Friday, September 18, 2009


I'm in the final 3 weeks of the Mentor Program -
the big push to make revisions in hopes of finishing full size sketches before our last meeting in Virginia City next month. Last week my storyboards went over well and were almost ready to become full size...almost...

I was very happy about Yuyi's response to my last storyboards. My main character and her grandfather were pretty much good to go and my background scenery supported the characters. On the other hand, my water spirit was not playing her part very well. She was acting a bit like a diva who didn't want to go on stage and the Great Serpent needed to convey more intensity in a couple of the scenes. This was the most difficult set of revisions yet.

I read Yuyi's comments several times and then put them away, planning to get a fresh start in the morning. The next day I stared blankly at my drawings and then...did the dishes. I had 8 changes to make, but I couldn't seem to get started. I was hitting an obstacle and needed to figure out why.

Welcome to illustrator's block. It's really no different from writer's block. You can duct tape yourself to your chair and whittle away at your block or you can take a break and hope that when you come back the block will be gone. I usually do a little of both, employing music as needed to drown out the over-thinking that saps my problem solving skills. I also find developing a strategy to be important.

In order to come up with my strategy, I had to figure out what it was that I was having such a hard time with. I went through each of Yuyi's suggestions again and decided to put an asterisk by the most difficult revisions. Based on my reaction, I expected to put an asterisk by each one. Instead, I discovered that only two were asterisk-worthy. Most of my apprehension disappeared.

My next observation was that some of the scenes did not have to be completely re-done. Only a portion had to be changed in 6 scenes. At that point I knew that the revisions were still going to be challenging, but I knew I could do it.

Back to the library I went, checking out another 30 books or so to add to an even larger stack at home. Some had an essence of "something" that I liked and others played a larger part. I went through each book, putting slivers of post-its on anything that was inspiring or useful for reference. After they all had post-its, I divided them into piles for the water spirit or for the serpent.

Now, of course, I don't have photographic reference material for great serpents or water spirits. For my serpent I had books on many kinds of lizards and snakes and I also had references on other animals. In one scene my serpent had to let out a great roar with a wide open mouth and I wasn't finding anything in the reptilian world that fit. I finally found a bear doing exactly what I needed to get the correct feeling. For the water spirit I had books on goddesses, nature spirits, royalty, asian clothing, cultural traditions, and I had a mirror to fill in the blanks.

Music on, pencil to paper, duct tape in place and I was ready to tackle the revisions. I did all of the serpent scenes first because they were the most challenging. I drew and erased and drew and erased working out how in the world this serpent was going to look from the new angles I was creating. I looked at lizards and snakes and bears. One by one I solved each problem. The most frustrating predicament was the fact that the serpent kept looking like a sock puppet when it was roaring. This is where the duct tape was critical. I knew I had to sit there and keep making changes until it worked. Finally, I discovered, much like a sock puppet, my serpent's mouth did not go anywhere. He had no throat. What a difference it made to add that detail! From there, everything rolled right along. The water spirit quickly lost her diva attitude and stepped out on stage.

I scanned my new thumbnails, spliced them together with the old where necessary, and sent them to Yuyi on Thursday. Once again I did my best and I hope I've reached a new level. It is definitely challenging. It makes all the difference to have a mentor like Yuyi pushing me forward and guiding my work.

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