Weekly Blog 5/5/19: Facing My Fears – Following Through After Failure (& Weekly Video Digest)

Hey guys, it’s Taylor! This week I want to talk a bit about how one faces the fear that often follows on the heels of actual or perceived failure – in other words, how to get back in the saddle after we screw up or fail at a task. As usual, I’m speaking from past experience and what worked then, but also what I’m going through currently, and what works now.

I’ve wanted to be a comic artist for about 17 years. Some of you have heard the story: 11-year-old kid, reading a newspaper article about manga, decides, based on that one brief article, to become a manga artist; kid spends next 18 years studying; kid now blogs at taylorjohnson.art about said study. So yeah, drawing American manga has been my passion for the better part of my life.

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I put out what I thought was going to be my debut self-published, home-printed comic book in February – then abruptly pulled it from the figurative shelves (my Etsy shop) after a true friend saw it and said “This makes no sense. I can’t follow the story. I’m sorry, but dude, it doesn’t read.”

Best friend ever, by the way. Friends will give you compliments on your work. Great friends, valuable ones, will give you critiques.

But it hurt like hell, and I sat and licked those wounds for about two months. Because i realized there was a bigger problem than Beauty For Ashes not being good. If I had slacked off on it, if I hadn’t put my all into it, then it sucking wouldn’t be a problem. It would make sense.

The problem was, that was my best try. I did put my all into it. I tried my best and it was still bad. Really bad.

If the comic that represented my latest-and-greatest effort didn’t even make sense, if it was a jumbled mess, I had a bigger problem. Have a bigger problem.

I dont’ know the first damn thing about how to write and design a comic.

Oh, I can draw. And I can draw in panels. Many people can. What I struggle to do is make a sequence if pictures in panels make sense, instead of being a jumbled mess. In other words, I know art – but I don’t know jack about sequential art.

So. Literally back to the drawing board. I dragged my feet for a while, but got kicked into gear at…a convention, actually. AwesomeCon 2019 had its ups and downs, but one very high point was talking with a female comic artist (whose name I have unfortunately misplaced). My boyfriend actually dragged me over and made me talk to her.

I, awkward creature that I am, started out with “Hi, I’m sorry.”

Fortunately, she was better at conversation than I was.

Finally I said “You know, I’m trying to think of a question that isn’t one of the lame ones like ‘how did you break into the business,’ so I’m gonna ask…What exercises do you recommend for someone trying to learn pacing and to make their comics make sense?”

“Start really small,” she told me. “Start REALLY small. Do a one page comic. And make it flow, make it make sense. Do another one-pager. Make it flow better. When you can do one-page comics, go up to three. Then five. Then ten. Once you’re able to make the most out of ten pages, you can start thinking about something longer – and when you do, it’ll be powerful, because you’ll make the most of it.”

It was revolutionary to me, though it shouldn’t have been. One page comics sounded crazy, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more sense it makes. Painters aren’t generally encouraged to start with a 40-foot mural; novelists aren’t (usually) told to start with a 300,000-word epic. Seamstresses don’t start with experimental gowns for the Oscars. And no comicker should even try to start with a three-hundred-chapter epic.

And yet that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – okay, not three hundred chapters, but even a 5 or 10 issue series is a big deal. (That’s 150 to 300 pages, in the case of most of my works’ templates.)

I’ve also not done my basic homework. I got Making Comics by Scott McCloud for Christmas two years ago, and haven’t finished it. Manga in Theory and Practice by Hirohiko Araki is sitting in my Amazon cart, but I have yet to order it. And while I read some Eisner works many years ago, I have never read his classics on comics.

So this is me getting back to work – or school – in the area of comics. I’ll check in here about how it’s going, from time to time, and I’ll let you know what I find.

For now, however, here is a first draft of my first one-page comic.

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The prompt was “what a baby bird gets up to during the day,” and my inspiration was my experience being a sibling for the first time – when my brother was born – and how strange and amazing that experience was, and how I wished so badly that I could help out somehow.

