The State of Things – Summer 2016

Let’s get the sad news out first– I won’t be making it to Otakon this year. Last week I was having killer tooth pain. Went to the dentist to find out that I need to get a root canal, and due to a stupid insurance loophole, the first day I can get my root canal is August 11th, the day before the con. Not to mention the expense of the procedure¬†(over $1000) will require everything I’ve saved for the con (and so much more ulgh), being able to talk to people will not be in the cards that weekend either. So I made the call to not go this year. I’m really upset about this, because this is the last year of Otakon in Baltimore, and I’ve spent 17 years of my life going (almost) every year (I think I get a pass for the years I was in Japan ^^;;). But here’s to next year in DC~! As long as you can get to the con via Metro, I’ll be there :D

 

Now the serious announcement.

 

About a year ago, I made a choice. I was hot off of finishing the pages for NASA, and I needed to quickly decide what comic I was developing I would start as a webcomic for SPX. I had two projects “ready” and I had to choose which one to go with. I chose Tokyo Heart Story for a number of reasons. Now with a year of work under my belt, and only 13 pages to show for it…¬† I’m starting to think I made the wrong decision. It’s been a year since I started working on THS, and I’m still in the same corner I wrote myself in before even starting the comic. And it’s completely frustrating to me that I can’t make this story work, to the point every time I start to work on it again, I get stressed out all over again trying to make the pieces fit.

(But to be honest, I was nervous about it before I even launched it– the night before the site went up, I literally had a panic attack on how not ready I was to launch. This has been a constant state. I thought it was just nervous jitters, but now I know better.)

Mix in with all of that a crisis of the state of where my art is, and a drive to try to level up my drawing skills, and well, you get a mess.

Which is exactly what I feel like I am right now.

A hot mess.

So, I spoke with my circle of trust this week, and discussed the feelings and frustrations I have, and how it feels like this is holding up everything else in my life (both personal and creatively). They unanimously agreed that perhaps a hiatus would be a good choice– maybe even a permanent one. I’m not sure about that, but one of my friends suggested working on another project I have cooking for a while, and see if that either clears the block for THS, or takes over and well, then I have another project to work on. And I have to agree that sounds like a better plan. So for the next few months I’m going to be focusing on sharpening my skills, while trying to get some development work for a different series. And if I find myself starting to draw THS stuff again, all the better, right?

This decision was not one I came to easily, and I’m trying to take a positive look on this and not just have it be a project I quit. I love all of the characters dearly in THS (esp the last one that has yet to be introduced, despite being a main character T^T), not to mention the story is a very personal one for me. And maybe this is the root of my issue? Maybe it’s too personal of a story that I’m not ready to share with the world. Hmm.

 

Anyway, this blog will continue to be updated and all of you will be able to see what I’m working on. I’m trying to focus on next year, and the year after that. For the first time, I’m making a life plan. And it seems pretty great.

Thank you all for the support you’ve given me for the last year. I hope you will continue as I walk into this next chapter.

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.

 

 

Fear of Failure

It’s ironic that today marks a year ago(ish) that I wrote that really inspiring piece about picking your project and going through it, and how I was going to let nothing stop me from going through with my Super Hyper Pretty Magical Awesome idea. Okay, maybe not ironic. Let’s go with sad. Sad that I let practically everything stop me and I just tore it off the to-do list in favor of something else. And that was replaced by something else, and that was replaced by something else. Is anyone seeing a pattern here? Because I sure am.

Ever since I came to Japan, I have been incapable of finishing something. It’s kind of remarkable, considering how many projects I started and finished before I came here. I’ve recently started to question myself: Is it the lifestyle here? Is it because of stress? Have I lost my artistic voice? What’s wrong with me!? It came to a tipping point when my BFF here ran a 10K race that she’s been training for months for. And then it hit me that I have done exactly squat from what I’ve set out to do. Yes, I have been doing well with illoLife RPG, but have I really been pushing myself enough towards my goals? Have I pushed myself as much as I should have? I leave in four months, and I wanted to come back to the states with a plethora of work, and just jump right into the freelance market.

Am I even close to that? The answer is a resounding no.

I would have let myself get deeper into self loathing about this, were it not for the fact that I started listening to the Scriptnotes podcast this week, and I happened upon episode 131: Procrastination and Pageorexia, in which they talked about writer’s fear, and how procrastination can really build into a fear of failing. And as I was listening to this, I realized that this was exactly what I was doing.

All of this has been a good wake up call, because I have been terrified of finishing the project I was, well, working on, but am not at the moment. It’s a comic short that would turn the damsel in distress troupe on its head. The more people I tell about it, the more confirmation I get from people that, yes, I need to make this so they can read it. So the pressure builds up, and I freeze up, afraid that whatever my next move will be, will ruin everything that I’m striving for. But at least I understand that it’s fear that is holding me back, nothing more. I have the skills, I’ve honed my talent. I just need to get back into the pool without worrying that I’m going to drown.

