5 Ways to Punch Through Artist’s Block: Part I

One of the most confidence draining experiences as an artist is hitting that dreaded wall we call artist’s block. Similar to the phenomenon of writer’s block, Artist’s block is an experience where (for one reason or another) your imagination runs dry, all inspiration disappears, and you can’t produce great art.

You try, but there’s nothing. If you’re like me, that’s when things get dark. The super negative self-talk/impostor syndrome blows up across your already overly sensitive artist’s psyche and before you know it you’re in the middle of a full blown existential crisis.

“I suck. I’m horrible. I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I'm so worthless I'm not even fit to die and be eaten by worms.”

Your whole internal world comes crashing down.

I totally get it. I’ve been there. (I was actually there this afternoon.)

Thankfully this phenomenon is temporary. All artists experience these dry spots.

You can and will push through it.

A little intentionality and strategy can really help.

In this article, I’m going to give you five tips on how to punch your way through the stubborn edifice that is obstructing your art flow.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Get off your damn phone.

That’s right. Put it away. Put it on airplane mode, put it in another room, give it to someone else and tell them not to give it back to you until after a certain time.

Do it for yourself.

I can’t emphasize this enough. (And I say this because I’m a guilty offender!) Constantly unlocking that thing and looking at your snap chat, Instagram, whatever, is jacking with your attention span and ability to focus.

While you’re at it, TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS. All those things are giving you ADHD. (Or in my case making my ADHD 10X worse)

Got it?

Serious, just put it away.

It will be there for you later and nothing of epic proportions will have happened.


Step 2: Get “Un-bored”:

I have noticed that I tend to only like to draw the subject matter I am comfortable with and already draw super well. Chances are you’re a little like that too.

But you have to challenge yourself.

Maintaining a creative comfort zone of only those things you’ve mastered will cause you to stagnate as an artist.  

Look at your recent work. What have you been drawing or painting? How can you take what you’ve already accomplished at and push yourself even more? How do you make what you’re doing even better?

What do you suck at drawing?

OK, now go draw that thing 10 times in your sketch book until you don’t suck at drawing it any more.

Continually ask yourself:
What can I do to make this drawing even better?

What can I do to push myself?

How could I add more emotion?

How can I improve my draftsmanship?

How can I be more professional in how I approach art?

Consider the affliction of “artist’s block” a friend who just wants to heighten your skill level and take it to new heights.

Step 3: Keep Moving

Where are you stuck?

Bounce to another part of your creative process.

If you’re painting, bounce to do doing preliminary drawings for future projects. If you’re doing sketches, jump to begin working on the final product.

Whatever you are working on, switch to some other part of your creative workflow. Find where the inspiration is moving.

If that fails then jump to writing or journaling.

Whatever you do, KEEP MOVING.


Step 4: Seek Inspiration:

We stand on the shoulders of creative giants, and thousands of years of art history.

Ask yourself:

What makes me want to draw?

Who makes me want to draw?

What do I watch that makes me want to draw?

What do I read that makes me want to draw?

What music makes me want to draw?

What concepts or ideas make me want to draw?

One thing I do to help foster great ideas is keep a robust armory of visual inspiration.

I have plastic boxes filled with a vintage action figure packaging. I also keep a big binder of cut out images that I frequently peruse. Not to mention a library of great literary and visual books.

This tip is especially crucial at the brainstorming phase. I break open the binder and I start looking and let my mind wander. I sift through the things that naturally inspire me.

Vintage toy pictures, monster images, Creepy typography, and anything random I think may speak to me at some point in the future.

In addition to that, I have a folder on my dropbox just called “inspiration” with lots of little sub folders in it called things like, “vintage Halloween costumes,” “Retro sci-fi book covers,” “Pushead,” or “Planet of the Apes cartoon intro.”

Whatever seems to give you ideas or motivate you to make art, start saving those items.

Pinterest and Google images are also very helpful in this regard.

Always be open to new sources of inspiration as well.

Step 5: Go Do Something Else

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’ve hit a creative wall is to put everything down, and go do something else.

Go exercise.

Go spend time with your family.

Go read.

Go take a shower.

Go take a nap.

Go watch cartoons.

Go play with your action figures.

Find something you enjoy. It will make it easier for the good ideas to find you later.

Whatever you do just keep your creative lights on and try to relax. You are merely disengaging from the “active” state of creation and switching to the “passive” state of creation.

