Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting Stuff Done...

A few weeks ago I was asked how I manage my time to accomplish items on my to do list. First let me just say that my situation affords me a lot of time to devote towards illustration projects and for that I feel very fortunate. My youngest boy is now 13 and does a lot with his older brothers and friends. My wife was teaching school when he was a pup so I spent a lot of time watering and weeding that one but now I have much more time. I don't have a full time job so that really helps. I know many of you have a lot of responsibilities that demand big chunks of time but here are some of my strategies - perhaps they might give you a few ideas:

I need less money because we've simplified our lives. Fewer activities, reusing items, less extravagant vacations - basically living within our means has allowed me to take on less work- to be choosy and more judicious with my time.

 I work many hours during the day but when I draw I do it on my iPad in the family room so I can be with my wife and kids - not super high quality time but I can still participate in discussions...and arguments :) I do most of the thumbnail and design decisions in my studio where I can think and then refine the finishes with the fam.

I sketch on an iPad - I can't tell you how much time this has saved me. We have some medical issues in our family and find ourselves at doctor appointments quite often. Now I can take my work with me on the iPad. I like it better than a sketchbook because I can completely finish drawings because I never run out of "paper". You can always re-size and keep working. When I'm at school or waiting for one of my kids in the car - at the in-laws, etc. I always have the ability to keep working. I then email the work to myself and when I get home I'm already to start photoshop work.

I love hiking in the mountains and playing racquetball - so I use both of these as incentives. I'll tell myself that I can't leave for my hike until I get x done. Self imposed deadlines have become a way of life - so much that sometimes I forget that they are my deadlines and I sometimes have to remind myself that it's ok to blow one now and then. The hike resets my mind and gives me focus - I'm more productive when I return.

I had to go on an internet diet. One of my indulgences is to check facebook, email, twitter, my blog, my back office sales stats for Amazon and Pubit, other people's blogs, news feeds, etc. The online connections are potentially endless and Seth Godin really helped me by clearly stating that these distractions are NOT work. So while I used to be able to convince myself that it was part of my productivity I no longer can - Thanks Seth! I jump on in the morning and then a few more times throughout the day but then I click out and really try to crank on my assignments.

I visualize a lot too. I begin with the end in mind as Stephen Covey put it in his 7 habits book. Imagining how cool it will be to have children's story apps for iPad and android really gets me going and gives me the motivation to sidestep many distractions that inevitably try to trip me each day.

I also break down each project into small little checklist items. Even if you're only able to cross one little item off each day think what you'll be able to accomplish in a year. Thinking about doing it is good but people sometimes spend years telling themselves, "I'm going to_______."  - make the freakin list - start checking things off!

Probably the biggest thing I've been able to do to boost my productivity and time management is to start saying no to assignments I'm not in love with. Cutting out the projects that bring me down and replacing them with projects I love has me waking up in the morning excited to get going. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I get to go in my studio and work on some freakin cool stuff. 

Hope this list helps some of you - it's taken me many years to finally figure out what works for me - I'd love to know what works for you...maybe I can steal a few ideas.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Painted a Drawing From When I Was 8

I've been wanting to do this for quite a while - paint an image I drew when I was a kid! I remember being in the phase of drawing hot rods when I was 8 - 10 years old. I was born in '66 when the occasional hot rod would rumble by and my friends and I dreamed of one day owning one. The next best thing was drawing them...or attempting to draw them with what little skill we possessed. There was a kid in my 3rd grade class that was much better than I - wish I could remember his name - anyway, whenever it was art time we found ourselves in a sort of competition to draw the coolest hot rod.

The neat thing is that while I was painting this one up in photoshop today I remembered what it felt like to make this drawing way back. Not this one in particular but the overall genre of hot rod drawings - the metal flake candy apple paint job was what I had no way of pulling off back then. Crayons always seemed to mess up a perfectly good drawing and the end result was always such a disappointment.

