Man. It’s been almost 15 months since my last blog entry. A LOT has happened in that amount of time. Let’s take a look, by way of a helpful, bullet-pointed list:
September 2021: I started a new job as the Creative Director for video and events production company. It’s a great fit, and I get to do lots of illustration, design, and art direction (I’ll touch on some of those projects in a future post).
December 2021: I got engaged!
April 2022: I got married! My little family of three pretty much doubled, because now I have a wonderful wife and step-son, and two dogs. Oh, and we all moved in together into a house.
August 2022: The three kids all started at a new school. Thankfully, it’s right next door to us, so mornings and afternoons are way easier and less stressful than they were in the single-dad years.
Now, that’s just a short overview of the last year (my wife and I also went on a couple great trips too), and doesn’t cover all the art I’ve put my hand too in that time. For that, I’ll need to break the updates up into catagories: illustration, sculpture, and animation. Let’s start with…
THE ILLUSTRATION UPDATE
In February of 2022, I took part in the Love for Kettle art auction again. My piece this time was, “Why Not Both?”, an acrylic painting on 9×12″ wooden board. Since I like to work 3d elements into the Bad Apples series, I decided to try something new and create the condiments out of Sculpey clay. I was delighted to find out that this painting was bought by the owner of my previous entry, “Hold the Pickles” – which has got me thinking of how I can create a bookend piece that would give them a nice trilogy in February 2023.
This summer, I announced a big project: Year of the Ring. This was designed as a way to get me back into regular work after the marriage and move, so that I could do character designs and sculpts based on Lord of the Rings without having to exert too much energy into creating my own IP. However, because I am what I am, I way overbooked and overscheduled myself with ideas, which immediately got blown up by getting a much more creatively demanding day job. However, I’m very happy with the pieces I’ve created so far, and will continue to tinker away until I’ve at least illustrated the Fellowship…. except Gollum and an orc or too would be really fun to draw….
Here’s the illustration I made for our wedding invitation! We were going for a very specific, muted ink and watercolor style, which I’m sure I overworked a bit. This was a traditional-digital hybrid project, starting with a rough pencil sketch on Bristol paper, then scanning and cleaning up the proportions in Photoshop, then printing that onto 140lb watercolor paper and inking with brushpen, before finishing things up by scanning that back into Photoshop and painting digitally.
Since my wife, Katelin, is wise, she is pushing me to finish up hanger-on projects before starting new ones. First on the list was the Headless Horseboy, whom I had drawn, inked, and put down the base colors in watercolor in October 2020. When I didn’t get him done in time for Halloween (probably because I was a little busy making something else), the painting got put in the closet and kind of forgotten for two years. Thankfully, it survived the madness of the home move, and I pushed through and got it completed for this year’s Halloween; even releasing a print for sale. I’m excited to see which little monster walks down the sidewalk in 2023!
And then there’s this big boy. Starting as an answer to the SVS prompt of “Fairy Tale Traveler,” I went into this as mainly an excuse to discover and dial-in a digital inking process that would perfectly match my traditional brushpen work. A) I happily nailed it and B) I stumbled on an IP idea that is taking up a lot of my headspace (remember how I specifically did NOT want that to happen for at least a year?), and I’m itching to flesh it out. What I know right now is that this is Quentin, who is on a quest in the Land of the Dead to find out why his family has vanished to the Land of the Living. However the story pans out, I’d love to create this as a graphic novel, or a heavily illustrated novel, a la “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”
Well, that wraps things up for the Illustration Update. My goal is to publish a blog every other Friday (and if I can do that for a year, adding a newsletter to the mix), so by the time I write the next one, I should be pretty far into the drawing of a pirate mutating into a were-raccoon. It’ll all make sense then. Trust me.
Long time no post. After my last writing, stress just kinda built due to the virus lockdown, and it knocked me sideways. Isolating and staying at home, turns out, is EXTREMELY not good for young kids. Really, it’s not good for anyone, but especially 7 and 5 year olds. So some shifts in classwork and work-work scheduling needed to be figured out, and my brother and sister-in-law stepped up to help the three of us get some space and time apart. All that added up to me basically losing any steam to draw or paint in early April. The good news is that hitting that snag really underscored a big mental/emotional/spiritual need for me:
I NEED ARTISTIC COMMUNITY.
This has always been a problem for me. I’ve always been the art guy. I was drawing before I could talk, I was always the best artist every step of the way from kindergarten through high school, and even in college all my roommates were computer science or software engineering majors. Basically, I’ve always been doing this alone.
