On Creative Living: Discipline & Balance

It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are. Sometimes, life has other plans.

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This past week was one of those weeks. I work from 5-6am on my art and writing passion projects, and I usually work from 8-10pm on commissions or carry-over from the morning. I’m also knee-deep in report card season, a less than exciting time in the life of a teacher. That alone should have slowed me down, but I am disciplined. I work hard, because I know what I want. No one is paying me to work on my passion projects (yet), but I show up and do it anyway.

Except for this week. The boys caught some viruses. Nasty bugs. My wife had special work commitments, so I took 3 days off in the end. Report cards or not, I was at home working on those little humans instead of everything else that I had lined up. (Um, for the record, I am completely okay with this, because I wish I was a stay at home dad anyway.)

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The usual nap time break, where on a weekend I would slip away to the studio to work on something creative? Nope. Magnus coughed himself awake and spent the rest of the time slipping in and out of coughing and crying fits on my chest. Kingsley needed to cuddle and be hugged most of the day.

Putting them down for bed early to get extra rest, I thought, might give me some extra time. Nope. Even though they went to sleep, I couldn’t slip away to work. I was too drained. I watched TV instead. I read a bit. I thought about some art I’d like to make. I worried about report cards and if my students were doing okay with different supply teachers every day.

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Reflecting on it is peculiar. A year ago, I’d have seen the week as a huge success. I completed and mailed out a commission. I finished six pages of a picture book dummy revision. I wrote 102 personalized report card comments. Yet, I have become so accustomed to

producing and progressing so much more, that my bar is now set higher. This is discipline in action.

So how do we balance our work, family and creative lives?

Well, we don’t.

We are disciplined. We work hard. We set tangible goals and lofty-big-idea goals. We track progress. We keep trying. We shrug off the rejection letters and tweak our projects. We get up at 5am and work. And then, we forgive ourselves when we don’t. Because sometimes, we can’t. We must live happy lives in order to be creative, and that does mean that every now and then, we forgive our lapse in discipline and we watch TV, and day dream, and let our babies drool on our shirts, and clean the toilet even when it doesn’t really need to be done. We are human.

27653717_10102011956800961_676300210_oForget balance. I believe in harmony. At the end of the day, if my soul feels happy, then I have succeeded. I check in with myself. I ask myself if I really deserved the break I gave myself, or the push I gave myself. I take stock of every bit of pressure and expectation coming in from others and coming from myself, and then I let myself breathe, because I know that once these boys feel better, I will return to my projects. It’s not over because I took 4 days off/did less creating than I would have normally & liked to have done over those 4 days. I will complete that picture book dummy revision. I will complete the line of illustrations I’m working on. I will write something new.

How do we balance it all? We don’t. We harmonize it. We make it feel right, and we forgive ourselves when it doesn’t.

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How (& Why) I Became a Morning Person

I’ve always wanted to be a morning person. I’ve read book after book for creative people saying, “If you get up before anyone else, you’ll get more done!” I knew it was probably true, but I told myself the same story: I’m NOT a morning person.

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From my Instagram. 🙂

WANT TO KNOW HOW AND SKIP THE WHY? Scroll down to the lists – the #1 MOST IMPORTANT TIP is the last one! 🙂

The thing is, I used
to be a night person. But after having one baby, I was no longer a night person. I wasn’t a morning person. I was a “from 10am to 2pm” person. The rest of the time? Exhausted!

Something had to change. I wasn’t working regularly enough and I wasn’t getting to the never-ending list of ideas I had. I knew I wanted to work on them, and I knew I didn’t want to wait until retirement, or summer break, or the weekend, or the next lifetime to get to these ideas.

And then … we had another baby.

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Isn’t he just perfect? I would eat him up if I could.

I realized deeply, in my gut and my heart and my soul, that my time for creating could easily slip away. My very “ness” was at risk. With one kid, you’ve got time. There are naps, there’s after bedtime, there’s whenever Mommy takes him so that I can create. But with two? Nope. That time was waiting to be sucked up. Pooping on different schedules, napping on different schedules, eating at different times? I knew that eventually it would even out (we aren’t there yet) and that I would have some more time to work on my creative endeavours, but I also knew that if I got into the habit of NOT making, then starting again would be very difficult.

So, I decided it was time to invest in inspiration, and not production. The result would be improved productivity, but the intention was simply to steal some time to work for ME. (I mean, all art should be worked on for the artist, right?)