This was some good therapy today - I highly recommend it! Thanks Dad for saving some of my art! I'm keeping files of your grand kids' work... -oh, and I wish I came up with this idea but actually it came from a guy who's been painting kid's drawings for a while http://www.themonsterengine.com/

--Addendum: Susan Clement-Beveridge brought up a really good point that I had to include in the post: the idea of painting the image with a technology that had yet to be invented when I drew the sketch. Wow! How could I have missed that one? Imagine present Will going back in time and explaining to past Will age 8. "So anyhow, in almost 40 years I'm going to paint your sketch"...(imagine young Will with a stupid look)..."yeah, so I'll be working on a computer".... (blank stare)..."a computer is a electrical box you put on your desk that's attached to a TV type screen"...."There's no real paint but I'll be able to scan your drawing with a scanner thingy to get it into the TV type thing"....(young Will thinking about playing outside with friends)..."forget the scanner - I'll be painting it with electronic pixels with a tablet type thingy and an electric pen that won't write on paper"....( young Will - "I'm going down to my friends house now - we're going to play Rock em Sock em Robots)....

Monday, July 23, 2012

You Are A Creator!

Not THE Creator :) When I first left school in 1992 I was eager to get illustration assignments. After a few months and a few freelance gigs I couldn't believe I could fianlly call myself an illustrator! For the following eighteen years I continued to proudly identify myself as an illustrator. But in the last few years I've begun to realize that this title or label has actually been somewhat limiting in my growth as an artist. The confines of the title kept me from seeing myself as anything but an illustrator- not that there's anything wrong with being an illustrator but can I allow myself to be even more? - I thought.

As I started dreaming up new projects and venturing down new roads with my video tutorials, ebooks, and apps I've realized that I've given myself permission to wear many new hats. Entrepreneur, director, teacher, writer, collaborator, graphic designer, voice actor, animator, editor, and yes illustrator are some of the roles I find myself engaged in now. I'm not yet proficient in many of these roles yet but it's challenging and exciting to be able to wake up and declare, "I'm going to do _________ today!"

Re-defining yourself as a creator allows your mind to wander and imagine yourself being successful in areas you might never thought of. Imagining your successes is really the first step to realizing those successes because if you can't imagine it you won't have the motivation to act. Giving yourself permission to become more- is liberating. Calling yourself a creator allows you the freedom to explore and communicate with like minded people about the possibilities you imagine. I have 3 more projects I would like to pursue in the future if I can finish some of my existing work - and they aren't like anything I've done thus far.

A word of caution: Before you really start to pursue too many projects or skill sets let me make it clear that I believe it is very important to master one craft first. Mastering a craft will mean different things to different people. If you reach a high level of mastery at whatever it is that you do i.e. illustration, writing, animation, coding, etc. you will put yourself in a leveraging position. You'll be able to gain respect from the people you approach if you ever want to partner with them, go into business with them, collaborate with, or hire them. You'll need this respect if you wish to attract equally talented people who offer expertise where you are weak.

So allow yourself a broader definition of who you are so you can become more than you ever imagined. With amazing digital technologies and the internet -which is becoming more and more accessible to the little man the opportunities are endless.

My youngest son told me that frogs don't jump to catch insects when he saw the piece I was working on above. My response, "would you have commented on this piece if I had drawn it accurately?" He thought about it and then said, "probably not." If we expect to get attention in the noisy era of the internet we have to create original projects!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Penguin App

So here's another children's story app I'm working on right now. I'm calling this the SUMMER OF APPS as I've been working on three of them with three different programmers currently. I thought I'd post some progress on my latest - the penguin app - we're still trying to figure out a name for it. It has a story component as well as a counting and simple addition subtraction theme. This one is going to be targeted towards 2-5 year olds. In the menu users will choose between story mode and adventure mode - so story time is just that and when it's time to play kids will know how to get there.

These penguins are the main characters and since we are animating them I had to start learning a little about animation. You need to know that I've been a one trick pony for almost two decades - I've only been working digitally for a few years for crying out loud.

So one of the first things I learned is that whenever you're talking animation you're talking assets. An asset is a stand alone character, object, or background element. In order for things to move over a background they can't be painted over the background - like I used to do in all my illustrations. This is why it's almost impossible to make animated apps or ebooks from classic children's books. 