Last summer I started riding my skateboard through the neighborhood I grew up in. I’m 41, so I’m sure I look crazy. But I love it so much, and it’s great exercise. It clears my mind and which then leaves room for the great ideas to begin to pour back in.

The basic idea here is this.

Catch your brain off guard! Use your artist’s block as an opportunity to grow yourself in a new direction.

Remember, every artist faces this. Next time you hit a roadblock, try using one or more of these art hacks.

Next week we’ll tackle five more ways on how to push through artist’s block!

Now, go make something RAD!

What My "Creative Process" Looks Like

The creative process is different for every creative. At times, it’s ecstatic and otherworldly.

Other times it is not.

Inspiration is fickle and very much has a  life of its own. The successful outcome of a big project requires the careful cultivation of the fertile seed bed of inspiration in its early stages.

For some, inspiration is as easy as putting on a magical gauntlet, rending the heavens and pulling down a golden bag of ideas. It's usually not like that for me.

I was once asked what my creative process looked like. I thought long and hard about it.

Let me tell you what it is like.

It is much more like going into the wilderness. I hope it’s not for that long, but I never know. While in exile, I am hunting ideas. I am turning over rocks, unearthing relics and artifacts, digging ditches, cutting down underbrush. All the while this crazed hellhound called a deadline is hunting me.

Haunting me.

Time goes by.

The Darkness sets in.

It’s night now. It’s cold.

I’ve been cast into the wilderness. The dead of night.

There I crouch in a fetal position.

Vulnerable. Exposed. Desperate.

Suddenly, I hear something. I hear something vile. Like an insane, mocking chortle coming from an unseen direction.

I’m frozen. Paralyzed with fear. I feel a single bead of nervous sweat trickle from my right armpit down to the small of my back.

I smell the dank, nauseating halitosis emanating from some unholy creature preparing to take my life. It’s the moist, warm stench of some subhuman animal of ages past breathing down my neck and there’s no escape.

It’s the deadline.

I take what I believe to be my last breath. I turn around slowly expecting to meet my untimely demise.

I exhale and my body goes limp with solace and other worldly joy. To my amazement, it’s not a salivating, blood thirsty, unholy archfiend preparing to murder me after all.

The night is gone. The sun has risen and there before me stands a backlit baby unicorn inviting me to love him.

Inspiration has come.

Let the day burst forth.

Now.

You.

Go forth. Take up your mantle, and make RAD stuff.

 

 

How to Make More Time for Your Art

I recently posted an open-ended question to my Instagram page which asked, "What problems do you encounter most while pursuing your creative dreams”?

I was surprised at the amount of responses. I was even more surprised that almost every single response boiled down to one common factor: lack of time.

We all have exactly 24 hours in a day. By the time we sleep, eat, work, spend time with our families, we seem to have precious little time to pursue our creative passions.

I totally get it. I’ve worked a day job for over 15 years, all while married, and with four offspring. I’ve learned that I have to make every minute count if I wanted to make time for my art.

In this article, I’m going to give you three tips that can help you make more time for you to pursue your creative passions.  So, let’s get started.

Step ONE: Inventory your day.

Look at your day. Where you’re not sleeping, what are you doing? Where are you “leaking” time? 

Identifying your time wasters is crucial at this point. Here are some common ones (Trust me I’m preaching to myself at this point also):

·      Netflix binge watching

·      Habitually looking at your phone

·      Surfing The internet aimlessly

·      EBay or Amazon window shopping

·      Movies you don’t really need to see

Fill in the blanks. You know what they are. While you’re at it, also ask yourself, “What am I doing that I can pay someone else to do in order to give me more time?”

I pay a guy to do my lawn for this very reason. For me, I almost can’t think of a more titanic waste of my time. I HATE mowing my lawn. I’d rather pay someone $30 to do it and save myself two hours all while making money on a client job to more than pay for it.

Step TWO: Break your projects into smaller, obtainable goals.

Most artists and writers won’t be able to finish a massive project in a single setting. Whether your project is a novel, a painting, a drawing, or a comic book, it will take you some focused hours. And while you won’t be able to accomplish the whole thing at once, breaking it down into smaller incremental stages, and tackling those one at a time, will bring you that feeling of creative satisfaction because you will be able to see the progress.

Breaking projects down into smaller goals will help you keep your momentum and help you to accomplish your big goals, one incremental step at a time.

I’m an illustrator, and when I’m doing work for a client, I usually break my projects down like this:

1.     Brainstorm and inspiration hunt

2.     Thumbnail sketches

3.     Rough sketches

4.     Tight sketches

5.     Final art

Tackle each of these steps on different days and you will begin to eat your metaphorical creative elephants one bite at a time.

