Author: Henrike Dijkstra

Not enough hours in the day! About setting priorities.

One of the fun things that many artists experience is that they`re having new ideas all the time. Not every artist is like that, we all work and create differently, but I hear this a lot and I certainly recognize it. You`re sipping tea somewhere, something caughts your eye and before you know it you have thought of a complete short story in under three minutes. Fun stuff.

priorities

I`m in love with ideas and new stuff. However, I`m also someone who naturally wants to dive right in and wants to act on those ideas (every.single.one of them) and that`s where things get chaotic really fast. Deciding which project should get priority over others is not always clear.

This week it dawned on me: I blog every week and I can write pretty fast, but then I spend a huge amount of extra time on making images, coming up with titles, sharing links and making the newsletter. It takes a bunch of hours out of my work time every week and I realize that it`s a constant priority in my planner. I do not have a buffer of posts, even though I have written outlines for a few. The writing isn`t the problem, it`s just that for some posts I need screenshots or new drawings, or a compilation of sketches. And that all takes time.

This is not a shocking discovery. Everything you want to do well takes time. The thing is: when blogging takes time away from making art and making my comic, and said art and comic work is suffering because of it, is that what I want? In other words: do I consider myself to be a blogger or a comic artist first?

Of course this immediately creates conflict. I love both. I want to blog because I`d love to help people clear out the obstacles they might find in their art journey, provide helpful tips, or just show some fun behind the scenes stuff. But I also want to tell the story I have in mind. And there`s other stories as well, as are one shot illustrations, sketches and short stories. On top of that I`d like to improve as an artist and do studies and courses. I also have a day job that requires attention, preparation and sometimes new education as well. And I`m not even talking about having a social life and a clean house and good health.

There is simply not enough time in the day to do everything, so choices have to be made. I have thought of some questions I can ask myself to decide where my priorities are, maybe they help you too:

1 What are the things you can`t negotiate about when it comes to time? 
For example: things like work, health and your social life.  There`s no projects to make if you are broke, worn out or if your relationships suffer. Your priorities will be made for you, rather than you having control over them. How much time do you reasonably need to keep these up well?

I do not believe in “one solution fits all” when it comes to this. Day jobs differ. One person needs more interaction with their friends than others, other people will have a family which requires more time, some people have a stronger constitution or just have a job that keeps them more fit than people who sit behind a computer all day. Look at your own situation and list the things you need to do.

There`s also some bad, or even harmful advice going around when it comes to these things. I sometimes hear things like: “you can sleep and make friends when you have reached your goal of becoming the best in your art class.”  or “you need to be willing to get up at 5 am every day to work on your projects or you are not passionate enough.” How can anyone say that? Maybe *you* don`t need any friends, maybe *you* can survive on five hours of sleep every day and maybe *you* are a morning person, but that doesn`t mean everyone else is. This drives me crazy. Find something that works for you. And figure out what you need to do to get there without sacrificing what is truly important. (You might need to make other sacrifices though, but I`ll leave that up to you) It can be done, it`s hard, but it`s possible.

2 What are your long term goals?

List them all, but try and not have too many in the first place. When it comes to projects for example, I only have long term goals for things I’m actually working on, not for all the ideas I have.

Now add to this list the priorities you wrote down for the first question. (I got to seven priorities in total)
Next, and I know it`s hard, give them a number from 1 to whatever number of priorities you have, based on how important they are to you. As in: if you had to choose one over the other, which stands above what?

For me this always results in some things that are less fun ending up in the top three. Things like “money making” or “health” (I do not like to exercise or cook for example) Still, these things make sure I can be there for others and do my personal projects, so they need to be cared for first.

3 Assess the amount of time you put into each priority now. Is it appropriate to the ranking you gave it? 
A higher priority doesn`t mean you need to give it more time than others. For example: I`ll probably put more time into comic making than into my health, even though “health” stands above “comic” in my ranking. Assess how much time you spend on something now, and if you`d like to increase or decrease that, based on what number you gave it. This means, in some cases, that you need to adjust what you are used to doing.