When you're working with animated assets the more things you separate from the background the more powerful the property. By that I mean that if what you're working on ever does well commercially you'll probably want to follow it up with a sequel. So the more stuff you can illustrate separately the more power you have in creating another story using the same backgrounds by moving the props into different positions or removing them entirely. You can see that this beach scene could be completely reworked in a matter of minutes since every object is painted on it's own layer. Ironically I don't think I'd be going down this road if I hadn't learned to work in photoshop a few years back!

Some little fishies that appear in a few screens in the app...

The programmer on this app really likes the "Unity Framework" which he is using to format our app. It's actually designed for a 3d game environment but works great for our 2d art and animation. It allows us to dream it and build it. Looking at the smooth motion it provides is amazing to me since I've always identified myself as an illustrator. About 4 years ago a colleague of mine attended an icon conference where a speaker said that illustrators will need to start thinking about motion graphics and animation if they want to stay viable in the near future. Those words were a bit scary to me at the time for fear of the unknown. Now I'm not only unafraid - I'm so psyched about the possibilities and the sheer fun of dreaming up things that I've never seen before!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What I Did Wrong On Kickstarter

Many of you know I'm a big fan of failing and failing often in order to learn and grow. Well, my Kickstarter campaign didn't reach it's funding for I HATE READING! and I think I know why. When things don't play out the way we want them to it's tempting to adopt an attitude, "Ah, the world doesn't deserve my genius." "I'm taking my ball and going home." But I have had the luxury of failing so much in my life that this isn't even a scrape. I brought home so many bad report cards that failure was almost part of my to do list. Failing often has made me somewhat immune to the feelings of regret many become paralyzed by - I know that the next time I try something I'll have a better chance of success based on lessons learned.

Here is a list of the main reasons I believe my Kickstarter didn't reach it's goal:

1) I didn't have a launch party to rally my close friends and family. Many suggest that before you ever pull the trigger on your Kickstarter web page you should let as many people know about your project as possible. I was sort of in rush mode to get mine going as I was juggling other freelance projects etc.

2) I didn't get a "staff pick." The coveted holy grail factor in having a super successful campaign is getting loved by the Kickstarter staff. A "staff pick" means that Kickstarter features your project so that it's easy for people to find your project. They say right on their website that they're looking for projects that are doing well. This is more of a hunch but I think that if you come out of the gate with a roar you have more chances of getting their attention. There are thousands of projects on their site and the more money you rack up early has to be one of the factors they're looking for. So it stands to reason that if you have a bunch of people lined up to contribute when you launch you'll send a message that you aren't fooling around. In addition their search algorithms are set to move your project up on the list each time someone contributes to your Kickstarter. I think they also count the facebook "likes" and move you up on their "popular" list.

3) My rewards weren't enticing enough. If I had painted the I HATE READING! images in acrylics instead of working digitally I would have had original painted art to offer as incentives to perspective backers. Having rewards that people really want is important - ask yourself - would I want this? This was a choice I struggled with early on but I felt that I couldn't spare the extra time to work traditionally - gambled - lost.

4) I charged too much for the app. I think most people are practical  - like I see myself.  I was charging $10 for an app that everybody figured I would end up selling for a few bucks in the app store. Why pay 4- 5 times the price for the same product? I was figuring that charging $2/app wouldn't get the project funded very easily and that perhaps more people would contribute a little more to get their name in the credits - guess not. :)

5) I didn't nurture my campaign. Call it laziness or an excuse but I really didn't feel that I had enough time to keep my Kickstarter in peoples minds on a daily basis with updates. I struggled with this one on another level too...I didn't want to bug people. I was afraid of people growing to hate I HATE READING! through over-exposure.

6) I didn't reach out to like minded people - educators and teachers. I'm sure that with enough prep work in the form of research and invitations I could have rallied a group of interested organizations. I feel confident that some or all of them may have helped me in one way or another with my goal if not simply by just spreading the word.

So that's it - probably a bunch of other mistakes but I value the experience in that if I ever do another Kickstarter I'll start with a much better game plan. I also have this experience to share and that's priceless!
So if you decide to launch your own Kickstarter please don't be discouraged by my failure to fund. You can right many of my wrongs. Check out one of my friends successful campaigns that finished a few months ago - Jake Parker - dreams can come true on Kickstarter!

