The Long, Hard, Elegant, Easy, Stupid, Creative Way

I read something this week that really ticked me off.

I’ve been building my page on Goodreads as I gear up to put 100 Demon Dialogues into the world, which partly means leaving lots of reviews for creators whose work I admire. If you follow me on Patreon you’ll know Deb Norton because I interviewed her for my unofficial podcast, but just in case you don’t she’s got an amazing book called Part Wild: a Writer’s Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance. She was also my writing mentor in high school, and I owe her an enormous debt for her impact on my creative development.

Anyway, I realize reading reviews on Goodreads is basically like reading the comments anywhere else on the internet (DANGER, DANGER), but after writing my review for Part Wild, I idly scrolled down the page to see what else people had said about the book. And then I stumbled on the following sentence:

…if you are really finding it that hard to write and need to use all these prompts and tips, then it probably means that writing is not for you – find something else to do.

You know Ghost Rider? He’s that comic book character who’s basically a flaming skeleton on a motorbike. That’s what I turned into directly after reading this sentence: just a skull on fire in road leathers doing 90 down a highway screaming “FUCK OFFFFFFFFFF.”

Whenever I react this violently to something it’s usually because I fear there’s a grain of truth in it.

This attitude digs at the root of something that’s deeply entrenched in our cultural beliefs about what creativity “is” (the answer, of course, is many things—it’s a paradox—but we’ll get into that later). We’re taught to think that, for creative people, making things is easy. You know you’re “Creative” when you’re able to sit down and art flows from your fingertips like water from a mountain spring. The Muse appears, the Art happens, and there you are like some sort of divine lightning rod just channeling your Gift into the world.

I’m as much a fan of being in a flow state as the next guy, but I also think this is a dangerous load of hooey.

Like, what does this mean, really? That experiencing any type of resistance or challenge means you should just give up and go do something else? This is not a growth mindset. It is small and constrained and petty and miserable and OOOH IT MAKES ME SO MAD.

Okay, okay. I’m under control. I can do this.

Do I worry that I’m not cut out to be an artist (or a writer, or a small business owner, or a public speaker, or a…) whenever the work feels like pulling teeth? Of course I do. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this great talk Frank Chimero gave about doing things “the long, hard, stupid way,” and it always makes me feel a lot better.

Frank was struggling writing his first book, and then judging himself for struggling because clearly it meant he was doing something “wrong.” (This is something I’m very guilty of.) But then he shifted his perspective and recognized that this less efficient methodology actually defined his creative process. Accepting the quirks of his personal practice allowed him to relax into it. (Pair this with Chuck Wendig’s excellent advice to “embrace the joy of the forbidden.“)

I am constantly reminding myself that experiencing resistance, strife, doubt, and complexity mean I am on the right track. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of my career it’s that these feelings are normal and they do not go away. In fact, if you’re experiencing a total absence of those feelings it probably means you’re not taking any risks at all, which means you’re not growing, which means it’s time to get back in the ring.

Okay, next paradox:

I have complex feelings about Tim Ferriss, a massively successful technology-culture-productivity-type entrepreneur, but I was interested to read about his take on overcoming these mental traps:

What would this look like if it were easy? is such a lovely and deceptively leveraged question. It’s easy to convince yourself that things need to be hard, that if you’re not redlining, you’re not trying hard enough. This leads us to look for paths of most resistance, creating unnecessary hardship in the process.

But what happens if we frame things in terms of elegance instead of strain? In doing so, we sometimes find incredible results with ease instead of stress. Sometimes, we “solve” the problem by simply rewording it.

So now we fight, right? The Long, Hard, Stupid Way vs. The Elegant, Easy, Simple Way.

But I don’t actually think these attitudes are opposites. There’s the inherent challenge of making creative work, but then there’s the self-judgement of that challenge—and that’s what Ferriss’s question can help us get around.

Rather than getting mad at ourselves for being a skull on fire, maybe we just accept that being on fire is sometimes a normal part of the creative process. That way whenever we burst into flames and/or have a case of the brain weasels we don’t have to worry that there’s something wrong with us. We can accept the weasels as part of the process and get on with doing normal things, like riding other wheeled contraptions, coming up with new ideas, and continuing to move forward with the work.

I think I’m gonna leave it at that.

***

(A note on credit: the Ghost Riders—or should that be Ghosts Rider?—in this post were illustrated by: Marc Silvestri, John Cassaday, and Mike Bear. Thanks, fellas.)

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 6

It’s Day Six of the Inner Critic Investigation series I’m collaborating on with writing coach Deb Norton! Our goal is to help you develop a dialogue with your Inner Critic as if it were a separate, living character. I’ve found this massively helpful for understanding what’s in my way when I sit down to make work.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Get a pen and a sheet of paper.
  2. Set a timer for six minutes.
  3. WRITE. Ask your Inner Critic the question and find out what they have to say. Keep your pen moving, even if you’re writing lies or “Blah blah blah” over and over.

