Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beating the End of Semester Funk

For many of us, the semester has either just ended, or is rapidly coming to a close, and I know that many (myself included) face the very real threat of creative burnout.  While it's possible to force yourself to continue working at a breakneck pace, it may be very difficult to produce creatively viable artwork under such conditions.  The internet is rife with suggestions on how to handle such burnout during the actual homestretch, but how can you regain your creativity afterwards?

A major suggestion I hear time and again is "force yourself to take a break".  During the semester, we may not have the time to go see movies, play videogames, read books, or generally enjoy ourselves, and we may be so stuck in our comics-making groove that we forget that we have time during the winter break.  Not only do we have time, but we should make it a priority to make time to reward ourselves for a semester of hard work.  For many of us, taking a break from art in its strictest sense (i.e. not creating anything new at all, nor working on existing projects) is extremely unfulfilling and can be downright depressing.  I believe that forcing yourself away from something you love may be more a punishment than a prize, and may not restore the creative juices exactly as planned.  Instead, I have several suggestions that may just inspire you to (joyfully) work all through your break!

1. Work on a project that's taken second stage all semester, particularly if it's an idea you've been excited about.

I know for certain that in my Studio Classes, I may be actively drawing one project, but I'm usually doing concept for another.  During Studio III, when I was working on When I Was 13: I Rediscovered Cartoons, I was also working on 7" Kara concept.  While working on 7" Kara Chapter one this semester, my relaxation project was to go through my reference folder and draw Kara in different outfits.  My intention wasn't to have two projects going on at one time, but to do something fulfilling that kept me sane.  Now that the semester has ended, I can make revisions to Chapter 1 and get started on Chapter 2 in serious.

2. Work on an older project as practice honing skills you may feel need leveling up.

Most of us have a project we started in high school and abandoned somewhere along the way.  Maybe the story is cringeworthy-ly anime and cliche, maybe the characters are all gothic and your outlook on life is now decidedly sunny, maybe you just outgrew the project entirely.  If you're looking for a project to noodle around with during your break with no strings attached, these projects are perfect.  You've done a lot of the leg work (it's often easier to rewrite than it is to write, easier to correct than to create) and you've got enough of a challenge ahead to keep things exciting.  It's up to you how finished the project will be- maybe you'll just redesign characters, maybe you'll rewrite the script to 10 pages, instead of the original sprawling epic, maybe you'll finish the entire comic and put it online.  Working on a side project is a great way to gain some perspective and some experience!

3. Work on something not comics related at all.

Going to classes with comics people, running in social circles that are almost entirely comics people, consuming mainly comics and comics related accessories, seeking the approval of comic's pretty tiring.  Every now and then, it's nice to work on something that isn't as time consuming, nor gratification-delayed as comics.  Sometimes it's nice just to sketch for the love of sketching.  Sometimes it's nice to get feedback on something that I enjoy that isn't so serious business.  And sometimes it's nice to work on a project that's just for me.

During the last semester, this blog was sadly neglected.  I've always enjoyed writing for it in the past, chronicling my journey through photos, sketches, finished pieces, reviews, and tutorials.  It was a source of fulfillment for me, and gave me a sense of satisfaction, so it was really hard to watch it go down the tubes due to neglect.  Unfortunately for me, this blog is still a hobby, I make no money from writing from it and recieve no sponsorships, so when it comes down to classwork, conventions, freelance, or blogging, blogging is going to have to take a hit.  I swore all semester that as soon as classes ended, I'd get this blog back on it's feet, and even took a NaNoWriMo-esque pledge to write 25,000 words in a month and a half.  Working on this blog is both a way for me to gain exposure and credibility with other artists, and it's an outlet for me to express myself.

4. Work on a hobby that's become neglected, particularly if it's inspiring or creative.

Ahh, hobbies.  How I've missed them.  I used to sew.  I used to craft.  I used to ride the unicycle, play harmonica, clarinet, and piano, and write poetry.  Hobbies are great- they're creative outlets, and as long as they are just hobbies, you don't have to open yourself up to criticism.  You don't have to be gracious about accepting unsolicited criticism about these hobbies either.  Who cares if you're awful at tennis?  It's not going to pay your bills.  You don't have to be good at it.  If you don't have a hobby, pick one up.  It's good to have self worth that isn't entirely reliant on your all consuming career.

I've always enjoyed crafting.  As a kid, I crochetted a lot.  As a teenager, I had several cottage businesses, ranging from friendship bracelet style chokers to hand sewn kanzashi to custom DS cases.  I've cosplayed and sewn clothes for myself, made wreaths and doll clothes.  Occasionally (such as with my cottage industries) I've made things for others, but most of my crafting was done for myself or for family, with the intention of pleasing only myself.  This is a creative outlet that is far removed from comics, but is still inspiring and stimulating (especially since I'm working on 7" Kara now, which only encourages my crafting on a miniature scale).

By having hobbies outside of comics, I'm able to socialize with people outside my usual sphere, garnering new ideas and inspiration.  I don't have to pin all my self worth on the popularity of my comic pages, and it's nice having new ways of expressing myself.

5. Go on a roadtrip to somewhere you've never been before.

As a kid, my family very rarely traveled, and when we did, it was to visit family, usually by car.  During those trips I would read and write fiction, explore the woods behind my grandparents house, and do a lot of daydreaming.  These days, I do a lot of travelling for conventions and family holidays, and when I have the opportunity, I try to get a lot of sketching in.  While in Japan, I filled up two sketchbooks worth of sketches, few of them finished and most extremely gestural.  At the time, I thought I'd regress, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that even this loose sketching helped me improve.  While travelling, new scenery can inspire new ideas, and a travel journal is a great excuse to sketch the world around you.

6. Take time to visit museums

Be it art or science, museums are a fantastic resource for the artist.  If you're stranded in Savannah for Winter Break, considering visiting the Ships of the Sea Museum for some fantastic naval reference.  There's also SCADMoA, with exhibits that change quarterly, and several galleries that are free to visit.  Zoos and aquariums should also be on your priority list.

7.  Make friends with people outside of comics

I love my artist friends, and I hope they enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs, but sometimes it's good to get away.  I've mentioned expanding your world beyond the world of art several times in this list, and this is yet another instance where some new perspective can be very insightful.

Hanging out with non-artist friends has a benefit beyond new insight, one that may go overlooked in your selfless search for improvement.  When you're hanging out with a gaggle of other artists, your skills and talents may be overlooked and outshown.  When you're hanging out with non-artist friends, you can return to being the special and unique snowflake with special and unique talents.

8. Rededicate yourself to the craft you love

Sometimes the reason I'm so tired after a semester of hard work has nothing to do with how hard I've worked, but with my constant disappointment in my inability to meet my own expectations.  I combat this by isolating several weaknesses I'd like to work on, and focusing on those during the break.  Not only am I using my free time wisely, but I'm also assuaging my ego.

I hope these suggestions will inspire you to come up with your own solutions to beating the end of the semester art funk!  If you have any I've missed, please comment and let me in on your secrets.

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