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State of the Art: November 2020

Gosh, October just FLEW by! I’m actually quite sad that it’s over – I feel like there’s this electric, excitable energy that comes with the spooky month. Whether folks are eagerly awaiting Halloween, breaking out all the sweaters, or pumping pumpkin spice lattes into their veins, it’s a lovely time of year.

For me, October was particularly special because the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) decided to host their annual convention online this year. They livestreamed panels and workshops each Saturday and Sunday during October, as well as a few here and there throughout the week. It was so delightful! I was really bummed about missing out on MICE this year, first because of the move to Georgia, and second because of COVID-19. Thankfully, the dedicated crew of MICE put forth a huge effort to bring the spirit of the convention to everyone across the internet! I learned a lot and had tons of fun along the way. For those who are interested, MICE did record all of their livestreams, and you can watch the recordings here: https://www.micexpo.org/schedule/ 

I feel like October was not only fun, but it was productive as well. I got a lot done! I worked on layout and design work for Late Spring Daffodils, as well as a couple pages, warm-up drawing practices, and even some journal comics. I think having Aiden and a couple other folks be my accountability buddies was really helpful, and I intend on continuing with that into November. I do anticipate November being a bit of a downer compared to October because it’s a bit of a nothing month for me, so I’m going to have to be extra diligent with how I use my time. No matter how much I might want to, I can’t let myself sink an entire evening into playing Stardew Valley!

I hope October has treated you well, folks, and I hope November is just as kind to us all. Wishing you well!

State of the Art: October 2020

This past month has been both a blur and also an eternity. I have doubts whether September happened at all. We all joke about time having no meaning, but it’s kinda scary when that feeling starts to take root. I’ve been falling behind on certain deadlines, both for things that are important to me and for things I’m actually getting paid for. I’m not getting good sleep. I’m not getting the fresh air that I need. 

So this past weekend, I took on the task of coming up with a loose routine for myself. I’m quite certain I have ADHD, and I keep reading that folks with ADHD benefit greatly from established routines, so this needed doing. I took some time to think about my goals and priorities, and the two most important projects for me right now are the paid comic work I’m doing and my personal Late Spring Daffodils comic project. I’m also doing a small October drawing challenge called Midnightober, but I really want that to be for fun and not something that causes stress. I determined a bunch of little habits I want to get better at, like taking my meds on time each day, going out for a walk most days, and texting friends just to say hi. 

Once I got these goals in these three areas of my life set, I brought it to Aiden and we discussed the different ways we both would like to be held accountable; me with my art and personal goals, him with his graduate school goals. I have discovered that having an accountability partner is very important to my success with these things. I can’t just will myself into getting things done – I need someone who will give me gentle reminders, check in with me, and offer their two cents if something isn’t working for me. I’m very lucky to have someone like Aiden to help me out, and I also want to help him out as best as I can in return.

There’s a small part of me that has reservations about whether or not this will be a successful endeavor. I’ve tried lots of different time management and task organization methods in the past, and they all eventually fell to the wayside. I think the biggest difference is I now have an accountability buddy, and I’m in a much better state of mental health than I was ten years, five years, even one year ago. I’m looking forward to settling into a kind of rhythm, even if it takes some stumbling and tweaking to get it just right.

State of the Art: August 2020

My partner and I are moving from New Hampshire to Atlanta, Georgia in a little over a week, and I am a lot more stressed than I expected to be. Of course, there’s a lot of factors adding to that baseline moving stress, like toxic family nonsense, the pandemic, increased joint pain, and various project deadlines. I’ve felt like I’m at my wit’s end so many times in these past few weeks, and that has left me with little to no energy for art. It’s frustrating. Art has always been the thing I could do that would help me recharge and find some peace. Instead, I’ve just been anxious, thinking about all the projects I’ve started and haven’t had time to work on, much less finish. But…had I utilized my time better, I very likely wouldn’t be in the state I find myself now.