And that sucks. It’s exhausting. And it’s lonely. And that sure wasn’t going to get any easier in a global pandemic, because there was no way to find an art community (outside of the SVS forum that I take part in). So, the only option was to take the bull by the horns and create one. I knew that my buddy Ben from work had been getting into oil painting over the last year, so I pitched the idea of creating an art group with the goal of encouraging, critiquing, and holding each other accountable to keep working on our projects. He was in, and we then invited another friend from work, Jason, to join in. He had never painted before, and wasn’t sure of his artistic prospects, but was looking for a new hobby to pass some of this downtime. Each time our group meets, we’re all tasked with sharing updates on what we’ve worked on, what we’re working on now/next, and what skill we’re focusing on improving with our current projects.
Since then, we’ve met twice, and plan to continue Zoom meeting once a week or two to keep each other moving forward. In our first meeting, we chose that we would all paint a portrait of Ben’s bulldog, Winston. I’ve chosen to work in oils for the first time since… 2006?… and got a rough sketch and color palette ready to share at the next meeting. Unfortunately, that meeting wasn’t able to go down, because work got a little out of hand at the last minute for Ben and Jason. Well, I didn’t want to start on the oil project until I’d gotten feedback on the rough sketch, so I decided to not sit around (I’d been doing way too much of that already), and threw myself into a quick ink, watercolor, and gouache warm-up illustration. I call it “Bulldogs Suck at Poker:”
I really love how it turned out, and it already has my mind spinning about thinking up different things that animals surely suck at.
But back to the real painting. Here’s that rough sketch, and the color palette I’ll be sticking too:
Since this is going to be a long term project (because oil takes forever to dry), I’ll keep you posted as updates are available. My favorite take away from the new art group (aside from hanging out virtually with my friends and not talking about work for a change) is that it’s snapped me out of the slog and has made me super productive again. Evidence being (aside from the extra painting I already made just to surprise the group)…
During my short term art depression, I fell behind on Inktober 52. I think a big part of this was because for the month of April, colors were required for the prompts, so I knew it would take me more time than I had the energy for. Once I told myself to grow up, I decided to use the color as a reason to play around with Copic and Spectrum Noir markers more, and that’s proven to be really fun. Here are the drawings I’ve made for the series in the last month – I particularly love the squid:
#6fanarts is a thing on Instagram, so I decided to jump on that, instead of the Batman comic page I was planning to make, mainly because I new that this project would push me closer to the direction I want to go. Here’s how it works: you ask your followers for which characters they’d like you to do fanart of in your style, and you pick which six you’ll make. I’m using the project to force myself to get better at painting in photoshop underneath my ink work, and I’m starting to develop a process that I’m comfortable with that’s not far from my ink and watercolor style, that will work well for graphic novels and comic strips. Here’s what I’ve gotten so far:
Follow me on Instagram to be able to see new illustrations for Inktober 52 and 6 Fanarts (as well as updates on everything else I’m working on) as soon as they come out.
This month, I have room and forsight in my schedule, so I’ll be taking part in SVS’s May illustration contest, “Isolation.” After some really basic ideas, I’ve settled on showing a chimpanzee/inmate relaxing in his enclosure/cell at the zoo/prison. This isn’t a political statement, but more of a riff on how I would illustrate The Far Side. Here’s the thumbnail of the concept I’m plaing with, in two orientations. I’m pretty sure I’ll do this as an ink and watercolor, but part of me wants to just jump in and use it as way to practice with gouache. But I also kinda want to win, so….
We’re one week away from Easter, and I’m just starting to wrap my head around the fact that we’ll all be spending it shut off in our own homes. This morning, I ran to the grocery store and grabbed some candy, chocolate, plastic eggs, and baskets for my kids, so that the holiday can feel as normal as possible. We’ll even put on some nice pink clothes, which is weird, but all of this is weird.
Speaking of weird – my vector illustration process. So far in this blog, I’ve focused mainly on traditionally produced artwork, but I’ve been a professional graphic designer since 2008, so most of my work is actually created digitally, using Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is fun primarily because it looks like witch-craft to anyone unfamiliar with it. I think most people can understand Photoshop in the abstract (you’re painting… but on a computer!), but creating vector artwork in Illustrator (you’re making art with points and math to insure infinite scaleability?), not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s really versatile.
Let’s take a look at my vector illustration process using my Adventureland poster project as an example.
