Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Oddness of Taking a Vacation.

Of course, we all know when I say “take a vacation” there’s still a degree of unstoppable creativity going on; but to slide into say, the 4th of July weekend, and realize my plans are all too crammy and not vacactiony enough is a minor triumph. So, rather than find myself frazzled, having attempted and failed too many things because of simply having too little time, I will go into the holiday weekend kind of relaxed, breathing free in the knowledge that my schedule is more of less clear.

The new program of writing rough drafts by hand plays rather well into this more relaxed attitude. It’s always my fear that I will end up carrying more stuff than I need. That goes as much for day trips as for extended treks around the world. It sounds silly, it is silly, but there’s nothing I can do about it, that’s how I’m wired. However, knowing that a measly notebook and pencil are all I require to get me through the boring hours on the train or those lucky moments during the day or those pesky last thoughts of the night is lovely. I can skrit skrit skrit words on the page, delighting in the tactile nature of grinding graphite into paper, and still end up with something rather useful, you know, down the line when I sit and type it.   

As I talk about all this relaxing and writing, it is important to note that I’ve hit the depressive wall in my behavioral modification process. Where I was once joyfully knocking out 10 to 20 pages per day, all in the span of 2 or 3 CD’s worth of music, I’m now struggling to produce pages. The trouble isn’t the story or the writing itself, but simply forcing my body to sit down, chill out and focus. What I want to do is get up, wander around and behave like a jackass; basically be a normal person. But that is not an option for me, so I do my best to follow my routine. If I can keep in step, write like the wind and focus for just an hour a day, in a few weeks this will all seem ridiculous. But for now, there’s nothing quite as strangely painful as plopping down on the futon, putting on my headphones and telling the story that is already in my head. Yet I must.

On the drawing front, things are quiet. My summer job is proving to be more time consuming than I’d expected, which is good for the wallet but lousy from a time management position. Add to it the need to make two drawings that have nothing to do with anything but are slightly more important than most of my drawings and things get even more dicey. See, I foolishly did a cool thing once and now, every few years, I find myself having to do more cool things. My oldest nephew, Tom, graduated from high school just at the moment I began my career in illustration. I took a break from drawing WWI soldiers for my first book to make a page of little vignettes of his life from birth to graduation. It was cute and everyone in the family liked it. Instantly, I knew I would have to do the same thing for every niece and nephew down the line. That was fine for Tom and his sister, Kaitlyn, but then Harrison and Carter just had to graduate in the same year, or in the case of this summer, Elizabeth and Avery. Getting one drawing done is taxing enough, mostly ‘cause if there’s a drawing that can’t suck, it’s one that’s going to a niece or nephew; but making two non-sucky drawings, outrageous.

But this is what I do. I think of things, then I make them happen. Sometimes, it seems like the greatest gift in the world, sometimes it’s just a modern curse. Hence my newfound delight in the concept of relaxing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Good News, Everyone. It’s summer.

Otherwise, life cruises along at its alarming pace. Longer days, shorter nights, less distracting nonsense… it’s a wonder that any of us hairless apes is even remotely sane. Plus the humidity. Gah.

Since we know I’m more a long, winter night kind of guy, I mark any progress made in the summer months as bonus. I understand it’s not bonus and that I’m an equally productive in sweltering weather, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

But I am doing something new, I’m taking the weekends off. I figure I gave it my all for a decade, I deserve a summer that is more go places, sweat and enjoy myself than one of sitting, hunched over my desk, wondering where all my time goes.

Now, if you’ve been following this blog religiously, as you should, for the last two years or so, you know I’ve been all over the map trying to find a new way to make illustrations. My purpose was twofold, to work faster and to make something that was slightly more commercially viable. Well, working faster, one would believe has something to do with commercial viability as well but that’s really splitting hairs. The point was, I put down the pen and ink and picked up anything and everything in the hope of finding my new style. My results were like my experimentation, all over the map. But if we talk in the language of batting average, I stopped being a .350 hitter and became more of a .120 hitter. For those of you who don’t speak baseball, that means I began to suck more than succeed.

The most annoying result, of lack of result, from all the experimentation is that I failed to produce functional pages for any of my projects. I could use the paint to create a rather lovely painting, but not to fill a page with panels of lovely paintings. Or I could whip off a decent drawing with red pencil, but not a strong series of images. In the world of one-offs, I could do pretty well. But I don’t work in the world of one-offs.

Since the goal is to make a functional, illustrated page, I really had to take a step back and look at what I was doing. Which I did. Then I created the same image in several of the most promising media. I drew it in red pencil, painted it with black paint on white paper, fired up the fountain pen and then, as a control, I did one in pen and ink. It took the better part of the week because I’m enjoying the summer. Once I’d finished the four images, I set them before me and scrutinized them. On some level, each one had wonderful bits that were created by the medium, little touches that could not be reproduced by the other media. Then I looked at the pile of blank paper I need to fill with images of the Civil War. It’s a large stack. It will require being able to have an idea, sketch through it until it works, then produce a final illustration that will reproduce well even under the most daunting circumstances.

For all the loveliness of each illustration in each medium, there was only one that fit the bill: pen and ink.

