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Breaking A Creative Block

So when I said see you in seven, obviously I meant months 😉 I didn’t; actually, just life got in the way.

So what have I been up to during my absence? I’d like to say that I’ve been working hard on my latest book along with some short strips and writing.

I’d like to say that, but I’ve been stuck in a creative rut.

However, thankfully I’m now out the other side of that. I’m back creating art, working on my latest book, updating my blog, posting on Instagram, sending out some tweets and I’ve also joined Pinterest.

I’ve decided to refocus this blog. I’m going to use it as a platform to offer some nuggets of wisdom that I have learnt. I’ll also be discussing some mistakes I’ve made so hopefully, other people can take benefit from what I did wrong so others may not.

On that note, this post is going to be about how to stay motivated as an artist and how to find your mojo if you have lost it.

Being in any creative field can be hard if like me you’re working a full-time job doing a 40-hour working week (55 with commuting).

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You get tired, you can get home, and the last thing you want to do is sit down and work on your latest project. At times like this, it’s easy to find some excuses not to do your art/writing. “I’ll watch this one show” or “I’ll complete this next quest in World of Warcraft” essentially procrastination becomes a friendly little imp that sits on your shoulder feeding you excuses not to do work.

Before you know it, its time for bed. So you tell yourself, “I’ll get back on to that tomorrow”, you don’t get back to doing that task, as tomorrow never comes.

You then start to feel bad that it’s been three weeks and you haven’t created anything, and you start to beat yourself up about this mentally. That cuddly little procrastination imp has become a sluggish monster eating at your self-esteem as a creative. It’s at those moments that dark thoughts can start getting into your head and you start putting yourself down and questioning your abilities.

I think it is a problem for all creative people; you get this little thing going on in your mind saying “I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough” you can start putting yourself down, and you have to fight that and it’s not easy. I’ve been there, and every artist/writer/creative person I’ve spoken to about this has been there.

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You have to fight that, and I think that’s what sorts people out over the long run some people they just can’t resist it. They give up, and they spend the rest of their lives wishing that they’ve been an artist of some description.

I think the secret to it all is having faith in yourself. Faith is a strange word; it’s all about believing in yourself and believing in the choices that you’ve made.

If you want to be an artist you have a calling inside you, it’s the same way with dancers, musicians, actors, writers and all sorts of people. There are a lot of vocations in this world and people who go down that road they feel called to it, they know that that’s what they have to do. I think if you want to be an artist, you know this deep down to your core.

One of the secrets to bringing you out of this funk is not to overthink about the future. If you think about how you want to have a certain level to the work you produce or how prominent you want to be one day, it’s just going to overwhelm and scare you. The thing to do is focus on today. Be present and aware of where you are right now, not yesterday, not last week, not where you will be in six months to a year. Be aware right now at this time, as that’s the only time you have any control over.

Forget about yesterday, that’s gone you can’t change that, it’s gone. When you go to bed in the evening, go over what you’ve done during the day. Find something good that you have done even if the day has been a total disaster. If the day has been a complete disaster, in all likelihood, it’s probably been a better day than you would think as in the long you would have learned an awful lot.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a total disaster day. You need to realize that out of every failure you learn something new. So when you’re laying in bed running through the day, go through what you’ve been doing. Think of something that was good, it may have been a little thing, it may even have been tiny, but it was good. When learning to reflect in a positive way like this, you’ll initially have more things come to mind that you think went wrong. The critical thing to do is to look at those and remember “I learned from it, and that’s good”.

Once you’ve been doing this for a while, and by a while I mean a few days; you’ll be able to look at your day, and you’ll come away with all the great things that you’ve gained out of the day. The bad stuff? That’s finished it it’s all over it’s behind you. You can take the positive things with you to tomorrow and build on them.

The critical thing to do here is to change your perspective. It’s little like in the film “Jacobs Ladder” Tim Robbins has to change his view of reality to find peace.

If you’re afraid of dying, and you’re holdin’ on, you’ll see devils tearin’ your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freein’ you from the world. – Jacobs Ladder (1990)

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Up next on the drawing board

Hi, welcome back and if you’re a new reader, welcome. Come in, take a seat up by my drawing board and listen as I rabbit on about comic projects, digital art vs traditional and attempts at writing.

Last time I was discussing what I’ve been up to this year, mainly The Chimera Factor. Not being one to rest on my laurels, I already have a few other projects lined up.

Coming up first, I have a short story that’s going to be published in 100% Biodegradable written by Chris Sides and coloured by Liam O’Connor “Off The Reservation”.

