Friday, January 3, 2014

New Years Resolution (Now in HD)

I used to be the kind of person who wasted my new years resolutions on things like getting in shape or managing debt. I say "wasted" because, let's be honest, for most of us there's not a lot of follow through. Oh well, maybe next year. 

The last few years, however, I've been crossing off my resolutions like a grocery list. So what am I doing differently? Did I really absorb that businessman's powers after I ate his heart? Or are my three wishes finally coming true after I thought that genie scammed me all those years ago? It's actually pretty simple, let me explain:

The Petty Promise Prognosis

At the end of the year you should be reflecting on your accomplishments from last year and expanding on them. The problem with using this point in time to promise yourself to fix something by next year is that often the promise is for something that either doesn't take a year, or takes more than a year (and also something you don't really want to fix).  

This is why my yearly resolutions are mostly career based as those things will always take me a year to do. Getting (and staying) in shape, quitting smoking, drinking less, saving money, and eating right, are all lifetime commitments and something that should be tackled daily. So make that your daily resolution, please. You'll get better results. 

The other big issue is these resolutions tend to be vague and easy to forget. The big picture problem here is that the "New Years Resolution" is a method of goal setting and whether or not you accomplish your goals is a yearly reminder of your ability to accomplish anything. This will either make you rather proud of yourself or make you feel like giving up. 

If you experience the latter, then lets try and fix this...

Getting Good at the Goal Game

The New Year's resolution isn't some magical holiday wish that may or may not come true, it's a goal. And the act of setting and achieving goals is a serious skill that requires practice and dedication. Lot's of people talk about achieving your goals without talking about the simple skills it takes to do so. In order to access their secrets you first have to buy their poorly written book or attend their "workshops." Here I am sharing what I know for free (what a chump). 

What you will need to get started:

1. A notebook: One made out of paper (not the computer,silly). 

  • Something small enough to sit on your desk and be open all the time, but not so small it's hard to work in (as in, you need room to complete a thought).
  • It should have pages that are easy to rip out. You don't want your old goals getting in your way. I prefer spiral notebooks.  
  • When or wherever you're working this notebook should be with you. 
2. Get a pen that's reliable:
  • If you're pen doesn't work then you're likely to forget to write down something when it comes to mind. 
  • In order to accomplish your goals, you simply have to write them down. No excuses here, no computer documents, no keeping a running list in your head! Write things down on paper! If you think using a computer is better, make that decision after you've used the notebook for a year. but now it's paper for you.   
  • Keep the pen and notebook together. Hook it to the spirals, close it between the pages, or always have them side by side. That pen is for taking notes only. If you think this is stupid, this is about routine. Very important when accomplishing anything. 
You're all set. You're thinking, "Is that all?" The answer is no. Now you need to use them and that's the skill.

For short term goals. (here's a random example from my notebook)   
  • Write in your notebook everyday: For everything you want to accomplish in a day. And I mean everything. If you often forget to do something, write it down whether or not you think you'll get to it. This is about building habits so put stuff on there that you know you'll accomplish. Pay bills, do laundry, get to bed by 1am, etc.
  • Make a list: Write down what you need to do in the short term. What do I need to do today, this week, this month?
  • Rewrite unfinished tasks at the top of the next day (Important): This is a sure fire way of reminding you to complete something. The more you have to write the more you're thinking about getting it done. 
For long term goals (here's an example of my yearly goals)
  • Make a sign: Post it somewhere you always see and where you are in the mode to do something about it. For example: I put my yearly career goals taped to the hutch above my computer. I'm in a place where I can easily accomplish a task that would bring me closer to my goals. 
  • Set your sights: A goal should be just above what you currently can do. Don't make a goal like "win the lottery" or "climb mount Everest."  One requires dumb luck, the other requires years of preparation (i.e unobtainable). If you're goal is salary based, take your salary add 20%, make discussions throughout the year to acquire that. I've already made plans for how much I want to make and how I plan to do it. 
  • Track your progress. The great thing about setting goals this way is that you don't absolutely have to accomplish your target to accomplish something. This year I was under my target salary, but only by a small amount. I still made more than last year and I accomplished movement that I'm proud of. 
Learning how to manage small daily goals is the stepping stone to accomplishing large yearly goals. It's something you do everyday. It saves you time and It feels really good to cross stuff out (especially the stuff that takes a year to do).
The Anatomy of Annual Aspirations