I bought a book on creative business, from Kelly Rae Roberts, and I set to work reading it. This is how week 1 of becoming a morning person started.

  • Week 1: Read every morning for 30 minutes before everyone else wakes up. For our house, that meant 5:30. That meant, I needed to get a short haircut and shower at night, instead of in the morning. At 5:30, when I rolled out of bed, I would have 30 minutes to read before Kingsley would be waking up and I would be getting him ready for his day.
  • Week 2: Continue reading every morning, but keep a sketchbook near by. Inspiration was starting to come by, because I kept showing up … even on the weekend. Inspiration wanted to flirt. (Inspiration is a sassy one!)
  • Week 3: Back the time up by 10 minutes. This meant I was rolling out of bed by 5:20, and making my way downstairs by 5:25. But, then my book finished. So now what?!
  • Week 4: Make it 5:15 and work on a list. I made a deal with my critique partner, and told her I would be emailing her on Sunday night with my To Do list for the week. I kept it manageable and interesting: work on this manuscript, work on those thumbnail illustrations, develop ideas for this sequence, etc. Nothing that was too heavy, but something that was meaningful enough to bother with so early in the morning. I also told her I would be checking in again on Friday to let her know how my list went. We agreed that this would NOT include stories – those stories that let you off the hook or excuse laziness. If I didn’t do something, I would say I didn’t, and that would be that.
  • Week 5: Keeping it at 5:15. Continuing with the list. Making space in my time for reflecting and meditating on myself.

And now, it’s a habit. So I continue to back it up, and will continue doing so until I am at my desk, working, at 5am on the dot.

So that it is all easy and nice to say, but what did I do to really make it work? I had tried in the past and nothing worked. I really think that the pressure I put on myself, to feed my soul, with 2 kids – to keep making and doing and being myself – to find the time and space to do this – to not let go of it – is what pushed me the most.

But these tips … I wish I’d had them before:

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    No – eating cupcakes at 5am is not a recommended practice for becoming a morning person!

    Reading something inspiring helped with the first 2 weeks, as I was forming this new habit and setting down the foundation for my new “morning person-ness” (I didn’t let myself read any other time, so I was hungry for it!)

  • Setting up the night before: I always set the coffee maker and timer now. At first, I even put the mug and spoon out so that all I had to do was pour. You really want to treat yourself and get to know all the little hooks you’ll let yourself off of, so that you can stop it before it happens. Think of it as time travel.
  • Checking my list the night before. This helps me keep it in my head so that when I wake up, I know what I am about to go and do. There is no sit-and-wonder-which-project-to-work-on time.
  • Putting out what I’ll need: tomorrow, I’ll be working on wrapping up a chapter of a middle grade novel I am about half way into writing. It is a hard scene and I have told myself stories about it. I realized tonight that it is fear feeding this beastly excuse-making I’ve been doing. Tomorrow, I’m writing. My computer is set up for it, and the file is open and waiting to be written on. On days when I sketch,
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    Setting up the night before is a huge improver for morning productivity. In addition, invest in yourself by prepping the things you know you will soon need – here you can see several prepped canvasses, waiting for me to steal some time to work on them.

    I make sure that everything I will need is ready, including WHAT I am sketching. If it’s a painting day, the paint is out and ready. There is no wondering and waiting that happens.

  • Keeping accountable with a partner who will keep me accountable. (It helps when it is a mutual agreement – it’s nice to be on both sides of the fence/in both roles, so that it feels balanced and your different voices are heard!)
  • This one is the most important. Weekends are archaic! In parenting world, they are busy and wild and chaotic. If you want to be a morning person, then there is no sleeping in on Saturday. For me, sleeping in means I feel guilty, I feel groggy, and I struggle for a week to get back to waking up early. I may go a bit easier on myself, because I make my To Do lists for Monday-Friday, but I still work on something. At the very least, I am up, breathing and centring and reminding myself that it is going to be a great day.
  • THIS ONE IS MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT! Sleep according to sleep cycles. I use http://www.sleepyti.me, and I just check it before bed. I want to make sure I’m waking up BETWEEN sleep cycles and not in the middle of. THIS has made the BIGGEST difference to my overall feelings of being awake and refreshed!

 

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Learning from Little People

A long time ago (probably not that long ago) I thought that big people taught little people. 