In case of my blogging vs comic making issue, I realized my comic is slightly more important to me now than the blogging, because actually finishing a project instead of only writing about it would make me happier at the moment. It also fits with my long term goal of having multiple stories online eventually.

When I first started blogging seriously in 2012 I set myself the weekly post goal to practise discipline and to get more of my art and ideas out into the world. Over the years the blogposts evolved, growing more complex, with more focus on getting an idea across, on sharing and layout. They take way more time  to do now, but I still hold on to the weekly posting. Even though I gave myself that goal in a different context. Realizing this, and knowing I want to put more time into comic making, this means that I might decrease the time I put into it, so I might  start blogging every month instead of every week. This provides me with more time to make a good post and still helps me to focus more on my other priorities.

So my last bit of advice would be to review your priorities every so often to see if they still fit your current situation.

Of course there`s TONS of good insights written on this subject. For example, David Allen`s book ” Getting Things Done” features one example of how to choose your priorities on different levels (long and short term).
These authors explain it way better than me and have thought about it way longer, so I`d advise you to do some research if you want to know more about the subject. There`s probably one or two books that`ll fit your style and your specific goals.

Thanks for reading! Do you have experience in having to choose one thing or project over another? How did you decide and were you happy with it in the end? Let us know in the comments!

Crafting a story – You’re never ready, start!

This week I finally started sketching the pages of the prologue of Recollection City.

The reason for this specific blogpost is that I could have started sketching these pages earlier. but I fell into the trap of wanted everything to be “ready” before starting to draw the pages.

2015 09-22 CaS-start

I had been focusing on tying some loose ends together with the story and the structure of it. I was doing the homework of the course I’m doing, Oatley Academy Live. I made influence sheets, did new thumbnails, etc. And that’s all good, but last week I realized I was stalling the drawing.

I made “starting to make the pages” a milestone of sorts in my mind, so it became a bigger deal to start them.

I am someone who loves coming up with ideas, reworking a story, trying out new things without pressure and then I freeze up when anything definitive has to be put on a page. I also know that when I just start and get a move on, this feeling will pass quickly and I will be way more confident, cutting, pasting, erasing and changing stuff directly over my sketches.

But I didn’t start, I wanted to be better at perspective drawing than I currently am. I wanted to have everything designed, colour scripted, completely thumbnailed and explored compositionally.
The perspective drawing was holding me back especially, I was dreading looking at backgrounds being all clunky and awkward. Reminding myself of the fact that part of the reason I`m making this comic is that I will get better at comic making helped a bit. Still, I wanted the pages to be the best looking as they could. Which is why I didn`t start them. (Ironic, right?)

Designing everything beforehand will take a long time to do. Which is fine if you’re making a very short story. It’s even essential if you’re making a one image drawing or painting, which is a different form of storytelling and asks for a different approach. But when doing so many drawings for a story, carefully designing everything before ever making one page ensures you’ll not finish your long form comic in years to come.

I need to start making pages, I worked on the story long enough, I have CTNx coming up as a deadline to have something more to show than concepts, and most importantly, this comic needs to be made so I can put it online for you all to read.

There’s a reason that, in big movie productions, scenes will always be in various stages of development. It’s just inefficient to finish one stage of the process and let the other departments just sit around for a year, doing nothing. With making long comics, this is the same. I needed to realize this again.

Story, colour and getting better at drawing itself will always be part of the process, for the whole length of making this comic.

Keeping this in the front of my mind will hopefully free me up to not see every stage of comic making as a new step and a big deal, but see it as any part of the process. I hope it keeps me focused on reaching other kind of milestones, like finishing scenes or even chapters.

Of course things need planning and design. You need to know what clothes your characters will be wearing in a scene, you need to know which colours to pick when you’re colouring and for your most important panels you might get better results if you explore the many possibilities first.
But you can come up with a lot of these things during the process of making the pages themselves. And not everything is equally important too. A few fellow artists shared that for designing and thumbnailing for longer stories, they’d focus more on their most important panels and key moments and trust that their artistic ability would make sure that the rest looked good as well.

