#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?


The 5 Worst Excuses I Give Myself

As an artist, there are a lot of things that I say to myself (sometimes without noticing) that make it really hard to work. It’s a habit of psychological “nagging” that cuts down on my productivity, but also my confidence. While I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the years (as I get more confident) there are still a few things that I think over and over that really slow me down. I’m hoping that making a deliberate list of them will help me ignore (or even not think) them.

  1. I don’t know if this will work… So I better not try it.
    This is a huge problem when I’m thinking about experimenting with my technique… I’m afraid that I’ll make something awful, so I just make nothing. Which is better than something “bad”? No.

  2. I don’t feel creative… So I’ll just sit and do nothing.
    This is certainly okay once in a while, but it very easily becomes a habit. I pretend that my lack of inspiration is totally “over-powering” me, and I’m helpless. What nonsense. You can make your hand move, even if you don’t have a reason to. So make it move!

  3. I’m not as good as that person… So why try to improve?
    That question should answer itself, but here’s the more detailed response: being intimidated can be paralyzing. However, recognizing the way in which someone has superior skills is a great way to teach yourself. Why is that person “better?” How do you think they got that way?

  4. It’s “just” a hobby. No big deal if I don’t take it seriously.
    Then don’t expect anything amazing to happen with it. Publisher don’t publish hobbies. They publish crafts. And don’t expect others to take it seriously. Carelessness shows.

  5. I’d be more dedicated/disciplined if I were getting paid.
    I have learned the (very) hard way that this is entirely untrue. You have to respect your work AS work before you start respecting it as a money maker. If you really make sure that Good Work is just as important Good Money, it’ll be much easier to work a job that a) sucks and b) doesn’t pay well. Not that you shouldn’t try to make more money, but try to always be satisfied with your handiwork.

I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Kansas City, MO as I finish this post up. Today I will be tested on my knowledge of typography and page layout. Tomorrow I will set up my computer and equipment, and Thursday I will compete to show off my design skills. Fasten your seatbelts, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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.

The First Time a Drawing Made Me Cry

I’m taking part in a challenge to try and improve my writing skills but also (and more importantly) my discipline. Please enjoy (or at least tolerate!)

In an art history class I took a couple years ago, we discussed whether or not paintings could make people cry. Certainly movies could, and some music. Books (OMG AMY’S EYES) too. But paintings? Pictures? I didn’t really think so. They were too static. Too predictable. Too stiff. Too unreal. I had favorite paintings of course, and a short look around this site shows how much I love painting, drawing, and illustration. But crying?

Yes. Crying.

It happened when I was in England staying with my aunt, her husband, and her 7 amazing  kids. One day I got on a bus, and I went to the V&A (the Victoria and Albert Museum for you Yanks.) So many paintings and sculptures, so much to see. I didn’t cry, though. I just smiled like the happy American I was and walked around. Then I think I got coffee and some kind of pastry and I went back to my aunt’s house, loving the bus system way too much.

The next couple of days, I didn’t travel too far until my aunt told me to make sure I visited the London National Gallery. I did.

Before I actually walked through the museum, I got a cup of coffee and a croissant. I sent a picture to my mom (despite the time difference), and then finally entered the rest of the museum. I think it had marble floors, but I don’t even remember. I know the ceilings were high, higher than I’d ever seen before. The windows were so tall and narrow, and everything made me feel tiny. I guess that’s what started the feeling of “I’m really in another world.” New accents, new bus system, new buildings. New rivers.

When I walked into the first room that actually had paintings, I know I sucked in a breath, in that kind of “inside-out sigh.” They were just so big. Books and Google can only give you so many inches and pixels. But here they were, several square feet of history and skill coming together to say something. I know that it was a little noisy, but after the first couple minutes, I didn’t even notice. I was surrounded by images that spelled out the narrative of my craft.

I saw a drawing by da Vinci. That. Got. Me. I was staring at marks from so long ago. I saw how he worked at understanding the muscles, the facial expressions, the hair, the fabric. I saw the architecture of a painting by one of the most famous painters of all. I just stared at it. I didn’t want to move. Whenever someone else walked through, I wanted to whisper to them, “I’m studying what he studied… My craft is his craft.”

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Virgin_and_Child_with_Ss_Anne_and_John_the_BaptistI’m not sure if I actually cried, meaning, I don’t know if tears actually fell. But it certainly felt like my heart was bursting. I’m so glad I was alone, because I didn’t want someone to ask me about it, about how I felt. Then I definitely would have cried. But instead, I simply stared and tried not to touch.

Touching it probably would’ve truly killed me, if the security guards didn’t do so first.

Ever since then, I truly believed that a painting can make a person cry. But I guess I sometimes forget that seeing a picture of a painting and an actual painting are not the same. Google Images don’t make me cry.

This drawing broke my heart in the most beautiful, joyful way.

Inspiring Inspiration Manually

yayInspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something creative.

Here’s my theory: Inspiration is the state of being when the desire to create something specific is greater than any apprehension of possible failure. Just wanting to create isn’t enough, because you can still be paralyzed by the blank canvas/page.

Inspiration is just not caring about messing up, because you really want to make that thing. So how do you harness that? How do you make inspiration appear?

For me lately, I treat inspiration as pure happenstance. Something that is great when it happens, but non-essential when it doesn’t. I treat inspiration as a luxury.

And weirdly enough, this seems to make inspiration appear. Not caring about inspiration makes it happen.

Inspiration is when you just make and not care, which means if you just don’t care, it’ll come. What.

I’ve spent a lot of time on my comic, René, trying to come to grips with it/her, and to figure out why I’m even making that world. Why bother? Why do I bother coming back to it? And no, “Because Amadeo” is not a good reason. It’s a reason. But not a good one.

Then I started asking different questions: What else would I do? What other story would I draw? Would it be any better? Would it go more smoothly?

The fact of the matter is that I tend to treat all projects the same. If I’m not super hyped to work on it, I just don’t and I’ve gotten burned so many times by that attitude. My worst fault in art is that I really want to make it, but the work/effort of making it even when I don’t feel like it… that’s what puts me off.

So I’ve been stepping back from René, and my other self-published works-in-progress. It doesn’t just take time and effort. It takes self-made inspiration, and that inspiration only comes when you work without inspiration. Is René worth that massive amount of “trying”? I think so. At least… she will be worth it when I get ‘er done.


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!)