That was wrong. Very wrong.

The things worth knowing – the most important things – I’m learning from the little people.

Joy. I’m looking for what makes me feel this uninhibited joy now. And it feels good.


Curiosity. Playfulness. Mistakes. How to learn. They’re so connected and they’re so important. At school, in my art, as I write. Setting aside the critical gremlins and blissfully making stuff (up) is opening new sides of my creativity. 

Persistence. He repeats himself until he is heard. He tries and tries and tries. And I’m learning the power of true persistence through his learning. 

Love. Loving without question, without expectation of anything in return. Loving people and animals and places and activities. Love, love, love. It feels good.


Truth. Honesty. Saying the things that make you happy and excited and joyful, loud and clear for all to hear. Being kind in this honest truth, and letting yourself feel. This. We need more of this in our lives!


How different might this world be if all of the big people listened, watched and learned more from the little people? How much more beautiful would our days be? How much more honest and true would our writing be? How much more of ourselves would shine through our art? 

I am so grateful for having two pure humans at home to teach me. 

Why You’ve Got To Stop With The Stick People

“Don’t worry about it, I can only draw stickmen.”

This common sentiment from parents and teachers is driving me NUTS. It’s also sometimes said as, “I can’t even draw a stick man!”

Seriously?! Enough already.

There are a few things going on here, so let’s get deep down into it, because I am sick and tired of this bogus sentiment shutting down creativity and limiting possibility.

The reason you either can’t draw a stick man, or can “only” draw is stick man, is because you’re lazy and you have no confidence. You aren’t willing to take a risk, you aren’t willing to build a skill and you are more than happy to limit the kids you live or work with as they find comfort in your chorus of ONLY drawing stick men or NOT EVEN bothering.


Guess what? I can’t really draw stick men. In fact, I couldn’t really draw PEOPLE until a year or so ago. There was a reason I stuck to monsters. 

But guess what else? As I practiced, copied characters I liked and pushed myself to learn, I found myself more comfortable with it. I experimented, tried different things and made a lot of REALLY UGLY PEOPLE DRAWINGS. But every now and then, I can draw one I like.

It’s about time and it’s about grit and it’s about effort and it’s about not having to perform on freaking command.

What are we teaching our kids when we tell them not to worry about it, because we too cannot or can only draw a stick figure? We are teaching them:

  1. Effort doesn’t matter. Just stick to the simple forms.
  2. You don’t need to push yourself. I didn’t, and so what? So you probably don’t need to try hard in math or on the field or with your reading and writing, either. If it doesn’t apply to you, don’t bother!
  3. Art is for artistes. Only the uniquely gifted may create openly and without fear. (Guess what? The “uniquely gifted” have worked their asses off and create with massive amounts of fear, most of the time. But they actually push and try.)
  4. Art doesn’t matter. Just get something on your page. You don’t need to try to find your voice or communicate anything beyond a stick with a head.
  5. You can be like me. I don’t want you to be better.

I’m not saying that you have to draw well. I’m not saying that everyone must be creative and artistic. I am, however, saying that you’ve GOT to stop limiting the imagination, exploration and fascination that kids can have with the world around them by tipping the first art-domino with one well-intended line: “I can’t even draw a stick man!”

You Remind Me Of You

I was driving home tonight and had Jack Johnson on shuffle on my Apple Music stream. This song came on, and I’d never heard it before (somehow) and it seems to me like it could be the most important song for parents to hear.

The simplicity of the lyrics is the perfect metaphor for the simplicity of it all: everyone is just who they are.

We so often seek identity for our kids. We want them to be like us. We want to see ourselves in them. Strangers will comment on who they look like and so will the closest family members. “He got that from his daddy!” or “That’s you when you were little.” These are common choruses.

But the thing is … no.

He’s his own person. I am not the holder of his identity. I am not the one who decides his interests and I certainly never want to be that, either.

So here, so easily, Jack Johnson sums it up perfectly, without a single complication:

Well your mama made you pretty
And your mama made you sweet
Your daddy gave you daydreams
And more cushion in your seat
Your mama gave you those windows
To your beautiful soul
Your daddy got more love for you
Than you could ever know

You remind me of you
Yes you do now
You remind me of you
Yes you do

Process Post: Illustration Work

My latest illustration for my portfolio is a piece of “spot illustration” – something that can stand alone, but doesn’t feel like a “one-off”. I saw this photograph appear in my newsfeed. This is the daughter of one of my University friends, and I just had to use it as my reference.