Where am I going with all this? Well, it’s partly a contextual explanation leading up to an apology for not having more artwork and comics to share with you this past month and for being late with all the things. I’m sorry I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been. I truly appreciate your kind support, and I need to be better at expressing that appreciation by producing work. Rest assured though, this month’s Patreon rewards will be up soon, though later than I would like. We will still be having a Patreon request art stream this Monday from 8PM-10PM EST, and the poll for that will be going up later today. 

Once we have moved and have settled into our new home in Atlanta, I will roll up my sleeves, put on some pump-up music, and get to work on everything that I have fallen behind on. My goal is to get myself into a routine and to stick to it by asking friends to help hold me accountable. As you may have surmised, I really, really dislike disappointing people, and having friends checking in on me will hopefully keep me motivated to stick with it. 

I thank you for your patience, your kind words, and your continued support. I’m going to do my best to be more worthy of them.

State of the Art: June 2020

My process for making comics isn’t at all consistent, despite all the time I’ve spent working on them. Every time I start a project, I change up my approach. The common denominator to all of them is how complicated I make things for myself in the name of appearing and feeling “professional”. I often get in my own way by changing my own goal posts time and time again, and I get down on myself for not meeting these standards that no one is putting on me but myself.

It’s got to the point that I get so wrapped up in the process of how comics “should” be done that I psych myself out and the damn thing never gets made.  It happens even with simple one-page journal comics; though the process for these pages is probably the most consistent out of everything I’ve done. Start with a new page in my Canson mixed-media 7″x10″ sketchbook, measure out the margins and the horizontal gutters, sketch out the vertical gutters, ink the panels, sketch the comic itself, ink the speech bubbles, ink the comic, scan the comic, fix it up in CSP, and maybe splash on some color. Easy, right? Even so, I have a difficult time working up the gumption to just start.

One of the most expressive comics I’ve made in past years was from about five years ago. I was still teaching at an awful conservative school up in Maine for less than minimum wage and with a joke of an art budget. I was pretty damn miserable one night and couldn’t figure out why. So, I made a cup of tea and grabbed my sketchbook to draw.

It’s still one of my favorites to date because of all the small moments where nothing is being said. There’s breathing room in this comic that I struggle to capture in my other comics. I wonder if it’s the loose, sketchy drawings, or if it’s that I didn’t use panels, or if it’s some other reason entirely. I’m not sure. But I engaged with making that comic in a way that I’ve since been reluctant to because it’s not “professional” enough. I have so many journal comics that have gone unmade due to this hangup, and I’m quite tired of it.

I’m going to work on figuring out a new way to engage with my journal comics that doesn’t serve as a hurdle to jump over. I want a process that allows me to just draw what I’m thinking or feeling without getting caught up in worries about how I’m perceived. I’ll get there!

State of the Art: May 2020

It’s been a heck of a week. I have been utterly drained. Weirdly, as I write this, I feel more energized to make and to write than I have in over a month. I had taken Tuesday off work to give myself a much-needed four-day weekend, and that day I went with Aiden to Diana’s Baths here in New Hampshire. It’s a lovely series of pools and waterfalls that cascade over giant boulders that have been eroded over the centuries. 

I had been so burnt out over the past weeks, and I was constantly yo-yo-ing between “fine” and “deeply depressed”. We spent three hours at the Baths, and I can’t express how incredibly I felt afterwards. I really discovered just how much I need to get out into nature when I’m feeling drained. And I was so, so very drained at that point. I splashed about in the pools, I sat looking up through the trees, I watched folks’ dogs goof off, and I made some art.

I know this energy I have won’t last forever, and I shouldn’t expect it to. I’m going to try to take better care of myself and to take breaks in nature when I need them. I want to put my energy to good use instead of sitting in anger and restlessness at the state of current events, so I’ll be brainstorming what I can do to lend my hand. In order to do that though, I need to make sure my well of energy doesn’t run dry. 