The initial feedback is that the story makes logical sense, and the reader can follow the story, so I’ll be continuing this practice for a while yet – I think it’s really going to help.

That’s all I’ve got for the blog section…without further ado, here’s a summary of the videos I put out this week:

4/29/19: Deck Collection Spring 2019

This is just what it says on the tin: an updated video of my collection of Tarot, oracle, and angel decks.

5/1/19: May 2019 Card Reading

This one is the May 2019 card reading for my channel. It’s an interesting one this month.

Speedpaint Portrait of Molly Roberts | Reacting to my Old Process

This is one I’ve wanted to do for some time – a reaction video, but just me reacting to the timelapse footage of one of my oldest watercolor paintings. It turned out to be both amusing and inspirational to see it. Plus, I painted Molly Roberts – how cool is that?!

Anyway, guys, thanks for tuning in. I’ll keep you posted about the one-page practice comics, as well as other projects here on Taylor planet. Have a wonderful week!

-Taylor

Weekly Blog 2/18/19: Beauty for Ashes: Receiving Negative Feedback, Processing Failure, and Starting A Period Of Study

Hey guys! It’s Taylor. I’m here with a bit of a difficult blog, on a bit of a difficult topic: some difficult feedback I’ve gotten, and the process I’ve gone through in integrating that information and figuring out “if I suck at the one thing I really want to do, where do I go from here?”

So, basically, a few days back I showed my latest creation, the comic Beauty for Ashes, issue 1, to a friend. He complimented the art and printing, but said finally: “I can’t follow the story. Like, at all.” It was a punch to the gut. I hadn’t realized that with all the corners I cut – reading lots of comics (but not drawing much), only practicing drawing females (to the detriment of learning to draw males), spending years practicing making comics but never really learning the theory behind it – I realized, after this difficult conversation, that my slacking and freeform study had not resulted in me being able to draw comics. It had resulted in being essentially a writer who can’t plot a novel, or a screenplay author who can’t format. I had the passion and the practice and NONE of the study.

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For a few days I languished in despair (intentionally using dramatic language there – I was being dramatic). My whole world felt jumbled. I had spent the past 15 years or so actively trying to become a comic artist, and, to my mind, had failed. Then a thought came to me – one of my favorite quotes:

“If you need a tree, the best time to plant one was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Meaning that yes, we may waste time, and yes, it may be too late for some things in some senses – but that doesn’t mean you give up. You still plant that tree, and you water it and make the best of what you can.

So I got thinking: What did I do with other art forms that I have gotten good at (novel-writing, painting, etc)? “Practice,” “study,” and “start small” came to mind immediately. With novels, I studied the craft (taking classes and reading how-to books), I practiced (I’ve written 8 or 10 fiction books depending on whether you count picture books), and I started small (the picture books were my first foray into fiction). With watercolor, it’s been a similar path.

For some reason, I guess I’d thought that my years of striving with comics would result automatically in learning. Turns out practice makes progress, but it works a heck of a lot better if it’s combined with academic study (or at least learning from experts) and starting super-micro.

Thus I’ve been coming up with a sort of course of study for myself, going so far as to also learn about “how to teach yourself stuff in general,” involving books and courses on how to make comics. It includes some of Eisner’s instructional works on sequential art, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics, Hirohiko Araki’s Manga in Theory and Practice, and other resources.

The important thing is…I’m going to study. I’m going to do the homework. I’m sad that it’s taken me this long to be ready to do it, but it takes what it takes. For me it took four comics that didn’t make sense – and some incredibly helpful but very painful feedback – to figure out that I need to do the homework, have beta readers, and study – the same as everyone else.

In the next year or so, I don’t plan to release much in terms of comics, but I’ll definitely still be making art, the Tarot deck, and my blog and YouTube content. It will be a year of practice and study, and that’s okay. I’m excited to tackle this, and I’m excited to see where I end up in 2020.

If you’d like to support this whole operation, please head over to my Etsy shop. You can purchase art, prints, even stationery and Tarot accessories, all handmade by me. And if you’re enjoying my site, please hit the follow button on the right to get notified whenever I post a new blog (about once a week).

