Rediscovering the Joys of Creating
So... I'm going on a short sabbatical of sorts. Not a hiatus per se, because I'll still be actively doing stuff here and there, but it won't be anything related to any of my other previously established projects. Rather, it'll most likely be a bunch of seemingly random stuff, for the purpose of reigniting that joy I once had for creating that has since diminished considerably.
That's the gist. If that's all you need, you're welcome to go back to whatever it was you were doing, but if you crave a further elaboration, then read on, Reader.
What do you mean "sabbatical" exactly? Are you, like, leaving for a while or something?
To be specific, when I say sabbatical, I mean a kind of "break" from my usual creative doings, which tends to be related to larger projects that are often announced ahead of time (most recent example would be the Kiki Banana comic series). Or, I should say, the planning thereof, which I spend a considerable amount of time and energy on.
In place of this will be me doing whatever the hell I feel like, for the purpose of, as the title of this blog post says, to rediscover the joys of creating, which is something I feel I've needed for a long time and just never admitted it to myself until now. Here's what I mean by that...
Some preamble, for context
Back in 2015 or so, I felt like my art was growing a bit stale and needed some improving. I wanted to take it in a new direction, and that direction turned out to be a wacky cartoon one. While I could do cartoon art fairly well even before then, I noticed it wasn't really anything special. I wanted to change that.
That's when I remembered that, some time before then, 2013 or so, I came across the blog of John Kricfalusi (y'know, the Ren and Stimpy guy?), I decided to give it another visit, thinking I would just browse his goofy cartoon art for inspiration, but to my delight I discovered there was more - not only was his art there, but his thoughts on cartoons in general. I will warn anyone wanting to peruse his blog for this purpose that they must first acclimate themselves to his heterodoxical and sometimes abrasive opinions on cartooning and art in general, but I can assure you there are plenty of gold nuggets of cartooning wisdom for aspiring cartoonists in there if you're willing to make the slog... Hmm, perhaps I need to make a blog post about all the stuff I found there?
Anyway, after applying what I learned from John K Stuff, I noticed a marked improvement in my ability to cartoon, and I was very pleased!
I started paying more attention to color and used them more intelligently and creatively. I started utilizing more organic shapes instead of geometric ones, treating the characters and objects as 3D shapes instead of 2D graphic designs. I learned to vary up character designs and give them more unique expressions to bring them to life rather than relying on stock, generic ones. These are but a few of the lessons I gleaned from this blog, and I'm a better cartoonist for them.
People tend to think of John K as this jaded guy stuck in the past who refuses to see any good in modern cartoons and harbors a resentment for them just because they aren't Fleischer or pre-60's Hanna-Barbara. From what I can tell, that's only partly true, but not for no reason. He makes his case over and over on his blog, even if he doesn't always express them clearly. Believe it or not, he actually has some reasons why he thinks what he does, some of which I can't find fault in.
[ --- And before we go on, yes, I'm aware of the allegations made against him, and no, I do not condone them if true (which they seem to be). Right now I'm not judging the man as a human being but ONLY as a cartoonist, and he's a pretty damn good one in my opinion. Sometimes we just have to separate the art from the artist, which is what I'm doing here. --- ]
But I digress...
Surely that improvement in quality would in turn improve my audience engagement over on deviantART (where I use to upload all my art)... surely, people would take notice of my improvements... right...?
Turns out I was dead wrong in that department. What I perceived as improvement did not seem to translate to my audience there, and it baffles me to this very day as to why. I have a few suspicions, though:
Perhaps the bulk of my audience there wasn't into the whole wacky cartoon thing, having followed me for other reasons before the change in art style.
That's fair and to be expected, if that's the case.
Perhaps the population of deviantART just didn't have as refined of taste as I had given them credit for, inadvertently creating a "casting pearls before swine" situation, whereby my audience just straight up lacked the capacity to appreciate what I was doing.
Seeing as deviantART is primarily a community of amateur artists, this would make some sense as well, again if that's the case.
Perhaps this kind of wacky Loony Tunes style of cartooning has fallen out of favor since the mid-2000's or so, having been mostly replaced with more narrative-driven cartoons like Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, etc. which are great in their own way, but tend not to take advantage of their being, y'know, cartoons... (I could write up a whole blog post about this topic alone. Maybe I will...?)
