Author: Henrike Dijkstra

Recollection City launch

From art block to comic launch

Today I share some exciting news and I will talk about what is next for Pencils & Stories.com

Recollection City launch

Recollection City, my fantastical adventure comic about friendship and stepping up and taking the risk of being seen and making decisions, is finally online! You can read the first five pages here and after this week I will upload it every Monday with a new page!

Five years ago I was stuck in a huge art block. I didn’t draw, couldn’t write… I had always made stories but it seemed that ability had dried up. But the passion for story, and the dream of telling my own and starting a webcomic was not over. It was eating at me.

Slowly getting back up

Then, in 2012 I found the Oatley Academy. I gained new insights, learned about how to properly build up an image. Learned about visual storytelling. And most important, maybe: I connected to other artists and learned that my feelings were normal. And everyone struggles with this from time to time. A friend encouraged me to start blogging and I started pencilsandstories.com.

I let go of the story that was giving me so much trouble. I found a new one, a story that got me excited again and that I wanted to make without all the pressure, and in a setting that I loved. Recollection City began to form in my head, and on paper. I got new ideas. A fresh start turned out to be just what I needed.

First beginnings

When I started making the pages I was so rusty. I had a blank page on which, somehow, a comic page was supposed to form. Over the course of weeks, maybe even months, I build a list of specifics: size, fonts, gutter thickness, brushes, colouring styles, how crazy you will go with panel shapes etc. There is a lot to think about and research and you will tweak a lot as you go on. It can feel like you’re swimming but you don’t really know what you are doing. But eventually all these things are decided and ironed out and the process will go faster. As a fellow comic artist told me: “the awkwardness will go away.” And she was right.

Rinse and repeat. Step after step. The first page took weeks. The first panel took hours upon hours to make. And I have tweaked that page many times since. But the last page I have done at this moment only took a day in total. (Spread over a few days)

Launching

So step by step I continued, always focusing only on the next action and slowly but surely the pages were made. The prologue got finished, then the cover of the first chapter, then the first scene. I am almost done with scene 2 to 4. And today arrived, I was ready to launch.

A year ago I wanted to have a date to launch on to give myself some time pressure to work on a buffer of pages and to see if I could really finish one page a week.

I picked today for a special reason as well. Not only is it pretty (17-7-’17) and on a Monday even, (my preferred update day), but my father, who passed away in 2010, would have been 75 years old today. I thought it would be a nice way to honour him a little with this, as I’m sure he would have loved this undertaking.

My online comic, the dream that started years ago, has finally become a reality. It is now online for people to read on a brand new website, and I have a buffer of pages. If you want to be kept in the loop of the progress and receive free behind the scenes material, like sketches, concept art, a video about making the first five pages and a preview of chapter one, consider subscribing my email list and these free files will be send to you!

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The future of Pencils and Stories.com

I know the making of the comic meant that the blog was put on hold. But in the years of making the comic I have learned a lot about making bigger personal projects, how to stay focused, how to truly work at something. And now I am much clearer on what I want to do with this blog and what kind of message I want to spread. After the Recollection City launch and after I have settled into my new workflow of updating and promotion I will start focusing on relaunching the Pencils & Stories blog.

The idea is this: share ideas on how to take small steps to more creativity so you can overcome roadblocks, grow your confidence and productivity and finish the projects you undertake.

And how can I talk about projects if I’m not doing them myself? This is why I think the combination of comic and blog will be mutually beneficial. I can share what I have learned over the years and I can remind myself of the things I learned when I am making comic pages, haha.

I will keep my email list subscribers in the loop of what happens here as well. Here is the link to sign up for that again.

Follow the journey of the brand new Recollection City comic. But also stay tuned here, because the Pencils & Stories blog is next!

 In the comments, please share: what is your biggest struggle when working on your personal projects?

Construction work

Hello everyone, long time no see! I’m here to tell you about the future of this blog. Behind the scenes, I’m hard at work bringing you a new and improved blogging format. 

me building stuff
this picture is also a reference to the first picture on the “comic” page

I very enthusiasticly posted about my plans for this blog at the end of 2015. Since then I posted two more articles, but something was gnawing in the back of my mind: “no one is reading this.” 