Wishing you all the best,

Taylor

Weekly Blog 1/7/19: 7 Ways To Get (And Stay) In Creative Flow

Hey guys! Today I thought I’d talk a bit about the concept of flow, and share the techniques that help me get into flow and keep it going.

 

So what is flow, though? It’s hard to define, but like many things, “I can’t define it but I know when I’m there.” Flow is a state of being in which one is able to work (usually in an artistic way, such as drawing or painting, but not always) in a steady, productive, focused, and creative manner, without excessive breaks, distraction, or procrastination.

For me, being in flow is accompanied by a low-grade euphoria of “I’m doing it. I’m getting work done and creating things. Yes. YES!” I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of neurotransmitter rush, sort of like runner’s high. I also tend to lose track of time – for hours – while in flow, which is an unfortunate side effect, but is a small price to pay for the enjoyment and productivity of flow.

It’s taken literal years for me to figure out how to get into flow and how to stay there, so I wanted to share some tips-and-tricks so that maybe it won’t take 15 years of trial and error for YOU to get there. 🙂


1. Self Care and Basic Health

I know. You don’t want to hear it. But for me at least, I can tell you that if I don’t take basic care of my body, I CANNOT get into flow. I don’t mean that I’m in perfect health – HAH, far from it – but I have to be experiencing a basic level of acceptable wellness, or my sluggishness and general “blah” feeling gets in the way. Regular light exercise, scheduling adequate sleep time, and most of all eating healthy has become, for me, the baseline that allows me to build flow on top.

 

2. Organization and Scheduling

Another one nobody wants to hear or accept – but organization and regular work schedules have helped me form a framework in which I can really get into flow. Although I work from home (even for my day job), I have found that I really need to have scheduled “work hours” during which I work on certain projects. I usually spend a few minutes each morning just looking over what I need to do and figuring out what I’ll work on that day, and then work in one- to two-hour blocks on each project. This allows me not only to make sure that I get a good amount of work done on each project, but reinforces, in my subconscious mind, what my schedule is and when I need to be in “work mode.”

 

3. Preparation and Planning

This is less about planning out plots and storylines and more about being prepared to work logistically: Is the laptop charged? If not, is there a plug available for it? Do I have enough of that one paint that I was running out of? Did I clean those brushes yesterday, or are they still covered in Phthalo Blue? Do I have the paper I need in order to draw those next few comic pages? Did I order more G-pen nibs? I find it extremely helpful to keep a running shopping list of supplies and materials to replace, writing them down as I notice them running low; that way, at the end of the week (or, in my case, when a coupon comes up for the art store), I can do one shopping run on the weekend, rather than having to run out at 9:45am to replace something when I have to work at 10.

 

4. Environmental Management

Make your workplace a place you want to be. I realize this isn’t possible, but don’t assume I mean you have to lease a penthouse suite as your studio and have expensive aromatherapy oils and state-of-the-art ergonomic beanbag chairs. Really, I’m talking about the little things. Play music you really enjoy. Burn candles or incense that are appealing to you (but please be careful and use dishes/incense burners so that you don’t burn anything down while you’re in flow!). If you’re less a music person and prefer to have something slightly distracting, play a podcast, reruns of a TV show you’ve seen (new episodes not recommended, as you’ll focus on them more than your work), or even an ambient noise. YouTube has plenty of ambient noise mixes, and you can use them to place yourself anywhere from a trendy Pacific-Northwest Starbucks to the Gryffindor common room at Hogwarts. (I am not making this up.) My favorite is a mix by Magical Forest called “Library Study Session,” and it sounds like just that – and is extremely helpful in getting me to focus and feel like I’m ready for flow to happen.

 

5. Just Do It

The best way to get something done is to start doing it. Even if you start small, start. Even if you’re writing random lines instead of a novel, write. Even if you’re drawing in a sketchbook rather than painting your incredible mural, draw. Even if you are messing around with chords on guitar rather than composing a symphony…okay, you get the idea. You will never get into flow with your work if you never work. “The easiest way to guarantee you won’t succeed is to never try.” It’s tempting to wait until everything is perfect, but to be perfectly honest, it never will be – and it doesn’t need to be for you to create your work. If your goal is to be able to “flow” your work for 6 hours straight, start with 60 minutes. Or 16. Or 6. Flow, like anything, takes practice to be able to do consistently, and there is no way around that practice.