There is the tenancy to set vague goals because they are easy to ignore and don't sting as much when you don't accomplish them. It's kind of an immature thing to do and you're doing it to yourself, so go to time out! Or we can all be adults here and set real goals you can achieve.
  • Get in shape = bad goal: It's not specific and kind of daunting if you think about it. 
  • Lose 25lbs = good goal: It's small enough to accomplish in a year and can be broken down into smaller goals. (walk around the block, walk 3 blocks, walk 3 miles, run 1 mile, run 3 miles, and so on)
  • Get a better job = bad goal: There are many types of jobs. Which one. What makes you unhappy at your current job? Maybe that's the thing to focus on?  
  • Make $XX,XXX a year = good goal: This is a specific goal and will lead you to make discussions throughout the year that may include "getting a better job." But this goal is analogous to any specific goal that doesn't require a specific method. 
  • Give more = bad goal: Give more hugs? Give more money? To whom? How much? 
  • Volunteer every Sunday for a month at the local soup kitchen = good goal: You actually end up accomplishing the previous "bad goal" because it's in a context you can achieve. Are you catching how this works yet?
The object here is to not set yourself up for failure. Getting good at managing your goals helps you  manage bigger goals in the long run. 

So if this all seems like too much to take in, the whole method here is learning how to break things down into little digestible chunks. Buy that notebook and pen. Put it next to your bed, on top of your phone, your shoes, or over your keyboard. Somewhere you have to touch it everyday.

You can start with this very simple New Year's Resolution: 

  1. "Write in this notebook everyday until it's full."
Worst case scenario, you might accomplish something. 

Happy New Year

-Garret AJ

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shooting from the Hip and the Nature of Risk

I'm finally back after working my ass off on a presentation for The Mandate on Kickstarter (still much more to do). It just went live yesterday and while it's not quite funded yet, I thought it would be a good time to talk about my philosophy on risk and how it has applied to my career as an artist.

Usually, I prepare quite a bit before writing each post, but in the spirit of the context I will be doing this one straight from the hip. So here goes...

The Danger of Safety

There was a time in my life where I didn't even consider how risky things were. I leaned toward safety and this got me in to more trouble than I thought.

I always assumed I would be doing something in art, or at least that's what everyone was telling me. So my naive course of action was to just let it happen. Low and behold things did not work out that way. I ended up in a career that was backbreaking, tedious, soul crushing, and harder than I expected.

The hours and a workload I would have never dreamed of subjecting to someone else, for such a small paycheck and no appreciation. My artistic skills started to wither away as I lost all inspiration. I did this for years before I broke down, overworked and overstressed.

"Why would I chose this for myself" I would ask the walls of the bathroom I was hiding in (no one bothers you in there). Then it came to me so clearly. I did not chose this. It just sort'a happened. Taking the safe path was not a choice for me, it was a default.

How Risk Saved me from Myself

This may seem mundane for most of you, but the idea that things don't happen for me unless I worked to make them happen was profound. I reorderd the way I thought about money, personal life, happiness, and what a job should realistically expect of me... and then I quit.

This was the biggest risk of my life. No money, and no plan I jumped into my new life and hoped something would catch me. Risk can be challenging and scary. But deep down I knew I had something to offer that I failed to give credit to before.

Attitude is a Skill

Generally the fear of taking risk comes from the fear of coming out worse off than you started. This is true, you can fail you will fail. But did you really lose? Failure is good for you. It makes you stronger and wiser. You need it to improve and you need to be comfortable with it before you reach the next level.

I adapted the concept that if If I wasn't doing something that could help me because I was scared, then that was a red flag, now I have to do it. If your fears come true, at least you have a story to tell. I'm making life happen over here, people, not letting it happen.

Shooting from the Hip

This leads me to my final point. This whole story (coming to terms with life) is a parallel to how I approach the canvass. We all know there are certainly a lot of rules put out by art education and popular media that tell you "This is the way to do it." And you can find yourself listening to that because its safe, or easy to shift blame for you failures.

But sometimes, as an artist, it's good to say "no... I have a vision, a belief that something is beautiful to me... I'm going to go with my gut on this, and if I fail... then I'll try again."

