There's always a simpler way to do things. I firmly believe in working smarter, not harder.
We turn to custom brushes to help us get down redundant elements like foliage or scales with half the effort. We buy or create stencils so we can get down more accurate shapes without burning out our already precarious energy. Following this logic, this second acrylic painting went by a little quicker than the first due to me already having some paints mixed up from the last one, as well as the thumbnails being done in advance. The composition is similar to the first painting, to boot, and it all whittled an hour or two out of the process. I like it.
This is an aspect of the creation process I'm keeping in mind for future work. What are ways I can snip out a little of the grind? How can I reuse past thumbnails or similar ideas for new projects? I've got more .psd files than I'd like to admit stuffed to the brim with spontaneous painting concepts, which I...really should organize into their own folder. That's so much fertilizer for new work. If you've got some old, unfinished art lying around, consider pulling them back out again and giving them a review. You could just have a hidden gem languishing away unseen.
If you haven't read my first post for the first acrylic painting, check it out here. This character belongs to Khailed, a fellow illustrator who is currently open for icon and portrait commissions.
Without further ado!
To the left are a few of the thumbnails I did while working on the first acrylic painting. I was already solidly in the groove and felt like trying my hand at their original character as I let the other thumbs simmer. I adored their character's rosy ombre hair and little heart sweater (already similar to my own fashion sense). If you can't already tell, they have a knack for simple-and-striking designs. I've noticed how they tend to embody two or three poppy colors and a dominant fashion focal point, like a hat or a top. Really, they hearken to some of the best platformer characters of the 90's.
I haven't traditionally painted in almost a year.
You heard that right. Despite what you may hear in snooty art circles, it's not necessary to draw or paint every day to keep a skill alive. In fact, taking a break can be just as beneficial as hard practice. As it stands, 2020 burnt me out pretty hard. Not only was I running out of steam juggling several gigs throughout a stressful year, I pulled a muscle in my neck and upper shoulder in the middle of a hefty project and found myself bedridden for a week. I was popping Tylenol every six hours, struggling to walk further than my kitchen and, at one point, found myself dissolving into tears of frustration. That injury also happened right when my period started!
Yeah. That was a fun week.
It's worth noting that digital painting and traditional painting are similar enough as it is, so I technically never fell out of practice. Still, it was refreshing to revisit my old supplies and dip into a well-worn skill. A friend of mine sent me a wonderful custom postcard not too long afterwards, which made my whole month. They're a fantastic illustrator and designer looking to try their hand at packaging design soon (and you can find their portfolio here).
What better way to say thank you than with some art of my own?
Their (gorgeous!) postcard is to the left, while their fursona is to the right. It's a very minimalist and striking design, which is just perfect considering the color scheme I want to use. I gathered up some references, warmed up with some doodles, then got started on a slew of thumbs and roughs.
You just have to speak things into existence.
I was contacted by Zero Issue Beer not too long ago -- a Canadian craft brewery -- and was asked if I was interested in doing an illustration for their new seasonal beer line-up. What a coincidence 2020 was the year I wanted to get into packaging design and illustration, particularly for beverages! Even better, the proceeds are going to Sankofa Arts & Music Foundation for black Canadian youth. As you can likely imagine, I was sold twenty times over. I have a short interview that will be appearing on their site here. For now?
I'm going to share the creative process behind this piece, from the rough beginning stages to the inspiration behind it all. I'll share some tips I've learned about packaging design, too, for any of you who want to branch out your portfolio.
Spoiler: there are harpies.
My references are put together in collage format. Just an ongoing slapdash of visual inspiration and technical reference. While I adore my harpies and sphinxes, I still considered exploring some lesser-known hybrids like winged nagas, manticores and anggitay (a unicorn centaur from Filipino folklore). These references are far from a one-use-only deal. They can give birth to several different pieces by themselves, all with the benefit of saving me some work searching Google Images' royalty-free sections.
Work smarter, not harder.
Zero Issue Beer is very upfront about their love for nerddom: videogames, anime, D&D, you name it. I considered it all as I was designing my buzzed creatures: a giant mountain sphinx, a hoppy harpy, a deer bard and an owl gryphon. I had actually considered doing a lo-fi retro anime-styled design, but that was a case of too many cooks spoiling the proverbial broth. Limitation can actually be your best friend when a piece needs to be finished by a certain date, and considering I had a lot of creative freedom, I knew I needed to dial it back or I'd go crazy. See, I'm on the other side of the artistic extreme. Some artists struggle to come up with anything, while I come up with a ton and can get overwhelmed.
The only specification for this art, aside from being CMYK, is the little stick figure. This character is a reoccurring element in all of Zero Issue Beer's logo design. A Where's Waldo hopped up on hops, if you will.
First tip: learn the difference between RGB and CMYK. I frequently get both of these requested, with the preference changing depending on the type of commission (printed cover, digital promotion, product). Creative Pro has a useful breakdown on how these printing types affect printed work and web display.
That unfinished block to the right is around where the beer can begins to wrap. It was interesting having to keep in mind the 3D nature of the can and what the viewer should more or less be seeing and touching in-person. It's one of the many things I love about packaging: it engages even more of your artistic senses than usual.
I was torn between having the little stick figure be a wandering traveler in the hills or having him look like an abstract flower in the harpy's flower crown. I settled on the latter because I loved how the silhouette made me look twice. Afterwards, figuring out what to do with the little sparks of light eventually pushed me toward a sun-like design.
Now for the final sketch. I had to redo those leaves a few times because they weren't quite popping out like I wanted. Throughout this process I constantly zoomed out to a rough size of the beer can on my monitor screen. Rich detail is certainly beautiful, but you can end up working far too hard on something that won't even show up when printed.
Second tip: when in doubt? Zoom out. A lot of what you think is meticulous detail in a painting is actually texture and contrast suggesting more than what's actually there. Not only does it save you time, it looks much more natural. Unless you have the eyes of a red-tailed hawk, you can't actually pick out every last leaf or blade of grass in the distance.