It’s an interesting discovery process of how much you need to prepare beforehand until you just need to say: for the sake of progress I need to call this “enough” and move a scene or page to the next stage. This is what I’ll be exploring in the coming weeks and I’ll keep you updated about that.

Thanks for reading!

Is there something in your life or a creative process right now that you put a mental obstacle in front of? Watch for things like “I will start this when…” If you want you can share about it in the comments. It might help you acknowledge that you need to get over the threshold and start doing something.

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Creative prompts of August 2015

15_02-Venture_Prompts_aug

Hello readers!

Here are the creative prompts I posted in July. I hope these ideas will inspire a warm-up, sketch, illustration, painting, sculpture or just a thumbnail or whatever you like to make! Feel free to also use these to come up with your own different ideas.

Check out the amazing Ursula Dorada, who did the prompt of August 31st, a delicious pizza toadstool!

Here are the creative prompts of August:

August 3rd: Make a costume based on the theme “scratches.”
August 4th: Design a prop for Cookie Monster.
August 5th: If you lived under water what animal/creature would you be? Draw it!
August 6th: Make an illustration or thumbnail with these words: “glitter” “airplane” “fern..”
August 7th: Design a fairy made of concrete.

August 10th: Find your favourite type of typography and design a character world or prop based on it’s aesthetics.
August 11th: Design a hipster mud monster.
August 12th: Design a snail’s house that’s different from how it usually looks.
August 13th: Find a piece of classical art, draw it and put a robot in the scene in a way that makes sense.
August 14th: Design a creature made of soap bells.

August 17th: Design a scarf for a giraffe that keeps it’s whole neck warm.
August 18th: Design an amusement park in the clouds.
August 19th: Make a really creepy painting that features a lot of fog.
August 20th: Pick a random book from your collection or from the library and draw the literal meaning of the title.
August 21st: Draw a unicorn with a reason to disguise itself. Put that reason in your drawing.

August 24th: Combine these three animals into a new one: pidgeon, monkey, hippo.
August 25th: Mash your favourite foreign country together with a favourite fairytale, how does it look?
August 26th: Mash up two sports and turn it into a new one, draw a critical moment in a match of your new game.
August 27th: Mash up two of your favourite characters, one from a book and the other from a movie.
August 28th: Mash up a costume from the middle ages with one from a science fiction setting.

August 31st: Create an enchanted toadstool that looks delicious so it would be hard to not eat it when you see it.

To see the creative prompts for other months you can go to Creative Prompt Master List

As always, if you use any of these for a creative endeavour I`d love to see the results! @ me on Twitter or tag me on Facebook and also in your posts, tag it with #creativeprompt or #pencilsandstories

Have fun!

More head space for creators - Backup

More head space for creators 1 – Backup

Hello all! This blogpost finds you a little late and the reason why is also the reason for this blog post.

I got robbed of my bag not too long ago. In it was a lot of important stuff. Expensive things, like my mobile phone, and things that are important to me personally, like my notebook.
The thing I really learned the hard way that Friday is how important it is to back up the things you don`t want to lose. Thieves exist, things break, destructive weather or events can happen.

I was thinking about how I could turn this unfortunate event into something positive for me and others and so I present to you part 1 of a series: “More head space for creators.”
I will talk about backups, mental and physical health, workspaces, equipment and maybe more subjects in the future. Even though this applies to all working people probably, I’ll try to add some specific advice for artists.

With this series I hope to help you try and prevent some of the events that can give us head- and heartaches and that can steal your precious time, your important health and your money. A carefree life does not exist, but I hope these tips will help you somehow.

Today is about backing up your precious work, memories and interactions. I hope to give you some pointers to make this subject as easy and fast for you as possible.

More head space for creators - Backup

Backing up is often time consuming and boring. But losing things is even more frustrating, not to mention heart breaking. To make it easier for you I have made a worksheet that I hope will help you make this process smoother:

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET

Ready to go? Let’s get started:

Step 1 List all the items you want to back up

List everything that is important to you, also think about where this all is stored, how it is stored and if you can still access your work somehow when there’s a theft, fire or accident. You can use page one of the worksheet to list these things.
To help you not forget items I have listed the most common projects and items you might want to back up on page two in the worksheet linked above.