It's OK to fail, people. It's not OK to give up. Because the more you try, the more you win.

Bring it on life.

-Garret AJ

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Dream is Art the Mind Paints with Memories

This is part 4 of a 4 part series starting with Do Androids Dream of System Updates?

Going through the process of managing my sleep and dreams this past month has been profound. While writing everything down has been a fantastic study on myself, I feel like I have a better understanding of how to operate the controls of this thing I have to pilot around the planet for the next 50+ years.
"A memory of something that doesn't exist and never took place"
As Artists, looking outward is a great way to learn about the world and build our visual library. But the process of looking inward has helped me realize something deeper. The key to this whole art thing is in fact memory. 

Not just accessible memory, vacation memories, memories of your first kiss, your dog, your grocery list, no. It's more like memory loaded with all sorts of nooks and crannies of everything that would be impossible to describe. Like a junk drawer of puzzle pieces waiting to be used. Inspiration is when you finally realize that you have a few pieces that might fit together. We can take everything we experience and turn that into a future. A memory of something that doesn't exist and never took place (a.k.a. an Idea).
"If memory is the key to good art, then sleep is the key to good memory"
Because we tend to only remember the things that are important to us, It helps to focus on our relationship with what we want to remember and our sleep pattern. If memory is the key to good art, then sleep is the key to good memory.

What sleep actually does for us is organize our memories base on context. Things that are important or that we focus on become strong memories where are all the rest fades into the background. We need this to help us study. Otherwise we would go mad with all the superfluous detail getting in our way.

We pick a topic and study it to add to the junk drawer for later use, we sleep (low wave) to vacuum out all the loose pennies and cob webs, and we dream (REM) to strengthen what we are studying

So, as someone who's always looking to improve, it seems illogical for me to not try and get a handle on my sleep habits. I wouldn't want a hard day's work to be zapped by a bad night of sleep. So in the most simple terms:

If I want to get better at my craft, and sleep is the key to that, then I simply have to get better at sleep and dreams. Any other action would be irresponsible for me and my work.
The Conclusion (TL;DR): 
  • The sleep experiment taught me a lot about myself and improved the depth of my creativity.  
  • Art and creativity is a type of synesthesia in the brain.
  • If art is my craft and my brain is my strongest tool, then sleep is how I properly maintain it.
  • Dreams improve memory (up to 10 fold). 
  • Dreaming is fun and good for you, so it's a win win. 

I hope this inspired you to try and work out a healthy sleep pattern and connect with your dreams on a deeper level. And I hope you realize that you have the power to control your creativity and use it to your benefit. Because why not be excellent? What else is there to do?

Thanks for reading, and sweet dreams everybody.

For the full Dream report you can view the journal here

I've been busy working on a project that will be announced soon. I can't say much now, but I can say it's the space RPG I've always wanted but never got made. And I'm just the lucky dude who ended up working on it. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Dream Debate

This is part 3 of a 4 part series starting with Do Androids Dream of System Updates? You should read that first if you want to know what the hell is going on. Cheers!
Pragmatic me: "What does dreaming have to do with anything. Just get to bed, recharge, and get back to work."

Idealistic me: "I've got this notion that during sleep we have the brief opportunity to glimpse into our unadulterated imagination. Perhaps dreaming can have some sort of life enhancing qualities. I draw all day for work, so I'm willing to explore any option to enhance my creative flow. And in order to get to that I need to nail down this sleep thing."

Pragmatic me: "There are teams of scientists working on this stuff. What makes you think you can discover anything here other than your dreams are weird. Last night your dream was so disjointed you could barley write it down. This whole song and dance seems like a waste of time to me."

Idealistic me: "But I feel like I've come up with some really great ideas in the last month. I feel like I'm learning so much more about myself. If to achieve nothing else, isn't that worth the effort? Besides I've shortened the time it takes me to go to sleep from 1 hour to 10 minutes. I've been waking up fresher every morning and I've been averaging less than 7 hrs a night."

Pragmatic me: "Sure, but you shouldn't go around fooling yourself. Maybe your creative ideas came to you because you've been working hard. And all the improved sleep habit stuff is just science. Having a sleep routine helps sleep quality. There's nothing magical about it. But to think that you can eventually reduce your nights to 5 hrs of sleep and still function properly is nonsense."  