Aliens exist. And they’re two-faced bastards. After doing a deal with the US military, the little green (or is it grey?) folk have gone back on their word and are abducting Earth’s cows. Enter Captain Jerry Kowalski – pilot, escape artist and utterly certifiable…

It’s the first time that I’ll be having my pages coloured and I can’t wait to see it. Here’s a great Halloween themed piece of art that Liam coloured for me. Do yourself a favour and check out his webpage.

In December, I’ll be starting production on “The Gunrunner”, again written by Chris, lettered by Ken Reynolds and with colour by Liam.

2028. Tali Clarke, a disgraced marine, now a civilian gunrunner for a private security firm, is subcontracted by the military to transport a reinforced, unmarked car to the south coast. Called in on her day off and offered triple time for the inconvenience, Tali is told that the mysterious cargo she’s transporting is of the utmost importance. But when her car is attacked by well-prepared assailants who’ll do anything to secure the payload, Tali is forced to think on her feet and break all the rules if she’s to survive this run…

This is the 2nd book set in Chris’s world focused around the Frostbyte corporation, “Impossible” is the first. “Impossible” (Sides, Rowlinson, Franco) is an amazing book. Excellent pacing, great story and some truly gorgeous artwork. Well worth the read and great fun to boot.

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The team of Sides, et all have done a great job on “Impossible” so it’ll be a good challenge to try and hit the high level set by that team.

One of the ways that’ll I’ll be looking to improve my work for “The Gunrunner” is using some traditional media.

Historically I’ve been purely digital. On more than one occasion I’ve had feedback at portfolio reviews that whilst my pencils have a lot of life, when it came to the inks, something was missing, something looked… too digital.

Based on this feedback I’ll be producing my pencils digitally and then printing the pages onto A3 paper in blue, inking traditionally then scanning back in.

Why blue specifically? A little while back, artists would sketch with “non-photo blue” pencils because it’s more or less invisible when using a photocopier. Since most people scan and adjust digitally, “blue-line” sketching is still used, it remains a great and easy way to draw over the top of your sketch.

Once happy with a rough layout done in blue, I can print it out then add black ink lines. I’ll then scan into Photoshop and by adjusting colour channels, I can easily get rid of the original pencil sketch, leaving only the cleaned-up black lines of the artwork ready to be sent to Liam to colour.

Working traditionally has proved some getting used too. I’ve recently completed a strip for Futurequake which will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of “Something Wicked”. Below you can see one of the pages from the story that demonstrates the blue pencil > ink workflow.

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Finding the right pens to work with is proving a challenge. I’m quite a clumsy person by nature and work from my living room table. We have a nice laminated wood floor and naturally want it to stay that way. So dip pens, brushes and bottled inks aren’t part of the equation.

There are options however, you can get some really nice disposable brushes and pens. Though that could turn out prohibitively expensive as “The Gunrunner” is an 81-page book and these would need replacing about every 10 or so pages.

That leaves me on the hunt for refillable pens and brushes. I’ve recently purchased a Rotring art pen, which from using briefly seems to be the closest thing to a traditional dip pen.

You can read more about that pen here.

In regards to brushes, I’ve tried to use the Pentel pocket brush pen. Though a great brush with a lovely flow, I find this quite a difficult brush to control. So currently I’m using a non-refillable Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen along with the Kuretake Japanese Bimoji Fude Felt Tip Brush Pens.

Watch this space to see how I get on with it. Updates to follow as my hunt and experimentations continue.

When I meet new people and the conversation comes around to me drawing comics (normally within 5 minutes or so) the often asked question is whether I also write them.

Ironically considering you’re reading my blog, I don’t actually consider myself a writer. I have made attempts at writing comic scripts. I thought I’d post one this week to see what people thought.

The script is a one-page story, set in the future where cloning is perfected and the existence of the soul and the idea of reincarnation is a matter of fact rather than speculation.

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Setting:

The story is set about 150 years in the future. Humans have advanced enough so that we can now clone ourselves fully. We can also transfer the whole of our memories and experience to the new body. Along with these developments in Science, we have also discovered that reincarnation is fully real and eventually people souls actually come back to bodies. Though this can be an indeterminate amount of time.

PANEL 1.

Old male hands hold a photo frame. The photo frame contains a picture of a young girl in her 20’s taken in what looks like the 1970’s.Something similar to this photo:

CAPTION:

“I KNOW YOU’LL BE REBORN. SOMEDAY..”

“I’VE LOST COUNT OF HOW MANY TIMES I HAVE BEEN”

PANEL 2.

