Category: More creativity

Posts about growing your productivity, passion, confidence and about taking small steps towards creating more and finishing your 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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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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