Sunday, April 25, 2010

Speed/Productivity Advice for Artists

A friend recently emailed me asking for advice to help him speed up his work to better hit his deadlines. I'm not huge on giving advice, since I think I still have a lot to learn myself, but this seemed to help him - so I'm passing it along here for any artists who may need it. Not all of this will apply to everyone, but if you're struggling with deadlines I hope you find something useful here.

-Work in a big chunk of time then take a break, as opposed to taking lots of small breaks throughout the day. I find it's easier to stay on task if I'm not getting up from my table frequently.

-Keep all of your tools within arms reach. Again, getting up from the table over and over eats into productivity.

-A blank white page can be daunting at first. Instead of thinking of the entire page when you sit down to work (since all the heavy lifting of storytelling should've already been nailed down in your thumbnails) just take it one panel at a time.

-It's easy to skip around on a page and do all the easy stuff first but don't. It'll end up eating more time than you can imagine. If possible, start at page 1 panel 1 and go from there. This will also help continuity throughout the issue.

-If you're having a hard time getting ramped up at the start of a new issue, start with a splash page. They're generally pretty fun to draw, can get your mood up a bit and take far less time to do than most pages... so in no time you already have a page completed and it'll take some of the pressure off.

-Measure how much time it generally takes you to draw a panel. Then set a timer for how long you estimate each panel will take you to complete. Slowly scale back how much time you give yourself to complete each one and you will keep building speed. Make sure you start at a comfortable pace and slowly scale back the time you give yourself to complete a panel. Don't sacrifice quality for the sake of speed - but you can learn to draw faster. (This is probably my best advice for gaining speed.)

-Set daily (or even hourly) goals for yourself. Know what you want to accomplish in a day so you know when you've achieved it. I make a checklist for the week so I can check things off as I go. It's amazing how checking something off your list can help you feel that you've accomplished something.

-If you find yourself thinking out a lot of problems on the page (which slows you down), try drawing your thumbnails a bit larger. At a larger size you're able to do all of your thinking up front which makes the production of the page that much faster. I've started drawing my thumbnails slightly larger (about 4" by 6"), scanning them, printing them out at 11X17 and lightboxing that to speed up my process.

Cameron Stewart, and a lot of other folks, have taken that one step further by printing out their thumbnails in blue on the boards and just inking straight over that. Any chance to skip a step will save a load of time.

Inking panel borders in Photoshop, Manga Studio or whathaveyou can also help speed up the process.

-Also, I turn in all of my pages in large chunks (usually 2 sets of 11 pencilled pages, then 2 sets of 11 inked pages). Spending time in front of the computer while scanning a single page takes time away from when you could be working. Scan a bunch of pages in a big batch and get 'em off to your writer and/or editor. This also helps cut down time at the computer & on the Internet. Sending in more than a page or two at a time will also help everyone on your team keep straight what has been turned in up to that point and you shouldn't have any issues keeping up to date on bookkeeping. (Before you do this, I would check with your editor to make sure they're okay with you turning in large chunks of pages. I know a lot of guys turn in 1 page at a time, so I'm sure that's what some editors are used to. If your editor is used to you turning in a page at a time, don't freak them out by suddenly waiting and turning in 11.)

-Take a walk daily, if you can manage the time to get out of the house. Most of us comic artists live pretty stationary lives so it's good to stretch your legs a bit. Getting your blood pumping can give you a boost of energy to go that extra mile on those pages as well. Also, if you're having a tough time wrapping your head around a scene, when you're away from the table is when a stroke of genius will inevitably strike. Then you can rush back home to attack the page with renewed vigor. (Full disclosure: I'm really bad about doing this one myself)

-Don't play video games. They'll only eat into your day and keep you from work. If you do play games try to keep it until the end of the day and use it as a reward for meeting the goals that you set for that day. (Please note, I'm not trying to tell everyone to give up video games. But if you're playing video games for 6 hours a day and not hitting your deadlines - this advice might be for you.)

-Try not to put on movie/tv shows in your office that you know will end up distracting you. Audio books, podcasts, scores or soundtracks are usually a good bet for background noise.

-Try and stay off the Internet as much as possible. It's amazing how you can get on to check one thing and before you know it, an hour has passed. Or try and schedule an hour or so a day to check email, catch up on news, etc for your Internet time and stick to it.

-Oh, and when all else fails: COFFEE, veeeerrrry little sleep and a lack of a social life will all help you hit a deadline, I'm afraid :/

-I also keep two pages, copied out of an old Alex Toth book, tacked to the bulletin board above my drawing table. Below are some of my favorite bits that relate to speed.

-Eliminate the superfluous, the unnecessary. Be lazy!

-Edit your art continuously, at every stage. Save work!

-Focus on the remaining (important) picture elements.

-Emphasize what IS important in a scene. Save drawing!

-Isolate such key elements (as one does in a view finder).

-To set a scene, a place, to establish a locale, etc., go to a wide shot, angles okay (down/up, etc.)- but again, simply!

-Then, cut to tighter shots-pace them, for interest, etc... (wide/one shot/two shot/group/close-up/tight close-up).

-Establish light source, if need be, for dramatic mood and for blacks, drop shadows, etc., on figures & objects and walls, as correctly placed as you can make 'em!

-Eliminate such light/shadow work in other shots.

-Simplify, simplify, simplify, throughout!


-By learning to eliminate unnecessary objects, figures, and backgrounds, etc., you can focus on what is left to draw in the shot -and draw it well enough to "carry" the shot!

-In other works: strip it all down to the essentials and draw the hell out of what is left!


-Spend more time thinking- about what and what not to draw, and how-and you'll do less drawing!

-Pre-plan, pre-think.. Thus, save work and time!

Below are a few of my thumbnails from Siege: Embedded #2 to better illustrate what I mean by doing your thinking in the thumbnails as opposed to on the page. If you have any questions about my process/productivity, feel free to ask and I'll try and respond as soon as possible.


Dave Acosta said...

Thanks for posting this. Great advice.

Stephen MayerMayNot said...

Even as someone that's spending hours on pin-ups lately, I'm gonna try and take lot of this to heart! Thanks, Chris!

Unknown said...

Solid advice, man.


Unknown said...

Solid advice AND you quote Toth! This post is a winner, my friend. I learned some stuff! Thanks for sharing!
-Dave Flora

mattcrap said...

well played, sir

Jeff Turnham said...

Great Advice.

GarSeeYaInk said...

Wonderful and thoughtful.

Thank you.


Andy Jewett said...

thanks for sharing all that.

nothing here said...

Great advice! Will be using this to check my current workstyle - see what can be improved upon. Any chance of a link to bigger/higher res thumbnails? I love to see the beginning processes of artists; helps me get a better idea of what I'm doing right/wrong.

Thanks for droppin knowledge on us!

Gary Lister

Jason Copland said...

Great stuff, Chris! I love seeing the process!

Alan said...

I loves the thumbnails. That splash on the top right looks like it's gonna be pretty awesome

Unca Jeffy said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing and thanks to Sherm Cohen for linking!

DT Butchino said...

Awesome advice Chris ... so awesome that it hangs in my studio :) Thanks :)

Unknown said...

Productivity for artists is a topic often overlooked. Yes, you can put art and creativity on a schedule - and you need to, if you want to be a pro!

Thanks for the great advice.