A futuristic hospital. Two beds lay next to each other. Bed 1 contains the old man still holding the photo frame. Bed 2 contains the same man but 50 years younger. At the top of the bed is a robot doctor (humanoid looking but still a robot think C3PO). In the background a screen can be seen similar to a sales chart there are three metrics being measured “souls transferred” “souls stored” and “souls lost”

CAPTION:

“THE WORLD HAS CHANGED SO MUCH SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE.”

“WE’VE PROVEN THE EXISTENCE OF THE SOUL. WE CAN TRACK THE TRANSFER OF THESE AND PLACE THEM WHERE WE WANT”

“IF IT’S RECORDED IN TIME”

PANEL 3.

The robot doctor places the photo frame into the hands of the body on bed 2. In the background, we can see an ECG machine has flat lined on the body in bed 1. Under the heart rate line, there is also an upload bar which is at 100%.

ROBOT DOCTOR:

“TRANSFER COMPLETE”

CAPTION:

“MY REINCARNATION TAKES SECONDS”

“YOUR’S IS MORE NATURAL. IT COULD TAKE YEARS OR EVEN CENTURIES…”

PANEL 4

The younger hands now hold the photo frame from Panel 1.

CAPTION:

“…IT ALREADY HAS”

“ONE DAY I’LL FIND YOUR SOUL AND WE CAN BE TOGETHER”

“UNTIL THEN I’LL BE HERE WAITING”

 

This is one of the first comic scripts I’ve written and it was an interesting experiment. I’m slowly working on a short five-page story in between the day job, comic work and general life. So it may be some time till this is completed.

Let me know what you think of the above script in the comments below, on Facebook, Twitter or just ping me an email 🙂

So that’s it this time around. If you have anything you’d like me to blather on about in regards to comics and making art. Let me know on the channels mentioned above.

Next time I’ll be talking about figure drawing, my working practices and how I approach breaking down comic scripts.

Thanks for reading and see you in seven 🙂

The Chimera Factor

Well, err that was a bit of an extended break between blog posts. Sorry, for that, it’s been really busy for the last few months. So this update may be a little lengthy, so bear with me 🙂

Most of 2017 has been taken up with completing the artwork for my first graphic novel “The Chimera Factor”. A book was written by Richmond Clements (co-editor of the futurequake range of 2000ad fanzines) edited by Barry Nugent (mastermind behind Unseen Shadows), lettered by Paul McLaren and graphic design by Antony McGarry-Thickitt.

Unseen Shadows is a shared universe created by author Barry Nugent. The Unseen Shadows Universe expands the world and characters created within the pages of Barry’s bestselling Urban Fantasy novel Fallen Heroes. The stories are told across multiple platforms, including books, comics, audio and more.  At the heart of Unseen Shadows is a secret war which has waged since the first crusade and still continues to this day. Unseen Shadows provides a broad and action-packed canvas for its diverse creative team to work within. Their standalone tales are 100% canon to the Unseen Shadows universe and can be enjoyed without having to read the novels first.
Given this setup, when Richmond approached me to see if I would be interested in producing the art for the 2nd full-length graphic novel set in this universe, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. Especially when I then heard the elevator pitch….

When a crashed World War II plane is discovered in the Antarctic a United Nations covert unit, led by Major Stephanie Connisbee, is sent to investigate. Unbeknownst to Steph another team, headed up by ruthless adventuress, Victoria Sullivan has also been dispatched to the crash site. Beneath the snow and ice Steph and Victoria discover a relic of mass destruction that should have stayed buried. Now the two mismatched warriors must work together to stop a shadowy organisation from using the relic to plunge the world into chaos.There’s just one problem; Steph and Victoria want each other dead and the relic for themselves. Saving the world has never been messier.

I knew that this book, given the really strong premise, could be really cool. I was determined to ensure that I did Richmond’s script justice. I also wanted to really push myself with how the pages were laid out.

Around the same time, I came across “Strip Panel Naked” a weekly show (sometimes more) discussing the theory of comics presented by Hassan OstmaneElhaou. Hassan had just posted a new video discussing the use of 9-panel grids in “The Omega Men”  and how Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda utilised the 9-panel grid format to tell their story. When taking my portfolios to conventions for review the thing I kept hearing, again and again, was that I needed to improve my pacing in comics, look for the beats in a script and bring that across in my layouts. I had honestly struggled for months to figure out how to do this, until Hassan’s video. Finally, beats in the script and how to use them made much more sense.