STEP 1: THUMBNAIL SKETCH
I created this, along with three other thumbnails for the other posters in the series, so that I could show the client my rough idea for the layout, and what elements/attractions from Disney World’s Adventureland would be featured. Pretty sure the whole set took between 10 and 15 minutes, because each design was really clear in my head. Now, when I pitched it to the client, I included a detailed explanaition of what was going on, but for my purposes, this was good enough for me.
STEP 2: FINAL SKETCH
Once my client responded back with approval, I printed out the reference images I’d googled, blocked out the frame on some 14×17″ bristol paper, and got to sketching. I feel like this sketch took somewhere between three and four hours to knockout, primarily due to the pirate ship. 1) There wasn’t a reference image from the Pirates of the Carribean ride that showed the angle that I needed for the illustration, and 2) I don’t recall ever drawing a pirate ship before. That doesn’t mean I hadn’t as a kid, but I have no memory of it. This created a fun challenge to tackle.
STEP 3: COLOR TEST
After the final sketch was completed and I’d scanned it into the computer, I created this insanely simple color sketch. I’d already pitched the color palette that I intended to use to my client when I sent over the thumbnail, but I wanted an abstract view of how the colors would work together with the Adventureland layout (for my eyes only). This is a step that I would definitely call “productive procrastination.”
STEP 4: COLORING BLOCKING
At this point, I placed the sketch on the first layer of my Illustrator artboard, set the transparency to 50% and the blending mode to Multiply, so that I could create the artwork underneath without losing my guide (which is all that the pencil sketch was ever going to be). I then pull out an extremely sophisticated tool that makes all the magic happen.
That’s right – the humble mouse. That’s all I use to create all the points and vertices needed to form the outlines of all the shapes that build up the illustration. In my mind, a stylus is for Photoshop, and the mouse is for Illustrator. They’re different programs that function very differently. It only makes sense to me to use different tools to subconsiously reinforce this as I work. Plus, in my experience, the mouse is just faster when clicking vertices out.
For this step, I’m just focused on blocking out the overall shapes and color sections of each character or element. These are also given their own layer, as to cut down on the chance that I will go insane as the illustration gets more and more complicated.
STEP 5: ADDING DETAIL
Now, I go through each big color blocked shape and drill down with more detail. Since I’m basically just tracing the pencil sketch on this step, I like to work the vector in as red or magenta lines. These colors stand out the strongest underneath the pencil lines, so I never lose track off what has and hasn’t been outlined. Also, they are exceptionally fashionable. Two birds; one stone.
Once all the red outlines are in place, I assign each outlined shape a color from the set color palette, then make sure everything is arranged from front to back in a way that will allow everything to overlap correctly (which is basically a digital version of placing colored paper cutouts over each other).
STEP 6: ADDING SHADOWS
The last step is to add the shadows (for this posterized process, I don’t add highlights in Illustrator), which is done by adding one of the darker colors over the flat color blocks at ~25% opacity on a Multiply blending mode.
Steps 5 through 7 are done for each element in the illustration, but sometimes I do them piece by piece (for example Blocking, Adding Detail, and Adding shadows to the hippo before moving to a parrot), and sometimes I do them for the whole illustration at once. It really just depends on what rhythm feels better on that day. And, just if you’re curious, this is what all the outlined shapes on the illustration at this point in the process look like all together:
Wow. Now I understand why this (and each poster in the series) took at least 30 hours to illustrate. But, to me, it’s worth it, because everything is individually scalable and editable in a way would either be impossible or cumbersome in Photoshop. This illustration would be just as easily produced on a stamp as a building wall.
STEP 8: CREATE THE FRAME
These travel themed posters are all tied together by their frames, so on this step I designed the four tiki masks and swashbucklin’ swords, x-marks the spot graphics, and then added a weathered texture over all of it.
STEP 9: REVIEW ALL THE VECTOR WORK
This step is short and fun, the carrot at the stick of all the late nights sitting in front of the monitor wondering when I’ll let myself go to sleep… or if I will ever see sleep again. Once everything is “done” in illustrator, I turn all the layers off, then add them back in back-to-front, and watch the illustration come together. It’s at this point where I give myself one last chance to to see if I’ve missed anything, if I want to move anything, or if there’s anything else I want to add.
Personally, I find it hypnotic, especially considering it’s usually 1 a.m. whenever I find myself at a finishing point. Somehow it always works out that way.
