Friday, November 12, 2010

Building Momentum

Momentum in a project is always great. It helps pull you along, the fun and easy parts become even more fun and easy, and the hard parts seem no-so bad and they end up being a lot less painful than you initially thought. Riding the momentum feels great, but the problem always lies with finding that momentum in the first place.

In our experiences, momentum seems to come if we're lucky - most of the time you end up trudging along, and then sometimes things get better, sometimes they don't. However, we've found that the secret to constantly gaining momentum is by taking lots of little steps.

Even if what you're doing is sort of painful, like doing an illustration of something you hate for a client that's underpaying you, or having to design your great-aunt's business cards - for free, by taking lots of little steps, you'll eventually find that doing more and more little steps is easier and easier, and before you know it, you'll be done.

Breaking down steps into even smaller steps always helps, as the more tiny little tasks you finish, the more accomplished you feel, and the more momentum you'll build. The key is tiny, tiny tasks. The more painful the project, the smaller the tasks should be. If you're really struggling, you can make the tasks as simple as "get out sketchbook." Next task: "find pencil." Next task: "draw a monster for warm up." Take a break, make getting a beverage of your choice the next task. In this way, you can tell your brain "Hey look, I've already got four things done already! This is easy!"

Don't focus on what you have left to do, but what you've already done. When silk screening large orders of shirts, it's never fun to look at the huge pile of boxes and think, "Wow, I've still got 750 shirts to print." It's way more motivating to say "Wow, I've already printed 250 shirts, and it's still early!"

That said, if you're working on a project you like, still keep the steps in manageable portions. That way it won't go from "fun" to "overwhelming," which is how a lot of our projects can get if we don't make sure we're on top it.

So whether you're working on something you hate or you love, make sure to build momentum by taking small steps and you'll find that you'll finish quicker, have more fun, and you'll be (many) steps closer to taking over the world!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Invincible is Only a Word, The Best is Just a Title

Recently Monkey + Seal have really gotten into reading the manga Vagabond, by Inoue Takehiko. It follows the life story of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman who wrote The Book of the Five Rings. It has influenced many of the current mangas (One Piece, Bleach) that we follow now.

Long story short, it's an awesome samurai story, with lots of samurai philosophy mixed in with crazy fight sequences. However, in collection 4, there's a very philosophical part where the protagonist is trying to wrap his head around the idea of the "invincible" swordsman. [Spoiler alert!!] If you're wondering what this has to do with art (besides being an awesome comic), keep reading, and we'll get to it.

So Musashi comes upon a super-tall mountain. He then climbs it barehanded because he "wants to see what's at the top." So while he's climbing this crazy mountain, he analyzes the recent events that have transpired, one of which is meeting an old, reportedly invincible swordsmaster whose sheer presence unnerved Musashi. As Musashi climbs, he tries to figure out what it means to be invincible.

When he finally reaches the peak of the mountain, he can't help but laugh as he finds that at this height he sees that there are many more mountains, and others that are taller than him. He realizes that no matter how high you climb, there are other mountains that are higher, and that "invincible" is just a word.

Some might call it fate, but just as Monkey was reading this, he was having an art crisis. Frustrated that he's not where he wanted to be in art, and that the hard work required was getting weary, Monkey wanted success and fame and to "be the best" immediately.

However, after reading the manga, Monkey realized something. No matter how big, no matter how famous, there's always someone on top. And when you are on the very, very top, there's still your own personal best to vanquish. So, instead of agonizing over "not being there yet," Monkey realized that the point of life is not to immediately and easily crush all competition. The point of life is to enjoy the ride and not to compare oneself or your accomplishments to others. Continue to strive for your own personal best and constantly hone your skill.

When the goal of becoming the world's greatest artist starts to overshadow the fun and wonder of creating art, that's when you need to take a step back and re-evaluate what you're doing. Yes, it's awesome and amazing and cool to get commissioned by a collector, or to land an awesome illustration account, or to win a gold award in the Society of Illustrator's annual. But, if you're not having fun creating the art, then really, what's the point? If the status or money is really what it's about you might as well be a software engineer (or some other high-paying profession) if you're going to hate your job anyway.

Titles are just that, titles. Really, at the end of the day, art should be fun, not a chore. Yes, it's hard work constantly creating, but we've found that studies and experimentation really helps break up the monotony and keeps the art from being a tedious trial to something invigorating and fun. "The Best" is just a title, so stop stressing over it and have some fun!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Take a Break

Recently Monkey got sick. Not incredibly sick, but he had a pounding headache when he got home from his job selling paper and he was feeling a bit warm, and he ended up going to sleep by 7pm, which is a rarity for most people, but even rarer for someone who usually doesn't get to sleep until the 3-5am range.

Monkey was primarily dehydrated, and with a build-up of stress, lack of sleep, and just a case of working too hard for too long, eventually crashed. While he recovered fairly quickly (yay!) it was a harsh wake-up call. Monkey + Seal tend to overwork themselves, and sometimes they need reminders that breaks are a necessary part of life. As much as we might think we need to constantly work night after night, hour after hour (and admittedly, sometimes we do), we don't need to do it endlessly. Working like this is crazy and unsustainable.

If anyone can attest to this, it's Monkey. For many years, Monkey would be constantly almost-sick, where he might not feel good, but he would power through everything and anything. Then, every year, around November, he would get deathly ill. Like 110 degree fever, vomiting, aches, headaches, shakes, chills, congestion, trouble breathing, deathly ill. Then he would be forced to take a week or so on the easy side before he could get up and running again and then the cycle would continue.

These days, Monkey has wised up a bit. He tends to feel colds and such coming on sort of early, and if he take responsible actions he can usually fend it off. Responsible actions generally means laying off the beer, sleeping sort of early (1-2am), and taking some breaks from work.

Basically, Monkey + Seal have learned that breaks are necessary. Breaks help prevent carpel tunnel syndrome, it helps keep your artist muscles from decomposing, it helps you keep your health. While you shouldn't let huge periods of non-work go on in the name of breaks, you should also not let huge periods of work go on without some sort of interruption.

With proper time management, hopefully you won't have to work non-stop. Make sure that you budget in proper breaks and points to rest so you don't wear down your mind and body. Many times, we've also found that when it's 3am and you've been working on painting the same thing over and over again and it's just not coming out right, taking a short rest, or napping for 10 minutes can do a world of good and we've sat back down to paint that same piece nearly immediately. When we were in art school, there had also been many times of us staying up all night painting for an assignment, then when we walk into class we immediately notice all the things wrong with the painting. We would then proceed to whip out our paints and make a few adjustments here and there and suddenly would improve it quite a bit.

So, for the sake of you mind, your body, your health, and your work, take a break!