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Taking what I had learnt from Hassan, Richmond’s great script and the universe that Barry had made I proceeded to work on the book. I set myself the following rules for the book to ensure I fully understood 9-panel layouts:

  • All pages had to a basic structure of 9 panels.
  • No panels could overlap.
  • All actions had to be contained in the panel.
  • No fancy layouts, just cause it looked cool.
  • The above could only be broken in extreme situations, where it added to the tension or drama.

You can see some pages from The Chimera Factor here that demonstrates how I applied these principles.

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The Chimera Factor launched at Thought Bubble 2017 where I shared Barry Nugent’s table. I’d always wanted to go to Thought Bubble but hadn’t been able to make it. So launching my first graphic novel, attending Thought Bubble as an exhibitor and also meeting Barry in person (for the first time) really made it all the more special.

The Chimera Factor is now fully out in the wild and can be purchased through the main Unseen Shadows website (where there is also a 6-page preview), or from Comixology.

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Next time (which will be a lot sooner than 10 months) I’ll be discussing my current projects and what I have coming up, the next book and possibly sharing my attempts at writing scripts.

 

Scratching the itch.

I’ve always had ambitions to create comic art. Over the years, this seemed to drift like a forgotten dream: one that I would have to give up on.

I’d studied animation at university, though I never did anything with my art afterwards.  I’d always been a little shy of committing to my true ambition – that was to draw comics. I’d thought it a silly idea and I should concentrate on multimedia, I.T. or a host of other careers, never really listening to the one little voice in my head, like an itch, always there, telling me to draw comics. I’d never dreamed I could, so I didn’t. The inner itch to do something was there – I just refused to scratch.

Then one day about 4 or 5 years ago, I just decided to go for it. I had literally run out of excuses to myself on why not, so I made a commitment to myself – I  would scratch the itch. I’d develop a portfolio and see where it took me. If within 12 months nothing had come of it. At least i’d tried.

Having decided to scratch, the problem was where to start?  I found a forum called Penciljack. It’s a great website for anyone looking to get involved with comics – whether you’re looking to build a network, put work out for critique or just to make some friends. There’s a great section called sample scripts for artists (which sort of speaks for itself). I used these scripts to help develop a portfolio.

 

The portfolio I took with me to Bristol Comic Con 2014.

May 2013 Bristol Comic Convention. Armed with a portfolio I’d spent months drawing, I tentatively took this to the convention. This was the first time I had taken a portfolio of comic work anywhere near comic professionals. This comic con had a whole host of them including Gary Erskine, Dylan Teague, Mike Collins, John Higgins and David Lloyd.

Like any U.K. Comic fan who had grown up in the 80’s, I was a huge fan of 2000AD. I’d spent hours as a teenager looking at the work of these artists, studying the form and line the way an art historian would research a Renaissance artist. To say I was nervous would be a vast understatement, however, I had made that commitment to myself. I had to do this.

I took the portfolio up to them.

Something interesting happened. Something that I wasn’t expecting.

No one laughed at me. Not one of them said to “stop wasting my time”.

In fact, I received some great feedback on what was good, what was bad, what I should stop doing and what  I needed to start doing.

I also got introduced to Jim Alexander. Jim had worked for 2000AD, Dc and Marvel. He was looking for an artist for a mini-series to be published under his own publishing house “Planet Jimbot”. Jim liked what he saw in my portfolio so we exchanged numbers and said we’d keep in touch.

I’d gone to the Comic Convention nervous not knowing anyone and convinced I’d be laughed out of the building. Upon leaving I had made some contacts, made some friends and I had my first series to work on.

Encouraged by the great feedback from the comic con, I reached out to the publishers of Zarjaz, a 2000AD fanzine that had won numerous awards.  I submitted the same portfolio I had taken with me to the Bristol Comic Con and the editor of Zarjaz contacted me back and wanted me to draw a strip.

The self-doubt I had always had was going. Things were on the up.

In February 2014 Food Chain #1 was published.

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I was so happy. After all those years of self-doubt and not allowing myself to believe. Here I was, 18 months (ish) after scratching the itch, holding in my hands a comic I had produced all the art for, written by an industry veteran, lettered by an amazing letterer (Jim Campbell). I had dared to chase the dream and things had worked out.

I have since continued to work with Futurequake publishing. I have also continued to attend Comic Conventions as often as  I can. Going to conventions helps to build friendships, make new connections and are also great fun to attend (especially with the after party drinks).

That itch is still there. Nagging at me to create comics. Though now I listen to it. And it’s such a relief to scratch.