State of the Art: April 2020

It’s quite rough out there these days. I hope you all and your loved ones are safe and healthy. We’re doing fairly well in my rural neck of the New Hampshire woods, though some of us are getting a bit stir-crazy from staying home all the time. I have to admit, though I do miss seeing my friends and coworkers, I’m in introvert heaven right now. It’s so quiet and comfy at home, I’ve been playing Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley pretty much every day, and I have 24-7 access to my good-bad kitty Tribble! 

While all that is lovely and fun, I am getting to the point where I find myself wanting more structure to my days. I was talking with a friend about this, and I had said how I need to be more proactive in making a routine, how I gotta practice it regularly. Her response was this:

“Be gentle.

Less ‘need’ and ‘should’ and more ‘I would like to’, ‘it would be kind’, ‘I want to’ – we all have to be careful about how we punish ourselves without realizing it.”

I hadn’t thought about my words that way before, and I said as much. Using that “should” vocabulary colors the action in question with judgement – that if I don’t do the thing, then I’ve failed. I fall into that way of thinking all too often, and it leaves me feeling discouraged and with a severe lack of motivation.

I do think I would benefit from some kind of routine or schedule, but now I want to approach it with more gentleness. I would like to have a balance of staying on top of my goals while also being kind to myself; particularly during these anxious days we’re living in. I’m holding a lot of stress that I haven’t processed, and I want to be mindful of that. 

I hope you will be gentle with yourself during these strange and scary times.

State of the Art: March 2020

I’d like to update you on the story about my little dragon girl, Opal! I’m tentatively naming the project “Late Spring Daffodils”, since the story is about Opal blooming into her identity as a magic-user much later than she expected. This project has me really excited! I’m having lots of fun doing pre-production work, like character designs and building layouts.

My goals for the next month are to solidify the script, to complete the thumbnail sketches for the comic pages, and to complete the turnarounds for Gerta and Brenn. If I have extra time, I’d like to have layouts and illustrations of Gerta and Brenn’s shop, “The Sweet Tooth Bakery”, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.

On top of this comic, I’m also prepping for events I’ll be attending! I’m going to be on a panel about diversity in comics at the Worcester Book Festival on Saturday, April 18th, I’ll be tabling at Stairway to Heaven Comics for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 2nd, and I’ll be tabling again at Portsmouth Pride on Saturday, June 27th. I’ll be making a zine from last year’s Inktober pieces, I want to make a farewell zine to all the cheeses I have loved and can no longer eat due to my lactose intolerance (*quiet sob*), and I have ideas for a few small foldy zines as well. 

It’s a lot! But I love making zines and I love having new content for folks to enjoy, so I’m going to do what I can! 

State of the Art: February 2020

I wanted to share some of what I’ve been working on as of late. This year I have a number of comics projects I’m working on. My first step is to refine my comics-making process so that I can accomplish that goal. I need to figure out which inking method works best for me, how long it takes me (on average) to produce a page, how or if I want to go about coloring my comics, and lots of other little things I’m sure I’ll discover along the way. 

First up, I wanted to test out how I would ink my comics. I used panels from my bread comic (which I’ve had to put on the back-burner for now for various reasons – I’ll explain in a later blog) to test some things out, and it was really quite fun! I used felt-tip pens, synthetic brush pens, and digital inking. I had wanted to try my nib pens as well, but the waterproof black ink that I had went all gray for some reason and I had to put that aside for now. 

I love the feel of the brush pen and the challenge of working with and accepting mistakes. I like how the lines vary from thick to thin so seamlessly. It’s just a lot of fun, and I really want to grow my skill set with brush pens! They’re also often refillable, which is a huge bonus. However, I know my skill set at the moment isn’t enough to reliably ink a whole comic with a brush pen. I think I will have to set aside my lovely synthetic brush pens for now, and use them just with illustration fun.