STEP 10: FINISH OFF IN PHOTOSHOP
Now, this isn’t a step that I do for most vector work, but for these travel posters (for which I’m intentionally going for a retro, screenprinted look) and a couple of my Flat Pops, I do drop the finished vector art into Photoshop. All I do is grab an old-school grainy brush and lightly reinforce some of the shadows with some texture, to get a little bit of a spatter/half tone look.
Projects vary in complexity, but I invariably do steps 2, 4-7, and 9 for all of my vector work. It’s challenging and fun, but by the time I finished this set of posters (the last two of which still are waiting to be released), I feel like I may have pushed Illustrator as far as I can for the sort of work that I make. This leaves me two paths: to go backwards into more simplified or abstract vector work, or to start working more in Photoshop. And the answer to that, I feel, is yes.
Oh, and if you want to buy a tee or tank top with the Adventureland print on it, you can pick it up at Nick & Lete.
Well, seeing as I just spent this weekend mostly sleeping to recover from full-time homeschooling/working from home, I don’t have a ton of update at present.
I’m running an Instagram promotion for my emergency coloring pages (found here) because I want as many kids and parents as possible to have as many resources as possible to get through this pandemic shut down. So far, 63 people have downloaded the PDF, and that makes me happier than all the shirts I’ve sold on TeePublic to date. I’ll have that PDF available for download until everyone in America is able to go back to school and work.
For fun, and to get myself in the graphic novel mindset (besides all the Batman I’ve read in the past couple weeks), I’m going to put something together for a mini-challenge on the SVS Forums. A blank comic page (with the panels, of course) has been posted, and you come up with whatever story you want. Should be good practice.
Tonight, once the kids are asleep, I’m jumping back onto character design for my graphic novel project that’s sat dormant for 5 years. So the iron is hot, so to speak. I’ve also planned out the month to set some time aside to get the ball rolling on my Narnia cover project and Gravity Falls character paintings. That is, unless the world goes crazier.
How’s everyone doing? Hangin’ in there? Good. Me too. Home life’s getting stressful, but that’s to be expected with the self-isolation. The kids and I did need to get out, so we went for a jog. Speaking of which, if you ever want to feel old, go jogging with a 5 year old. But for the most part, I spent this weekend attempting to recover physically and emotionally from attempting to work and homeschool full-time simultaneously, so I didn’t touch a pencil. My main take away from all this, so far, is that we weren’t made to live like this.
But hang in there. This won’t be forever.
And now to the point. I’ve already written a post about how I make some of my artwork, so it only follows that I should write a on what I use to make some of my artwork. Since I consider myself more of a drawer than a painter, I’ll start with those tools.
I have always tried to keep my tool sets really simple and stripped down. A great deal of the creativity of art comes from the restraints you’re under (whether self-imposed or imposed by others/circumstance), not to mention, we’re just drawing here. No reason to get wasteful of cash and space. Find what works for you, and stick to that.
The tools that I use in my studio (or as my kids like to call it, the “dinner table”) are as follows:
HB Pencil. For the vast majority of my work, this is the only pencil that I use. I know a lot of artists like to use colored pencil to sketch in, but I grew up using a No. 2 for everything, and this is the closest pencil to that that has the least amount of smudging and smearing, which is important to me, as the flat of my hand has a tendancy of getting all over the place.
Pencil Sharpener. Because X-acto knives are for cutting paper and board to size. You’re not impressing anyone.
Hard white eraser. For me, this is the most successful tool for removing pencil lines, without discoloring the paper. You do, however, need to be mindful of whether there is any ink residue on there (after you’ve used it after you’ve inked a drawing), because that will smear on the paper if you’re not careful. So just keep a scrap of paper on the side where you can rub that off.
Kneaded eraser. This one’s great for just knocking some pencil work back rather than fully removing it, or for lightening a section of colored pencil for highlights. It’s also an absolute must if you’re working with charcoal.
Pens. This is the most important set of tools for drawing in my opinion. Every pen has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and which one’s you use will help to shape your style.
My workhorse is the Pentel Pocketbrush brush pen. It’s a super solid brush, is fairly easy to control while giving expression to your line work, takes replaceable ink cartridges, and I can get it at Michaels. The ink is waterproof, as long as you don’t try to drown it and give it enought time to set, so I’m able to use it with watercolors and markers. It’s awesome. I use the technical pens to suppliment the brush pen, and the brand I use for finished work is Faber-Castell, not because they’re the best (I actually like Microns better), but because their ink’s blackness most closely matches the Pocketbrush. I use an F for contour lines for inorganic props (like machinery) and sets, and S and XS for fine details and hatching (the XS specifically for hair).