Idealistic me: "First off, I like to feel like things are magical. I have more connection to stuff that way. And I know it sounds crazy to only sleep 5-6 hours a night, but why the hell not give it a try. This is life, right? What else is there to do?"

Pragmatic me: "Just don't forget that the effects you're feeling are basically a placebo. It's all in your head." 

Idealistic me: "I need to forget so the placebo effect will work. That's what all the song and dance is for. And you're right, this whole thing is in my head... but isn't that amazing?"

Next week I conclude my sleep series when I discuss how sleeping improves memory and learning, while I give my final conclusions on my month long sleep experiment.

Stay tuned.  

4 days of dreams
5 days of dreams

4 days of dreams
2 days of dreams

I named this Maya, after my dog. RIP
This Idea came from a dream

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Goodbye Old Friend

You will have to forgive me this time as I am not in the frame of mind to produce a quality article.

I've had my dog Maya since the age of 11 making her 17 years old. Despite her age she is a lively and youthful character, always friendly and loving to strangers, and healthy enough to run 3 miles with my girlfriend Brea several times a week.

Maya was profound in that she had very human expressions to the point of communicating her thoughts. I had many dogs growing up and I've never had this type of connection. 

In her final years Maya developed a tumor that slowly started to effect her health. Last night she had a grand maul seizure (with gruesome details I will leave out) causing a tremendous amount of pain.

So, out of love and respect for this wonderful creature, it's time to say goodbye on gentle terms; not in the throws of violent struggle. No living thing should have to bare this type of suffering. And as her companion with the power to judge such things, it is only out of great love for her that I will not allow such pain to continue.

I would like to never say goodbye... but it's time.

Goodnight Maya... I hope your dreams are sweet.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dreams, the Creative Free-for-All

This is part 2 of a 4 part series starting with Do Androids Dream of System Updates? You should read that first if you want to know what the hell is going on. Cheers!
Ever since I was young my experience with dreams has been profound. They come and go, some vivid, some faint, but always a movie shot exclusively for me.

What is happening during the night to produce such an imaginative free-for-all? Ideas that seem foreign to me appear as if I'm sampling them from some universal mind. Vsause gives a good rundown of the theories behind why this may be. But at the end of the day, there is no conclusive evidence to support any sold dream theory. What can be said is that it happens to all of us, and if we don't have REM sleep (where the dreams happen) our minds eventually break down and go insane.

There are lots of ideas that seem to come to me in my sleep, and definitely notice a positive difference when approaching a problem in my art after a good night's rest. But as I get older I seem to have lost my grasp on the dream world. My nights have devolved to just being stupid boring sleep.

Which brings me to why I'm doing this experiment in the first place. Can dreaming be used to generate ideas? Can it be controlled? Despite what theory of dreaming you subscribe to the undeniable answer to this is yes. Howcast covers this in more detail if you want to give it a try.

My general attitude towards this is dreams are awesome and I'd much rather be doing that than simply loosing 7-8 hours of time each night. My job is creative, so I should be looking for every chance I can to experience new and crazy ideas. Why limit myself?  Besides dreams are healthy for you, so everyone should try to connect with their dreams.

My brain is the most advanced equipment I have, so I plan to push it to full potential.

Here's some more reading if you want to learn more about this topic and find out about all the people who used dreams to help in their creative work:

And now for my Dream Report:

This is 7 days of notes and sketches from my Dream journal
So, right away there was a difference. I had a dream the first night which suggests to me that all you have to do is communicate with your own mind that you want a dream, and with enough focus you can get it. It seems strange to talk to yourself like this, but it's effective so what can I say?

When I addressed my own mind I referred to it as my "Dream Director" and gave him a signal every night by placing a lightly moistened cloth on my head while saying "This is a signal to my Dream Director to produce a creative dream."

I had a dream every night except last night when I admittedly deviated from the routine. My offenses include: eating too close to bed time (root beer float), not following the 3 step sleep pattern exactly (reddit... y u so distracting?), not moistening the towel for my dream signal (pure laziness), and taking a nap earlier in the day (pure sleepiness, and comfy couch). Low and behold, no dream and terrible sleep.

I've definitely noticed an increase in what I can only describe as "Big Picture Creativity" through the week. This is where I can see my artistic ideas as being a part of an entire universe and story as opposed to being an interesting artifact. The have more detail in this perspective.