 

6. Mindfulness: Bring It Back To Center

One of the most devious ways our brains keep us from creating our great works is distraction. And the worst part of distraction is that, quite often, it happens not only without our approval, but without our knowledge. Have you ever found yourself surfing through social media and realized it’s been 2 hours since work started and you’ve done nothing but…you aren’t even sure what? Been there. It’s frustrating, but the best thing to do is to put down the phone or close the browser and get back to work. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t overanalyze it, don’t waste time being morose or self-pitying. Just bring your attention back to your actual work and get back to it.

In meditation, it can take years of practice to “quiet the monkey mind” and be able to just sit and not get distracted with trains of thought – and creativity and flow are, in a way, meditative practices. So do your best not to get too frustrated if, even after reading this article and even trying for a while, you can’t seem to focus or get into flow. Beating ourselves up only wastes time and energy and makes us mentally associate work with feeling guilty, which makes us avoid it even more. Don’t waste your time kicking yourself. Breathe, shift your attention, and do the next work task you can find.

 

7. Feed The Inspiration

We all have muses, I believe – even if that muse is an amorphous cloud of ideas we draw from, rather than a beautiful damsel for whom we would lasso the sun and the moon and the stars – and those muses need offerings if we are to expect them to provide us with ideas. For me, my inspiration, my muse, seems to like the stuff I liked when I was a teenager – when I was really “coming into my own” creatively – so when I need to get inspired, I tend to listen to goth and alt-rock albums from the mid-late 2000’s, watch horror movies from the same era, and read a lot (and I mean a LOT) of manga. Even if what I’m making is not dark, horrific, or anime-styled, this stuff inspires me.

I suspect it has something to do with my inner child (inner teenager?) and the incredible, intense, almost volatile creativity she had. Although less consistent in my work and less skilled than I am now, that teenager was incredibly creative and prolific and just loved coming up with ideas. She was in love with art, the process of making art, and the idea of being an artist, and so she is what I tap into when I really need to get myself creating.

My point is this: Try to pin down the time (or place, or mood) in your life when/where you felt most creative, and feed your creativity on things that connect you with that time/place/mood. If you’ve ever been in flow, try to recall where you were, what you were listening to, what you were watching around that time…If nothing else, it’ll be a blast of nostalgia – and with any luck, it could tip you over into flow.

That’s my top 7 tips, but I have a bonus one that is more important than any of the others: PLEASE don’t destroy your health with your work, or mistake overburdening yourself for flow. If you are unwilling to pause, even to eat or sleep, that’s not flow, that’s overwork – and it’s going to result in burnout, not prolific creativity. Ideally, anxiety, anger, and stress are NOT part of flow (at least, they’re not its main results), and long-term, these things can literally shorten your lifespan as well as your quality of life.

And, if you find yourself unable to stop working, even when you want to or know you need to, or if you are skipping consecutive days of sleep, please talk to a trusted person (doctor, therapist, friend) as soon as possible. These can be signs of mental health issues, but if addressed promptly and properly, they can definitely be treated. (I just mention this because I have a mood disorder that, on occasion, takes over my creativity and makes me work for days straight. It’s not healthy for me to do that, but these days I’m able to balance pretty well and get into flow rather than hypomania.)

Finally I’d like to personally wish you good luck in your creative journey, whatever that may look like, and offer that if you ever need advice on creativity or getting into flow, I’m here. Drop me a line! My contact form is here and you can contact me there any time.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to support this whole operation, please head over to my Etsy shop and  check out what I’ve got for sale there. And for more of my thoughts on art and more, here’s my YouTube channel. Maybe you’ll find yourself listening to me ramble about art while you get yourself into a good creative flow. 🙂

All the best,

Taylor