#WIPWednesday – Course Correcting Your Week

12794432_459798287536598_6311087460547566445_n It’s Wednesday, which means we’re half-way through the week! Wednesday is also a good time to look back at the first couple of days and reflect on what we’d like to do differently before the week is over.

For me, I constantly need to evaluate how productive I actually am, and compare it to how productive I want to be. I’m very susceptible to the Monday resolution fervor which (much like New Year’s resolutions) fills me with an all-too-brief burst of determination that quickly fizzles into almost nothing. Using Wednesday as a checkpoint helps me adjust, correct, and continue on my merry way!

Here are 3 questions I ask myself to see if I’m on the right track:

  1. Do I have deadlines to meet?
    I work extremely well under pressure (probably better than I do without it.) Deadlines give me a bit of an adrenaline rush that motivates (scares?) me into action. This rush tends to carry over into non-deadline tasks, giving me the motivation and determination to carry on. Give yourself some deadlines, and find a partner to hold you accountable!
  2. Do I feel regret?
    Probably connected to my love of ‘pressure’, I work hard to avoid regret than I do to earn reward. If I fail to earn a good thing, I can easily shrug and say “oh well, maybe next time”, whereas the fear of something negative happening (regret, frustration, etc) is harder to ignore. There’s no need to go overboard and terrorize yourself, but keep the consequences in mind as well as the benefits.
  3. Have I pursued my personal goals?
    In the busy day-to-day business of client work, professional development, a day job, and basic living-ness, it’s easy to feel like I don’t have time for personal projects. At the same time, however, setting aside time to work on my own goals helps me feel less like I’m simply drudging through the week and more like I’m actually making progress. Setting aside time for yourself gives meaning to the rest of your day!

How is your week going? More importantly: how do you want the rest of your week to go?

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Best Mom Advice Ever

 

“It wouldn’t be so hard if you did it more often.”

My mom has said this about laundry, cleaning my room, doing dishes, dusting and sweeping, mowing and raking, and exercise. Do it more often, and it gets easier.

After writing about habit in a previous post, this bit of Mom Advice occurred to me, and I had one of those moments (everyone has them) where you realize that your mom was right. She knew! How did she know? It also applies to creating!

Towards the end of last semester, I realized that I went days without writing or drawing anything creative. Once in a while, okay, but days? It’s very much like exercise; the longer you spend not doing it, the harder it gets to start again. So I made a conscious decision to make sure I draw (even just a little bit) everyday. To this end, I toooootally rearranged my desk so that my computer AND my hard sketchbook both fit comfortably, and are constantly accessible. (I technically have two desks, to be honest… a cheap one from my school’s architecture surplus and a cheap one from Wal-Mart.) I moved my files, binders, and notebooks to another spot in my room, so just drawing and writing materials are around me (plus some books on Renoir, Cassatt, and Degas). It. Is. So. Marvelous.

In fact, it’s so great that it has me ignoring one of my other good habits, which is going to bed before midnight. I now stay up late to draw, even if I was drawing all day. I write several paragraphs, and each day, the amount that I write grows. Daily practices are super hard to start, and it takes something like 30-40 days for a new habit to form. So what if you made a goal to draw or write for X hours a day?

It would get easier.

10 Good Habits for Artists and Writers

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These first 5 are day-to-day practices that I want to implement/get better at.

  1. Warm ups – I typically don’t do warm-up sketches or writing, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to do better… and it really works. My brain starts working, my hands start moving, and everything falls into an effective flow. Generally, I wait until I know exactly what I want to draw and then start. But that’s really hugely ineffective, not to mention stressful if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas.
  2. Studies – This goes for writing and drawing, I think. Trying to “render” (in pictures or words) something that really exists is great practice, but once again, I usually just sit around waiting for my muse to speak. (Muses don’t exist, btw. Sorry for bursting any bubbles.)
  3. Regular Work Sessions (and actually observe them) – Setting a regular time to write and draw helps your brain know when it’s time to get into a productive mode. Proof of this is when you wake up and know the difference between a day when you have to go to work/school, and a day when you have nothing to do. Your brain and your body act differently. With writing and drawing, it’s super helpful to give yourself some supportive structure for directing your process.
  4. Consider Audience – This is a big one and it means a lot of things… but for the most part, I forget about audience when I write and draw. It’s not so much a demographic that I’m concerned with, but am I giving my audience a story? Am I giving them something to remember? I always enjoy creating, but are other people going to understand why? Giving my audience enough narrative is really hard, but I think it’s really important.
  5. Be A Business Person – Freelancing is super awesome, if it works, but it only works if you make it work. Learning a bit about marketing and business-ing is HUGE, and a great deal of it can be done for free online. What blogs/comics are successful? Which ones have lots of interaction? What kind of Facebook posts get lots of attention? This may not be the fun part, but it’s important and it can potentially allow you to make more moneyz from the “fun part.”

These second 5 are attitude/emotional states I want to keep in mind.