Overall I think it was a success and I can't wait to share with you how it goes this next week when I write about Maximizing Sleep Quality.

Thanks for reading, and if you shared this experiment with me please post your experiences below.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do Androids Dream of System Updates?

Every night the gods have deemed fit to strike us immobile. We know it's coming, and we've known for a while now as many animals do. We prepare for it. We make plans and arrange locations. We say goodbye to the our loved ones hoping we see them on the other side. The process is so strange and magical yet we do not seem to question it. And without fail the cycle catches us all in it's net. Like the sun that leaves the sky so too our conscious minds leave our bodies. We find ourselves the most suitable rendezvous with the soft, safe, and warm comfort of our beds, as we collectively jump into the abyss of  dreams. 

For most of my life I've been at odds with sleep. As an artist the mindset can often be, "I have work to do," or "I much rather be drawing."  However, at some point the creative juices dry up and I inevitably need a recharge. But still, I can't shake the feeling that's I big waste of time. 

Although my sleep and I have been adversaries for so long, the idea came to me (as if in a dream), why not work together?
Why not leverage my dreams as a creative powerhouse? If I could do this, then I could set the system on autopilot and wake up with ideas. Is there a way to train the subconscious to utilize that time to my advantage? The implications could be tremendous. 
But can it be done? Perhaps my focus should remain on perfecting a rhythm that maximizes sleep quality? After all, this would make me fresher and more creative for the day ahead. Carefully regulating when I go to bed and when I wake might be the most efficient move. How many hours should I take? Should I ever sleep in?

What if I could use the science of sleep to improve my retention and memory? Could it be that sleep is a vital action that cleans out the clutter and focuses my mind? Maybe I see sleep as a thing that happens to me instead of a thing I do, and what I'm actually doing every night is improving my brain.
If you think the ideas above are the ravings of a lunatic you may be right. For the longest time my sleep has been like a wild animal in my life that I've struggled to control. I have developed many methods to tame the beast, some have been successful others have not. So it might be the case that the damage is done and the grips of insanity are taking hold.

Overall I feel I've failed to take complete control. So, for the next month I will be writing a series to answer the questions above, for myself and for those who care to read along.

Also, I will do this list of things below with the intention of effecting my sleep and report my experiences, dreams, drawings, and energy level each week.
  1. Keep a sketchbook next to my bed and draw in it every morning as soon as I wake up. I will also use this as a dream journal to document what I remember during the night. 
  2. Talk about my dream each morning out loud asap. To someone or to myself. If I don't remember anything, then I will try to remember and write it down.
  3. Keep an exact schedule for my sleep. This will from 1:00am to 8:00am. On the last week of the month I will attempt this schedule without using alarms.
  4. I will devise a signal to my body to produce interesting dreams during the night as inspired by the methods of Robert Louis Stevenson and his "little people."
  5. I will not eat anything for 3 hours before I go to bed. 
  6. And each night I will preform the same routine before I get to bed. I will keep it to three actions. (I.E. 1. read the news 2. brush teeth 3. lock up the house --> bed)
If any of you want to share the challenge with me, feel free to share your experiences. That would be incredible and maybe teach you something about yourself.

And I look forward to sharing with you next week, when I write about what I've learned on leveraging your dreams for creativity. I hope this process will benefit everyone reading and maybe give me a chance to get some rest.

See you next time, and thanks for dreaming reading.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Journey Here

Sometimes I'm amazed at how much I've changed this past decade. I often wonder what it would be like to meet myself from 10 years ago for a cup of coffee. What would we talk about? How would we reconcile our differences? Would we argue?

I know there's at least one thing we would disagree on. If I asked my younger self to consider art as a profession, I would have emphatically said no...

