Who’s ready for some TL;DR?!
Creativity has always been a point of passion for me. Whether it was creative writing, drawing, problem solving, or poring through blogs to find the perfect party appetizers (that later get usurped for Costco party platters), I try to make some sort of creative solution. It’s why I’m now firmly rooted in the professional graphic design industry so that I can have a steady 40-hour week that results in a paycheck.
But I recently started questioning my life choices. Do I love design? Of course! If someone offered me tickets to the AIGA Annual Conference, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d find a way to get myself there. I love designing logos and visually depicting the core essence of a business. But when it comes to my free time (or should I say “free time” as coincides with a vigorous family life), I’m definitely not spending my “me hours” designing websites for fun or surfing through the latest and greatest typefaces.
Instead, I opt to draw or paint.
But they aren’t your typical “fine art” renderings of plein air landscapes or bowls of inquisitive fruit, a.k.a. the kind of stuff that is usually conjured up first when someone hears the word “artist.”
My artworks are stylized illustrations of people, more specifically characters in stories. More recently the work I’ve chosen to do is based on other people’s pre-existing characters to help my work appeal to a broader audience on Instagram. I’ve also done a few light-hearted self-caricatures because what subject do you know better than yourself? (Not to mention I can draw curly hair and have it be crazy and no one will question it) But making drawings of imaginary people has been my jam for quite some time (like since the mid-90s).
If given the chance, I would spend consecutive hours on these drawings. There was one time my best friend from the school days spent the night over at my house (she was also into art and drawing), and I stayed up the ENTIRE NIGHT drawing one picture. I distinctively remember her waking up, seeing me still awake, giving me a middle-school-equivalent of “WTF,” and going back to sleep. My focus doesn’t get much more laser-y than that. While I’m not staying up all night anymore, if I didn’t let adulting get in the way, I’d sit with my Cintiq or iPad and draw the day away.
But for as long as I’ve been drawing, I’ve been writing even longer. I’m not going to pretend that duration equals skill, as that would seriously minimize the efforts and schooling of the people who make a living off of writing. I’ve worked with copywriters, and they proved to me every day that their skills are legit. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy creating stories.
I remember plunking away on the keyboard of the Windows 3.1 computer in the basement of our home when I was around seven or eight years old, coming up with the world’s worst literary garbage and feeling damn proud of it. There were short stories, long stories, poems, songs—as far as I was concerned, I was a living muse of the written word, and people needed to recognize. Aforementioned friend and I would spend our days coming up with stories and the characters in them, making several failed attempts at launching our own comic. After high school I got sucked into online message boards that centered on writing original character stories and I’d stay up until the wee hours writing pieces of the story back and forth with total strangers. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun that was, but you know what I didn’t think it was? Practical.
I don’t know where I got wrapped up in the idea of practicality, but any dreams I had of doing what I loved for a living were only regarded as dreams (le sigh). People didn’t actually make a living writing or drawing, and those that did were “far better than any level of skill I could obtain.” So I did the only natural thing a highly academic student on track for a four-year university does, and joined the military.
Fast forward a bunch of years, I decide to jump into graphic design (which I had honestly never heard of until I enrolled in the program at school), and the rest is history. But now I’ve been following professional visual development artists on Instagram, and listening to podcasts geared toward artists and visual storytellers. And I realized there’s a whole world out there I didn’t even know existed. Of course I knew animated films and shows were made by people, but not REAL people. Not people like me, at least. They were the people who zeroed in on wanting a job in animation as soon as they picked up a crayon, and their portfolio at 18 blew away anything I could hope to make without a crazy voodoo dance and selling a portion of my soul.
But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t try.
I also wanted to get back on the writing wagon to officially start a story I’d had floating around in my brain for a few years. I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (affectionately known as NaNoWriMo) 2015, and wouldn’t you know I surpassed the 50,000-word goal to “win.” It was a creative-nerd rush to compile information on the characters, start on the story, develop their voices…but even after 50,000 words, the story had just barely begun (and a good portion of that is trash since I sometimes used the random writing prompts just to get in my minimum 1,700-word daily goal). Since that November, the story has sat stagnant, even though it really wants to be told. Yes, my stories are sentient.
I can’t remember why, but somehow a colleague of mine brought up this project that she had the joy of participating in last year. I looked into it, and realized it’s just the kick in the pants I need. Those who know me know that I can get stuck in preparation mode to a crippling degree at times, trying to get things perfect so they can be done right the first time. Mistakes? No way, Jose (please note the sarcasm, but with very serious undertones of seriousness). As a Type A perfectionist, I like to think that if I read all the books and blogs and things, I’ll get something right on the first go, but that mindset often causes me to never start in the first place. Cue inner argument with self.
“But I’m not ready yet! I need to order three more books on drawing from Amazon…”
“Empty that cart, and pick up that pencil, dammit!”
“But how can I do it if I don’t know how?”
“You just DO IT.”
“But I can’t post it on Instagram if it’s not absolutely perfect! The Internet is meeeean. And they won’t like meeeee. And that 14-year-old is already ten times better than me...”
Daily struggle, y’all.
However, someone telling me I HAVE to start on a certain day, and commit to daily progress for 100 days? Challenge accepted!
It’s time for me to focus on a personal project and be less concerned about creating beautiful things that the internet will love. Because aside from ego inflation, what’s that really doing for me? It’s feeding my creative monster, but is it really what I want to be doing? (Side note: I’ve got some more project ideas in mind that fall squarely into the “beautiful things” category, but I am legitimately excited about them)
So for the next 100 days, starting April 4, 2017, I am going to commit to coming up with the character designs for my partially written NaNo story. I’m aiming to only do 5-20 minutes of drawing a day, and not get myself wrapped up in the final package. Powering through a ton of characters in 16 weeks, like trying to write a novel in a month, will likely result in some real trash. I’m hoping to use the blog as a way to compile the process for each character and give more explanation about them as they’re completed. Having some visuals for the people in my story will hopefully,
- Give me some practical experience doing character design, which was possibly my life calling at one point or another, and,
- Motivate me to get back on track and tell these characters’ stories.
Who knows, maybe some people out in Interwebz Land will even identify with or enjoy the characters and come along for the ride. But that would just be a happy side effect. This project is for me, and the daily sharing is for accountability. Not every photo will be Insta-perfect, but that’s not the point. The point is acknowledging that this creative outlet is important to me. It’s more than a “fun hobby” that I do sometimes. It’s part of who I am. At times it is a straight-up obsession.
So, if you like messy, exploratory sketches and witnessing unplanned projects flail at the lack of organized guidance, then grab some popcorn and pull up a chair! Everything I post on IG in relation to this project will have the hashtag #100DaysofDesigningCharacters in case you want to see everything in a snapshot.
Does this also sound like your jam? Do the project with me and let's motivate each other! As always, find me on the Instagrams under @heyaustine; that's where the daily documentation will take place. Happy making!