Step 2 List the services you already use

List the (online) services you use and think about if that is enough or too much. Things like Crashplan, backup software, Dropbox, Evernote and your email clients. You can use all these things in the backup process, but the most efficient and fast way for you depends on how you’re already using them and where you already store your items. You can list all of this in step 2 of the worksheet. (on the third page) Also add services you’re missing and would like to use to make your backups more automatic and easy. It’s good to do some research to find programs or plans that are right for you and the amount of data you want to store, or the flexibility you want.

Ready? Then go through your list and see if this is most efficient way for you to back up your stuff as fast and easy as possible. Also list the price. (This might help you see if you’re spending money on plans or subscriptions that you hardly use and could do without)
Cross off the things you don’t want to use. (And cancel those subscriptions)

Step 3 Preparation

From the two lists you now have, choose your preferred backup methods and put everything in it’s right place to start backing up. Automate the backup process as much as possible.

Install the software you need, place loose files in their right folders, make sure you have the right set-up you want in your cloud accounts. In other words, make everything ready so it can easily and automatically backup.

A rule of thumb is to put your digital files in at least two separate places. When a thunderstorm fries your computer by overloading it with power through the sockets in your home and your external hard drive, that holds your precious backups, was hooked up to it, chances are that external hard drive is fried too.
Before the web or cloud services people would recommend burning really precious files on a cd and bring those to someone else’s house, so in the very extreme case that your house burns down, you still have it somewhere. Nowadays you can store your files on a company’s server in the cloud and certain services even let you make backups to your friends’ or relatives’ computers remotely.

Automate your backups as much as possible. There are tons of services that you can use that schedule backups, and you can specify which folders, files and other locations to put into the process. Often times the first run is very long, but afterwards it only changes the files that you cange and then adds the new things, so that will go much smoother.
Some services even store previous versions of your files, so if you save a JPEG over a layered .PSD file no harm is done.

An example:
Photos from your devices can automatically backup to Dropbox, which is a cloud based service so it’s stored remotely, but the Dropbox folder on your internal hard disk automatically backs up to a cloud based backup service and your external hard drive.
Or: you send an email to your Evernote account, and that specific Evernote notebook is saved offline in a folder on your hard drive, which backs up to Crashplan cloud and maybe you’ve told Crashplan backup to the computer at your office.

Step 4 Backup! And create a schedule for any manual backups

Sit back and relax while your backups run.
After a (sometimes very long) time, you’ll have safely stored all the digital files, congratulations!!

If you use a service that updates your backup regularly then all you have to do every now and then, is make the time to backup the things that are not automatically stored or updated. The intervals are up to you, depending on what it is. (Not everything needs a backup every day) Use page 4 of the worksheet to come up with a schedule for these things. An example of this is backing up your website, or the contents of your photo camera.

You might also occasionally want to back up your content from your cloud-based accounts. This seems ironic, but everything can break, shut down or be hacked. You could also stop having internet for a while for various reasons. You can delete your own stuff by accident or lose access to your account.
Things like Dropbox are easy to backup. A lot of services have folders on your hard drive that you can put in an automatic backup.

Step 5 Digitize “analogue” things

So all your digital files are now safely stored in their own places. Well done!
But what of those papers, printed photos, articles, sketches, notes, even paintings that you listed? They can get stolen or destroyed too.
Even though more and more companies and people try to go paperless, you might still have a ton of “analogue” stuff lying around.

I listed this step as the last one, because this process can take months and I wanted you to start backing up your things that were ready to go as soon as possible.
If you’ve got a lot of drawings, notes etc. then you might feel super discouraged just thinking about taking photos or scans of all of it. That’s why I recommend to work in steps. Maybe grab five items every day and digitize them (starting with your most important things and work from there to the less important). There are even scanners that you can feed more than one paper at a time and it will automatically pull the papers through, these are not cheap though, so decide carefully. They`re often used by people who want to live paperless.