Felt-tip brushes are what I have the most experience with. They’re easily accessible and don’t require as much focus and dexterity as brush pens, which is great! I love how I can get the exact line width I’m looking for with Micron pens and I love the flexibility in line width that Zebra pens provide. But…I don’t love how much waste they create. Having to throw away an entire pen once it’s been used up feels irresponsible to me now that I have the financial ability to purchase more expensive refillable pens. Unfortunately, most felt-tip pens are designed to be disposable instead of refillable. Maybe there will be more refillable felt-tip pens in the future, but for now I want to find a sustainable alternative, if I can. 

Digital inking is by far the most sustainable and the most forgiving because I can just hit CTRL-Z whenever I make a mistake and redraw the line. I love how I can zoom in super close and get all the little details that I can’t get to with traditional pens! The biggest benefit to digital inking for me is the clean lines. They just look so much smoother and more professional than my wobbly, fuzzy, traditionally-inked scans. The biggest drawback is that I have to be glued to my desk. I can’t take it with me outside to draw, I can’t take it with me when I travel, and I can’t take it to work to draw during my lunch break – I can’t even sit on the couch and work. Plus, I really like working traditionally! There’s just something about working with paper and dragging a pen or a brush across its surface that’s irreplaceable to me. 

I’m not sure yet where I’ll land with all this. Perhaps it will depend on what comic I’m making! Some comics might need that organic feel of traditional inks, whereas others could really use the crisp, clean lines of digital ink. I’ll work it out, hopefully sooner rather than later. I wanna make some comics!

State of the Art: January 2020

Ho boy, friends. This one took me a while. Not just because of the holiday season, but also because I had to think really hard about my professional goals! I don’t think I’ve officially done that before, and the “From Chaos to Creativity” book asks you to dig deep into what you want to be doing in a month, in a year, in five years. It’s a lot to think about! Will we even BE here in another five years?? Heck! 

Existential dread aside, I found this to be a very helpful exercise, and I’m glad I sat with it as long as I did. I really needed time to mull over what I wanted to do with my art. Ultimately my broad goal ended up being, “I want to help people with the skills I have developed in illustration and comics”. What does that even look like? That’s almost TOO broad!

Let’s narrow it down a little. HOW can I help people with illustration and comics? Well, I can provide some escapism with cute fantasy comics. I can create stories that make people feel less alone in their personal struggles. I can partner with nonprofits and mental health professionals to create educational comics about issues that are important to me, like anxiety and depression, queer identity exploration, and human trafficking. Great! These are much more specific, and I can branch out from there to create measurable, achievable goals. Now for the in-depth stuff!

What do I want to have accomplished in five years?

  • I want to partner with nonprofits like The Amira Project or with the American Psychological Association to create educational comics that professionals in the field can use to help people.
  • I want to publish another book, self-published or otherwise.
  • I want at least half of my income to be from comics, freelance work, and Patreon so that I can leave my full-time job and take on a part-time job in order to have more time for my art career.

What do I want to have accomplished in three years?

  • I want to have a solid portfolio of comic work, zines, and illustrations, including journal comics regularly published online.
  • I want to have work published in a comics or illustration anthology.
  • I want to be tabling at two to four conventions per year.
  • I want to be regularly applying to arts and comics grants and residencies.
  • I want to send comics pitches to nonprofits to foster connections and future partnerships.

What do I want to have accomplished in one year?

  • I want to have better mastery over my social media use as an aspiring arts professional, including more consistent Patreon updates.
  • I want to improve my skills with color, backgrounds, and panel composition.
  • I want to learn more about CSP so that I can eventually let go of Photoshop, because it’s expensive.
  • I want to finish the three major creative projects I’ve been developing (the bread comic, the dragonborn wizard comic, and the illustrated short story zine).
  • I want to open commissions two to four times this year.
  • I want to put more work up on Etsy, Redbubble, and Gumroad.
  • I want to create journal comics more often, at least twice monthly.