  1. Love What You Do (No Matter What) – I was a cashier for a few years, and I know it’s hard to be passionate about something that isn’t in-sync with what you want to do with your life. But I think it’s important to develop an attitude of wanting to do things well, no matter what. Even if you love writing and drawing in general, there will always be days when you don’t love it. During that time, it’s important to want to do it properly. Whether you’re a cashier, a dishwasher, a janitor, a waitress, whatever: teach yourself to be passionate about a job well done, instead of just waiting for the ideal job to make you happy.
  2. Learn to CONSTRUCTIVELY Criticize Yourself – As a creative, I’m generally pretty hard on myself. It’s easy to point out my own mistakes and failings, and it’s easy to believe that everyone else is better. But that attitude can be turned into something positive, if I make it constructive. Looking at the work of others in an active way, really analyzing the work, I can learn about how and why those other artists are successful, and those skills can be implemented in my own work
  3. Be Your Own Advocate – Your family and friends will probably tell people you’re a great artist, when what they might really mean is that they love you and you happen to do art. But there is no one better than yourself for advocating your work. You’re the sole representative of your ideas, and it’s up to you to give them the presentation they deserve. Don’t treat your art based on how much other people love it: treat your art based on how much you love it.
  4. Immerse Yourself in Your Craft – This has been my biggest change over the last few months. I was generally a casual reader of comics until recently. Now I make it part of my schedule. Now I buy hardcopies, not just digital. I write down the names of writers and artists I like. I look them up later. Really immersing yourself in your art means just that: finding related material that will enhance your internal library.
  5. Find Your Watson (Since Muses Don’t Exist) – If you’re a writer or artist, you’re probably a bit crazy, and every crazy person needs a sane person who will be honest and kind at the same time. You’re Sherlock, and you need a Watson. The best part about Watsons is that they take the place of the non-existent muse. Watsons tell you (gently but firmly) that you need to work. They encourage you to do your best, and they call you out when you slack. They help identify good ideas from bad. Watsons also defend your reputation, no matter how dicey it may be, so that’s nice.

 

What are some good habits/practices you’d like to share?

The Case for Storytelling

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Virtually all of us have a natural instinct for telling stories, and it comes out in day-to-day conversation. When your car breaks down and you’re telling your friends about it, you don’t simply say, “I ran out of gas this morning. But my mom picked me up, and nothing else really happened, so I’m fine.” How does that story go?

You talk about your panic when the car lurches and suddenly halts. You talk about frustration when you finally notice the gas gauge. You describe the tone of your voice when you desperately call your mom, and you imitate her voice when you talk about her response. You describe the agony of waaaaaiiiitttting for her to show up, then the mini-lecture you get when she arrives, and then you might laugh dryly at how horrible your morning was. Possibly, you throw in a “And then…” and move on to parking issues, clocking in late, forgetting breakfast, etc. Your audience nods, sighs, groans, and laughs with empathy, and they ask “What did you do?” “What did she say?” “How did you get here?”

This is storytelling at its absolute finest. An animated narrator, and an enthralled audience.

But I think storytelling as an art is severely underrated. We all use it everyday, but when we think about pursuing it professionally (as a writer, artist, musician, singer, whatever), we tend to shy away from it, thinking either 1) we aren’t worthy or 2) it’s not worth it. I saw “we” because this is still my Achilles’ Heel. Calling myself a storyteller still takes quite a bit of a conscious effort, but actually trying to BE  a storyteller… how do you even do that? How do you go about this mysterious art that we all do so effortlessly in our routine dialogue?

I usually call myself an artist/writer or writer/illustrator, trying to get all of my media into some kind of  “slashed” or hyphenated title, when “storyteller” would basically cover everything I do, and everything I’ll ever want to do. Comics. Prose. Music. It all comes from storytelling. But I personally have a really hard time treating it that way. It feels like I’m trivializing what I do by simplifying the title. But in reality, I thinking calling it “storytelling” is really opening up a much bigger and (potentially) more complex field of study. It isn’t just drawing… it’s drawing a story. It’s not just writing… it’s writing a story.

So basically I’ve figured out what I’m doing, and it’s way more complicated, but I also kind of get it now.

Incidentally, here’s a GREAT blog/journal entry about how story can improve a portfolio: PascalCampion’s DeviantART Journal

How does storytelling influence your art and work?

Artsy-Fartsy Questions


MadameI put “fartsy” in a blog title. Ha.

In a previous blog post, I talked about asking the right question. I think that’s an easier concept for writers to think about questions. Visual artists have a harder time because they’re answering visual questions. For us, our questions don’t have “?” at the end, they just have the gut reaction of “something’s off.” And that’s just not much to go on.

So if you’re a draw-er, how do you learn to ask the right questions? That’s a good question. See what I did there?

In my previous post I mentioned that the right questions always lead to more questions, just like a detective mystery. The same thing goes for drawing and painting: Why doesn’t the head look right? Is it the eyes? The nose? Yes. How can I fix the nose? How do I draw a nose? What does a real nose look like? And then you do a study of a nose. Or if you’re a really good artist, you’ll do several studies. And never stop.