My color overlays took a little more doing, as I was torn on how much warm and cool contrast I wanted in the final version. Zero Issue Beer ended up leaning more toward the green, which I very much agreed with. Even a dominant color can still be made distinctive through shade, saturation and focal point. I mixed in some darker, cooler green with bright, warmer ones for contrast. I then tossed in a blue sky and a pop of yellow to keep everything from being too uniform.
Third tip: color is much more complex than you likely give it credit for, so get comfortable with vocabulary like hue, shade, saturation, warm, cool and reflected lighting. If you need to return to the basics, check out Color And Light by James Gurney. This book has been on my to-buy list for a while and I can't wait to read it.
This was one of my most relaxing paintings of the year. Honestly? I really needed that.
Not only is it for a project that I'm deeply invested in, it was a return to indulgence that has run off with me somewhat. Something I'll always be keen on sharing are the bumps on the art-making road. 2020 has been a series of blows to emotional, mental and physical health for many. Contrary to the popular myth of the endlessly inspired struggling artist, many professionals, myself included, have struggled to create lately. When we're not tired, we're demoralized. When we're not demoralized, we're spreading ourselves too thin. To be able to enjoy a painting so thoroughly from beginning to end was the kind of artistic refresher I sorely needed.
I was asked to offer up a series of names with hopeful connotations, and we eventually settled on 'Reverie'. It's a nostalgic, sweet sentiment, one I'm working on falling into more in lieu of doomsday thoughts that leave me drained. The character here is meant to be a return to joy. A moment of green and comfort, set to a fizzy buzz.
Here's roughly what the final can will look like, with brand logo, drink name and drink type. Last art tip?
Draw what you love.
Been a while since I've done one of these!
Indulgent art has always held a high priority for me. Why bother painting or drawing things I'm not invested in? Not to mention I need to show what I want to get hired for, so...kill two birds with one stone. This piece, however, was peak indulgence. Like, a dollop of whipped cream on top of whipped cream indulgence. You have a harpy. You have flowers. You have a ton of colors. Hell, there are even the mildest of vaporwave vibes (pink + blue surrealism) that snuck in without me realizing. Expect to see more of that.
This year has been an absolute trainwreck and it's barely halfway over. Soaking in the subjects and styles I love to the nth degree is as self-care as it gets. As a side-note, I'm going to be keeping these progress posts a little brief from now on so I don't repeat myself. I mean, you know I love color. The part where I start phasing out the sketch and start rendering is orgasmic. Yadda yadda. I'll focus more on the unique challenges of each piece and what, exactly, was going on in my mind when making it.
It's time to get indulgent.
Cobbled together quite a few references for this one, on top of looking into the mirror to get the hands looking right. Let me tell you, it is damn hard finding a photo of a bird from the belly up with its wings folded. That little ballpoint pen doodle was done on an envelope in-between research and drafting. It's often when I'm thinking the least the best compositions come to me. There's a lesson to be learned here.
I was really feeling the color composition here, but wasn't quite sure how to break up the space a little more. I added a pile of heads in the second one (which also did more to tell a story), but there still wasn't enough contrast. A little too much pink and...not enough everything else. In the far right I added more blue flourishes to get the eye traveling more easily, as well as more plants, and eventually found my happy balance.
There was a lot of gradually tweaking small details in the middle of painting. Wings looked uneven, tail crooked, needing more plants. I wasn't going for perfect symmetry here, but I still needed it to look somewhat straightened out. I was constantly debating that floating blood splatter above the harpy's head, too. In the end, I couldn't get rid of it. It was just too interesting a detail to leave out.
For all that I kept straightening out certain elements, I left that crooked kettle handle in for a while. Ugh! Fixed it up the day before posting because it was driving me nuts. Next time? I'm using a stencil.
This is the ideal combination of artistic influences. You may not like it, but this is what peak indulgence looks like.
I've got pieces simmering on my computer (and more old envelopes-) with yet more mythical creatures, surreal imagery and vague future nostalgia touches. Environment art and concept art is a big focus of mine this year, though, and I am eager to dip into packaging design. Thiiink mock-ups for coffee bags and wine bottles. It's a lot to keep in mind and I'm taking everything one day at a time. In the meantime, I really, really want to start a new sketchbook. I even had a dream about browsing a bookstore and wanting to buy one last night. I have a box of unused ones sitting in the corner of my room!
The only problem is...which one to pick.
Here's to indulgence.
What qualifies as really indulgent art for you? How do you incorporate multiple favorite subjects or styles into a single piece?
Being a curmudgeonly, introverted remote freelancer isn't exactly...prime wellness material. When you can reach for a bag of chips and nap whenever you want, an ideal weight easily falls to the wayside.
I'll start this off with the usual disclaimer: we all have different reasons for wanting to diet and exercise. Some do so because they want to fit into their old skinny jeans again (I see you). Others want to try and circumvent the institutionalized bias toward fat bodies in medicine and traditional workspaces. My own reasons are just as varied. Exercise is a major sleep aid for me, since I struggle with insomnia: I sleep deeply, but getting to sleep is a problem. It's also a reliable painkiller for my bad shoulder and improves my mood. ...I also want to fit into some of my old clothes. Yeah, this cup size is doing me few favors.
It's all gotten me to thinking on perspectives concerning exercising and dieting: how they often feel like a punishment or a chore than enrichment. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the home habits of many, making those already often at home feel even more cooped up than usual. How can you start a new regimen when just keeping your head on straight in all this chaos feels impossible?
When people share their diet plans it's often with an air of positive disappointment. A whole lot of 'no's and 'once I'm done, I can's. It's pretty rare to see dieting looked at as something good, or even mundane, and...why would it? It's common to turn to food for comfort. To temporarily alleviate boredom. Taking that away and replacing it with small portions and no snacks sounds like a losing battle. Even more damning is how long it takes to visibly see results. If you want to (safely) lose, say, fifteen or twenty pounds, you're going to be at this for months.
Exercise sees a similar hurdle on the road of personal inspiration. Taking away your ability to rest in a very taxing and demanding world can feel like a slap to the face. When I used to work traditional part-time jobs I got plenty of exercise in my day-to-day just walking, riding the bus and standing for hours at a time. Remote freelancing, as such, is a rough transition. I also don't have a significant other, kids or a large family, so it's very easy for me not to go outside for days (aside from, say, taking out the trash).