Hell, I even purged the whole "gross-out" aspect of the Spumco style I was taking inspiration from (as I'm not a fan of that myself), thinking that's the part that aged the worst from that era of cartoons... But that didn't seem to help any.
Regardless of any reason, the results were clear - my improving did diddly-dick-all for growing and maintaining my audience's attention. And it's not like I just uploaded shit and hoped to God people would see it; I actively tried to go to them - I joined specific groups to target specific kinds of people (such as fans of a particular series or general style), I commented on others' works way more than I had in the past, I even paid money to run ads! I was getting less attention than I had years prior without having to do any of that! It was almost like my improving my art hurt my prospects more than it helped...
[ --- And before I go on, I would like to address the attention thing. It may seem like I'm obsessed with attention, and that would be somewhat true, but not because I'm some self-absorbed egomaniac... because I'm not... no more than anyone else, that is. Attention is merely feedback. I make art first and foremost for others, not merely for myself. If people are looking at it, great! Mission accomplished! But if they aren't, that means something is amiss and I need to find out what that is. --- ]
I still to this day cannot wrap my head around it all. Eventually I got fed up with deviantART and left this platform I had been on since I was in high school, just walked away from 900+ followers. I had changed, grown up, matured, evolved, and yet deviantART stayed the same. I felt I had outgrown this art community consisting almost entirely of naive adolescents and emotionally stunted adults. It was time to move on. Later I would make this website, and the rest is history.
The main takeaway from all this is the fact that this left me severely doubting my abilities as an artist, and I'm still reeling from it. I've made good progress in recovering from this deeply instilled self-doubt, but I can't deny that it's not entirely gone, and it's high time to address it.
It's high time I seek to rediscover the joys of creating that making art once gave me.
The Purpose of this sabbatical
Essentially, this little sabbatical serves to give me a chance to refresh and recharge, to reinvigorate my zeal for creativity from the smoldering embers it is now to the blazing flames it once was.
Like I mentioned earlier, that falling out with my own audience over at deviantART left me doubting myself to such a degree that it has actually affected my creative output. I've noticed since then that I've not been nearly as prolific as I once was.
For a time, whenever I would go to draw, I felt a highly unusual kind of... Resistance? Reluctance? I don't know what exactly to call the feeling, but it made it almost physically difficult to draw, something that has always come natural to me for as long as I can remember. Before, when I'd go to draw, there was this sense of giddy excitement at what my Imagination will conjure up as I dragged a pencil across the paper. That feeling has since diminished significantly, so I seek to foment that creative excitement once more.
To Rest and Relax
I've noticed over the years that I tend to needlessly burden myself with large creative projects that I know deep down I couldn't do within a reasonable amount of time. Once I let the world know, I feel the need to see them through or risk disappointing my audience... which tends to happen anyway because then, after coming to my senses and realizing I can't do the thing I said I would do, I have to publicly renege, potentially disappointing anyone who might've been looking forward to said thing.
This is exhausting and anxiety-inducing.
This sabbatical gives me the excuse of not having to do anything if I don't want to, even for just a little while, allowing me to relax and recoup from the constant bearing weight of "Dear God! I gotta do this and this and this and this and this..." et cetera ad infinitum. I can set that weight down a minute and just breathe a while.
It's been a while since I've really tried anything very different from what I usually do (probably since 2015 when I focused on cartooning). I think this sabbatical will be a good time to try out a lot of different things. It's a good excuse to just get weird with it.
To Clarify what I want
Napoleon Hill's formula for success (regardless of the nature of one's endeavor) is to formulate and specify exactly what you want and get an obsessive, burning desire for its attainment.
Clarifying this "Chief Aim", as he calls it, has always been a hurdle for me. I tend to have a vague idea of what I want (i.e. I want to make a comic, I want to make a video game, etc.), but the more specific I get, the more unsure I become.
But maybe this is because I don't have a whole lot of experiences with which to make an informed decision? What I mean by that is a lot of the things I think I want are things I've yet to really try. I'm like someone at a foreign buffet whose food I've never had. Not knowing what any of the courses taste like, I can't make an informed decision on what I want, because I don't know what I like. But the cool thing about buffets is that you can have a little bit of everything to find out what you do like, and thus what you want more of.
