Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Give a Little to Get a Little.

Man, I hate that. We all hate that. But maybe that’s just the laziness that comes with life in a tarnished country on its way out of the driver’s seat of history. I’m sure there were a bunch of lazy, bearded Romans thinking, damn, wouldn’t it be nice to make these lovely marble sculptures without really having to commit all my time and energy to ‘em… I mean, I’m missing all those playoff games at the Coliseum and the orgies, oh the orgies I’ve missed…

But that’s just not the way it works. Or ever has. Wanna make something cool? It’s going to cost you. Maybe it’ll be time or money or something. In my position, it’s always comes down to time. How much do I have, how much can I spend and what I give up by doing so? I was much better at making those decisions when I was new to the game. I didn’t understand the insidious vagaries of the commercial world, so my naiveté kept me going. Plus I was closer to home, surrounded by supportive people who could inject a little dose of healthy confidence when I needed it. And let’s not forget that I was simply younger, which meant I hadn’t witnessed as much self generated human idiocy. I’m sure all civilized life has always been a mess, but in the last decade, thanks to the wonders of technology and the ubiquity of cameras, it’s been so much easier to see the mess. We are a dumb bunch of monkeys and the only thing we’re good at is making more dumb monkeys and killing other dumb monkeys.

Yeah, I know, not my usual upbeat voice, but what can you do? Well, we did get to Pluto, I guess.

There is a glimmer of something beautiful on the horizon. The Civil War book is becoming a thing, not a notion. The question of the day, how much is it going to cost me to get there? Since clearing all the crap and returning to my old love/nemesis of pen & ink, everything is working. And working really, really well. But as any long time reader of this blog will tell you, working in pen & ink comes at a hellish price, basically huge amounts of time. Isolated time. Boring, inky, watch a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music, say no to a lot of opportunities kind of time.

For whatever reason, this is what I’m good at doing. I can take a story, sit down, conjure a layout, sketch until the cows come home, then ink the whole mess with precision and skill. Honestly, it’s about as difficult as breathing. But it takes forever.

And so I start to wonder, why am I doing this? I used to have ready answers: I was changing the world, I was positively affecting the lives of children, I was going to make a living… I had a lot of dreams. It seems I need to find some new reasons to remain highly motivated. Perhaps that’s my issue, that I need to be ‘highly motivated’ ‘cause there is no ‘slightly motivated’ way to do what I do. I cannot half-ass my way through hundreds of drawings. Not if I am to make something to be proud of.  I’ve seen far too many artists lose their soul by trading in their time consuming A Game for some shortcut that leads to a steady C Game. What’s the point of that? It’s almost the same as clubbing a baby seal. I have no idea how they can even get to sleep at night. It’s no wonder they give up and seek other careers. If you’re not bringing something excellent into being, there’s no point in doing this. Go make money doing anything else and quit crapping up the world with trash.

Wow, that sounded harsh. Oh well. Must be Tough Love Day in the JC.

So, with the work coming together, with my creative world returning to a level of simplicity and productivity I haven’t known in years, with excellent projects on the horizon and with a freaking mason jar full of ink… it’s time to come up with some good reasons to keep this quirky brain of mine focused. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I think I’ll have a lot of time to contemplate such things.

Head down, back to the trenches…

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lord Vader says These Are the Drawings I’m Looking For…

I wonder what it is about living in the 1st World that makes it so hard to “Keep It Simple, Stupid”… Whatever it is, it pisses me off.  That said, I think I’m back on the wagon with simplifying things, pretty much returning to the same level I worked with when I first started down this course of tedium, pain and beauty. What you see in the photo above is all that I have to work with or upon. The little notebook and pen for writing, a slice of the Chamberlain project and everything necessary to ink it. Anything which could be considered a distraction is gone, gone, gone.

It seems the hardest part in returning to my roots is keeping my world weed free. Annoying things seem to pop up the moment I turn my head. I must be vigilant, removing outside objects as quickly as possible if I hope to maintain any sense of order. The truth is, I’m to blame for such nonsense. I know that I am a one project guy, that I require tunnel vision to bring my A Game to bear on the work. I’ve tried every permutation of multi-tasking BS, only to fail time and again. I do one thing, I do it well. Then I move on to another thing and I do that well. It’s very clear.