Here's the thing...I actually like exercising, though you wouldn't know it by talking to me. I stay at home the majority of the time and approach life with an attitude some would call lackadaisical. I'm also a very tired person. I'm tired for many reasons, more than my eternally busy fingers can hope to quantify. For falling between the intersections of several marginalized identities in a society best described as 'sociopathically disinclined'. For having mental illness that is defined by running a person ragged doing little. That exhaustion translates into wanting sugar highs and needing extra naps. Take it from me: dieting and exercising as a remote freelancer on top of all of that sounds nigh-impossible.
Despite that, I'm still doing it. Exercise and a decent diet feels awesome.
Shifting your mindset is a term that is repeated so often by the worst people it's practically a trigger word at this point. 'Shift your mindset', says the 'financially literate' hustle guru who blames the working poor for their poverty. 'Shift your mindset', says the six-figure entrepreneur with a wife and kids who insists a negative attitude is all that stands between you and progress. This phrase, however, can be quite apt when it isn't butchered for clout. I had to change the way I think about diet and exercise: what they offered my life and how to make them enriching, not punishments.
It doesn't mean no sodas or chips. It doesn't mean going on a two-hour hike five times a week. It just means a little more discipline. A touch more creativity with a dash of honesty on top.
Let's take a look at what changing your mindset actually means and how that translates into an effective at-home exercise and diet regimen:
1. Focus On Short-Term And Mid-Term Benefits
Just like New Year's Resolutions that fall flat on their face within the month, so too do you need to approach other long-term goals with a more immediate perspective.
Cold turkey doesn't work for most people, whether weaning off cigarettes, alcohol or binge-eating. That's the long and short of it. Successfully committing to a personal at-home exercise and diet regimen means you have to focus just as much on short-term and mid-term benefits as well as the long-term results. Hell, even more so! That means what feels good now instead of what you hope to see in the mirror three months later. Let's start with me: I want to lose between eighteen to twenty pounds over the next four to five months, which is more than doable at my rate. Until I get there?
I embrace what feels great now.
After I exercise the knot in my right shoulder loosens up (and, boy, does it love to cramp up at a moment's notice). I love the temporary endorphin rush, too, making my rather cluttered and stressed brain lightheaded without a beer can in sight. Lastly, I actively look forward to falling asleep faster at night. See, I don't wait until I hit the three-month mark before I feel good about what I'm doing. It's also about the journey, not just the destination. Ask yourself what you enjoy during or directly after the act and use that to create a foundation that sticks, instead of wishing on a lofty goal that floats off without you.
2. If You Enjoy What You Do, It Goes From A Chore To A Hobby
Number one is really hard to achieve if you don't like your form of at-home exercise. Good thing there's a lot of variety to choose from, even when stuck at home.
A forty-five minute yoga session set to your favorite movie soundtrack so you can daydream while you work out. A thirty-minute dance session where you watch choreography routines and imagine you're starring in a music video (Millennium Dance Complex is a popular dance studio on YouTube that always stuns me with their dazzling routines). A one-hour jogging session with a friend or family member so you can have some accountability and maybe a few fun conversations along the way. The varieties for a unique, personalized wellness regimen are nearly endless.
Exercise and dieting isn't a rulebook, but a guideline.
Since so many are cooped up inside (and this won't change much for some remote freelancers once the pandemic slows down), getting creative with your at-home exercise routines really helps. Dancing in my apartment is one of my personal staples, but with a twist: twice or thrice a week I'll turn on my YouTube Watch Later folder so I can catch up on songs I've been meaning to listen to while working up a sweat. This adds a sense of fun, as I don't know exactly what I'm going to hear, shaking up the vibe and getting me to try new moves or repetitions every few minutes. Sometimes I'll even do interpretive dances based on my original characters.
It's also good for multitasking, because my Watch Later folder is six hundred videos and counting
3. A Smarter Diet Gives You A Little Wiggle Room For The Lazy Days And Vice Versa
A more balanced diet gives you fallback for the days where you're too tired or too busy to even do a fifteen-minute jazzercise routine. Likewise, if you're very active, you can afford to snack a little more casually.
Little, however, is the key word.
2,000 calories per day is considered an average metric for most, with exceptions made for those on stricter diets due to age, health reasons and lifestyle. I've been maintaining an 1,800 calorie cap, with several days at 1,600 or 1,700. The goal in the next few weeks is to stick to 1,500 so I can actively shave off pounds and inch closer to my ideal weight, even on days where I don't exercise. I once heard a saying that went as follows: you can't outrun your spoon. That means even the best exercise regimen won't do much if you're still packing all those calories back on once you get home.
Other details add up, too. I drink water when feeling hungry in case my body interprets thirst for hunger (which is surprisingly common). I also drink water fifteen minutes before each meal, which stretches your stomach beforehand, reducing nausea and decreasing the urge to gorge. I don't go cold turkey on snacks; I just have less of them or choose lower-calorie options (sea salt popcorn, carrots, strawberries, craisins and peanut butter are some of my favorites). I plan on maintaining this lifestyle once I reach my goal, after all: dieting is not a punishment, but an overall improvement that benefits me in several ways.
4. Record Your Progress And Make It Cute
You can't be what you can't see. You need to reward yourself on a more regular basis, or else you'll have a higher chance of relapsing and giving up. Might as well treat your wellness regimen like a videogame!
I record my progress daily by jotting down my estimated calorie count and anything else I might've done to get closer to my goal, like jumping jack repetitions, dance sessions or walking around the park. Giving yourself points on a daily basis is a source of pride that translates immediately, rather than staring at your scale and mentally wishing the pounds away. Decorating your list is a great way to keep you from dreading your new routine, too. It's all about those short-term benefits, right? Art is psychology, so doodle some Pokemon fanart or pretty flowers above your metrics: give yourself something to smile about while checking in on your progress.
Trust me...it leaves an impact.
5. Set Realistic Goals That Won't Have You Crashing Back Down (Also, Detox Culture Is Complete Horseshit)
Detox culture is a tall, steaming mound of horseshit crowned with a halo of flies.