I know, I know. I’ve raged against pen and ink for nearly two years, but it’s still the best weapon in my arsenal. I guess the trick will be learning to work faster and smarter. Or in a more chilled fashion, whatever the hell that means.

If nothing else, I know the pain and torment in my future as I work to create something beautiful and moving. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing…

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Being Highly Productive In the Realm of Writing…

 … makes for one boring blog post. I won’t be offended if you skip this week and just move on to next week, when there’s at least the outside chance of something exciting happening.

Anyway, I’ve stuck to my guns: very little internet, lots of time spent writing up a storm. Because of which, there’s a mighty stack of pages under my chalkboard skull. (as an aside, I think the skull needs a name, any ideas?) If I’m doing the math correctly, and strangely when making books I usually do, then it seems I’m half way toward my goal for this rough draft of a novel. Of course, that’s an estimate, the story may unfurl in a direction I can’t imagine and get really long or it might just wrap itself up with a neat little bow the very next time I put pen to paper. Some things you can’t know. But I am completely cognizant that two weeks ago, there was nothing under the skull and now there’s a story… or most of a story.

As I mentioned previously, I attribute this creative success to my refound desire to disconnect from the worthless world of the internet and get things done. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to work out quite so quickly. I thought I would be in for another round of fighting for every yard of ground, months of constant struggle, inching forward, my eyes more on the problem at hand than the prize, far off in the distance. The long fight is what I’m used to. Even my least time consuming project took eight months. But this, this rolling off page after page, is something wholly new. Well, I’ve always worked fast, but to see a single project come together with such speed is surprising.

All that said, I’m hitting the danger zone. My unconscious mind will let me get away with two weeks of messing about, but after that, it’s time to go back to those tried and true habits I developed over the last ten years. Never mind I have no intention of doing that. My unconscious mind and conscious mind are gearing up for an epic throw down. I can feel it.

This morning, after I put out five new pages, it was like I hit a wall. Everything came to a screeching halt. Then came the mild depression and questions about the quality of the words I’m writing. Those are the tools of my unconscious poisoning my mind in the hope I will give up all this sitting in the sunlight and writing and go back to sitting at my gloomy desk and do the same stuff I’ve always done. Then came the thoughts that I should fire up the pen & ink ‘cause that’s always worked in the past… This is worse than backsliding, this is pure regression on a mega scale.

For those of you who have faced this conflict in your own creative struggles, you know what a pain in the ass it is. And you know, as I do, that there is only one way for the conscious mind to fight. While the unconscious mind fights dirty as all get out, the conscious mind has to play the only card it has, repetition of the new activity. So, the best way to get through the hellish torment of writing a little bit each day and getting on with my life is the very thing I suddenly don’t want to do (or so my unconscious mind tells me) yet it is the only thing I can do. The only way out of this insufferable deluge of self defeating thoughts and incredibly accurate/self-destructive criticism is to keep making the very stuff which is feeding this ceaseless din of soul crushing pain. Needless to say, it’s not easy to do. Most people don’t do it, which is why exercise regimens and diets fail… Right now, I don’t even want to keep going.

Fortunately, or unfortunately I can’t tell right now, I have an ace up my sleeve. Simply put, writing is my last defense. If I give it up, there’s nothing left for me to do but sit on the couch, eat chips and get fat. Of all my creative endeavors, writing is the fastest, cheapest, easiest, etc. We all know this. But it’s also the very last thing I have going for me. Sure, there are times and opportunities to make some illustrations, but for the most part, those days are numbered. And since I can’t quite come up with a reason to be all painterly for the sake of painting or photographery for the sake of photography or even drawy for the sake of drawing, I’m counting on the writing to keep me moving forward. It’s my nappy life preserver as I float in an endless sea of boring, passive consumerism.

The only way out is through. The only way to kick my unconscious ass is to stick with my daily routine until it becomes the way things get done.

So much for a lovely, summer vacation…

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Still Rocking the Simple.

Because it works.

I’m sure at one point or another, I’ve used this blog to try and work though my issues concerning the “best” way to commit words to the page and write the Great American (Novel) (Picture Book) (Graphic Novel). It’s an argument of process. Now, since I am a guy of extremes, I tend to oscillate from one distant point to another, never finding a middle ground. There are times when I think that’s the real issue, but the truth is, so long as my extreme practices get the job done, I’m going to run with them.

This week, I’ve reverted to writing by hand. It’s part of my anti-internet planning. If I turn on the laptop, then the internet is sitting there, crouched and ready to strike at the first moment of weakness or boredom. But, if I’m sitting on the futon, bathed in summer sunshine, my CD walkman cranking out the tunes, magic pen in hand; well, all I can do is write. And strangely enough, that’s exactly what happens. And not endless writing as if my life depended on it. Let’s recall the goal of this year is working smarter, not harder. After an hour or two, I just stop. The music ends and I go off to do something else.

