I've always been good at drawing.
People have told me so for my whole life. I've always carried a sketchbook with me everywhere I go and I love to show it off to anyone who is interested in seeing it.
I'd mimic the characters I'd see in comic books and cartoons. Sometimes I would riff on them in all sorts of ways and make them my own. I'd draw a car, a castle, or a man in a fantastical flying machine and people would tell me it was great and I should make comics for a living.
"Wouldn't that be great?" I'd respond, like we were talking about some wild pipe dream.
I was good at drawing, but not that good.
Working as an illustrator felt like an impossible goal. I wouldn't even know where to start. The business of illustration has gotten smaller and smaller for the past few decades. Another victim of millennials and that damn internet they love so much. Who needs comics when you've got memes?
Most illustration jobs seem more like tech than drawing these days anyways.
And even though I always did well in art class, I never pursued art school. Without an art degree, I figured I couldn't even get my foot in the door for an entry level position.
Illustration remained a steady hobby while I pursued a more traditional career. I worked hard for 40 hours a week, buying time to create art at night and on the weekends. I'd race through a sketchbook then find another one, exploring new sizes, formats, and media while I brought my imagination to life on the page.
After years and years of practice, I felt like my drawings were starting to look good but something was still holding me back.
My workflow was a train wreck. I would start and stop projects in fits and lulls of inspiration. As much as I loved telling stories with my drawings, I rarely practiced sequential art.
Sometimes I would get caught up in the daily grind and fall out of touch with my sketchbook for weeks or even months at a time.
Then one day, I was hit with a bolt of inspiration. I was reading the Chronicle at the lunch counter in Cheese Plus on Polk Street and I had my sketchbook with me. I had thought up a little story earlier in the day and it was gnawing at me, and I had a few other stories rattling around in my head too. It felt like the good ideas were starting to pile up and I couldn't keep up with them, so none of them were making it out onto the page.
It was a very frustrating feeling, so I decided to make a change.
I challenged myself to draw an illustration a day
with the following conditions:
- Define "an illustration" as a drawing that tells a story. Not nearly as precise as Scott McCloud but it works for me.
- Measure daily success as moving an illustration through one complete stage of work: pencil, ink, or colors.
I also determined that I would make the challenge open-ended and compete only against myself. I thought about trying to go for 100 days, but if I only made it 99 would I be a failure? No, because every day that I spend time in my sketchbook, I feel like a winner.
I like a good challenge though, so I thought about it in these terms: I'm going to see how many straight days I can go, then I'll try to break my own record. Having an "all or nothing" goal can be a lot of pressure, where as my terms gave me a regular experience of success and a real boost to my self-esteem.
This was the first comic I drew, successfully completing day 1.
I drew it almost immediately upon feeling the impulse to take up the challenge. I didn't draw the little comic I'd imagined earlier in the day (that comes soon though), but instead I rode a wave of inspiration that I got from the newspaper that was in my hands at the moment.
I actually really enjoy readying Dear Abby, but she triggers me. Sometimes I feel like she's doing it on purpose.
My first run at the challenge went for 8 days and it was filled almost entirely with loosely structured, penciled pieces. The first few day were really easy as I was riding high on a wave of inspiration.
As I crept up on a week, I started to feel the strain. I pulled inspiration from wherever I could find it and did my best to keep pushing.
On the 9th day, I ran out of steam. I wanted to draw in the morning but couldn't stay at my desk. I got busy in the afternoon and got drunk in the evening, then day 9 was gone. I woke up with a fresh slate and a renewed vigor to reach a new goal: double digits. 9 straight days would beat my previous record, but I wanted 10.
For round 2 of the challenge, I had the advantage of having a pile of penciled comics waiting for ink.
New stories kept coming to me faster and faster. New ideas, new panel layouts, new structures. Some of them built on earlier stories. Some of them were inspired by some other artists work I'd spotted somewhere.
I shot past my record of 8 days, then plowed through double digits and kept going until I landed at a new personal record of 15 days. That felt great!
The next few attempts sputtered a bit.
I put together a few 2 and 3 day runs, but also got stuck at 1 a few times.
I was still writing/penciling new comics as well as inking some that had stacked up in my queue, and I also started coloring some of them. Even though I had an abundance of options and a deep well of motivation, I kept getting knocked off track by the daily demands of life and I couldn't seem to get my momentum rolling again.
In a little over a month, I had fully finished about 12 full color illustrations, all of which I was really proud of (and still am). A few more lingered in my inbox in various stages of completion, and some still do.
They represent a lot of different styles and inspirations, and each one told a unique little story. I learned something from every single one of them, and I applied those lessons as I wracked up more pages.
I completed more finished pages of sequential art in that month than I had in the previous year!
On top of that, the quality of my work was visibly improving at a steady pace. Most importantly, I was having more fun drawing than I have since I was a kid.
I've made a few runs at the #IllustrationADay challenge since then, and turned out some really good work for it.
I took the challenge to my Moleskine notebook and started playing with double page spreads.
I can't seem to stop getting into it with Dear Abby.
It took me a few attempts to get warmed up but I quickly got back in my zone and pushed my record to 26 days, including my 22 page comic "An Ordinary Day In The Life Of The Stoner".
(The Stoner gets pretty, prettttty vulgar after this page.)
By doing this challenge I realized that as much as I love drawing comics, I don't practice one of the most fundamental components of the art nearly enough: sequential art. With a blank sketchbook page in front of me, I'm far more likely to indulge in drawing a big splashy image.
That's why I developed the SeqArt sketchbook- to help artists (like myself) draw comics.
The SeqArt sketchbook disrupts the way you look at a blank page in favor of sequential art.
It's not meant to simply save time from having to draw the panels- it gives you a jumping off point to tell a story. With 30 different panel layouts that were influenced by the masters of comics-- such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Dave Gibbons-- each page is a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants.
These days, I draw more comics than ever.
I haven't been in the habit of counting consecutive days lately, though. At a certain point, it just didn't seem as relevant as it once was.
After all, it was never the numbers I was in it for-- it was the comics.