Celebrities and wealthy influencers promoting detox teas or trendy diets are trying to get you to, quite literally, buy into a mindset based in neither practicality nor health. They're not even using these themselves! Why would they, when personal trainers and liposuction are readily available? Unless you want to drink crappy smoothies and diarrhea teas for the rest of your life, save yourself the crushing disappointment and go for what's tried and true. A personalized at-home exercise routine, mentality shift and realistic expectations will carry you much farther than any viral trend.
I watched a video on weight loss in South Korea and was simultaneously unsurprised and mortified at a trend going around called the 'apple diet', where you subsist on only apples for several days to lose weight in a short amount of time. Not only is this literally starving yourself, it's a short-term result that physically cannot last. Even should you reach your goal with an extreme crash diet, you'll be left no choice but to go back to an ideal calorie count so you don't...well, die. Such an extreme disparity means, by default, you will gain some of that weight back, unless you believe you can 'maintain' on five apples a day instead of three.
It's easy to get lost in trends rather than facts. Detoxing is a process your body does naturally: it's called your liver and is quite capable at what it does. If you want to ease up on it, drink less alcohol and add more liver-friendly foods to your diet, like leafy greens, nuts and fish. Crash diets just do not work and give you a short-term result that butchers your physical and emotional health. Everyone's got their own habits and preferences, sure, but you can't debate the needs of your body. An at-home diet and exercise regimen should leave you feeling lively and mentally sound, not exhausted or depressed.
I'll be updating with a new post once I reach my goal (or get close to it), but until then, I'm going to enjoy the journey. Now's the time to figure out what you want to achieve from your day-to-day wellness plan, even as you're feeling cooped up and limited.
How are you maintaining a diet or exercise regimen while stuck at home?
Which artists deserve credit and which one's don't?
Trick question! All of them do.
So, I came across a job posting for an illustration gig the other day that had my higher brain functions in a bit of a fit. I won't go into the specifics, but it's one that interested me on several levels. I ended up not just skipping the application, but walked away with inspiration for one very annoyed, very specific blog post.
I'll start this off with a nice, easy fact: artists deserve credit for their work. At the risk of sounding blase, there would be no work without the artist.
This seems like a simple nugget of wisdom, yet, unfortunately, we live on the planet Earth. Here we have Twitter users reposting other people's work without credit (or giving credit in the second, less-viewed comment), shady online sellers making profit off of stolen designs and potential clients haggling down professionals. The job application I came across was more insidious, appearing perfectly professional on the surface with its highly specific rundown of the job and all that it would entail. That is, until it came to the pesky subject of due credit: this would be a work-for-hire position that would see all copyright going to the owner. As a working professional with over five years of experience, this is nothing new to me.
...Until I got to the following stipulation: the artist may get credit...as long as they are high-profile.
Ha ha. Yikes.
It gets worse. It proceeded to state that a high-profile artist would still have to provide a compelling reason why they should be credited, alongside the usual portfolio-and-resume fill-out. Even the popularity contest had an asterisk attached! I've never come across an illustration gig that required a certain level of nebulous prestige, then a subsequent debate for a line of credit. What gets me is just how vague 'high-profile' is. Does the artist need a certain amount of followers on Twitter? Do they need to rub elbows with mid-tier art celebrities at fantasy conventions? A minimum of ten book covers published or no dice?
Then it begs the biggest question of all...wouldn't a high-profile artist know better than to fall for a scam like this?
Let's not get it twisted, here. There's no hidden meaning to suss out. This is a garden variety power play, pure and simple. The mere existence of a job application means this business needs a professional to create a product, yet won't do the most basic courtesy of admitting it cannot do the thing. Artists, to this day, are not a respected class. Despite this, we remain highly sought after in a world swaying on its ever-towering pile of misery. Music, illustration, filmmaking, game design, literature...we make life worth living, and this cognitive dissonance manifests in crappy applications that tell you to jump, dance and backflip for your withered carrot.
There are a lot of jobs out there. If you see any variation of this bullshit? Make like a banana and split.
The only time you should accept a work-for-hire agreement is if you're getting paid out the damn nose. I'm talking triple what you would normally charge. Even then? You may still not find it worth it, and that's perfectly valid. A line of credit and piece in your portfolio can provide you more worth than a lump sum paycheck that gets torn to shreds sooner than you'd like. Work-for-hire doesn't interest me, because the ones asking don't provide the money needed to make up for the void that comes with surrendering a creative property in its entirety.
Let's reiterate the basics:
As a working professional, you're going to come across variations of 'jump for your withered carrot' a lot. These applications or emails will use different words, shift the goalposts around a little, but your answer will always lie in what you do or don't get at the end of the job. Will this work give you enough money to pay rent and your income tax? Will you able to showcase this work in your portfolio for similar work down the line? I won't sit here and pretend these answers are always easy -- not when capitalism is designed as a losing battle -- but you do have options.
To any and all working professionals: use your options. Sign up for Indeed's keyword alert to get notified of relevant jobs the minute they're posted. Keep your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages updated regularly. Directly pitch your portfolio to relevant publishers, studios and companies that will, at the very least, pay you and credit you. Get yourself the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines so you're caught up on fair pricing in your skillset and niche. Seriously. It's my Bible.
To the businesses and individuals who pull stuff like this? Go to hell! Yeah, I have nothing profound for this part. You're just sleazeballs who make snake oil salesmen look dignified.
If you need a little more help to get your head on straight, check out my previous post where I shared my favorite (low cost or free!) business, copywriting and illustration resources. I also have a feature on Wordwonders exploring a wonderful commission I completed in 2019 that continues to raise the bar for my career.
Self-care is a fact of life. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is your body: it's all you truly have.
Artists, from illustration undergraduates to experienced animators, are taught to devalue themselves from the word 'go'. The starving artist stereotype is imposed with impunity by a Western society that simultaneously craves art and dismisses artists, manifesting as art theft (with Aaron Carter a very recent example) or accusations of bloated egos. For any of you reading this with commission work under your belt, I'm sure you have at least one story of a potential client that tried to haggle your prices down (if they didn't just ghost). All of these minor and major blows have a way of leaving us lacking in the self-care field. Why should we spend so much time taking care of ourselves when our work is 'easy' and 'unimportant'?