Of course, this creates another problem. Eventually, all this scribbling will need to be typed. Since I can’t pay someone to type it, nor can I expect them to read my profoundly beautiful handwriting, I will have to put my fingers on the keys and make things happen. This leaves me with two options: A. I write one day, type the next. That would mean I’d have a better idea of what my manuscript actually looked like and how all the pieces fit together. However, it means I would be spending time typing prior to finishing the story, which puts me in jeopardy of thinking the whole thing is stupid and it’s time to move on to something else. Oh and the whole spending more time just one click away from the distractions of the internet. Or B. I just keep writing by hand, making the ugliest collection of pages and ideas ever, until I finish the story or essentially finish it. Then I type the whole mess, putting the pieces together as I go and see what I have.

Right now, given my newfound rate of production and all that sunlight and fresh air, I’m inclined to keep scribbling away and see what comes of it. I know it will take a little longer to produce a file that I can turn into a Box Book or send to publishers, but the truth is, if I don’t finish the book, then there are no file issues to worry about.

Of course, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that each project has its own way of coming together. Maybe I’ll write the whole thing by hand and type it and edit and be satisfied. Maybe I’ll get so frustrated that I’ll set the whole thing aside for a few months. Maybe I’ll find myself under the gun and hop on the typing train and make this thing happen rather quickly. The only thing I can count on is the unexpected.

But again, the whole point is to avoid this dread machine and it’s ability to make me a passive consumer rather than an active producer. And I don’t say producer as in to make huge profits and add to the landslide of drek flooding the world. But just a guy making something interesting that will stand on its own two legs.

So… paper and pencils for drawings. Paper and pens for writing. And 1984 music technology. Everything I seem to need for a perfect day. Toss in a homemade guitar and the world is downright rosy. I think that’s my way quiet way of telling Fox News to suck it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Back to Basics

How many times have you heard me say that? Like a billion. It’s human nature to think one has the wherewithal to know “this is the beginning” of something grand when it’s really just another speed bump on the road from “I think I know what I’m doing” to “I just did what?” Some of my false starts came from my own silly thoughts. Others were tossed my way by a capricious universe. Such is life, I’d have to say. Or sometimes, grit my teeth and grumble… such is life.

We all respond differently to such things based on a wide variety of factors: low blood sugar, exhaustion, being surrounded by well-wishers or brain-dead, booger picking morons, etc. The list of stimuli, internal and external, is endless. But in the end, I tend to shrug and get on with my such is life. It pays that I’m a bit of a dreamer. When I find my foolish thinking has led me, once again, to another new beginning, I can simply get to work.

Or in this case, get back to basics. (As proven by the Sony CD Walkman I'm rocking in the photo above.)

As you are all well aware, I’m swimming the murky waters of independent publishing experiments. I rather like everything that comes with this particular brand of crazy. Sure, it’s unlikely to lead to riches, but it does allow me do things that simply do not fit what a great many publishers want to see, which I must point out, tends to have little to do with what people want to see. There’s almost no difference between independent bookmaking and indie recording or independent film making. Yes, most of it is underfunded, self indulgent crap… but at least it’s not corporate, profit driven crap hammered into the sleeping brains of the lowest common denominator.

On top of that, I’m still doing what I can to keep a hand in the publishing world. Since I’ve proven time and again that I can’t sell out to save my life, there’s really very little difference between what I do for my personal projects and what I would do for a publisher. The game is simple: say yes to pretty much anything that comes down the pike and work on the stuff that doesn’t evaporate in the light of day. A note for the aspiring, most things evaporate, get used to it and don’t get discouraged. If you figure out how to avoid such discouragement, please send me a long and detailed email explaining how you did it because I would love to know where I can get some of your magical peace of mind.

Dealing with the nuts and bolts of producing and promoting books tires me. If I wanted to be a designer or a salesman, I would have gone into business as a designer or salesman. I have almost no interest in those fields. My interest is in making thought provoking art and stories. Because those are the things I find fascinating, I’ve studied them intensely. I’m good at them. I like to make art and write. And yet, the world is such that I find myself wasting time pretending to be a good little designer or marketing person. It’s very annoying.

Which brings me back to the basics. As I clear the crap from months of experimenting and half-finished projects and daydreams, I’ve found myself making drawings which serve no purpose other than to push the whole world of “professional” bookmaking as far from my brain as possible. After a decade of focused production, thinking of each move in terms of how it might help with my career, I kind of don’t care. And it’s nice to not care. It’s nice to make some drawings that won’t reproduce well, that don’t tell a concise and clear story. Stuff that just works for me, stuff that I couldn’t imagine trying to explain, let alone sell… ‘cause remember, I am not a salesman. If it all ends up in the recycling bin, so be it.

Between the internet diet and backing away from being “on” as a writer/illustrator 24/7, I sort of feel like I’m getting a healthy dose of reality. It makes me feel like I’ve behaved, from time to time as a jackass, but that’s what stepping back into reality does.

Clearing all the crap, my mind included, has helped kick start the Civil War graphic novel Tom and I are conjuring. When there is nothing on my desk but the pages of text I need to draw and my chalkboard skull grinning at me, it makes getting down to business a whole lot easier. Playing games about all the things I could be doing is never as much fun as winning the game of kicking ass at what I do best.

All apologies for the rambling nature of this post, it’s a rambling day. Time to ignore the world and get to work.