I know this isn’t true, some of you are. And I take this opportunity now to really thank each and everyone of you who visits and comments, for sharing and retweeting. 🙂 I really appreciate it!

Truth is, sometimes you have to take a step back and admit that something is not working. This is not a bad thing, because you can come back to improve it. (Or, in some cases. you just quit. There is no shame in quitting something that is going nowhere or that doesn’t do you any good)

These posts take a while to make, especially when there are images involved. This is not to complain, but at some point, you want to see it being read. Specifically, I want these posts to be of use to you and to reach the people who can benefit from it. Especially since I’m working on my comic project so much. If this is not working and people don’t read the blog I could think of better uses of the time I now spend writing posts. It’s not that I haven’t been trying for a while too, I have been blogging for a few years now.

I realized since a while that my rambings are often times too long. People don’t like to read long pieces of text on the computer. Then it dawned on me: are the people who I want to reach (artists like myself, looking for ways to make their personal projects and overcoming resistance) actually reading much at all? I did some research, turns out, a lot of artists don’t read, (I do, which is why this never occured to me) they are too busy making art. They do listen though, to audiobooks, podcasts and videos. 

So I’m going to try out this blogging thing once more, but in a different format: audio.

So that’s what I’m working on right now, converting content, expanding on it and thinking of new ideas to talk about. I also want to revamp the site a bit to better fit the format.

So stay tuned, and I hope you’ll like what comes out at the other end of this. 🙂 

Thanks for reading! 

Taking care of your most important tool – part 2

Welcome back! Last time we talked about posture as a way to take care of your most important tool: your body. This week I want to talk about muscles again, and mention another thing that you can do to prevent pain and other problems related to our work: maintenance!

2016-02-Tool2

Your body runs on a system

When it comes to the maintenance of the muscle system specifically, our body works best when we have a regular diet of moving it around and relaxing it. Work and relaxation is a rhythm that is natural to more parts of our bodies but it’s very apparent in the muscles and it quickly becomes clear when we don’t give them what they need.
Ever since our tasks, over the years, developed into more and more fine, detailed or repetitive work, some of our muscles are used a lot. And others are not.

My body, for example, naturally wants to hunch forward. My elbows want to clutch to my sides and my shoulders want to move to the front.
The muscles at the front of my shoulders are shortened because they are not used a lot and actually compressed by my posture, this makes that I feel very uncomfortable when I actually stretch them by pulling my shoulders back in a better position.
I’m looking down on my phone, drawings and writings a lot, so I’m pulling at all the muscles at the back of my neck and back of my shoulders that way. They are constantly at work and rarely relax. It’s no wonder I got problems. Those muscles get stiff and strained and send the symptoms down my arms and hands. My arms get very tired very soon, and combined with typing a lot on an iPad and pressing on pencils, pens and styluses I have developed some strain in my hands and wrists.

And I am not the only one. Illustrator Lois van Baarle (Loish) even had a period when she drew so much that she developed a horrible pain which made her not being able to draw at all for a while. And illustrator Charlie Bowater recently posted a helpful video with some practises to train your hands since she, too, had problems. I will share that video down below.

So, how can we prevent these kind of injuries?

Maintenance and prevention

Your body has it’s own user manual, it needs certain things to keep running, and like a very well run machine, it needs regular upkeep too. Basic maintenance is something your body does by itself. It transports millions of molecules and impulses through your body every second to the right places. At night it shuts down to do bigger tasks. It’s complicated processes run in the backgrounds of our lives, 24/7. But there is only so much my body can do to prevent an overload when I’m using my muscles in the way I described above.

Here are some basic things you can do to keep tension from turning your muscles into hard iron cables. It follows the principle I talked about earlier: work and relax.

Basics

Your food provides the building blocks from which your body regenerates itself. Nutrient food and enough water will have a positive effect on your body as a whole. I want to specifically mention water here because dehydration is a very common problem, and I don’t know about you but I often forget to drink when I’m creating.

Drinking

Your muscles need a lot of water. It’s their main component and it’s used for building muscle tissue, keeping it flexible and for repairing it. Your muscles consist for 70% out of water and when you’re dehydrated your body pulls water from the muscles back into the blood again. This is why you should drink enough water during workouts too because you’re already putting some heavy duty on those biceps and triceps.