Part of self-care is changing your mindset around what you have to offer the world. Offer yourself. Mind over matter: you won't stick to a stretching or jogging regimen unless you acknowledge how much you need it. Denying myself reasonable breaks and taking on very low-paying jobs (among other things) had me experiencing burnout in the past. Badly. It's an all-encompassing exhaustion that starts from your toes and trickles up to the roots of your hair. You can hardly string two words together. You can barely think beyond your next meal (if you're not too depressed to eat, that is). You sleep too much. You zone out too much. The mere thought of work is enough to have you laying back down.
Here I'm going to explain my daily self-care habits and how they pertain to my work: the unglamorous and wholly necessary routines of keeping my health sound and burnout as far away as humanely possible. There will be links to guides and videos so you can start experimenting with your own unique variation. It takes an average of two months to cement a new habit: the sooner you build one, the sooner it can start working to your benefit.
This list isn't here to clear your skin or cure your depression overnight. It's to make your exhausting and painful existence slightly less so.
1. I Stretch For A Minimum Of 30 Minutes Every Single Day
This month I've been tacking on an extra ten to fifteen minutes for my neck, shoulders and legs. Stretching is no joke.
Some of the biggest health problems facing artists today involve the neck, back and wrists. Hunching over your computer for hours on end or forgetting to take breaks is just begging to send you to the hospital prematurely. Even a machine needs to be shut off and allowed to cool down, right? Over 20% of American adults today have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, with the condition getting worse as you get older. This statistic is even higher when you take into account the undiagnosed and those with similar wrist and arm conditions, such as the notoriously painful tennis elbow. I'm just shy of thirty and am not nearly as sprightly as I used to be. While I'm no gambling woman, I'm willing to bet you're not going to be an exception to the rule, either.
My wrists have been giving me problems for years. They used to ache at the drop of a hat (particularly my dominant right) and I haven't been able to put weight on them (such as push-ups). Even worse? I had no idea where this came from! I had friends theorizing that I might have cracked a bone without my knowledge and healed strangely. Internet articles could only tell me so much about my symptoms, which sounded like everything and nothing at the same time. 2019 ended up an extra busy year: I had to go get my wrists scanned for issues (none), then sign onto a bi-monthly physical therapy course.
Valuable tips I've learned from my physical therapist include:
Seeing a pattern? I do two-minute repetitions for each stretch, sometimes two and a half if I have extra time. I'm working on doing stretch sessions twice a day, as well. I won't claim this is the ideal route for everyone, not when people have different obligations and schedules, but it's imperative you hash out a little time every day to loosen up. If not, just holding a tablet pen could become excruciating. Try combining stretch sessions with other simple tasks, such as stretching while listening to an audiobook, riding the bus or while taking a bath. Epsom salt soaks and ice massages are also great for reducing pain and inflammation, respectively. I buy my epsom from iHerb.
These videos are very similar to what my physical therapist taught me. Don't stretch too hard: I actually pulled a muscle after my third session trying to overdo it. It's the duration and frequency, not the intensity, that helps!
2. I Don't Feel Guilty For Getting Extra Sleep
Guilt is one of the biggest barriers to getting rest. Hit snooze? You're lazy. Need a nap? You're wasting valuable time. I'm about to bombard you with some pretty statistics and a dollop of science to cut into that nonsense.
Getting a consistent and lengthy amount of rest every night is tied into your immune system, heart health and mental health. Consistently missing out on important sleep can have you getting sick more easily. It can cause you to forget basic things, pushing you into that time-wasting spiral of double-checking if the oven's off and triple-checking your e-mail for that check-in you were supposed to do yesterday. It's a snowball effect of diminishing returns and one that won't get any better no matter how loudly you chant 'hustle culture' to your drooping reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"Is it truly that bad?", you may be asking. Oh, absolutely not. It's worse. The CDC regularly updates its information on sleep health: Americans average seven hours of sleep per night, when the recommended amount is closer to nine. This pattern of what they call 'short sleep' shows a higher increase in chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, stroke, depression and, yes, the aforementioned and beloved arthritis. Sleeping disorders are rampant, to boot: my mother has struggled with sleep apnea for years and she's had to see doctors several times before getting the help she needs.
A lack of deep, consistent sleep makes you:
What helps me is, admittedly, not something most people my age can relate to. A few years back I was so emotionally and physically drained I came down with shingles. Yes, you heard that right: a debilitating viral infection that usually affects the elderly or those with immunodisorders struck a generally healthy twenty-something. This was due to a combination of the extreme stress I went through at the time, as well as the compounding effects of anxiety disorder and failing to get restful sleep. These little cuts? They add up.
Don't wait until you come down with a viral infection before chipping away at that sleep-related guilt. Praise yourself for getting an extra hour or two when you need it, because, say it with me now: you're not a machine.
3. I Drink Several Cups Of Water Per Day
I'm not here to espouse bargain bin social media wisdom and tell you that drinking water will cure your life. I am, however, going to go into just how insidiously damaging being chronically dehydrated is.
Many American adults today are chronically dehydrated. Recent estimates think this number is as high as 75%, which should give you pause, if nothing else. When you think about it, it makes sense. Energy drinks and sugary coffee are incredibly common tools used to get through the day. When you tack on a high amount of fatty foods, increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the fact alcoholism is among the top ten leading causes of death, it's small wonder. We need to drink more water.
Being chronically dehydrated leaves you:
The appetite detail might come off as strange, but it's no old wives' tale. Yes, our bodies actually mix up their signals and can make you think you're hungry when you're actually thirsty. Next time you feel the need to snack, drink a glass of water and wait for thirty minutes. If your stomach stops growling, then you got your answer. Drinking more water isn't going to clear out your skin (particularly if your issue is a hormonal imbalance), nor is it going to be an all-in-one solution for your dating life. It will, however, ease the burden on your physical and mental health. That's still good.