It is worth noting that finishing a project like this will also build your creative confidence. You will surprise yourself with what you discover you are capable of once you have a couple projects like this under your belt.

For instance, I didn’t realize I was capable of completing an entire graphic novel until AFTER I finished a smaller comic book project for an INSURANCE COMPANY!

Breaking your project down into smaller goals helps you maintain creative momentum and prevent time constraint discouragement/depression to set in. (Trust me I get that part)

Step THREE: Take Your Art With You

When you are going someplace where you KNOW you will be waiting, take a sketchbook and a small arsenal of art tools with you (or a journal or laptop or whatever you write with). This can be any place you’ll be waiting like the Doctor’s office, the car line at school, or God have mercy on your soul…the DMV.

Another possibility is taking it to your day job and making time to work on it over lunch break. A lot of times I will use these lunches to work on existing client projects, or start a fun side project just to keep my creative wheels turning. I recently did a retro style Dracula and Frankenstein that I started over my lunch just for fun.

And you will surprise yourself to see how working within a relatively short time period can help you to think, draw, or write more that you though you could.

One final note on this.

Remember to keep your “inner artist” on throughout the day. One dilemma creatives face is the feeling that once they walk through the doors to their day job they have to turn that creativity off until they get home at night. But I’m telling you that whatever your creative project is, keep it on “simmer” throughout the course of your day. Keep that on in the back of your mind.

Don't let it distract you form your responsibilities at work or home. But, do remind yourself about that creative project and consider that time between deep work sessions as the “passive” state of creativity. So, nudge your inner artist from time to time and make sure it’s awake.

In closing, yes, your creative time may be limited. But be strategic in how you eliminate time wasters, break your project down in to smaller goals and taking it with you.

Now, go make something RAD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion Projects: How to Keep the Fire Burning

For artists and designers who make their living off their craft, burnout is inevitable. Thankfully most burnouts are temporary. But how do you pull through those "dark nights of the artist/designer soul"?

One way to rekindle the fire is the concept of "Passion Projects." A Passion Project is simply a non-commissioned side project, an artist does for themselves, possibly for their portfolio that is just plain FUN.

Many artists/designers at this point may protest, "But I don't have time!"

My response is that for your own sanity, and for the quality of work you want to maintain for your clients, you need to make time.

How to choose a Passion Project for yourself:

  1. Challenge yourself with something you want to learn. In my case I wanted to learn to paint digitally.
  2. Choose something you love no matter how crazy it is. For me, I often do a mash-up of crazies. For my project, I worked from my obsession with the G.I. Joe-A Real American Hero action figure card art of the 1980's and the timeless music of the punk rock band, The Misfits. I'm a huge fan of the Misfits brand as well as their music and absolutely love their "Fiend" mascot.
  3. Take your time. Think marathon, not sprint. Many of my passion projects are accomplished over a period of weeks and even months.
  4. Have fun. There's no pressure here. If it becomes burdensome and stressful, it's probably not a Passion Project. (Unless of course you're just experiencing the growing pains of learning a new medium.) Feel free to put it down for a while and come back to it. In fact sometimes you have to because life gets in the way. But the important thing is that you are staying creatively active and challenged in between client projects.

So there you go. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay challenged. Go start a Passion Project.

DEATH TROOPER: Inspiration from the Past

I recently finished this piece for Skipro Toys. When he offered me the job, I immediately knew what well of inspiration to draw from.

The project is for a short run of vintage Kenner style "Death Troopers" in celebration of the new Rogue One movie in which the character appears. So there is a cool retro vibe already present if you're taking into consideration where Rogue One fits in Star Wars chronology.

So I wanted a retro feel. But not JUST a Kenner retro feel. So I began looking at old issues of the 1970s Marvel Star Wars comics that were all over the place visually. Then it came to me.

The sky opened and Inspiration fell like an anvil from Heaven.

Most are familiar with the old, controversial EC Comics from the 1950s that caused an uproar due to their violent and unsavory content. But whatever one may think of these books, they had some great art and some iconic covers.

I scoured the internet for photo references and finally stumbled across this brilliant Harvey Kurtzman cover...

Epic. Completely epic. So with respect to Harvey Kurtzman, this is the route I took.

Special thanks to Skipbro Toys for letting me be a part of this awesome undertaking.