Good news! I'm going to be making the app after all - with a few cuts here and there and digging into my own pocket we'll be able to release what I feel is going to be a really fun app! Also  - I've been contacted by a few publishers who may want to publish I HATE READING! into a physical book - stay tuned!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Being Teachable

Remember when you knew it all? For some it was way back in grade school. For others it was up until you went to college and realized there was a lot you had to learn....and yet some never fully understand how much they truly don't know. Being teachable is being willing to let down your guard...allowing someone else to drive even though you might know some or all of the directions. Why? Because most of us will never achieve world class mastery over our craft or marketing skills without getting help from each other.

 Richard Hull, one of my illustration teachers from college, to this day will attend a lecture from a visiting illustrator and sit quietly taking notes. Even though his work is great and even though he has illustrated editorial, advertising, and children's books – AND teaches it for a living...he's there...taking notes when most of the student's are not.

 Being teachable isn't natural - but it must be learned in order to progress. Sometimes I run across a student that reminds me of myself when I was in college. I had such a passion for being original that I rarely took the advice of my teachers. If they taught the class to do it this way I wanted to do it that way. I see some of my students making the same choices and while I understand it I know it leads to a dead end. There was a point where I realized that everything my teachers had been telling me was right. It was at that point that I started listening and my learning increased at a much faster pace.

 Sadly every now and then I run across a student who never seems to trust me enough to take my advice. But it's not just my advice – my fellow teachers confirm the same behavior. I worry about them because in most cases they seem to just pass through art classes as if it were a phase in their life...then they're on to something else and we never see them again.

 Two years ago I had to humble myself and learn from a recent graduate – Jed Henry – now a children's book illustrator (and a darn good one too!). He taught me how to use photoshop and it has allowed me to put away the acrylics and produce my images in a fraction of the time. If I hadn't been teachable I can't imagine where I would be. I'll talk more on this in a later post but working on ebooks and apps is so much easier if you can work in layers digitally.

 A few weeks ago I was contacted by an 80 year old artist who also was also hungry to learn how to paint digitally. We talked on the phone for about an hour and I helped her through some issues she was having with set up. She had found my digital painting videos on folioacademy and wanted to know if I thought she could handle them. I did – and she dove right in. Later she wrote: “ I have really enjoyed your course and will have many enjoyable hours learning all your techniques.” My teaching is far from perfect and learning from a video isn't the most ideal way but when you're teachable – i.e. humble – you'll absorb more information in a shorter amount of time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Craft, Creativity, & You

You're thinking of going to art school, you're going to art school, or you went to art school...or you didn't go to school but because of your dedication you're teaching yourself. I'll bet you've spent most of your time working on your craft - more so than your creativity - right? I've talked about this subject before but this time I want to convince you of something I've been thinking about lately.

With the proliferation of the internet I've noticed as I'm sure you have that information is shared and spread much faster than ever before. So when there is a new piece of hardware released we all find out about it overnight. Even if someone isn't addicted to facebook or twitter chances are one of their friends will let em in on the secret.

When a group of award winning illustrators announce a master class, video series, conference, or tutorial - you hear or read about it. When a blogger offers advice, tips, demos, reviews, etc - you find out about it because someone shared it, liked it, retweeted it, emailed it, re-blogged it and on and on. We're all benefiting from the generosity and enthusiasm of each other.

Check out this amazing new little tool that I would have died to have in my early illustration days (brought to me via email from a friend) - and it's FREE!!! This is what I'm talking about! So much goodness out there to learn the craft of illustration. Handy - an artist's reference tool - FREE - app store - android.

SO, my conclusion is that learning the craft of illustration is getting easier and easier. It will still take an incredible amount of time and dedication but you don't necessarily have to have the means to go to school. And even if you're going to school you have way more resources, gadgets, and opportunities than ever before.  My thought is that there is and will be more talented artists at an ever growing rate than there ever has been. Does this scare me? A little, but in the end I realize that it's going to be the creativity that is paired with the craft that will sell a product. So if you just want to make great pictures you're going to have a harder time earning a living than if you couple it with a creative idea and package it in a product that people can't live without.

Example: Mary Grandpre: Great stand alone art portfolio....combined with the Harry Potter manuscript = big$$$

So work on your creative ideas, stories, products etc...it's your originality that will keep you in the game.