Today’s prompt is:

Your Inner Critic is probably all too keen to tell you about the things you’re doing wrong, but about the times they’ve royally screwed up? Take confession in six minutes of free-writing.

If you’re feeling brave and want to share any of your responses to these prompts, you can leave excerpts in the comments below, or email them to me (lucypcbellwood@gmail.com) to be included in an anonymous roundup at the end of the project. The last prompt goes up tomorrow!

If you haven’t done so already, you can listen to a whole conversation about this Creative Resistance stuff in this talk I just recorded with Deb.

NOW GET WRITING!

Inner Critic Investigation Week, Day 2

It’s Day Two of the Inner Critic Investigation series I’m collaborating on with writing coach Deb Norton! We’re hoping these prompts can give you all some insight into what your little jerks are thinking and feeling as they go about trying to stop you from making creative work.

The rules are as follows:

  1. Get a pen and a sheet of paper.
  2. Set a timer for six minutes.
  3. WRITE. Ask your inner critic the question and find out what they have to say. Keep your pen moving, even if you’re writing lies or “Blah blah blah” over and over.

Here’s the prompt:

Often our Inner Critics harp on us because they’re scared of what will happen if we try something new. Ask your Inner Critic what’s out there. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be?

There will be a new prompt once per day for the rest of the week. This is a great exercise to do as a warmup before you sit down to tackle your daily NaNoWriMo goal, or just launch into creative work of any nature. There are no wrong answers. Go wild.

If you want to listen in to a whole conversation about this Creative Resistance stuff, check out this talk I just recorded with Deb.

NOW GET WRITING!

Inner Critic Investigation Week

This week I’m thrilled to announce the release of my latest podcast episode with writing coach Deb Norton, a long-time friend and extraordinary creative resource.

I’ve known Deb since I was 13. She brought me into my first writer’s group and taught me so much about working with my inner critic in the company of other dedicated creators. She was a huge inspiration for the 100 Demon Dialogues project, so I’ve been itching to talk with her for a while. We ended up recording an hour-long conversation about creative resistance, grit, risk-tolerance, accountability, limitations, shame, self-knowledge, protection, NaNoWriMo, recovery, process, and so much more. You can listen to the audio through SoundCloud, or watch the video if you’d rather see us wave our arms while we put everything to rights.

As a fun bonus exercise, we decided to collaborate on a series of seven prompts that will help you get to know your own Inner Critic a little better. The rules are simple: set a timer for 6 minutes and let your demon do the talking. It always wants your attention anyway, so give it the floor and see what happens.You can write lies, you can write truths. Just make a mess.

A new prompt will go up at 9am PST every day this week. You can find them on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Patreon, Facebook or via this blog. (Gracious, that’s a lot of social media. Something for everyone, I guess!)

Thanks for reading, and good luck with the prompt! I look forward to hearing what comes up for you all.

Time-Lapse Boats

I had a ton of fun wrapping up these watercolor paintings for my top-tier backers on the Baggywrinkles Kickstarter last week. Here’s a look at the final lineup of paintings:

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Clockwise from upper left, we’ve got El Galeon (hiding behind PDX YAR’s First Mate), L’Hermione, Brig Niagara, and Kalmar Nyckel (in disguise under a different paint job, for reasons outlined in this Tumblr post).

In the process of getting all of these done, I learned a bunch about making time-lapse videos, which you can check out below:

And if you’re curious about the tools used for these projects, here’s a sneak peek at a post I put up for my supporters on Patreon all about my watercoloring setup:

watercolorsetup

I put up an informative essay each month about some aspect of my creative process, along with a load of other content for folks to read/watch/listen to/generally enjoy. I serious adore Patreon as a platform for making more of this work possible, so if you haven’t already checked it out, go take a peek! (There’s a lot of free stuff there, too, if you don’t want to commit to chucking some money my way each month.)

More news coming next week! Stay tuned.

Light in the Eyes

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Something a little different today: a process GIF from a recent illustration commission! This cat portrait was done start-to-finish in Manga Studio with Frenden’s blue pencil and Hairpin Sable inker brushes.

You notice how the cat really comes alive in that last frame when the white highlights in the eyes come into play? Every time I add those to a piece I get this really vivid memory of going to art classes as a kid.

My teacher’s name was Sharon Butler. She was a realist painter from South Africa who painted waist-high stones to look like living cheetahs, crouching in the greenery outside the studio. The two rooms in her establishment were filled with the perpetual, chalky scent of pastels and Prismacolor pencils. We’d get pieces of illustration board handed out every time a new project began, cut down to the appropriate size. I completely lost track of time every session I spent there. My only job was drawing, as well as I could.

This was pre-internet, so Sharon kept a morgue file in the inner room. It was a metal filing cabinet—dull beige and taller than I was at the time—crammed full of photos and magazine clippings. There were folders for horses and dolphins and birds and architecture and chairs and people and costumes. Every manilla folder had a grouping by subject, and since Google simply wasn’t around yet we’d fight over who got the best picture of the dolphin to draw from.