Another helpful tip the exercise had me do was write out a “No List”, a list of things I will (drumroll) say no to. I hadn’t thought about how useful that would be! Writing that list made me feel a little lighter, like I was giving myself permission to focus on the projects and goals I really care about. Thus, here is my “No List”, in all it’s assertive glory:

  • No graphic design work! I have no idea how to do it, and so, I should stay in my lane.
  • No realistic OR caricature commissions! These are not things that are in my wheelhouse, and I’ll just end up stressing myself out if I try to do them.
  • No long-form comics projects! I don’t have the comics experience for long-form webcomics or graphic novels yet, so I will refrain until I feel more comfortable and confident.
  • No unpaid work! You’d think this would be obvious, but unpaid work can be sneaky – I’m inexperienced enough in the professional arts field that I don’t always recognize it, especially if a client or potential collaborator has no ill intent whatsoever. 

That’s all I’ve got so far, but as I keep going I will likely recognize more pitfalls that distract me from pursuing my goals. I’m very easily distracted, and I love taking on new, exciting projects! But I have to restrain myself and say “not now” if I’m ever going to get anything done. 

This post has gone on quite a bit, hasn’t it? Good on you for reading this far! I still want to talk about the Eisenhower grid and scheduling, but that will have to wait for now. Next week! Stay tuned, folks! 

Thanks for reading!

State of the Art: December 2019

I’ve been working through the “From Chaos to Creativity” book, and I’m getting to the section about setting goals. It asks you to set five-year, one-year, and one-month goals. HECK was that a process. I took the book’s advice and set it down to think for a while. I had no idea where to begin, particularly with the five-year goals. What am I capable of doing in five years? That’s such a huge block of time! So, I decided to reflect on what I’d accomplished creatively in the past five years, both negative and positive: 

I had started and given up on a webcomic.

I won NaNoWriMo!

I made my first, and to date, only, Skillshare art class.

I worked on a big, sprawling fantasy story with Aiden and we eventually ended up putting it on the backburner indefinitely.

I tried creating a blog and YouTube channel for my and Aiden’s creative endeavors, and it fizzled out after a while.

  • I made a portfolio website and became more active on arts social media!
  • I worked on a story-podcast with Aiden and we let it fall to the wayside.
  • I began working with a local theatre troupe to create posters for their shows!
  • I wrote a short story I was actually happy with!
  • I started a YouTube channel and promptly abandoned it after maybe five videos.
  • I completed the 100 Day Project!
  • I made a BOOK from my 100 Day Project!
  • I made and printed three mini-zines and one full-sized zine!
  • I tabled my comics and art at a few local events and conventions!
  • I applied to an art mentorship program and didn’t get in.
  • I started an Etsy store, a RedBubble store, and a Gumroad store and actually sold things!
  • I completed this year’s Inktober and had lots of fun doing it!
  • I started streaming art on Twitch!
  • I collaborated with my friend Alena to start an artists’ meetup group at our local comic shop, and it’s been great getting to know local artists!
  • I was invited to participate in the What’s Your Story event at The Freedom Cafe in Durham to talk about my book!
  • I started a Patreon and began receiving support!

I’m certain that I’m forgetting some things, but these are the moments that stand out most to me from the past five years. I was surprised to see just how much I had done! It was kind of encouraging, and I’m glad I did this exercise. Now to think on my future goals…what is it that I want to do?

Well, I’m definitely going to be taking the next week to think more deeply about this, but I have settled on a few short-term goals for now:

  • Set specific and measurable goals regularly! Find an accountability partner to help stick to those goals!
  • Beef up that portfolio!
  • Finish the handful of comics and zine projects I’ve started!
  • Get in the habit of producing at least one illustration and one journal comic a week!
  • Make a real effort to be active on social media and to improve self-promotion skills!

Thanks for sticking with me. I truly appreciate you! I’m excited for what 2020 and the years to come have in store for me, and I’m going to do my best to keep learning and to keep growing. 

I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year!