“It doesn’t matter if you’re a model maker, a potter, a dancer, a programmer, a writer, a political activist, a teacher, a musician, a milliner, whatever. It’s all the same. Making is making, and none of it is failure.”Adam Savage, Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It
Starting in September, I started to make some big changes.
I don’t know the exact cause or the specific thing that made these changes a priority.
It is likely a culmination of things. A bunch of small pieces, perhaps insignificant on their own, that started the avalanche of creativity. Because that’s what changed: the desire to create with the strength to finally do it. The want and need has always been there, lurking, but the catalyst was missing.
And I know why it was missing. But I couldn’t fix it. I didn’t know how.
Changes & health stuff
Turns out, burnout repair needs time. And, in my case, it needed a fair amount of it. Over a year to get to the point I didn’t dread the thought of doing a creative thing.
There were times when I thought I had recovered, but the act of trying to make brought forth little else than more frustration. I thought “Isn’t art supposed to be fun?” and “Isn’t design supposed to make me happy?”
It brought me neither of these things. I no longer enjoyed it. Even photography, though easier for me to get motivated to do, still seemed like a chore.
But then, September arrived and… something was different. I had been reading more often, working on designing the company website, and following honest and inspiring people like The Bloggess and Wil Wheaton. Those two individuals are so open and honest with the mental health struggles they face and it makes me feel like I, too, can be brave enough to share my own story. Strong enough to not just pay attention to my own health and be aware when there’s a day when I have had “too much”, but to say so and not feel so guilty when I need to do it.
And it turns out… that helps. I don’t have to give 100% Every. Single. Day.
It’s unhealthy. Unsustainable.
Giving more than was safe for me to give was what got me into this mess, this Epic Burnout, in the first place. I took from myself what I needed to survive and I burned it to ash.
Years ago, I was at the point where I was so stressed that I would cry in the bathroom before starting the day’s work. I would break down in panic attacks at the idea of the weekend ending, because there was so much pressure on me and me alone. And a lot of that I know I put there myself. And I let others add even more. I allowed this to happen because… I had something to prove? To say I was mentally exhausted, that I needed room to breathe, that I needed a break, would be seen as a failure?
Honestly? I don’t know.
I’m more aware now of where the threshold of “too much” is, and try to be cognizant of the state of my mental space. Ideally, in order to spot depression before it hits. (The depression itself being a discussion for another time.) I don’t always catch it, and even if I do, it doesn’t mean it won’t create havoc wherever it lands. But aiming for increased awareness is certainly a start.
And then, with all that circulating, I started writing. Drawing. Creating. Little by little, here and there. And it was fun. It was actually, honestly, fun. I wanted to keep doing it! I didn’t absolutely hate everything I was creating anymore. My outlook had changed.
I was still doing what feels like “posting in the void” and getting little-to-no response when sharing my work. And while that sucked, and it’s discouraging, it wasn’t going to stop me from creating. I was (am!) actually enjoying the creating part of the process again. And that’s huge. It has been years since I felt this.
I don’t even know when the last time was.
And I am not going to lose it again.
Drawing & everything
In October, I started doodling some simple sketches, aiming to do something every day if I could. I’d start small, not aiming to do anything special with the drawings. (Clearly, the key here was tiny steps and not over-committing myself to too much too fast.)
And then I read on Twitter that it was Jey Pawlik’s birthday. I follow their comic, Dead City, and adore the two main characters. It’s an awesome story about two men during a zombie apocalypse and set in Toronto(!). And what better excuse should I have to draw my favourite character from that story than as a surprise?
Obviously, Jey had no idea of my plans: I’m not normally on their radar, after all. This was perfect because I had an out. If I didn’t get the drawing done in time, no one (but me) would be disappointed in me.
After finishing the quick sketch in my sketchbook, I decided to go a bit further. Drawing in pen is simple enough, but maybe I could use my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, and ArtFlow, to fix the sketch up a little before sending the image to Jey.
“Fixing up” the sketch, as you can see below, got a bit out of hand. I was having fun learning how to draw with the tablet and becoming more familiar with the app. So much so, that I wasn’t ready to stop doing it when I finished the line art. I had to colour it, too.
The idea of shading it was far too intimidating. Plus, with the next day being Jey’s birthday, I had run out of time. I had fun creating, and promised myself that I would do something more next time.