I saw him in the woods yesterday. He was tall and carried a powerful bow, a well crafted blade, and various survival things. I didn't bring my supplies because I know my way around these woods; I got this.  I tried to talk to him as I assumed we had something in common. Just two fellow hunters out here hunting tigerbeetles (or whatever he calls them). When I last saw him he was releasing a steady shot into the dark forest. Sounded like it hit something. I didn't see because I was busy bagging a kill of my own. I kinda got turned around here, so I'm just going to kickback and figure things out tomorrow. I'm sure he'll be back around to point me in the right direction.
Sometimes I catch myself judging someone's opinion based on their age. The truth is, I have this nagging idea that people don't have much to say unless they've got some experience. And theoretical knowledge does not equal experience (i.e. you can not master kung fu just by watching movies). Though this ideology may be wrong on some level, it's clear to me I think this way because I was such an ignorant moron 10 years ago. Life had a different taste back then, and the taste can sour once you discover what it is. 
It's been a month that I've been in the woods out on my own. I've seen the man several times. He always seems to just come in and handle his hunting with ease. Which is frustrating when you're hungry. I spend most of my days drinking dew from leaves and eating small bugs and flowers. Some of them make me sick; I had no idea. If I saw someone out here I would tell them to watch out for that stuff. Don't just leave people out here to get sick. Sometimes I think the man is a jerk.
The past decade of my life is rife with mistakes, bad calls, embarrassing moments, hard knocks, hard knocks, and more hard knocks. I've been apart of failing businesses, had terrible bosses, worked long hours (12-20 a day 5-14 days in a row) for very little pay, been pressured, conned, and cheated, all the while thinking my talents were just in line waiting to be discovered. The world would come to me at some point, right? This was my destiny.
One year ago my life changed when I saw the man in the woods. I didn't realize he had a few tricks I didn't know about. I followed him and watched him start a fire with some rocks. I mean, I probably would have come up with the same thing if I wasn't so distracted by his presence. Well, fires make for better nights, so I guess I can be thankful for that. He still doesn't help me at all. I'm starting to hate this guy. I've hunted in these woods, like, all my life, but for some reason I've had the hardest time snagging a big catch this last year. Is it bad luck? What kind of bow does he have? I bet that's my problem.
I remember thinking I would do better in the culinary industry because there was no money in art. Little did I know that culinary was the one short on cash. Why I thought money was a calculable concept for me, I don't know. I had no idea how much money was where. Things change. Industries change. My only real reliable employment was to think about myself as my own company. Do something I love and make it my service. Learn to treat my service as a product, my interactions as customer relations, and learn to make it work whatever I do.  Learn to survive.
It took six months for my leg to heal. If I had not seen the man use the honey-tree sap to heal his wounds I might have succumb to my injuries. Five years ago I was too young and foolish, there's no doubt I would have died out here.

I stole the bow and some arrows from the man when he was sleeping and took my new weapon to the dark woods. I could not imagine the horrors that lurk there. A tigerbeetle, as large as a house, charged me from the shadows. I tried to pull back the bowstring but I was too weak to do so. The flimsy shot landed a lucky blow and pierced between the body segments, but not deep enough to finish the job. The monster grabbed my leg and snapped it like a twig as I thrusted my dull hunting knife into its head until it failed to move.

I got the meat back to camp with great effort and pain. I braced my leg and fell asleep.

The man walked through my camp a few days later. He carried a new bow with him. It was much nicer than the one I stole. It seemed to have a magical aura with shiny obsidian arrows. The man is toying with me.
Could it be that my young self had this all wrong? What if I didn't know what I was talking about? What if my talents only get me half way there? At some point things changed for me. I started to understand the depth of my inadequacies. I started to get a better view of what I needed to change in my life.
I found the trail that the man likes to use and knelt there. My legs trembled as I waited for his approach. Clutching my stolen bow to my chest, I realized the error of my ways these past seven years. It's time to set things straight.

The man stopped in front of me. I almost didn't notice with his feather-like footsteps. I told him "This is yours. I'd like to give it back." I lifted the bow to the man but he just stood there and gazed at me. He put his hand on the bow and pushed it back, then he continued on the path. I stood up and yelled at him, "Please!" He stopped in his tracks. "I don't know how to use this!"

A broken tree branch alerted the man to his prey. He knelt down and perked up his ears. As his instincts kicked in, he slowly started to make his way in the direction of the noise. He sneaked about 10 feet before stopping to look back to me. I stood there broken and on the verge of tears. Pointing to me he signaled to walk quietly.

We hunted together that day. I hunted... for the first time.
I needed some humility. I needed to put down my ego. How could I ever learn if I knew everything already? Low and behold that was the attitude the universe was pushing back on. I'm much happier now, realizing that. It's a load off not having to keep up the facade. Now it's time to learn. To push myself to be better. I look forward to challenge now. It makes me stronger.
I saw him in the woods yesterday. A young boy with no wits about him. He was busy talking like a big man and eating poisonous flowers. I wanted to say something, but he just kept yammering on about how great he is... He'll learn.