Getting enough exercise
This can be really helpful to keep the muscles you don’t use a lot in good shape. Like I said: muscles like to be moved around to stay flexible. You can get your exercise in multiple ways, from doing sports, walking, cycling, dancing, cleaning to specific practises that train the muscles. It all helps to keep you loose and fit. Pick something that you like to do, it might not be comfortable in the beginning, but I noticed after a few weeks that my body is actually asking for exercise now. I do dancing at home (I can’t dance to save my life but I like doing it anyway) and I train certain areas in my arms, shoulders, back and wrists with eights, as advised by my physiotherapist. The desired outcome is that these muscles handle more and, combined with better posture and stretches, it helps heal from the strain injuries.

When you are doing actual workouts, be careful to let your body heal in between. You are actually pushing the cells in your muscles to the limit and they need to repair themselves again in between. The subject of rest (remember: working and relaxing) also brings me to the next thing that is essential for a healthy body:

Sleeping
Your body does lots of repairing during the night, it relaxes so it can do that work for you while you’re not using those muscles. When you’re rested it’s easier to keep up a good posture too. You’re more active and less inclined to slouch. (And I’m only talking about the physical benefits here) Be sure to drink and eat well during the day and get enough sleep so your body can do it’s thing at night. Then, when you’re awake, you can help your muscle system by doing these things before and after work:

Before and after work
Warm and flexible muscles can take more and are less inclined to damage. A good practise is to warm them up before you get to work, and do stretches in between and after creating. My physiotherapist gave me specific stretches I can do during the day to keep my muscles flexible and to relieve some of the tension. They are super easy and only take a minute each.
As an example, here is the video that Charlie Bowater posted on her social media:

To warm up your muscles you can walk around (you could even do a morning walk outside if that’s your thing) really swing those arms and legs around. Loosen your shoulders and rotate your upper body from side to side. Just make sure you’re not cold and that your muscles feel loose. Try to keep that relaxed feeling up during work.

While working

I already talked about posture. Changing your position regularly is helpful. I can put my small Cintiq on an easel or put my desk higher so I can work standing. What is really important too (and humans in general are so bad at this) is taking breaks. There are two kinds of breaks: macro breaks and micro breaks.

Micro breaks
This is a tiny change of your current posture, position and release of tension. When you are not using your hands you can let them hang beside you for a bit. You can look away from the screen for a bit when you need to think and turn your head and relax your eyes. You can move your legs under your desk every once in awhile. Relax your shoulders, bring your head back and bing up your chest, straightening your back. Those kind of things.

It can be tricky to remember this because you’re so engrossed in your work but your body will thank you for making it a habit. Speaking of being engrossed in your work: do you recognize sore muscles in your hand after drawing for a while, or feeling like the muscles in your fingers are locked in place and have trouble relaxing? It might be that you are pressing too hard on your tools. I do this a lot, and with some easy adjustments, I don’t even have to. The Wacom settings on your tablet has options to adjust the pressure of your stylus. You can use a darker pencil or pen so you don’t have to press too hard. I know we often unconsiously do this when we are in our bubble of creating, so it might be good to think of ways to help yourself a little.

Macro breaks
These are longer breaks in which you actually stand up, walk around, do some stretches, get a drink of water and relax. Do this regularly, every half hour to 45 minutes for example, it doesn’t have to take very long either. You can spare those five minutes to give your body the rest it needs from your hard work.

I hope you got some useful info out of this post. Feel free to share it with anyone who might benefit from it. My goal with these posts is to remind people of the risks that involve being glued to our desks and our tools for hours on end. I hope you feel more empowered to try and prevent the kinds of injuries that steal away our productivity, our time and, ultimately, our joy.

Action: in the comments, mention one tip from this post that you can implement right now that can help you take care of your most important tool. Then start implementing it!

In the next and last post in this series I will talk about why we don’t notice these kinds of risks until it’s too late, and about what to do if you already have problems with strain, fatigue and pain.

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taking care of your most important tool

Taking care of your most important tool – part 1

I’m back again, I hope you had a great start of 2016! I have a new instalment of the “More headspace for Creators” series for you, I hope you enjoy it. Let me know if you found it helpful. This is part one of a three parter.