This line of questioning even works for more conceptual problems. Why is this drawing exciting, but this one is boring? Is it the way I colored it? The composition? Yes. It’s all horizontal. How can I redraw this scene with more diagonals? This page is jumbled and complicated. The characters? The camera position? The word balloons? Yeah. Simplify the dialogue. What parts of the conversation can I cut out?

This is what active thinking looks like. It’s crazy, and it can be really confusing until you find your rhythm. But once you really figure out how to think in terms of puzzle-solving and questioning, you don’t need to be conscious of it anymore. It just happens all by itself.

Have you ever tried seriously critiquing your old work? Not in a mean, self-hating sort of way, but really analyzing something, finding the issues, and finding the solutions?

Tolerating Discomfort


Mal and GarduneHere’s a scenario that I think most of us have experienced:

You notice something that needs done. Let’s just say the dishes need loaded into the dishwasher, and you just got back from work/school. Sometimes you just start doing the task, not realizing how cumbersome your coat and snow boots are making the process.

Or you have an idea you want to write down, so you lean over your desk and start jotting stuff down… and then you have more ideas, so you keep writing. Suddenly you realize that your back is killing you from bending over awkwardly, and you give up and actually sit down.

There are a lot of little parallels to this. You’re talking in the car, and you realize that the quiet buzz of the radio is driving you nuts. The itchy tag in your shirt is the reason you flipped out on another motorist. You got busy drawing, and the reason you have a migraine is because your drawing distracted you from your coffee.

In the wide scheme of things, I guess these are considered “small” problems. But sometimes, all it takes is something small to totally shoot your resolve to hell. Yes, I used “hell” in a blog post. I haven’t finished my coffee yet, because I’ve been writing. Gosh darn it.

I was reading a book called “Organizing from the Inside Out” last semester, and the author (Julie Morgenstein) makes a point of identifying problems before buying drawers, shelves, and plastic containers. Her approach to an organized life isn’t all about labels and color-coding: it’s about introspection and thought, revolving around what’s really slowing you down. So I’ve been applying it to myself, and it’s revealed quite a bit:

1. Yes, I’m a visual person. Which means: having visual stuff around me when I’m trying to draw is MASSIVELY distracting. So I moved my action figures and stuff off my desk, and moved my desk close to the window (instead of the wall with my dozens of DC comics posters.)

2. I love classical piano. Which means: I give it all (or most of) my attention when I hear it, so it *can’t* play when I work. Country, on the other hand, I love, but I can totally tune out.

3. I get antsy and irritable when I don’t draw anything for a day. So I carry paper and a pen/pencil with me everywhere. It’s habit I used to have, but then got out of. Derned self.

It really is the little things. So what’s a little issue that you tolerate? What really doesn’t seem to matter that much, but when you think about, makes functioning almost intolerable?

What’s your cup of cold coffee?

(Also, if you love me and even if you don’t, please vote for my webcomic, René! Just click the banner below!)

Writing From Life

Self PortraitI love life drawings. There is something so stunning and dynamic in a strong life drawing, something that no other drawing can portray. I love looking at them, but I also love making them. Putting real life on paper is almost ethereal sometimes… In fact, I love it so much that I’m retaking Figure Drawing this fall! It’s good practice, and it will help me build my artistic vocabulary.

My question is this: can I do the same thing with writing? What does “Life Writing” look like?

I’ve been thinking about ways to practice writing, and I’ve been considering this idea of life writing. I think of it as the process of describing what you see in front of you, at a live moment, and trying to capture that life in words. So here’s my first (conscious) attempt:

Just myself and my sister sitting at the table. I write, she reads. Her book is a somewhat thick paperback, “Atlas Shrugged” and she looks absorbed, except when she occasionally pauses to state some criticism or praise of the author.
“You don’t ‘chuckle’ in intense moments. You just don’t.” she says, briefly leaving the fictional world, but then quickly returning to it.

Our small, square table has a few copies of old Wall Street Journals on one side, and a half empty box of donuts on the other. Directly in front of me is my icing stained paper towel, my fingerprint covered Kindle Fire, and three of my newest purchases: Hawkeye, Bullseye, and Daredevil. The three little men are about four inches tall, but they cast much taller shadows, spanning from the edge of the newspaper where they stood, across the beige colored tabletop and onto the great donut box.
The tabletop itself has a few watery rings on it, left by the condensation from my double shot espresso. I notice how close the liquid was to the newspaper, and after a moment of blank consideration, I lazily wiped the water up with my crumpled paper towel.

The whole kitchen smelled like the new asphalt being freshly laid at the end of our slightly overgrown yard. Smoke rose from the road and hot tar. The smell doesn’t bother me quite as much as the incessant, rumbling hum of the machines. It’s like resting your head next to a running lawn mower.

I’m just waiting for my Amazon package.

It’s kinda weird. I think it might be even cooler at a school, store, library, airport, or something, where you could infer a but more story/narrative. I’ll have to give a shot sometime at one of my favorite coffee shops.