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.

 

 

Tearing Parts of Me and You – Process Write-up

My watercolor arsenal.
My watercolor arsenal.

I’ve had a few private emails asking me about my painting process, so I thought I would do a write-up on my newest piece, which was mostly an ink wash, but I take the same approach when I do watercolors. So here we go!

My supplies have been gathered from years of trying different things. My brushes especially are a hodgepodge of brushes I bought in school (yes, if you get good brushes and take care of them you can use them for a loooong time), came from recommendations of friends, or were just really good deals online that I couldn’t say no to and ended up being a really good brush. My paper is a paper I bought here in Japan. This project was my first time using it, and I really liked it. It’s also the first time I’ve gotten watercolor paper on a block before, so it makes me feel very fancy! The ink is Maxon Comic Ink Black waterproof ink. When doing ink washes, it’s important that you make sure your ink is waterproof. But don’t always trust that if it says waterproof, that it actually is waterproof. You need to test it out on your own!

My main brushes are a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #5 (I have two, actually— one for inks only and one for watercolor only… I’ve had too many black inks leak into yellow paint >.>), an Escoda Prado #10, and a niiiiiice DickBlick brand Kolinsky Round #8 brush that is slowly becoming my favorite. With washes like this, my sumi-e brush gets used a lot too. I also keep frisket, a spritzer, and a huge wash brush handy at all times. There’s also a hairdryer, but with the effect I wanted for this painting, I used it sparingly. For a more wet look, sadly you can’t use the hairdryer that much– which means a lot of sitting and waiting for the painting to dry.

Because I don’t have a light-box here in Japan, after I finalized my sketch, I taped it, and my piece of watercolor paper to a window and used the olde sun as my light-box, careful to not press hard with my pencil.

 

Continue reading “Tearing Parts of Me and You – Process Write-up”

Your Own Creative Path

There’s a trap that artists fall into sometimes: that if they buy that one thing, they will be a vastly better artist. Buy some tool, program or book, and voilà! You have achieved a better status.

Sadly, this is something we all fall for. I’ll be honest, and admit that I do it all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because in human nature we want success to be easy or what. It’s not easy. It’s really freaking hard, in fact. It takes time, patience, and a crap ton of practice.

Let me tell you the story about second-year-college-art-student me. Second-year-college-art-student me was introduced to the amazing watercolor paintings Mike Mignola did for Hellboy. Already being inclined to work with watercolors, I was amazed by what I saw. I bought The Art of Hellboy book immediately, and stared at it for hours every day, trying to figure out his technique, because that’s how I wanted to paint. My only clue was that on the image notes, it said that the paintings were done using ink washes and watercolors. So I went to one of my professors and asked for him to explain how this magic happens. He taught me how to do an ink wash under-painting for watercolors. But after months and months of trying to replicate the look, I just could not figure out how Mignola did it in his art. Did he let the paper get super saturated? Did he let the ink pool? I spent hundreds of dollars on supplies (paper, paints, inks, brushes), trying to reach that same look, to no avail.

Now I’m not deriding buying supplies to improve your art. Buying new things can help you grow as an artist. I love buying new supplies to try new techniques, because I always try to learn something new. But that’s the key word there, isn’t it?

Learn.

You learn something, and then incorporate it into what you do. If you are buying things for the sake of instantly upping your art game, it won’t work. Going back to my Mignola story, after all of those months, I thought I had failed to grasp the technique. But in that time of practicing? I had made my own ink wash technique. It wasn’t Mignola’s, it was my own.

Buying that figure book and flipping through it won’t make you a better figure artist. Working through the book and doing the exercises in the book will help you learn how to be better (and if you have a figure book that doesn’t have exercises in it, consider getting a better teaching book). Dropping $700 on Photoshop is not going to do anything if you don’t actually learn how to use it well.

People always remark about how quick I am with Photoshop. I’ve been using the program as my main art program since 1999– with only dabbles with playing with Sketchbook in the last two years. That’s fifteen years of practicing with Photoshop, twelve of them solely working in Photoshop! And I still seek out new things to learn about it, and I will readily admit I still don’t know everything you can do with it. Just today, I learned how to use the offset to make patterns. It blew my mind that the function had been staring me in the face and I hadn’t figured out how to incorporate it.

Finding out what an artist you like uses to create art you like is a good way to point you in that direction. But don’t get carried away. Remember, there’s no single thing that will up your game. Buying the same paint and paint brushes that Vermeer used is not going to make you automatically recreate Vermeer’s works.

Only practicing your butt off and continuing to learn will get you there.

 

Drafting the First Draft of Drafting (a Draft)

The blank page. The blinking cursor. It’s judging you, you know. With every blink, it judges you for not typing. Or at least, that’s what every writer thinks. Okay so it’s what I think, stop looking at me that way!

There is a thing to be said about creating a tricking mechanism to get yourself writing. I’ve heard a technique where you prep everything on your computer, ready for writing, leave the room and do something else, only to come back to your writing area and surprise attack it with a flurry of words. Or something. I find that a really funny idea, but whatever gets you to write, then do it, man!

The important thing to remember is that when you are doing your first draft, is to remind yourself that it’s not going to be perfection. Most times, your first idea will be horrible anyway, and you’ll toss it in the garbage, especially if you were aiming for perfection on the first go around. You really should shoot for imperfection, because that’s really where the genius comes. You might be inspired to go in a completely different direction than you originally planned, and it might take you somewhere that is really new! “Perfection” is a lie… and a trap. A trap lie! When you aim to be perfect, you won’t have fun, and it will show in your writing. Things can always be revised and rewritten. You are not married to your first draft. In fact, when writing and comparing your first and last draft, they should be vastly different beasts. If not, you end up with things like the Phantom Menace, and really no one wants to be there. As a writer, you already have enough pressure to tell a story, but if you are trying to tell a GOOD story and making sure every plot connects and every character is valid in your first draft, you are setting yourself up to be helpless and to just stare at the screen until the screensaver comes on.

Don’t fear the blankness. Look forward to the adventure that awaits you. Your first draft is an anything-goes free-for-all. Don’t be held back by your fears or doubts. No one will see your first draft but you, so who cares how imperfect it is? So hit those keys, spell some words, and say goodbye to the blankness!