media, then you know I’ve been leaning towards certain platforms this year. After closing my personal Facebook account completely, I established a fan page instead, which goes really neglected right now, save for the updates I do here, which automatically are sent there. This is something I need to work on in the new year, somehow. Facebook still gives me a headache, but it’s hard to deny that a lot of traffic I get to my portfolio is from there. Which means actually putting effort in to keeping it updated. And it also means I may have to reopen a personal account, if only for upkeep purposes. It’s a slippery slope, and I am wary about it.

    InstagramIMG_3183
    Instagram was a surprise this year. I started an account late last year, because so many artists I like also had accounts– but mine has been a joy to keep. It makes it so easy to take progress pictures and share them with people. I love looking at the progress of other artists, as you get a little peak into their process, and I like to share mine to show people how much work goes into my illustrations (see any watercolor painting I’ve ever done haha) I really love taking pictures for it. While the platform can get a bit spammy, I enjoy it because it’s more picture heavy, like Tumblr used to be. I’ll be focusing more on Instagram in the new year, even more so than I am now. I’m going to try to experiment a bit with posting schedules (is posting every day too much? twice a week?)

    Twitter
    Ever the Twitter addict, I’ve managed to double my followers this year– and while a handful of them are book bots, most of them are actual people who converse with me. I met so many amazing people this year because of Twitter, and I’m so thankful for it. It’s connected me to other comic artists, lost classmates, and friends in Japan. While people look at me strange when I tell them I’m not on Facebook, Twitter has more than filled that void of communication for me.

    Tumblr
    I don’t know if it’s that the honeymoon is over, or that I won’t allow myself to get lost on that site for hours at a time anymore, because it’s a huge time suck, and I have so many other time sucks in my life, but I haven’t been using Tumblr as much anymore. Right now TS is hosted on Tumblr, but I am in the process of shifting that over to WordPress, as soon as I have a week to scream at my screen about how none of the css and html makes any sense. I still go over to Tumblr and play for an hour or so– I use it a lot for clothing ideas, art inspiration, you know all the things you are supposed to use Pintrest for, but I just haven’t found myself posting much on it anymore. I may need to give it another shot in the new year, as it is a great platform, but it just takes so much of a time investment.

    This Blog
    I know I was really really slack in my updates this year. This comes from no longer having a day job where I have loads of free time to brainstorm ideas to write about. But I know I’ve been neglectful of this blog this year, and I need to rectify that. I’m playing with ideas of monthly entries of a running theme. Like watch a movie once a month, review the storytelling elements; read a comic, review it; buy art supplies, review it. Basically reviewing things. I haven’t decided if this is something I want to put here or not, mainly because I’m not sure if people would want to read it or not. The art supplies, I know people would be interested in, as I try out so many things– but the others? Is there interest?

  2. Working on Tokyo ♥ Story and upping my page count
    A lot of my focus will be here. For the first quarter, the comic will be having monthly updates until a sufficient backlog is established. You know, follow all of that webcomic advice you got before you started, Aja? Launching the webcomic was a scary step for me, because I really wasn’t ready to launch it, but I couldn’t bring the book to SPX and then say “okay now wait three months before you get the next page,” but that’s what ended up happening anyway due to my health problems, so I kind of shot myself in the foot there. 100% my fault, and I need to resolve that. Along with pages, I want to get new illustrations and new character studies done for the series, because right now I am working off of designs that are six years old, that I’ll update in a very quick pencil sketch. I need to give this series the time and focus I should be.
  3. Working on Portfolio Illustrationsreyreyrey
    As crazy as it sounds, I do get burnt out with doing comic pages sometimes. When that happens, I need to not just step back from everything for days on end, and instead focus on other things. Like new illustrations. I had a blast this Inktober, even though I didn’t do all 31 days, I tried my best, and really pushed myself in inking and coloring styles. I need to push myself more like that. If that means picking a theme and going with it, like I did with Inktober, then that’s what I need to do.
  4. Learning
    This year I’m also going to make sure that I take time out every week and invest some time into learning and trying to up my technique. Watching tutorials is all well and good, but what I really need to do is take that knowledge and start applying it. I think it’s also time to go through the Loomis books again and work from there. My figure drawing has been lacking lately– like a lot, and I need to work on that. Loomis has always helped in that regard. And if I can tie in some of this work with getting some portfolio illustrations done, even better! I need to play more, to experiment more, and thus learn more.
  5. Shorts
    And to stack further work on top of my shoulders, I would like to finish two more comic shorts in 2016. Not super long stories, but stories no longer than 10 pages or so. I’ve always struggled with telling stories in short form, and that’s something I want to get better at. This does not include the Dragon Age parody comics I’ve talked about for the last year, that I have outlined, but done nothing with =_=

So much for keeping things simple! But they are goals, not things set in stone. I didn’t know I’d be working half a year on a comic last year at this time, and I’m not going to pass up an opportunity if it presents itself again. Basically, next year I want to strive to continue to create and start pushing myself out of my comfort levels. Wow, there you go, all summed up in one sentence.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

 

 

 

Rolling With the Punches

When talking to people about attempting to get work as an artist, there’s an aspect to it that really sucks– and that is the turn down. Sometimes, it comes in the form of a nicely worded email that keeps the door open for the future (the best kind!). Sometimes, it’s the shutdown email. And then there’s the worst of them all, the no reply– where you send in your stuff for something, and then you never ever hear back. Like your email or application was lost to the internet ether.

I’m here to tell you to not lose hope. Keep trying! But there comes a point when several “nos” will make you start to think there is something wrong with you, your art, or your approach.

The latter is the easiest to fix. When you send that email, fill in that application, or what have you, try to look at it with fresh eyes– or better yet, grab someone and get their opinion. It might have nothing to do with you or your art, but it could be that you are not giving a clear presentation.

If it isn’t your presentation, then it might just be one of the other two– and that’s when you have to start asking yourself some hard questions that not everyone wants to answer. If your art is not to snuff, then work on it. Do more! Level up yourself!

But don’t forget to keep on sending out those applications! Even if you are not sure your art is up to snuff– send in that application anyway. Who is it going to hurt? Be brave, send that application!

As in all things, it requires balance! It’s easy to focus too much on leveling up and never apply to anything or too much on sending out your work and never focus on bettering your art. Don’t lose balance. You can do both at the same time!