I went to tell the man about the young boy I saw. He has since moved from the woods to a house he built on the waterfall cliffs. He makes a great living now selling enchanted bows and arrows. The craftsmanship is remarkable. I hope to learn from him one day how he does it, but he's taught me so much already.

While starting to show me how to fix the wrapping on my grip, he told me something I will never forget, "If you happen to lose this bow one day, I would be happy to replace it for you."

I told the man thank you as I pulled off the wrap from the
grip and revealed the naked wood below. To my surprise I found an inscription there that said: I stole this from the man before me
My young self had it right all along. I needed turmoil and strife. I needed to make mistakes. It made me the man I am. Which leads me to conclude that if I met myself "from 10 years ago" for coffee, I wouldn't say a thing.  I would not warn him, help him, or ask him to change. He needs this.

Because at this point in my life, I would not benefit, grow from, nor make sense of the difficulties that came before if I did not respect my life as a series of lessons and hardships to learn from and overcome.

I still have a long way to travel, but I was lost until the day I discovered to appreciate the life I've had so far. The life that led my journey here.   

 “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
― Isaac Newton, The Correspondence Of Isaac Newton 

Thanks for reading, see you next time.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Workflow Economics (AoE Part 3)

Those days that seem to pass by in a flash or projects that take longer than normal can have the average bear postulating whether or not they're converging in and out of time distortions. "Where does the time go?" you say "How is it 4:00?" We all see the individuals who seem to just get things done and never break a sweat, while the rest are running around struggling to handle their daily tasks.

The name of the game is all about managing the flow of time. You have 24 gallons of time to start each day and it's up to you where the time goes. Don't let leaks steal pressure from what could be better focused on the task at hand. You can get everything done, it's just a matter of plugging the problems.
Group similar tasks together and do them all at once
Checking your email or pertinent message sites can be done at the same time. Make sure you check this stuff to respond to important messages and not to dick around. Checking sites like Facebook and Reddit doesn't need to happen 20 times a day. Wait for messages to accumulate and handle it all in one fell swoop. If you check it a lot, then that's where your time is leaking.

If you have a number of things to start and get approved, then do them all at once and send them in for approval. This will allow you to do other things while you wait, instead of spending the whole day sending and responding to each item. Also it allows others to save time as well, because they can send one email with all the feedback instead of 10 emails which is a big time waster.
Don't get stuck
When you're seriously stuck, the best thing to do is save it for later. Getting stuck means the brain is struggling to handle the task and wasting time not doing anything but getting mad. Don't expect to do your best work under these conditions. Make a note to come back to it later.

In contrast, if you're stuck because you don't know how to use your program, then it's very valuable to learn the skill you're missing. Google it and take the time now to fix the issue so you don't flop around in the future.Which brings me to my next point.
Know your program
The goal here is to get the program out of the way so you can freely create. This can be applied to all methods of art. Don't let your poor understanding of the method prevent you from expressing your ideas.

I like to use the actions tab in PS to minimize everything I do to one button. Setting up your workspace and programming your hot keys doesn't just save you from a sore arm, but it makes your actions as fast as your thoughts. When you notice you do something a lot, then it's time to quick key that bitch.
Take Breaks/Care of yourself
There's a reason we need to take breaks.  A clear mind works faster and better then a stress junkie. Your break needs to be something that gets your mind off of work. This way you can come back to your creation with fresh eyes.
Economy of Movement
This all breaks down to a simple principle I like to call Economy of Movement. The idea is easy: every movement you make must accomplish one or more things. The more things you accomplish with one movement the more efficient you are.

Example of clearing a table: One person runs back and forth grabbing one dish at a time to take it to the kitchen, while the other stacks the dishes together to take them all at once. They both did the same tasks, but one completed faster with no stress. First person did one task at a time, the other grouped similar tasks and did them all at once.

The point here is not to be a robot and constantly worry about wasted time. It's not even about being efficient. It's about being effective.  Whether it be stroke economics, workflow economics, or anything similar, to master these things is to become an effective stress free professional. One of those people you always see getting things done.