To reiterate: it takes an average of two months for a new habit to stick. What helps? Having a friend, family member or online community hold you accountable (not with guilt, but encouragement and being able to 'check in'). Recording your progress on a whiteboard or your phone's notepad, because we all love scoring points. Sitting down and doing a little introspection on how much better you feel this week, which is its own reward. There's this great post on the technique of 'habit stacking' to help your new routine stick better, connecting an old habit with a new habit to keep you consistent. I drink a glass of water after washing my face (twice a day), every time I go to the bathroom (twice a day) and before each meal.
4. I Set A Social Media Limit To Thirty Minutes Or Less
Social media is not a religion. Let's stop treating it as such.
It's a revolutionary tool that keeps us connected to the world at large. This means news delivered as it's happening and useful information discovered at the click of a button. It also means being excessively exposed to FOMO (fear of missing out), becoming overly concerned with fluff metrics and wondering if you're truly making a difference with one thousand or less followers.
These are not concerns you need.
Social media, at best, is a useful self-promotion tool and a means of staying up-to-date on the world around you. That's it. Getting too wrapped up on always being in-the-know is just going to burn you out. Arguing with every last rando is only going to succeed in raising your blood pressure and nudging you ever closer to that premature stroke. Setting a daily time limit forces you to use your minutes wisely: bumping your recent illustration, updating your page with relevant posts for possible clients to see and checking in with peers or prospects.
I manage my limited social media time meaningfully by:
5. I Take Meaningful Breaks By 'Turning Off' Appropriately
A big issue for freelancers -- and, hell, those under traditional employment -- is turning off.
You sit down to eat lunch...but you're checking social media. You go out for a jog...but you're thinking about all the e-mails you need to answer when you get back. Turning off and focusing wholly on a task is pretty hard in a world that demands a constant deluge of productivity (machine metaphor just keeps coming back, don't it?). Like drinking more water every day or not feeling guilty about sleeping, turning off is a habit you'll build. Once it's established? You'll wonder what the hell you were thinking trying to steamroll through your entire day.
Examples of 'turning off' and letting my brain wander:
To reiterate: this is what works for me, and it's perfectly normal to have a unique routine that fits your schedule. That said, don't think you can 'get around' not sleeping enough or avoiding stretching sessions. That's a short-term solution that'll feed into a long-term problem.
Was this list helpful? What are you doing to improve your daily self-care habits in 2020?
all photography on this website is either taken by myself or free stock photos labeled for reuse with modification
Being a freelancer is rough. Thing is? It doesn't have to be.
Take it from someone whose instinct is to try and do everything on her own: don't. Not only will you run the risk of burning yourself out prematurely, you can set yourself up for failure by missing important legal details or drastically underpricing. There are free and affordable resources out there that can take the sting out of the freelancing process. Pricing, marketing, state law, copyright, portfolio direction, you name it. You can't create a piece of art without tools, right? The same goes for running a successful business. Below are five resources I use on a weekly -- sometimes daily -- basis, useful for both experienced freelancers and budding professionals starting to dip their toes into the working world.
Without further ado:
Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines
Screw saving the best for last: this is a book you need on your shelf if you want to make good money on your art.
This is the commercial art Bible to end all commercial art Bibles. I was first introduced to this book a few years ago by an art peer/client (you know who you are!) and was instantly floored by how comprehensive it is. No detail is too small, no topic too specific. Graphic novelists, commercial illustrators, fashion designers, concept artists, animators...I don't have enough room to go into all the working artists that could benefit from this tome. If you're intimidated by its page count, rest easy knowing the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook steers clear from being a stuffy compendium and keeps its language -- whether discussing fair pricing or exploring kill fees in a contract -- very accessible. The whole book feels like a patient teacher sitting by your side and walking you through a hurdle.
It doubles as a self-care book, to boot. You can't turn a page without being reminded of your value as a working artist.
The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines is consistent and organized in its layout, providing useful pricing spreadsheets that are separated based on experience, page percentage, geographical sales, etc. With a shelf life that'll last as long as your career does, give or take a few technological advances, there's no reason not to get it. The $45 price point on the home site can be a little steep, but you can find used and new copies on Amazon starting at under $25. Beware of shady sellers, as some reviewers have reported getting copies with missing pages. I got my book in pristine condition, I'm happy to say, and this is now one of my greatest treasures. Hell, I even read it for fun.
To repeat: you can't do everything by yourself. This means both in the quiet of your home office and in your day-to-day interactions with peers or prospects.
Freelancing isn't straightforward, and that's by design. I won't speak for artists in other countries, but the United States is a workaholic culture that wants workers dependent on employers as much as possible. Right down to when you take a shit and when you can recover from a cold. As such, becoming your own business (or even just making a little side-income) can be an uphill battle. Should you do the 1040-ES or the 1090? Do you need a state license to sell physical goods? What about writing out an effective contract? The Freelancers Union gives you knowledge in bite-sized pieces to ensure you're up-to-date on law changes, ethical business practices and health insurance.
I'm a big fan of the Freelancers Union newsletter and have been subscribed for over a year, which uses appealing templates and straightforward copy to give you important information at a glance. They also discuss self-care, share opinion articles written by experienced freelancers and offer much-needed words of encouragement. It's a full package. Sign-up is free and their newsletter crops up several times per month. Check out their blog to get a taste of what you can learn.
Ed Gandia (High-Income Business Writing)
There are a lot of advice coaches out there. How do you sort out the pragmatic teachers from the out-of-touch gurus?
I checked this guy out based on an anecdote of the fourth recommendation on this list and wasn't disappointed: Ed Gandia is a copywriter with years of experience in business writing, with a fantastic site dedicated to helping today's freelance writers make more money. He runs a blog, podcast and newsletter filled with useful advice to help freelancers avoid what he calls the 'feast-or-famine cycle'. He's no snake oil salesman, either, and never promises to get you knocking out six-figures overnight. His demeanor is practical without being cold, and his sense of humor goes a long way in helping absorb new information.
Even if you're not a business writer: you can still learn a lot about self-promotion and smart financial habits for your illustration or design career here.