Many creatives use tools to do what they do: pens, paper, brushes, camera’s, chisels, tablets or musical instruments. Whatever you are doing though, we all have one instrument in common: our body.
Today, I talk about one simple thing you can apply that can greatly improve the quality of your work time in the long run: a correct posture.

taking care of your most important tool

Your body is the one tool you’ll ever use that can not be replaced, so we need to take good care of it. Physical pain and discomfort is a problem that strikes many creators and I, myself am very passionate about the subject of taking care of yourself to be able to do the work you want to do. We’re talking about eliminating problems to create more headspace, right?

“The body,” of course, is a very broad subject. It consists of many different parts and systems and everything is related. What I want to talk to you about in these articles is how to prevent, or act upon physical problems that can come from doing our daily creative work. Things like pain, strain, fatigue or loss of power in your arms and hands to name a few. Many of these problems can be summarized under the Repetitive Strain Injuries, (RSI) which you can read more about here

When we are focussed and concentrated on our work, we often forget what our body is doing. And even if we have a creative job that uses the body in the art form itself, like dancing or acting, we can still push it too far. When I did my training as a Sign Language interpreter I was made very mindful of the problems of RSI, since I have to lift my arms and make small, repetitive movements with my hands all the time. I even developed some weak spots in my shoulders and arms already so in the last few years I have gained more knowledge about posture and training. I use this knowledge in my art making too.

Before I continue, however, I want to tell you that I am not a professional, I have not done a four year college study to learn about the muscle system and the many different conditions it can suffer from. So whenever you experience problems that do not go away, or whenever you have pain, fatigue or strain regularly, be sure to visit a doctor or other professional. I have had very good experiences with my physiotherapists. Make sure you don’t wait too long, with these kinds of problems, the sooner you intervene, the better it is. Look at the signs, take them seriously, we’re talking about the thing you live your life in and what you work with.

Even if you never had any symptoms of this at all, you never know what a bad posture will bring you in the long run. For the longest time I didn’t have any problems, but my posture was (and in a way still is) very bad. I also move my arms with hunched and tense shoulders a lot. I push hard on my drawing utensils. But as I grew older and started interpreting, and drawing more again, I noticed that I couldn’t go on this way.

Once, I came back from an afternoon of canoeing and within an hour of stopping my arms where in so much pain that I wanted to throw up. I was 24 years old at that time. It was clear to me that it wasn’t simple “sore muscles” from working out to much. My arms were shaky and felt like they were on fire. My muscles all felt like two people were pulling at each end of them. That was the point at which I first visited a physiotherapist and, even though I push my body too far sometimes, I never had pain in my arms that extreme any more.

When it comes to preventing these kind of injuries (because that’s basicly what they are) there are two things to keep in mind. Forgive the blunt comparison with technology but for the purpose of creating an easy-to-remember analogy here, these things are: correct usage and maintenance. We will talk about the first one today.

Use your body well.

Everything starts with posture. We are hunched over our desks, tables and drawing boards. We look down on our phones and tablets constantly. Most of us sit down for the majority of the day. Developing a good posture for at least sitting and standing, and broadening that to moving, is half the work.

When standing, stand upright (like you’re pulled up by a string that’s attached to the top of your head) Don`t have any tension in your shoulders, let them down and pull them backwards if they are rolled a little towards the front. Lift your breast up so your upper back is straight, keep your knees unlocked, let your head sit comfortably in the middle of your shoulders.

When you’re sitting, remember the 90 degrees rule. This applies to your elbows and knees, your arms and legs need to bend at a 90 degree angle to be most comfortable. Your head needs to be upright, which means that the top of your computer screen needs to reach your eye level. It’s helpful if your lower arms can rest on a table or armrests when you work (make sure to take the 90 degrees in account). Again, keep the shoulders relaxed. It’s also best to not sit with your legs crossed, and keep your feet next to each other on the ground, distributing your weight evenly on both “sitting bones.”

When typing, it is best if your keyboard is as flat as possible so your hands can hang down rather than you having to bend your wrist upwards to type. When writing or drawing, don`t constantly push too hard on your pens and pencils, because you`re also putting a lot of force on certain muscles..