SHOGUN FETT: Remember the Giants

I never had one in my youth, but by far one of the most impressive lines of action figures were the 24" Shogun Warriors licensed and released by Mattel in the late 1970s. A few years ago, I bought some off Ebay but ended up reselling them as they were just so huge. (And they had wheels on their feet which made me scared they would roll off my shelf and plummet to their doom.)

As a child, I had several of the 3 and 3/4" incarnations of the characters. "Dragun" was a personal favorite of mine. I also recall a 30 minute Shogun Warriors cartoon on HBO I watched a myriad of times. And I had several issues of the 1970's Marvel comic by the same name.

Last year Skipbro Toys was doing another cool release, this time pairing the 3 and 3/4" Shogun Warrior line with Star Wars's Boba Fett. He invited me to do the card art and I was happy to oblige.

The awesomeness that such a challenge entails is everything I love about being both an artist as well as a toy fanatic. So I began scouring the internet for some inspiration. I pulled out some of the old Marvel comics and got to work.

As you can see, as is typical for most 1970s box art, the packaging is breathtaking.

The more I looked, the more I noticed one image kept emerging as a sort of iconic Shogun Warriors image. It was the headline character, Mazinga, posed in the following position over and over again...

And by the way, do you remember how awesome Colorforms were?

So I settled with a look and feel that harkened back to the greatness that was Mazinga and began with the preliminary sketch. I believe I cranked this out real quick in Manga Studio.

Then I puled the sketch into Adobe Illustrator and began tracing the forms and blocking in basic colors...

Then once I had things blocked in I bring it all into Photoshop and begin adding highlights and shades. This is my favorite part, because this is where it all comes together. And if you haven't done your due diligence in the early stages, things typically fall apart at this next point. Thankfully this project was pure joy from beginning to end.

And here is the final product.

Trading Card Wrappers: Disposable Genius

I'm a child of the 80's and for that I am forever grateful. In terms of pop culture, the 80's spawned some of the most enduring intellectual properties that have lived on to our current day. Transformers, Star Wars (I know the original was 1977, but still), He-Man, Thundercats, Tron, Dark Crystal, the list goes on and on.

One thing that went hand in hand with these IP's of the 1980's was trading cards. Every cool show or movie that came out had a line of trading cards to go with it. I remember my Mom and Dad taking me to the drug store a million times to buy ANOTHER pack of Dark Crystal and Tron trading cards in hope that I'd get the 2 cards I was still missing to complete the set.

Funny thing I never understood. There were times I had the compulsion to buy trading cards for things I had no interest in... Close Encounters, Rocky, Mork & Mindy, DUNE!

Why?

As a child I didn't know. But as an adult graphic designer and illustrator, I know exactly why. It was the dang awesome art on the waxpack wrapper.

The formula was simple. 1. Wax paper. 2. Mediocre to poorly drawn line art. 3. Three to four bright Spot colors with terrible registration.

That's all it was, but it was enough to stir joy in my soul enough to want them. A few months ago I went on Ebay and began repurchasing just the wrappers to study, and for inspiration to have on hand. And I'm so glad I did. The following are my own designs/my loving Homage to the Topps Waxpacks of days gone by. Enjoy!

Stranger Things Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Stranger Things Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Skelepatch Kids Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Skelepatch Kids Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Misfits Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Misfits Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Enter Manglors: Repainting a Childhood Memory

One of my earliest childhood memories is going to a department store with my Dad, and buying a toy with the single most amazing box art (painted by Ken Kelly) I've ever seen.

Enter the MANGLORS!!!

Behold the box for Manglord! This was the first Manglor figure I got.

Behold the box for Manglord! This was the first Manglor figure I got.

Anyways, within the box there was an egg which housed the Manglor figure. Which also was a pretty awesome idea. You were supposed to be able to pull the figure apart and stick him back together and combine him with other figures from the toyline.

Problem was it didn't work.

Probably the greatest example of a crap toy sold purely by the box art alone. At least to me it did. That being said the toy execution was the only bad part of it. Like I said, the box art was awesome, what the toys were supposed to do was awesome and the alleged mythology behind the Manglors was awesome.

The image of the Manglord figure was forever burned into my psyche as a child. Internet searches turn up a scant few poor photos and scans, so I decided I needed to repaint the image.

I've been doing alot of digital painting as of late and so for a couple hours a day for about 6 weeks I worked on this. I finally finished it the other day. And a laborious process it was. But a labor of love.

Here is some of the process as well as the final image.