The final drawing instruments that I use are Prismacolor pencils. In keeping in line with pairing things down and keeping the setup simple, I’m only working with the standard 12 pack now, and I mix my colors on paper. They also come in handy for adding detail, texture, and shading to watercolor or marker base colors.
Drawing boards. I’ve got a portable one that I can clamp paper to and work flat on the table or on my knee on the couch (pictured here), and a larger adjustable-tilt board. I only use the latter for drawings that will take multiple hours or days, because the tilted surface saves stress on my back. But if that will then need to get inked, I’ll switch it to the portable board, because I only like to ink flat.
You may have noticed something missing, and that’s a ruler. I only use rulers as a straight edge to assist me in cutting paper down to size, because I firmly believe that an artist shouldn’t need a ruler after they’ve gotten past high school art.
I also keep a separate, smaller set of tools bagged up if I ever want to sketch outside of the house. When doing so, I grab one of a handful of sketchbooks laying around and take these:
HB pencil. Still the main deal.
6B pencil. In case I want to top keep it just a pencil drawing, I’ve got this softer option to add value.
Hard white eraser
Picma Micron pens. I’ve added their brushpen to the .05, .03, and .01. It’s not great, but the ink’s the same color, and anything I make with these tools I consider a sketch, so it gets the job done.
Artist’s Loft colored pencils. These are the generic brand offered at Michaels. I have much larger set if I want to do more intense coloring in my sketchbook. But for the most part, this travel set does the job just fine.
Right now, I’m loving working with Canson’s Bristol and Mix Media papers. I use the Bristol for pencil only (including colored pencil) work, or drawings where traditional means end after inking, and the coloring/painting will be done digitally after scanning. I use the Mix Media paper when I think there may even be the possibility that I’ll want to add watercolor after inking. This is the paper that I’m using for all of my Inktober 52 animal drawings. But why 14×17 pads? Because I can easily cut it down to 11×17 or 11×14, which are standard frame sizes, which also just feel the most comfortable for me to draw on.
That’s it. That’s all that I need to make some good drawinings. You don’t need a lot, and you can get everything you need (or at least what I need) at Michaels, and you know you’re going to get all of it at 40% off or better.
To do my part in bringing a little creativity and fun into these troubled days, I’ve collected a bunch of my Solving Problems (still need a better title…) ink drawings into a print ready PDF so that kids (or you!) can print it off at home and use as coloring pages. You can download it for free here. Have fun!
Not going to lie – it was really hard to draw this week. It was the week that the kids were home because of the pandemic, but the school hadn’t gotten their plan together yet, so it was a “scramble a schedule of pseudo-learning activities together so they don’t kill each other or conspire against me” week. And it was mostly successful, as no one is dead. But I didn’t feel like drawing.
Just now, I was outside on the balcony, staring into the gray and overcast North Texas sky, thinking about how this outbreak came at the exact right time to wrap up the hardest year of my life. But before I could spend much time focusing on when exactly I must have brought this Egyptian curse on myself by defiling a mummy in my youth, I noticed the blue jays bobbing around the apartment. They’re my favorite birds that live around my home, and it looks like they’ve decided that spring has returned, so so have they.
I walked back inside, grabbed a sketchbook, and did a quick drawing.
While watching the birds going about their day, I had a few quick thoughts (all at once) on how to deal with life right now.
EMBRACE THE STRESS
Easy to say; hard to do. But do you think that flying south for the winter is a blast? No. I’m guessing it sucks. And then you have the return trip. Which probably sucks. But these guys do it every year. When the temperature around here starts to drop in the winter, they don’t throw up their wings and decide they just can’t deal, man. They rise up and get to work. And we have to do the same thing in the coming weeks and months. For me, this means that every morning before I wake my kids up, and I look at my list of things to get done that day, I can’t panic, and I can’t let it overwhelm me. I just have to accept that it’s going to be stressful (it may very well straight up suck), then put on a smile and start making breakfast.
GIVE GRACE TO YOURSELF, THEN GIVE IT TO OTHERS
The next step after accepting that things are going to be hard is to give yourself some grace. You are not going to get everything done today. You are not going to be the perfect parent. You are going to forget to do the dishes. You are going to fall asleep on the couch instead of playing the sixth educational video about why soap is important that the school has recommended. And it’s okay. Just go ahead and forgive yourself for all that stuff before you even put pants on. All that you can expect of yourself each day is to do the best that you can. That’s it.