This will take a long time, but like I talked about in other blog posts, a lot of small steps make for a big one. Over time, more and more things will be included in your backup, where you have less chance to lose it and where you can easily access them too.

It might be good to make it a habit of regularly going through your recent notes and sketches and make photos or scans of the things you really want to keep.
A snapshot of your notes of the day and put into Evernote is easily done. It’s something I now try to do every day. I don’t want to lose any thumbnails again.

Put these photos and scans in the locations where your automatic backup will back it up for you.

If you digitized notes and papers then you could even throw things away and do some house cleaning that way. I’ll probably throw a lot of of notes away. To the artists though I want to plead to never, EVER, throw away drawings or paintings that you once liked. Unless you’re in DIRE need for space, just keep it in a folder, box (preferably one that will protect it from ageing too much) so you can see your progress and artistic growth over the years. I know some stuff will seem really bad and ugly in five years, but your 10, 20, or 30 year older self will regret not being able to see it.

So, that concludes part 1 of the new series. I hope the worksheet is helpful, if anything is unclear please let me know. Or if you have things to add, good software you use, please let us know in the comments!
Also please spread the link to this post and share the worksheet with anyone you know who might find use in this. I just want to keep you all from losing your hard work and for you to not have to worry about this, so you’ll have more energy and head space for the awesome things you’re doing!

Here’s to more creating!

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Creafting a Story - Designing villains part 2

Crafting a Story – Designing villains part 2

Hello all, and welcome back to part two of the series about designing my villain characters for the Recollection City comic. If you missed part 1, you can go and read it here.
This week I`ll be focusing on how I designed Alaric, the guy with the brains behind the attack on my fantasy country of Tarina.

Creafting a Story - Designing villains part 2

Alaric is probably the most difficult character for me to get into the head of. He is a middle aged, bitter father, yet very smart and he makes it his life`s work to seek revenge on an entire country. The last bit is not exactly something I have very much sympathy for. But people like this exist, so it`s still a character that can feel real.

You`ve probably heard about the idea that people who do evil things usually often think that what they do is for the greater good. They are right in their own mind.
The story that is told in Alaric`s family over and over again to every new generation is that they were wrongfully banished from the country of Tarina. Feelings of being denied a better life and feelings of anger and resentment have a deep root in this family and they all feel like they have been treated wrongly. Add to this that this anger drowns out much of the love and tenderness of being in a healthy family and you have all kinds of problems.

Alaric, with his knowledge of technology and other sciences comes to the realization that he can use his inventions for “setting things right” and making a new life for the next generation of his family. He alienates people around him (he even left his wife because she was trying to get him to stop obsessing over the past) and drags his daughter with him in his plans. He actually thinks he`s doing Valeska a favour by “finally stopping the cycle of injustice.”

I hope this makes him dangerous enough since he is still operating from ideals and the idea of a better future. In a very twisted way, this is how he shows his love for his daughter.

He and Valeska are the opponents of Bern and his friends. So I tried to make Alaric, in his character and posture, someone who is contrasting with Bern.
Bern feels inadequate to be a leader. He`s dressed very commonly, likes to be amongst the citizens of his city. Alaric is the opposite of that. He is aristocratic, very focused on his “royalty” and qualities as a leader, cold, distant and rigid.

I tried to show that in his design and in the compositions. Here are some of the initial thumbnails I did:

Alaric thumbnails

For my story I need a younger and older version of him too. Here are some of the early try outs:

Alaric-face

His face resembles that of Valeska of course. I really wanted them to feel like family of each other, so again, I used the sharp nose, chin and cheekbones. They also have the same mouth and squinty eyes.

Valeska-en-Alaric

Eventually, this is where the older Alaric (after the prologue) ended up:

2015-08-17-Alaric-portrait

Have you ever made villain characters? How did you get into their head? Who are your favourite villain characters from other stories and why? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Thank you very much for reading this post! If you want, you can keep up with the progress on the comic on the Recollection City Facebook Page too. I post little updates and sketches there.
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If you missed the link to “Designing Villains part 1” then you can read the post about Alaric`s daughter Valeska here.