You wonder "How do they have time in the day?" as you break from your daydream to check your Facebook. You don't even notice you're knee deep in all that precious time you're wasting.

Thanks for reading my series on efficiency, hope it was helpful.

P.S. You should check this out if you want to know how you spend your time on the computer. Rescue time Robot (it's free)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stroke Economics (AoE part 2)

It's too often I witness young artists struggling to create quality work while scribbling like madman. If you do this, my solemn advice to you today is to knock it off.

I understand the feeling of expectation to work like this. I'm sure you see professionals whipping up a quick drawing all over the internet. But that's not a good way to learn. Imagine a student driver trying to learn how to navigate a city at 100mph. You're simply going to make mistakes, miss things, and form bad habits (and if you're driving you're probably going to jail for man slaughter).

Though each artist has their own preferred styles and tricks to get just the right look, there are actions buried in everyone's workflow that can be shortened, optimized, or illuminated all together.

Once you realize seconds add up to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, it can be easy to realize how much time you're wasting because of a few bad habits that only waste a second here or there. But at the end of the day it's hard to imagine you spent a half hour fixing something stupid, 15 minutes selecting through menus, and one hour going back and forth on color. Your day starts to quickly dwindle and you wonder why you have no time. 
Want to get faster at art? First step, Slow Down Goddamnit!
When sketching, it's good to let the ideas flow out of you. This can look sloppy and be quick'n dirty, but don't carry that sloppiness over to the rendering. Use that process to generate ideas, then use your attention to execute. Just think about all that time you waste cleaning up your sloppy render. If you're good, you can make the sketch and the render the same thing which saves tons of time, but let me imphasize If you're good.

Getting your form nailed down is important for many reasons. Focusing on technique is a great way to eliminate bad habits formed by sloppy execution. This will save time in the long run. Study drawing technique, not just forms and ideas. If you notice you can't draw a straight line, or a clean ellipse, then practice those separately until you've mastered them. Learning how to make skillful strokes wont just save you time but make the rest of your work look better also. 
Use the right tool for the job. Don't do the whole surgery with just a bone saw.
Every technique you pick up along the way should cross your mind as "what is this good for?" Can I get quick shapes, infuse details, or nail my perspective? These are all tools in your tool belt that should be used at the right moment. Often I like to think about how much energy I should devote to mastering each skill to save time and make for better looking work. Here's a few easy examples:

Lines - On top of a solid sketch this should be clean, do not treat it like the sketch with multiple strokes. Each edge should contain one solid line and shadows or fills should consist of solid parallel strokes so I don't make a mess.

Fill - Painting a square is much faster than drawing a square as it can be done in one stroke, where drawing a square takes many smaller strokes. When possible I try to sketch my under layer with the solid strokes creating a silhouette very quickly. 

Color - What's better B&W with a color blend mode? or Straight to color? Depends, sometimes you need color options later which would best suit the blend modes. Where if you know what colors you're getting into, just start with the right color. There's nothing faster than that.
Build your visual library, not just by reading, but by doing
Think of study as a long term investment. Studying from life answers a lot of questions for you, such as how a door works, or what does a smiling face look like. But the thing it gives you most is access to the right questions. Because it turns out the more you know about something, the more you realize you don't know.

This generates lots of questions that lead you down the right paths, and without that study you would still be blissfully unaware of how ignorant you are (until you tried to draw stuff). I've said this over and over, but it's still true: artists are students of the world. Don't stop learning, it's part of what you do now.
Why the hell am I doing this anyway?
Most of my advice here is not intended to get you working lighting fast. It's aimed at helping you build a solid ground work so you can eventually work fast. But still it's amazing how much time you can save just by working with skill and not even breaking a sweat.

Saving time does not mean you should crank out more work either. It should mean that you can spend more time focusing on creating a quality idea rather than stumbling around your bad habits. Start good and polish your quality work, rather than starting bad and spending so much time fixing things.

In simple terms, master skills before you expect to have them. You're not going to scribble your way to perfection. You just wind up with more scribbles. Artists who work quickly with skill didn't get there on accident. Your time will come, you just have to put in the elbow grease.

I hope that all made sense, because next week I'm going to talk about Workflow Economics.

Thanks for reading!

This is the under-layer to a thing I'm working on.