I will overcome the fear.

I need to work harder, and I need you, faithful readers, to hold me acountable. Get on my case! Don’t see new art from me for a while (which you haven’t), GET ON MY CASE. Demand new art! Demand the next comic! Do it, because I clearly need to get some cheerleaders to help me along.

Finding Your Dream

Should you base your dreams around what you wanted to be when you are eight? Yeah, probably not. Some kids want to be strange things when they are eight. Like aeroplanes. But there are people who find their passions when they are young and just stick to them. I wanted to be a comic artist. Yes, even since then. I was big time into Bone and Garfield when I was eight. I even drew my own comic strips (which my mom has hidden somewhere, despite my many calls for her to burn them). I’ve tried to distract myself from it numerous times. In high school, I just wanted to be an illustrator. I used to paint epic…ly horrible watercolors trying to learn the techniques of CLAMP and Takeuchi Naoko. My art teachers, bless them, saw potential in me and showed me as much as they could and gave me great opportunities within the community to showcase my stuff. At the same time, my parents convinced me that while sure art’s great, I would never make money (my dad was an artist, and only made money once he started goldsmithing)– so why don’t I take that writing flar and just study English? Which I did. I wrote my butt off, taking creative writing courses, and even majored in Shakespeare for a few semesters at my local college. But art was always there, in the back of my mind. I wanted to draw. I wanted to tell stories. Why couldn’t I do both?

Comics seemed the most natural decision when I finally let myself make it.

In order for this to make sense, I guess I should jump back like… 8 years. Back in the ripe year of 2006, I made my first trip to Japan with my two besties, Z and A. A used to live in Kyoto, and acted as our guide as we swept through Tokyo and Kyoto at a whirlwind pace, having the best adventures that we still tell to people about to this day. However, right before our trip, I was waiting to hear back from the two colleges that I applied to: SCAD and UMD. I applied to UMD with the intentions to enroll in their East Asian studies program (what was expected of me) and SCAD to go pursue my love of art and comics (what I wanted).

The trip was amazing. We saw so many things, ate so many things, and bought soooo many things. It was my first time abroad and it was eye-opening. Japan was so different, yet so the same. It was everything I expected, and yet in no way as I expected. At that time, my love for anime and manga was weigning, but it was still there– I wasn’t just grabbing onto any new series out there (something that I thought was a temporary thing, but little did I know…!), but I still loved the atmosphere of Japan. Going to Japan had been my dream throughout middle and high school, and then I was LIVING IT. It was amazing!

Upon coming back from Japan, I learned that I was accepted to both schools. And then I had to make a choice. It wasn’t a matter of money, because with scholarships and the like, both schools would have ended up costing me the same, and I would have to pay the rest in loans anyway. Now fresh from this trip, you would think that I just jumped in and went “WOOO! UMD!! I’M GOING TO LEARN ALL THE JAPANESE!” but I didn’t. That trip opened my eyes to a lot of things. 1) My time in Japan made me realize that while learning a language in a classroom was great and all, I had more growth in that area while in the country, than I had when studying on my own from books and audio lessons for like 5+ years. 2) However, what I had studied HAD been useful, so if I continued on my own, and tried to push myself harder in my studies, I could continue to learn the language without the need for classes. 3) Even if I mastered Japanese, living there permanently would not be something I could do. My family priorities are too strong to move away forever.

So, after a long discussion with my parents, we all came to the same conclusion. Art was something I really wanted ever since I was very young. I had the talent and drive, but I needed more training. I went to SCAD. Two and a half years later, got my degree in comics (went to Japan again as part of an exchange), moved back home and… went back to work for the same company I worked for before I left for college.

In my defence, I graduated in the Spring of 2009… NOT the best time to be entering the art job market. I did, however, continue to do comics on the side, when I could. I loved it so much, but my day job was draining me so much, I felt less and less inclined to work on comics in my downtime. It finally came to an apex in 2011, and I decided to take a shot in the dark and go for a job in Japan. If anything, for a change in perspective in my life, a jumpstart. And boy, was it one.

Now that I have been here for almost two years, and I’ve had a great time, I’m looking forward to the future again, returning home. And in my return, I want to hit the ground running. Comics. Comics. Comics. If there’s anything I’ve learned in this time, it’s that I find an inner peace while I am working on comics, no matter how much I bitch and moan about inking and thumbnailing (which I do… a lot).

I’m tired of consuming, I want to produce.

I will not allow myself to go home and be comforted once again by the mundane.

I will struggle, and it will SUCK, but I need to do this. I feel it in my bones.

This is my dream.