Blog Making comics Overcoming obstacles

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.


  1. To me it’s hard to start anything, really, when it comes to art. I still have so freaking much to learn that I’m too scared to start and finish an artwork. Because, it’ll be awful right? Or at least I tell myself that. I say that ooh I’ll do this or that artwork to get to know the story I want to work on more, but then all of a sudden it’s a month later and that really sucks. I guess I should watch less tv shows too, haha!

    You can be proud that you started working on the actual pages! Once you’re over the threshold it’ll be much easier I bet. So go you, Henrike! Congrats on taking this step 🙂

    • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

      Thanks so much for your comment Ilse!

      “A month later and it sucks” might also be because you’re learning really fast, which is good! 🙂
      But yeah I totally get what you mean! Starting small is something that I maybe should’ve touched on in this post. There’s nothing wrong with doing quick thumbnails for a year and soaking up all the art around you and do studies and experiments besides your project. Learning art is an intimidating monster endeavour, it can be overwhelming to think of everything you feel you still need to learn (I experience that a lot) but it’s comforting to know that people like to see progress too. I’ve been following webcomics that look vastly different now compared to where they started and it’s part of the charm. So don’t be afraid to show your stuff and tell your stories! 😀

  2. I’m so proud of you, Henrike. You’re making great steps and it’s so great to follow your journey. I can relate to wanting something to be perfect before actually doing it. I tend to do that too. That’s why I wanted to let you know that I started writing via the app Day One. I really like it, because I get to write about my daily experiences but I also want to write down some ideas I have about what direction to take. It feels really nice. 🙂

    • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

      Awww thank you so much my friend!!
      Oh my that’s so exciting!! I started using the app literally yesterday! How do you like it?? I really hope you’ll discover your writing style and where your passion in that lies and can’t wait to hear about your discoveries! Thanks for sharing!

      • I really like the app, especially that I can add pictures to it. I’m curious where it will lead me… 🙂

        • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

          Awesome! I wish I could attach more photos to an entry but it’s really nice! 🙂

  3. Abrian Curington Reply

    Oh yes. Building up small goals into major milestones was a big problem in my projects! I get over that pretty easily these days because I set timelines for myself but I struggled with it before I gained momentum. I actually had to start a big project in order to get going. Doing small projects was like nudging the giant boulder. Starting a big (really… really long) project was giving the boulder continuous shoves to keep it rolling!

    I’m constantly changing up my methods of creation to maximize efficiency. I can definitely speak to having things in various stages. I do a volume at a time, all the pages in stages at the moment. I tried to hop from pencils today, inks another day, painting… but it wasn’t as efficient for me!

    I can’t wait to see the rest of this series! You inspire me to keep making tweaks to my process 🙂

    • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

      Wow it’s great that starting a bigger project helped you gain momentum! (with a lot of people, myself included, it’s the other way around haha) Yeah I’ve done the “take one page through from start to finish, then move on to the next thing” too, but found that made me feel like I’m starting a big, new, empty thing every time. You have to get into a new stage every time. But with working in “batches” so to say you can power through multiple pages much faster.
      I’m glad you found value in this post Abrian, thanks for sharing and for your support. As for the rest of this series, there’s a lot of other “crafting a story” posts on the site.

      • I’m so glad I read this! I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I spent around a year working on story and development art for my comic, and I still have a lot to design but at one point I had to say stop and focus on a first part. I feel a constant slight stress knowing I don’t have everything tied up, but it’s also exciting and encouraging to have in mind that I still have a lot to design and write, because I enjoy it a lot. Regarding working on pages, I found that for me its easier to figure out the storyboard and roughs for a complete scene first and then finish the pages one by one. Perspective drawing is also a problem for me, but as you said, making pages will only make us get better at that! Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

        • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

          Thanks so much for sharing your experience Lorena! Yes, for some reason the idea that I can go back and design something *while* making pages took a long time to sink in for me. I like what you say about it being exciting too!
          And your process makes a lot of sense. 🙂
          About perspective: I always find comfort in the fact that I like seeing artists progress over time too. Guess a lot of people do. and yes, we will get better! *high five* Let’s do this!!

  4. I know exactly what you mean! For me, I am referring to my photography of course.
    Somehow I always feel the urge to “improve” something before uploading, even before sending out an e-mail. Recently I read a book in which the heroin is faced by a huge problem, all on her own. She gets het act together and starts afresh on her own (renewing and redecorating a hotel). When (of course, it’s a book! 😉 ) it turns out OK and everybody’s really proud of her, she said: “You only know what you’re good at if you start doing it.” Or something like that. That phrase got BAM, through to me. 😉 Actually, since June I’ve been so much more active, by thinking: I can sit around here, thinking things through, but I need to get out and about and take photo’s! I need to see people, connect with colleaugues, SHOW MY WORK. So I pushed myself and look where it got me. I have improved my photography skills, my communication skills and when I have an idea: I act! (Just like today, when I e-mailed some people and a great response). So yeah, DOING it sometime far better that waiting to get it all right from the start.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, sis! 🙂 And GOOD LUCK! 😀

    • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

      Oh yeah, that’s so true! I have had years of just thinking, reading and plotting….and then not doing. It’s frustrating and kind of weird now that I look back on it, but it all had to do with fear.
      You’re on the right track Gea, just keep doing what you’re doing!! <3 And thanks for sharing!

      • Aww, thanks! 😀
        I could have done so much more this year and the last bit of 2014. But can’t change that now, I need to focus on the now and what the future will bring (ooh, that sounds deep 😉 ).

        • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

          Well not every period is the same. And sometimes you need to figure out stuff first and prepare. But yeah I know that feeling well.

  5. Juana Molina Reply

    I feel like I was reading myself, starting is always so hard, but when I finally do it all things flows pretty smooth, my fears go away, and somehow I forget to be perfect just working is enough. The problem is manage to start, I spend literally hours in front of the screen stalling the momento to work, which is such a waste of time. Lately I realize my problem is that I am a control freak, I think I over rationalize everything, I need everything to answer logic ( like before start an environment I read a hole bunch of things about what prehistoric people eat, for my story to fit this landscape).
    Knowing everything before start is virtually impossible, because what you know before and how is going to come up are two different things (I think the hand has a different brain than the rest of the body, and you can never fully control it). You will learn and come up with new answers while you are working.
    And the worst thing is I know that, when I do graphic design I just jump so easily to sketch and come up with ideas, figure thing out is generally easy, but drawing is so hard, and I don’t even know why…
    I hope I will remember your wise words before start my drawings and just jump to work and improve in the way.
    Thank you.

    • Henrike Dijkstra Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing Juana! I like what you said about the hand having a mind of it’s own, and how during drawing you come up with new ideas. I recognize that! I often don’t use half of the things I researched before I started. I hope you’ll find the balance between preparing well and starting whenever you can. I recognize the countless hours of stalling. 🙂
      You can do it!!

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