Using this metaphor, what I've been doing this whole time is finding one thing I think I might like (but not knowing for sure), putting more of it on my plate than I could eat in one sitting, taking that first bite and realizing that "oh, wait... I don't even really like this... at least not enough to justify having this much of it on my plate!" and then having to either throw it all out or save it for later as not to waste it... neither of which is conducive to a fun meal.
So, by sampling whatever tickles my fancy in the moment, I can find out what I actually honest-to-God like to do, and then from there make a much better decision on what I actually want.
Who knows? Maybe I only think I would like to make video games? Maybe I would rather take up crocheting or finger painting instead? ...Okay, maybe not those, per se, but you get the idea.
To Utilize Reverse Psychology on Myself
I've had the whimsical thought before that maybe one reason why I'm so hesitant on getting something done is because I feel this overbearing need to get it done (as previously mentioned), which serves more as a psychological block than a motivating factor.
What if, now hear me out here... what if I were to tell myself "you don't have to do anything!" Would that lift the very block that's keeping me from getting shit done? Would it mean I'd finally get shit done? Hmm... I guess we'll see!
To Build Creative Momentum
In his talks, Kevin Trudeau often refers to what he calls the "Success Cycle" (also known as the "Momentum Cycle"), which describes a cycle of thought patterns and behaviors that lead to more and more successes. It goes like this:
Confidence --> Activity --> Good Habits --> Success --> More Confidence --> More Activity --> ...
Obviously, my self-confidence has fallen off a cliff since my falling out with deviantART, which would explain the relative inactivity. So, by starting teeny-tiny with little micro-projects (a singular illustration, a few-seconds long animation, a 3D model, a short story, etc.), jumping in at Activity rather than Confidence, I could establish a habit of actually making stuff, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, which will then lead to the successful attempts at making things, which will build Confidence enough to do more bigger and better things.
This is how I plan to get back into the swing of things; starting really, reeeeeally small.
So, what does this mean for all of your other projects?
It simply means I might not be working on them for the time being. If my reverse psychology theory plays out as planned, it might mean I actually work on a previously established project.
So, if you're actually going to be doing stuff during this sabbatical, what can we expect?
I can't say with absolute certainty what will come of this short break, but I'm almost definitely sure there will be something to come of it... and by that I mean something to look at, or perhaps listen to, maybe even play, who knows. Since I'm going to be rediscovering the joys of creating, it would stand to reason that I would indeed create something. What that something is, who can say? Probably something weird, or silly, or fun, or all three of those, or something all together different.
For shits and giggles, here's a list of things I might try. Here are the courses in the buffet that look the most appetizing to me:
Simple illustrations, mostly cartoon art
Short animations (anywhere between a few seconds and a couple minutes long)
3D modeling for its own sake (not necessarily for video games)
More messing around in Unreal Engine 4 (maybe 5 too?)
Experimental mixed media stuff, like combining 2D animation with live action footage or 3D animation
Short stories and other prose work, maybe even throw in some poetry, who knows?
Music, either my own compositions or wacky arrangements of others'
Pre-recorded podcast-type stuff, or just recording myself talking about whatever
Live-streaming myself playing video games and drawing and such
Little comics that could be later compiled into a anthology of sorts
Physical media stuff, like watercolor, pen and ink, and ceramics
Any other small creative endeavor that I may fancy giving a go
How long is this sabbatical going to be, exactly?
I have no idea. I don't want it to be very long, no longer than six months, no shorter than two. That's the idea, anyway, but I'm not putting any hard limit on it. It just all depends on how long it takes me to rediscover the joys of creating. So however long it takes me to do that is probably how long the break will be. That might be as brief as a month, could be as long as a year, I have absolutely no freakin' clue.
But regardless of how long it takes, like I mentioned earlier, it doesn't mean I won't be doing anything at all, quite the opposite in fact. Hell, you might see more out of me during this brief stint than for the entire time I've had this website!
So, thus begins my brief sabbatical. I would like to end this off with a little nugget of wisdom I hope to employ with this break, and it is this:
If you want things in your Life to change, you're going to have to change things in your Life.
This is ultimately the goal of this sabbatical; to break up my old habits that clearly aren't getting me anywhere and injecting some much needed novelty into my daily routine. You might want to try it, too... if you want, that is. Might do ya some good.
Anyway, take Care everyone!