In November, I took one of the quick sketches I liked from the beginning of October and brought it into ArtFlow to clean it up. The previous attempt at art went reasonably well, and I wanted to get a hang of this tablet thing.
Over the next couple of days, I worked on the sketch slowly, testing out line weights and levels of detail, and slowly becoming more comfortable with the app. (Which is not a terrible substitute for Photoshop, I must say. I can’t wait to have a tablet that can access Adobe products, but this is great in the meantime.)
Then came the time for colour and layers of both shading and highlights. Step by step the drawing was becoming more and more complex and detailed. I didn’t want to stop before it felt like something more complete. I wanted a final product that I could be proud of. I was wary of putting too much pressure on myself, but I also wanted to go beyond the comfort zone and do more than I have with previous digital art.
So I added multiple layers of shading, adding depth to the image in a way I haven’t before. And it was turning out really nicely, I was surprised it was something I had made.
Maybe I’m not an impostor after all. (Can one really be an artist impostor?)
And then I stopped working on it for nearly a month.
The next step was colouring/shading the skin, and that is intimidating. I didn’t want to mess it up, so I froze. And it wasn’t until a couple days ago that I could work on it again. I spent the time between working on this to watch and read tutorials on painting skin colour. And most of these tutorials covered painting non-white skin, specifically.
This was part of the reason I didn’t want to attempt shading the drawing of JP. I knew this was an area that I have little experience in, and when I shaded in characters with dark skin tones before I was careless and made them ashen. I didn’t want to repeat that.
I’m going to learn, damnit!
Overall, I’m happy with how this piece turned out. It’s not perfect, but at least there’s actual colour is the skin and they don’t look dead. I can see where certain aspects can be improved, and plan to work on those in the coming months. The skin was a huge roadblock initially, but ended up being fun as I worked on it.
As Adam Savage said in his latest book, “Making is making, and none of it is failure.” I made it. I finished it. It’s imperfect, sure, but I didn’t fail. It’s a thing that exists now that did not before.
I can definitely do better, of course.
And I will.
Early December, after finishing the previous drawing, I started sketching on the tablet. I rarely start sketches on the tablet and, if I have, they have not turned into much else. But I wanted to skip the paper this time, and give this 100% tablet thing a shot.
I started with a teal-blue pencil on its own layer and a rough sketch of some sort of diplomat. (These aren’t characters from anywhere, I just made them up as I went along.) The next layer is black to cleanup the drawing and fix some anatomical disasters. (You can’t see the hand to the right, but believe me that’s it was terrifying.)
The current plan is to finish the flat colours and a background of some kind. I may add shading, but I want to try something different than before. I’d like to see if I can create a better balance of final result to time spent, and see what other effects I can create with different shading techniques.
A lot of the time reduction is likely to come from practice, more than anything, I suspect. The more I do this, the easier it’ll get.
Have you checked out my Ko-fi page? I post a lot of progress work there and plan to do so ahead of posting here. If you’re interested in supporting my work please check it out.
3 thoughts on “Digital Art and Illustration: December Update”
I can so relate to a lot of what you write about ‘losing it’ and burn out: like learning you “don’t have to give 100% Every. Single. Day.” Great line! How long does it take so many of us to learn that?? Good for you! And, feeling like an imposter . . . I had these feelings all of my life, mostly about my work. Then, when I retired, I decided that in my ‘new career’ I was just going to ‘let myself off the hook’, and creativity liberated me a bit. Maybe, hard as they are, these ‘pits’ in the road are relatively normal for creative spirits . . . Read “Art and Fear” if you haven’t already. I found it hugely liberating in this regard.
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I was surprised to learn how common “impostor syndrome” is for a lot of people.. Reading Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” was inspiring and eye-opening. (Someone so successful dealing with it too? It’s not just me?) It seems to be hard for a lot of us to not feel like fakes in our fields. I know I spent far too much time worrying about proving myself, or what others would think about my work, that I stopped enjoying the process of creating. It was strange to get that back, and to finally realize what it was that went missing.
Your idea of letting yourself “off the hook” resonates with me, too. I feel like, this year, this is what I have began to do for myself. My goal is to draw, write, design… just create. And to not put so much pressure to be perfect. Create and then share it, without judging it unworthy first. (Not to say I am managing it every time, but I’m trying.)
I’ll definitely be checking out Art and Fear. There’s always more to learn, and it sounds like an excellent resource. (Just added it to the to-read list on Goodreads, in fact!) Thanks for the recommendation!