Once you can do that for yourself, don’t forget to do it for the other people in your life. Chances are a lot of them aren’t going to embrace the stress as well as you do. They’re going to get overwhelmed. They’re going to have short tempers. They’re going to emotionally shut down. If you have little kids, they might just go insane every 26 minutes. And when they do, remember that some mature, cool-headed person gave you grace when you lost it in the past. If we are all willing to give help to those we can help, and actually receive help from those who can give it, then we’re all going to get through this in one, mostly recognizable piece.
TAKE HOLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
The blue jays weren’t just sitting around; they were living. It rained last night, so half of them were collecting blown off twigs and leaves for their nests. The other half were murdering little frogs in the rain puddles to take back to their chicks. We should do the same. Metaphorically. Don’t actually kill a bunch of little frogs…. I’ve already made that mistake once as a kid (maybe that’s where the Egyptian curse came from…).
I’m guessing you have a lot of extra time on your hands all of the sudden. Well, maybe you now have the time you’ve always wanted to volunteer at your local food bank (or simply donate with the extra cash you’re saving from not going out right now). That big project you’ve been dying to get to, that you fall asleep thinking about every night? Go for it. Paint your first oil painting, build that card table, illustrate that graphic novel, learn Japanese, finally learn to balance a checkbook, whatever. Build stronger relationships with your family and friends. Check in more, share your heart, reconnect with your spouse, learn your boyfriend’s middle name, or spend more time with your kids (you have no choice anyway). You have a once in a lifetime opportunity now to build the skills, habits, relationships, and life you’ve always wanted. Do it now, and when things get back to normal, that new normal will be so much easier and fulfilling.
BELIEVE IN PROMISES
When the blue jays migrated, did they know for a fact that better feeding grounds were waiting down south? Or when they got back in the spring? No. But something deep in the back of their tiny, tiny bird brains promised them things were going to be fine. In the same way, we each need to have faith that things will get better, and that promise is stronger than this virus. Because I believe that, because I belive that God has a plan for me, and a better tomorrow for my family, I can continue to work remote during the day, draw silly animals at night, and laugh with my kids in between.
So, because I saw some blue jays (now joined by a group of sparrows) flitting between the magnolia trees and the rooftops, I was given the clear message to wake up and remember to embrace stress, give grace, and rest on faith while working towards a better tomorrow. Maybe the coming year really will be an improvement.
In an act of taking my own medicine, I’ve given myself grace by pushing a few illustrations I’d scheduled to make this month into April, knowing that I’ll need that time to focus on my kids and getting all our schedules rebuilt.
I did, however build and launch my Society6 shop! I’ve got six of my favorite pieces up there available as prints, canvases, notebooks, and cards.
In a second round of sucking it up and practicing what I preach, this week I’ll begin development on a science fiction graphic novel I’ve been dying to make since 2009. It was originally conceived as an animated short, so the first chapter is already fully boarded, so I’ll just have to translate that into comic pages. But first, I’ll be revisiting the character designs, and those sketches will be hitting my instagram in the coming weeks.
And speaking of my instagram, a promotion of a recent painting is wrapping up now. I’m pretty happy with the response, and have picked up 12 followers, and a ton of views of my work and website.
Tonight, I’ll be drawing last week’s Inktober 52 prompt “tower” (I’m falling behind, but it is what it is), so until that’s done, here’s my last one for “elf,” inspired by my daughter.
Need to start this post off with a huge disclaimer: I haven’t been the best at work/life balance in the past. Actually, there have been seasons in my life (as I expect with most artists) where I have been terrible. There have been times where I have taken on too much work in order to provide for my family and move my career forward. But it was never worth it, because it just took me away from my family, and I apologize for that. Even now, when I have a much better handle on schedule, my kids tell me from time to time that they don’t think it’s fair to me that I “have” to work late at night, instead of watching TV or going to bed. They are great kids, but more about that below.
Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about work/life balance. I’ve read up on it, and listened to some good podcasts about it (3 Point Perspectives, in particular, did a great episode on it). When I was younger, it didn’t really matter. At that point, you’re barely even responsible for yourself, let alone any other relationship, so it’s no big deal to spend all day on artwork and projects in class (high school to college to film school), then go home and just spend the rest of the night drawing or painting or watching Fraiser reruns or whatever. However, now that I’m 35 and have hit my 1/3 life crisis, I’ve discovered that work/life balance is the biggest issue facing adult artists, hobbiests, crafters, writers, and anyone with creative interests. How are we supposed to focus on getting all the great stuff out of our heads and into the world and, you know, have a life?
I’m a single dad (and I’ll be approaching this subject from that point of view), so maintaining a healthy work/life balance is especially important for me. That’s because, right now (since my kids are 7 and 5), the “life” part of the balance is making sure everyone is fed, clean, clothed, rested, not fighting over whose R2D2 that is, and where they need to be at all times… me included. So let’s look at what a normal day of the week looks like for me.
Weekdays start when my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. This is all dependent on if I haven’t been kicked awake by a groggy kid sneaking into my bed before the alarm. Once I’ve fought myself awake, I do some light exercise (pushups, curls, crunches, etc.), make coffee, read a chapter in the Bible, and get myself ready for the day. I don’t want to gloss over two of those points (and no, one of them is not “make coffee” to all you people reading this blog while wearing some kitchy meme-worthy shirt about the importance of coffee in your life). For artists, maybe more so than for everyone else, exercise is crazy important, because our jobs and interests generally call for us to sit, hunch, and/or do repetitive motions all day. So, do not skip moving your muscles around and stretching. This seems really obvious, but I can think of two times in the last five years where I have thrown my lower back out just because I’ve been sitting at a computer working for too long, and I’m relatively young and healthy, so you’re definitely going to get screwed up too. Also, the Bible reading. Whether you’re religious or not, study, prayer, and meditation are incredibly useful tools for aligning your heart, soul, and mine. I strongly recommend.
Alright, it’s 6:30 a.m., and hopefully I have both my hair combed and my pants on, because it’s time to wake up the kids. Neither are what I would call morning people (especially my son), so I carry each to their respective bathrooms where their clothes are waiting for them, kiss them on the heads, tell them something intentionally annoyingly chipper/motivational, and go make breakfast. At this point in the morning, we enter the “herding cats phase” as my kids tend to constantly forget what to do to get ready for school unless they are constantly reminded. By 7:20 a.m., we’re all ready to go (give or take my son’s hair being combed, as he is a little boy, and has not fully bought in that this is something that should actually happen every day), and we leave the apartment, get in the car, and do school drop off.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “This is supposed to be about work/life balance, and all this guy is talking about is Life.” You are correct, but not how you think you are. I intentionally start the day off only with the Life part of the divide, to serve as a reminder that that’s the part that is infinitely more important. Family is more important, relationships are more important, so if I have some work to do in the morning, then I wake up between 5 and 5:30 to get it out of the way before it can impact Life.
Okay, the kids are safely in the hands of the Texas public school system, so now Work begins, and I’m usually in the office between 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. I play the part of Lead Graphic Designer for my day job, an actual creatively rewarding job that allows me to mix in illustration, video, motion, and animation throughout the many projects I touch on a daily basis. But the best perk during this season is that I work with people and in culture that respects the need for a healthy life, and I have great flexibility in schedule to be there for my kids. Sick kid and I need to work remote? Done. Emergency or meeting at the school and I need to cut out quick to attend? It ain’t no thing. Easier said than done, but I suggest every artist, until you have the ideal, dream job, when all you do is draw monsters or sculpt miniture cacti all day (or whatever you’re thing is), to get a job like this, because flexibility with kids is best thing you could ask for.
Case in point, last week I was able to chaperone Teddy’s field trip and do Reading Buddies with Omi (which is an every Thursday thing). Thing is, these Life vacations are only possible when you have Work locked down, and you have the faith of your co-workers that you’re gonna get everything done. Most artists suck at deadlines (I won’t use “creatives” because I find that term is always used when explaining why an adult can’t get things done in time, balance a checkbook, or tie their shoes). Sometimes, I suck at deadlines, and I always suck at routine. So I’ve learned in the last year that I need to schedule my day out into chunks, sometimes down to 30 minute blocks, to assure that I get all my priorities done. I use the app Todoist because it’s synced between my phone and work and home computers, and I plan out my projects, chores, and family time each day. It’s kinda my robot secretary. Okay, I’m just going to call it that from now on.