Yet  it’s the time it takes to complete those tasks, like inking a book, which trip me up. Yes, I know I need to keep my head down and move forward, gaining ground every day, slogging the ink on the page until I stumble upon the last image and suddenly I’m done. I know that’s how I’ve accomplished everything. But it’s not easy to maintain that focus. So, instead of plowing ahead, my thinking totally absorbed by the work at hand, I get caught up in daydream ideas. It’s that old ambition versus talent thing back bite me in the ass. What I should be doing is not always what I wish to be doing. Even though I know what I am doing is most likely to work out, is most likely to look awesome, is most likely to create a pleasing outcome, I find myself going down paths not only not traveled but essentially non-existent. But sometimes it’s easier to dream about things than it is to realize them. I call that being stupid.

Pursuing one or several of those ambitious dreams is how I find my desk covered in various projects, half-baked ideas and scraps of paper full of notes and nonsense. I used to put those ideas in various folders, thinking I would get to them someday. Now I understand I will never get to them. The amount of time it takes to make a book is pretty much set. I can write a book in roughly six months. I can draw a book in roughly nine. I can research, write and draw a book in about a year a bit. Those numbers are pretty much set in stone. They  represent the limit to which I can push myself and the natural time it takes for an idea to go from amorphous blob to a polished jewel. Now, were I unimaginably wealthy, well, that might change my timeline. Until then, it takes the full measure of my devotion to do what I need to do.

So, silly ideas, they don’t go in a folder anymore. Right into the trash with them. I write them down, get them out of my head, then pitch them.

As Vader illustrates, being a Jedi is all about traveling light. And hacking your enemies to crispy bacon bits. And dressing cool, wearing some kind of portable 8-track on your chest for busting out a jam. If I was going to entertain my inner Sith, let’s face it, I’m not much of a “joiner” so that whole Jedi council/Light Side thing is out… my work space needed a good Vader purging. Cut ‘em all down and let the Force sort ‘em out. Once that was accomplished, the only stuff that remained was the work I need to do.

Honestly, I haven’t had such a tidy workspace in a long time. I’ve tried, but I always let one or two of those silly ideas come along for the ride, crapping everything up for me. I was being too kind. Not that being kind ever paid off. Brutally smashing everything and placing the single, important project of the moment front and center is a fairly big step… um forward… but kind of backward if you think about it… um at the same time.

So, onward! Or backward! Into the future!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Back to the Trenches.

Got Mandy out the door, lunch in hand. Watched stuff about the New Horizon Pluto flyby. Made blueberry ice cream. Now, time to blog. See, you guys are way up there on my To Do list. Right between make ice cream and eat two gummy sharks. That’s pretty good.

All right, I’ll come out with it. After much hemming and hawing, and a goodly amount of stalling, I finally had to admit to Mandy that my year of experimenting with paints, printmaking and who knows what else only led me back to where I started, that if I am to continue to illustrate books, it’s going to be with pen & ink. I think she rolled her eyes when I told her. I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention, I have work to do.

Now you’re in the loop. For all the hoopla I made about painting or finding the perfect paper or loving the fact that I could poop out an image in just a few minutes and feel like sumi-e painting master; the harsh reality is none of that creative outpouring led to the kind of functional illustrations I require to make page after page until a book is done. It’s annoying, but it’s also just a fact of who I am and how I work.

With that said, I’m plowing on, back into the trenches.

Here’s the current plan: knock out as much writing as possible and use Box Books to get it out there while making one, seriously beautiful, inked project per year. I’m done waiting around for things to happen. I’m done worrying about if what I’m doing will find commercial success. I’m done drifting along on cruise control waiting for the grand adventure to begin. Instead, it’s time to hit the gas and see where the hell my work can take me.

As I’ve said many times, the writing is easy. I took a few minutes to arrange my novel projects and see what I could look forward to working on in the future. At this point, I have five big stories under construction. Four more in the blueprint stage. And four more that are slowly growing at a rate that will make them viable in say a year. At my current level of production, that’s three years worth of stories, more of less. And that’s all without taking into account the fact that I’m more than likely to invent one or two more ideas in the next year or so, which means I have things to work on and there will be more books for you to delight in.