When you are moving around, keep in mind to relax your shoulders, unlock your knees, keep your back mostly straight. When lifting things be sure to squat, don`t pull heavy things with the muscles in your back only, use those abdominal muscles! And think of ways to relieve the pressure on your body in certain situations. If something is too heavy for you for example: ask for help, if possible.
There is plenty of information about these kind of things to find online too. When in doubt, ask someone who knows what they are talking about.

This all seems like a lot to take in. Believe me, I understand. When I`m tired I don`t want to sit upright, I want to slouch. And it`s ok to sometimes do that. Your body is strong, flexible and self healing. But if you use your body in the wrong way for a long period of time, if your posture is bad in and of itself, eventually, something will wear out. Especially when you get older. And no matter how old we get, I think most of us want to never stop doing their creative work, if possible.
So when you want to tackle this, make sure to take it easy on yourself. Move in small steps. Every time you think of your posture, adjust it. Maybe even take it in even smaller bites: pay attention to your shoulders a few weeks, or how you sit on your chair. Then, if it`s a habit and it grew more comfortable to you, focus on the next thing. And think positive, on how relaxed your muscles feel when you sit or stand upright. Maybe it makes you feel active and alert. I wish you a comfortable week.

To recap: A good posture in standing, sitting or moving around is half the work because it reduces the strain on your muscles and distributes physical force more equally through the body.
When in pain or in doubt: ask a doctor, physiotherapist or another professional specialized in the human body for advice.
Take the physical signals of your body seriously. After all, the place you live in is your most important tool.

Question: what do you do to keep a good posture? Do you pay attention to how you move, stand and sit?
Action: for the next few weeks, pay attention to your body. Do you feel tension somewhere when you stand or sit normally?

Next post: maintenance!

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Projects and blogging plans for 2016

Hello everyone, this new post is meant to give you some updates about the blog and about making goals for 2016.

Blogimage_december

 

I wrote that last blogpost about priorities and then left this blog pretty much hanging for October and November. I became pretty busy with the CTNx expo happening again so I had to prepare for that. I’m also working on the story I made together with Mallory Carlson during the course “Oatley Academy Live.” (Now called “The Storytellers` Summit”) In this course, a group of six OA students were asked to make a new story from scratch, using the content of the course to have a live example for the students in OALive to follow along with. Our story is called “Emma and the Oofles” and I’m writing the story, while Mallory is drawing it. The basics of the story are in place and now we’re ready to start actually making it. You can follow the progress of this project on Tumblr and Facebook.

Now, about this blog. I thought of some new goals for the new year while taking into account the limited time I have with my current projects going on. I will be posting here less frequently and for now I think I will stick to one blogpost a month in a more serial way instead of blog about whatever is coming my way. This will help me focus more on making larger points in more smaller posts.  I will post about new updates on my social media accounts, but if you want to be sure you’ll not miss anything happening, you can subscribe to the newsletter here.

I have put the last months to use comic wise too and finished the first plage of the Recollection City comic! That’s super exciting to me. Page 2 – 20 are well on their way too. It feels good to finally actually produce pages next to writing and designing. Sometimes you realize you just have to start.

As for 2016, if you haven’t yet listened to this great podcast episode by Chris Oatley then please do! This might really help you gain some insight in setting realistic and doable goals.

For me, I have to divide my free art time into three main subjects: Recollection City, Emma and the Oofles and the blog. I want to try and do the following:

  1. Make one page of Recollection City every two weeks.
  2. Figuring out ways to speed up my process without the loss of much quality so I can eventually get to one page every week.
  3. Write one page for Emma and the Oofles every week.
  4. Do some thumbnailing for the page layout of EatO as well.
  5. Post to the blog every month.
  6. Make posts, using a maximum length. (most of my posts are very long and that might put people off)
  7. Do more to spread blogposts across the internet, revamp and repost shorter or splitted versions of my old blogposts and send out the newsletter too. In other words: getting things out there.

I will not be posting creative prompts in 2016, although you might still come across them on social media whenever I think of one spontaneously. I’d love to use the creative prompts of 2015 myself, but I didn’t want to add too many projects to my list. However, they might be good warm up material.

So you’ll see less of me here, but I will still be making blogs and in between posts you can follow me on social media to see what I’m working on.

What are your goals for 2016? Is there anything you want to make or finish? Share in the comments!