I drew a lot of animals when I went to those classes with Sharon. She’d stop by while I was struggling to render a hummingbird as something other than a crude cartoon, giving suggestions on how I could better train my eye to see what was actually in front of me. The second-to-last touch, before the fixative stopped our pastel smudges from scattering off the page, was to add a dot of white in each eye. She taught us to use a Q-Tip or the back end of a paintbrush.

At the time it felt like wizardry—the amount of life that tiny dot of white could bring to an otherwise flat animal.

It still does, kind of.

The Galaxy of Super Adventure: Fears

Hey Friends,

If you like spaceships, comics, radio drama, and the practice of making things, let me recommend a really fun podcast! The Galaxy of Super Adventure is part one part galactic adventure saga, two parts creative advice round-table. It’s run by my comics pals Ben Hatke, Zack Giallongo, and Jerzy Drozd, and this week’s episode (all about FEAR) features a guest appearance by yours truly!

GosaHeader

I play Bold Space Adventurer and Sensitive Artist Lucy Bellwood, crashing in for a talk about artistic anxiety and self-doubt with the help of my sentient French mustache sidekick, Polly (pictured above).

The whole series is a hoot, and I highly recommend listening to it from the start, but if you just want to jump in for this episode, check it out here. Enjoy!

 

Inktober-In-Progess: Dealing with Demons

As you’ve probably all noticed, this month’s Inktober challenge has morphed into something of a themed exercise for me. I’ve been illustrating my horrible little self-doubt demon in his many forms, trying to name some of the fears and anxieties that everyone deals with (in one form or another) when they sit down to make work. Here’s a selection from the first half of the month.

DemonsHalf

If you’d like to join in, please do! I’m trying to keep an eye on the #drawyourdemons hashtag and I’d love to see what your little jerks say and how you respond to them.

This character came out back in 2012 when I was stuck in an art rut. A bit of digging in the Ancient Bellwood Archives revealed the original:

CrapComics

Followed by this additional doodle:

DemonPunch

(I can also guarantee the little bastard’s been plaguing me since long before I started making comics about him.)

Anyway, I’m contemplating putting all these illustrations together in a little minicomic when the month is done. If you’d like in on that, keep an eye out on Twitter. Happy Inktober!

Process Post: Black Hand

A couple months ago I was delighted to receive an email from Glenn Fleishman, who some of you might remember as the fella who interviewed me for The New Disruptors earlier this year, asking if I wanted to work on an article about an imaginary friend for his publication The Magazine.

I love the idea of imaginary friends, even if I never had one of my own as a child, and as soon as I received the list of this friend’s characteristics from writer Lisa Schmeiser I knew this was going to be a lot of fun. You should really just go ahead and read her essay, which does a far better job of explaining Black Hand than I ever could.

But since this is a blog about my creative stuff I thought you guys might like to see a little step-by-step process of the creation of this piece. The graphic below was created for one of my weekly Patreon Process Posts, which I put up every Friday with updates on my current projects and behind-the-scenes info on how I get stuff done. If you dig it, why not subscribe? It only costs $2 a month, and helps ensure the creation of bigger, better comics just for you!

Patreon12.8I created this piece start-to-finish in Manga Studio 5EX. You can see my initial sketch with the pencil tool, which actually went through three versions. First I’d given Black Hand these loopy bellbottoms, but Glenn asked for something a little more like Morpheus from Sandman, so I added bulky Goth boots and snugged up the pants—tight jeans or flowy sweats. We ended up going for the latter.

Sketch1Sketch2sketch3

After the sketch was approved I went in with the Hairpin Sable inker and laid down some lines. Glenn wanted a psychedelic, dream-like color scheme, so after blocking in some bright colors with the fill tool I added shadows (on a separate layer set to Multiply) and highlights (on a separate layer set to Screen) before going in with a watercolor brush and adding splotches and clouds on the background.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 1.15.30 PM

And there you have it! Again, you can read the whole finished article here, and tune in for more weekly process posts like this one over on Patreon.

 

Audio Treats: KBOO and Chris Schweizer

A quick post today to let you all know I’ve got two new audio interviews up for your listening pleasure!

kboo

I had a great time guesting on KBOO’s Words and Pictures show a couple weeks ago, where I talked to host S. W. Conser about my recent projects, including my upcoming show at Portland’s Sequential Art Gallery (more on that tomorrow!). You can give that a listen right here.

I also had the immense pleasure of talking with fellow boat-savvy cartoonist Chris Schweizer as part of his new conversational podcast. We delve into all sorts of stuff including (but not limited to) boats, comics, theater, higher education, and French comics. Chris is not only a stellar cartoonist and history buff (have you read Crogan’s Vengeance? YOU SHOULD. IT HAS GOT BOATS IN), but also an eloquent, fascinating guy. This was a blast! You can expect more of these recordings from him in the future, so keep an eye out.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more details about next week’s show at the Sequential Art Gallery. Hooray!