I always enjoy sitting down to one of his podcasts in the morning. His free newsletter is weekly and is chock full of tips he's gathered over the years, offering practical approaches on everything from daily self-promotion habits to overcoming self-doubt when contacting a prospect for the first time. Just one example: his method of dividing daily tasks into high-priority, medium-priority and low-priority (with estimated timeframes) has done a lot to chip away at my anxiety. I use this method every day (except for days off, of course) and finish 80% of my list on average. That's not bad from someone who used to be a serial procrastinator!
Attention, any and all black freelancers: there's a resource just for you.
Getting specific with your hurdles is how you find answers. The one-size-fits-all approach does nothing but a disservice to your unique challenges and just ends up wasting your time. If you work with a chronic illness, then you need to find resources that tackle the intersection between class and accessibility. If you are trying to find work in a certain country as an expat, then you need to find resources that supplement that experience. Blackfreelance provides a plethora of concise, practical blog posts, resource lists and a newsletter to help you navigate building yourself as a freelance black professional.
Black burnout, maintaining professional boundaries, defining a niche...you name it, it's been discussed. The advice provided here easily applies to several skillsets, since much of it focuses on a groundwork of shifting your mindset toward your work. Another example: I can happily thank Blackfreelance for convincing me to choose a niche, as I went the longest time convinced I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, the creator of the site was the one to recommend Ed Gandia up above! I'm still part of this community and am endlessly grateful for all I've learned. If I have a frustrating question or need a little feedback on an idea, I know where to turn.
Recent estimates are expecting to see freelancers making up the majority of the workforce in less than a decade, so now's the time to consider some side-income if you haven't already. You can find BlackFreelance over on Twitter or the website here.
Super Condensed Informational Zine: Portfolios, Websites, Pitching And Agents
If all of this is feeling a little overwhelming, particularly for those just starting out, look no further than this short-and-sweet zine by graphic novelist Shannon Wright. This is a nine-page .pdf that hashes out the basics of getting your work together and sending it out to the right people. Nice and easy!
While most of this (very on-point) advice on portfolios and websites is familiar to me, I still got some helpful tips on working with agents (a partnership I'm looking to expand to in either in 2021 or 2022). When it comes to the whirlwind deluge of freelancing, those little nudges in the right direction are everything. You get to choose the price of the zine, as well, so pay it forward and support an artist who wants to support you! Also, her portfolio is gorgeous. Take a gander and get inspired.
There you have it. Five freelance resources that have helped me -- or are helping me -- and could very well be an anchor in your sea of chaos. If you've got any resources that have helped you out, please leave a comment and share the goodness!
Sometimes you need to start over fresh. There's no shame in it. Why waste effort picking away at something you could just re-do in half the time? Other times, though, you'll need to bite the bullet and push through. Knowing which one of these to commit to is part of being a productive artist. I've talked about it before and I'll repeat until I'm blue in the face. It's a gamechanger.
Now that that's out of the way...let me start this by saying I wanted to drop this piece like a cheap vase. Even worse? This was one of my favorite sketches in my sketch batch. Talk about artistic whiplash. It didn't help I was winging the color scheme and many of the supporting details (a habit I've developed since color theory is one of my strongest skills). I had a vague idea I wanted blue and gold, that I wanted everything fancy and dream-like...and that was about it. For once, my guesswork backfired and made me fudge around more than normal. This doesn't happen often -- I've winged crazier pieces than this -- but it cost me several hours that could've been saved if I fleshed out the draft stages better.
This was a good reminder of how badly a piece can backfire if you don't have the basics down. I thought of throwing my hands up in the air and outright moving on to another sketch, but something about this one told me to keep going. 'Make it work' is a phrase made famous from Project Runway and one I've adopted. It's a saying that tells you to work with your mistakes and find a way out of the hedgemaze you've built for yourself. I might just have to do a post on all my personal quotes one of these days.
(If you're curious about other pieces I've done, check out my recent post on the progress of 'Yasar'.)
As you can see, I did the work of thumbnailing out these outlandish outfits. Just, well...didn't actually think about everything else! From now on I think I'll hash out a quick color scheme in Photoshop -- a cluster of dots ordered from most dominant to least -- before committing. A few minutes to save me a few hours. Same with the big block of starry space. Yeeeah, I added that in during the last stages, too.
I was extremely happy with how this sketch turned out. Both the pose and silhouette were the right amount of elegant and playful. I also used a reference of a kid playing the flute to make sure the hands looked right.
This character's fashion is inspired heavily by classic JRPGs, magical girl anime and various architectural designs. While many of my characters have a certain theme, this one is intentionally all over the place. All the colors, all the silhouettes, all the patterns! The only rule is a visual smorgasbord: they're a lion child with a wild imagination that, fittingly, helps my imagination run wild. As such, I don't care too much about logistics when it comes to their outfits (beyond differentiating texture and a reasonable fit).
I've been drawing this character for years and enjoying every fanciful, floofy, extravagant clusterfuck they end up in. It just hit me that gold tends to be a dominant hue or focal point, an entirely subconscious detail. These were done back in 2015, all made up on the spot and something I still don't recommend you doing, ha ha. I can't believe winging it used to be my default. Reconnecting with my youthful spontaneity is a goal I still want to nurture moving forward. It won't replace the reliable structure of thumbnail-draft-sketch, but rather, support it.
In came the first problem: what even the hell color scheme? At the very least, I made sure to adhere to the basics. If you have a lot of cool colors, add a pop of something warm. If a certain color dominates up top, see what can contrast it below. It's like a math equation if math sucked less.
Even though I ended up veering away from the olive backdrop, I still like how it contrasted against everything else. Might have a green-and-gold centered piece later. Speaking of which, check out 'Green And Gold' by Lianne La Havas. Gorgeous song.
There may be a lot of working parts in this piece, but the face has the most pressure to be done well. It's what we tend to gravitate to as human beings, after all, and flubbing the expression/eyes/etc is like ruining the broth in a soup. The science behind the face is a fascinating topic for me and a big reason why I do so many portraits.
Oh, the gold decorations around the scepter ball drove me crazy. I kept fudging with them in the hopes they'd look better and eventually went, "Fuck this." Yes, you can give up and keep pushing in the same illustration.