The whole goal of writing more and drawing less was to be productive and have a life. Since my writing agenda seems to be paying off and I have a life, the tricky part will be figuring out how to be an illustrator. Or a new kind of illustrator, one that doesn’t shun the world and spend all day, every day, at the old desk, making little pictures.

I have a few ideas, we’ll have to see how they work in practice. The first idea is to incorporate brush work into the inking process, much like I did with Hop Hazard Love. The more I play around with it, the better I get, the faster I work, the more interesting the effects. There is no downside to working with the brush and the pen, it’s just a stylistic change that will take me time to get used to. It’s like being an acoustic guitar guy who switches to electric, which I recommend to everyone because acoustic guitars are lame. But you get the idea, not much difference, but enough to be a little weird.

The second idea is to not spend all my time being crazy and drawing as if my life depended on it. My life does not depend on what I illustrate. So, I’ll take a chill pill, say to myself “Yes, this book will help save the world, but it’s not going to happen right now”… I need to learn to settle for doing my part for the incremental progress of civilization. As much as I wish my genius could affect change overnight, it’s not likely to. I have to remember this battle is a long, arduous one.

The third notion, focusing on illustrating graphic novels. I like the idea of working with other people. It forces me to come up for air and deal with reality. Plus, it allows me to focus on the drawing. I’ll let other talented people knock out the words and do the editing. I’ll just make awesome drawings and everyone will be happy. And I know that graphic novels are much longer projects than say picture books, but the truth is, the real estate per panel is very small because of all those ugly speech bubbles and thought balloons. It’s one thing to make a fully rendered page of a picture book, knowing that only 10% of it will contain text. It’s another thing entirely to make a fully rendered character’s face in a graphic novel, knowing that 75% of the panel will contain text. I have a feeling that when I get that thought through my thick skull, I’ll relax even more.

So, relaxed writing, relaxed inking, a relaxed summer. It’s all very strange to me. I’m thinking that’s a good thing. Strange is so much better than freaking boring. I have no patience with boredom. Neither should you. Get out there and do something.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pushing Through…

I won neither the annual Wiffle Ball game nor the 4th Classic Subbuteo tournament. But it was a good holiday weekend all around. A short one, but a good one. I don’t think I got more than four hours of sleep at any one time and found myself desperately in need of a vacation to recover from my vacation. This feeling of exhaustion is wonderfully illustrated in this photo of Harrison who is sleeping despite being the Wiffle Ball game MVP and winning the Bastards’ Cup from the Subbuteo tourney. I can only wonder what fluffy cloud dreams are passing through his peanut head…

However, the whirlwind holiday weekend gave me time to apply my newfound sense of fun and productivity. I had my headphones, I had a pen, I had my notebook. And strangely enough, I found an time here and there to jot down a few pages. Given my desire to travel light and still be productive, it was nice to accomplish a little work while engaging in heaps of fun. I definitely earned a gold star.

In the past, I would have had like five projects under my arm, hoping I could squeeze a few precious hours of hardcore, focused work into the mayhem that is hanging out with my family. It was idiocy and the few times I pulled it off were more depressing than I care to remember. If given the choice of sitting by myself and making a book or jumping headfirst into the chaos that is any Decker holiday, I will always choose the latter. But as I lean more toward writing, keeping my illustrator-for-hire personality grimly chained to my Jersey City desk, I have more room to breathe and go with the flow. It makes for a happier version of me.

And yet sadly, that might be all the news I have for this week. Between the holiday, the travel and my summer job, if we can call it that, my time was quite limited and my output barely adequate. Fortunately, I have a lot more train rides in and out of the city to fill my notebook with strange trips into the darkest corners of my peculiar brain. But with the 4th out of the way, the next time I will really have worry about a major disruption to my well organized creative machine will be the winter holidays. I can go back to setting up a healthier time management scheme. That gives me a handful of months to crank out a serious amount of words and images. Piles and piles. And I think it will give me time to watch all of the X Files, something I’ve never done but I’m feeling a deep, irresolvable longing for all things 1990’s.

So, get to work!