Okay, back to Work. When I’m at work, I’m at work. I stick to my list as best as I can, prepare for and attend my meetings, and knock out all my planned projects. I’ve found that, in conjunction with Todoist, that timing my work is super helpful. I use the app Be Focused for that, and I have it set to work intensely for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break to get up, move around (again EXERCISE, kids), and check emails and texts. Rinse and repeat. Before I know it, it’s about 5 p.m., I’ve been machine-level productive, and it’s time to pick up the kids from after school care.
We’re back squarely into Life now, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. In the past, I’ve let Work bleed into this time, and it’s always been a disaster. What happens every time is that the kids and I lose patience with each other, stuff around the home doesn’t get done, and the work ends up sucking anyway. No – just focus on Life now. During this time (which I’ve already sketched out in Todoist as soon as I got to work in the morning), I make dinner, maintenance clean the kitchen and living areas (while the kids are supposed to pick up their rooms – hahaha), do bathtime, make lunches and pick out clothes for the next day, and watch TV or do an activity, and read together. The only Work that I allow to exist in this space is Inktober drawing, because Teddy and Omi do that with me.
By 8:30 p.m. the kids are in bed and totally, not faking-it asleep. Now the final block of Work for the day can start, and it’s the stuff I’ve been dying to do all day. This isn’t day job stuff, but freelance graphic art or logo work, or personal projects, designed to push my illustration career forward, or just for fun (in a perfect world, it’s both). I’ve found that doing digital artwork on week nights is better than traditional media, since there’s no clean up involved. I’ll listen to music or an audio book while working until about 10:30 p.m. (unless I’m on an deadline or get sucked into something, then all bets are off and 1 a.m. is on the table). At that point Work can stop, and I focus on some Life just for me, usually a little TV or reading, before knocking out so everything can start again at 6 a.m.
Weekends are totally different, and by design. On the weekends that the kids are with me, Saturdays are for weekly chores and family time (parks, swimming, etc.), with only a some project work mixed in. Sundays are completely set aside for Life, with church in the morning and time with the kids to play and relax the rest of the day. My brother’s family also lives in town, so we hang out with them on the weekends sometimes too. On weekends that the kids are staying with their mom, I have Friday night blocked off for personal time (dating, movies, dinner out, etc.), and Saturday/Sundays for big traditional artwork projects. That’s when I’ll get complicated stuff drawn and inked, and if I want to do a painting or sculpture, I’ll do it during this time, because I can focus for long periods of time without having stuffed animals thrown at my head.
So, that was way longer than I planned. You might be asking, why so much detail? Well, for some of you, you’re generally interested in what my days look like, but mostly it’s because I can answer in that much detail. And that’s only because I made figuring out my work/life balance problems a priority. Because I know how everything breaks down in so much detail, I’m able to volunteer regularly at my kids’ school, mentor a 7th grader on Fridays, take my kids to ballet practice every week, be there for the people who I care the most about at the drop of a hat, and still get a ton of work done in the office and at home. Basically, what I’ve figured out after a lot of trial and error, is that by focusing on God, my family, and my health first, the artwork takes care of itself, and I’m way more productive in quantity and quality.
Still waiting on a client to release the products associated with two huge poster/t-shirt designs I’ve finished. I’m extremely proud of them, and can’t wait to share them here and on social. Once released I’ll do a deep dive into the full project, and share the design process.
Just found out yesterday that official fan art can be sold on Teepublic for Adventure Time and Venture Brothers, two of my favorite animated shows of all time! This is great, because I was planning on doing big illustration projects for each property already, and now I’ll also be making Flat Pop collections for each over the next month to sell.
In December, my kids and I discovered “Gravity Falls,” and it quickly became our favorite shared TV show. So, I’ve decided to create a multimedia collection of fan art pieces around the show, including small sculptures, Flat Pops, a poster design, and entries in my new Redrawn series. So look out for those projects to start popping up in the coming weeks and months.
What is Redrawn, you ask? It’s a brand new series of paintings that I’ve wanted to start for a long time, in which I invision classic characters from animation in my traditional illustration style. The first was “Little White Lie” which was recently shown at the “For the Love of Artists” exhibition at the Kettle Art Gallery.
So, I just wrapped up a major illustration project a couple days ago (and should be able to share the final artwork soon, once my awesome clients launch the products), so it’s about time I start research for my next…
This one’s just for fun, so I’ll be able to share process shots and updates throughout the year, so stay tuned to join in the journey! I’ll be posting to this blog at least once a week, not just with project updates, but also breaking down some of my work processes, style choices, and work/life balance ideas