I was given some very helpful feedback in one of the Discord communities I'm part of, particularly concerning the fish. While outside eyes thought they looked fine, this element just rubbed me the wrong way. They were too cluttered, and yet, not enough. These magical betta didn't provide enough contrast and took up so much space the eye didn't know where to travel. I didn't want to eliminate them entirely, though...
...so I went for the 'less is more' approach. The piece immediately felt more breathable. The eye traveled more naturally, too, from the shooting star down to the fish down to the face. I made sure to keep the shade close to the scepter, too, to tie together the color scheme.
A little .gif for those that missed my Twitter post. I'm loving making these so much I might start playing with simple animations in 2020.
At the last second I decided to go for a light lavender backdrop, mostly because there was already a lot of blue in the piece.
This piece was another lesson in 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should'. Just because I usually am able to wing my designs doesn't mean I should go into a piece flying by the seat of my pants. All in all? I'm glad I stuck with it. I'm going to celebrate what I did well and learn from what could've been better.
It's a New Year, ripe with potential, and I'm going to stick to growing my good habits. I've talked before about how I don't make lofty New Year's declarations, instead preferring to focus on the smaller baby steps that lead up to goals. Now, that's not to say I don't have some idea on what I want. I'm going to continue to test my skills and build my portfolio. I want to create breathtaking illustrations that tell captivating stories, with emphasis on character interaction and complex backgrounds. I want to design all sorts of unforgettable characters and creatures. I want to expand a little and branch out into concept art, 3D modeling and fashion design.
Here are some small goals I'll be doing over the next few months:
Reaching goals, big or small, means lots of thumbnailing, lots of rough drafts and lots of baby steps. Stay tuned!
I have so many characters. Jesus Christ.
It's to the point that even doing art of other characters I don't paint very often feels excessive. Like I'm choosing a favorite child. As it stands, I've only drawn Yasar a few times, despite the fact he's a prominent supporting character in a big (and very old) story of mine. I'd go into greater detail about his personality and history, but I'm viciously protective of my intellectual property. Maybe someday when I actually commit this story to a game or a book.
I like to separate character art into three categories: simple, complex and illustrative. The first is exactly what it says on the tin, with no background or any supporting elements whatsoever. The middle adds a little more, such as an item or animal. The latter is an illustration in all but name, with the focus still heavily on the character themselves. I take a lot of inspiration from fashion magazines for that last one, since they tend to showcase models in all sorts of environments that play second-fiddle to the subject. This character art is somewhere between a simple and complex, as the giant gilded egg fills out the space without any additional interaction.
Funny enough, even after extensive thumbnailing (see below), I still didn't have any idea what I was going to put behind him. Just...something. Something to round out that space! Throwing in a big fancy egg while painting ended up giving me an idea for one of his powers, since he's an illusionist that depends on sleight-of-hand and a jack-of-all-trades approach. ...Don't do what I did, though. Figure everything out in the draft stage. It'll save you so much more trouble.
Thumbnailing my character art was something I did sparingly in the past. Mainly because I internalized some bullshit ideas about how fast my art should be. Thumbnails and rough drafts were for illustrations, right? The complex stuff. The ones with backgrounds and action poses. ...Yeah, that's not true at all. Literally everything can be thumbnailed, from the smallest sliver of concept art to the most elaborate multi-character tapestry. Since my designs tend to be pretty fanciful, this step is extra helpful, allowing me to work out everything before committing to a polished pencil sketch.
also to the middle left you can see my main reference for the pose, particularly for the legs
Sketches take me between three to five hours on average, maybe a little longer. Thumbnails, on the other hand, are whipped up in minutes. Sitting down for an hour and hashing out a dozen thumbnails is peak relaxation. Sometimes I get so addicted to it I don't want to move on to later stages, even though later stages are also my favorite.
I've been working on a sketch buffer these past few weeks: painting is my greatest strength and it saves me time to have a bunch of pencil drawings ready to go. This was my favorite in the pile, so I decided to start off strong. To the right I added a flat to bring out the silhouette -- the key to any good character art -- and move from there.
I've been falling in crazy love all over again with persian and baroque architecture, so you're going to be seeing a lot of inspiration stemming from there, pastels and acanthus and stars galore
the egg begins
The soft brush remains my go-to for creating base colors. I love everything bleeding into each other. It's a very traditionalist approach to digital art and something I want to keep pushing; see just how buttery and iridescent I can get. I've been experimenting quite a bit with color burn, overlay and soft light layers to add more subtlety. I want colors so rich you feel like you could bite into them like a ripe fruit.
Remember: paintings are conversations. You learn as you go. I realized the legs looked kind of stringy, so I used the magic wand tool to thicken them. Also, I'm obsessed with this guy's pants. They are seriously satisfying to look at.
It took a few passes for me to figure out the most appealing color balance between the character and the egg. The teal ended up being a really tasty contrast with the pink backdrop: almost like a sandwich between the equally warm dominant colors of the character's outfit. I also made the head a little smaller and the hands a little bigger. Probably a sign for me to not get too lost in all the extravagance and keep in mind basic proportions.
A little progress .gif for your viewing pleasure.
I need fifteen more hands.
Worked on this on-and-off over four to five days. I need to start tallying up the hours, because I honestly don't remember how long it took me overall. I really wanted to push my painting abilities with this one. Interestingly, I feel more success not in the final result, but the process: of committing to a thumbnailing/rough draft stage, using references and getting back into traditional sketching. I also got to show off all my strengths in one place. Fashion design, color theory, character design, lighting, texture. I plan on getting more playful with my layouts, as well as focusing on dynamic poses.
I've got a pile of great ideas sitting in Photoshop, so this is one challenge I'll be happily meeting head-on. There's nothing quite so intoxicating as having a goal and being like, "Yeah? No fucking problem."
I have more character art on the way, which means more processes, more .gifs, more rambles. I'm also considering making the switch from Photoshop CC to a different digital art program. Stay tuned!
Here I post WIPs, sketches, speedpaints, thumbnails and anything else thrown into the veritable stew of artistic process.