When creating art, lately I have found that using a reference (or a number of references) has allowed me to create stronger pieces. I had received a lot of feedback about my art not quite working because the references were clearly missing. We can only draw so much from our imaginations; it is good to use reference material! My critique partner, Jami, has really pushed me in this area (thanks Jami!).

I’m going to share bits of the process in this post. If you’re a teacher, or the parent of an artistic kid looking for a push, you could study this process for an art lesson. If you’re an artist or wondering about references and digital and blah blah blah, this may give you some ideas.

So, here’s the original image:

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Adorable, right? This kid is so freakin’ cute; I loved the energy and pure happiness that was in the picture. She looks a little bratty, too (in the best way), and I wanted to maximize on this in my character design. I didn’t want to make a true-to-life replica; I wanted to use this as a reference, and then build on it in my own style.

I started with a LOT of sketches. Here are some of the ones closer to the finish:

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Both my critique partner and I really liked most of the structure in this image. There were some issues though. For one thing, the cat along the back fence was placed right above the squirrel and the pumpkin. Structurally, this bothered me. I wanted to push the use of triangles in my structure, which I had achieved between the head, to the pumpkin pile, and then down to the wheelbarrow. I decided I would shift the cat over to the left, and create a smaller triangle between her head, the squirrel/pumpkin and the cat. The other thing bothering me was the face. It wasn’t working. The style was all wrong – nothing special or stand-out. I sketched a number of other faces, eventually coming to this pointed nose approach, and then played with that:

10253807_10101210893049141_1065879714802194734_n11061719_10101210893039161_4343989371578205925_nMy plan was to use one of these heads on top of the old head, when I brought everything into photoshop. That will be shown in a few seconds, but first I want to point out an area of concern for my partner. She suggested that the image I was referring to was causing an issue. The perspective in that image was coming from the parent’s eye view – a photo shot down from higher up. I was trying to take a head-on approach, which I continued to want to use. She sent me this image to help me see how I could work on it. You’ll notice that the horizon lines were really all that needed the most fixing.

She actually used a photo of my son to help work on the issue:

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I brought photos of my sketches into Photoshop and moved some things around. This is the REALLY ugly part. I cut and pasted the cat into a new spot, and changed the size slightly. Then, I erased the old head, brought in the sketch of the head I wanted to use, and resized/angled it so that it looked more uniform with the body. Next, I changed the horizon line.

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I turned down the opacity of these layers so that I could sketch, using my Wacom tablet, over top:

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Then, I removed the original sketches entirely.

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Next, I added the background details and some shading. I also changed the tongue sticking out, because my wife (who is just as skilled with constructive feedback as my art critique partner Jami is) suggested that it looked like she wasn’t wearing her dentures. Eep! Not the message I wanted viewers to leave with, so I fixed the mouth and then got to work on the background.

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I used color.adobe.com and searched for the following terms to help me identify my color palette: harvest, pumpkins, pumpkin patch, skin, hair. Note: I have a subscription to the entire Creative Cloud, so I can easily use any of the Adobe tools. I highly suggest this for digital artists. I complete most of my illustrations in Photoshop, including this one.

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I hated the way the dress was looking at this point. I spent a long time looking at samples of clothing in both real photos and in illustrations; at digitally rendered and watercolor renderings (because I tend to use watercolor techniques in the digital setting).

As I got further into the colour, I turned to another reference: The Paper Bag Princess, with art by Michael Martchenko. Now, being a Canadian boy, I grew up with this book and a billion other Robert Munsch/Michael Martchenko books and have long admired his ability to create intense situations and children in various poses and expressions, with so much life. In this case, though, I was looking specifically at the color choices he made, based on a suggestion from my partner, who receives a million Facebook Chat messages a day when I am deep in a project. If you don’t have a great partner yet, you need to find one who you trust, who knows their stuff and who can be honest when your work isn’t working.

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Jami had commented that actually building the dress up from the colour of the background might make the work easier. When I saw this image (while reading to Kingsley before bed), what she had said came to life: it doesn’t need to be a total contrast; the tones and hues can be similar between the background and the main subject.

I spent some time trying out a dress in the browns and greens, but it wasn’t entirely working.

I changed the hue to a blue and suddenly it started to come together.

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I tweaked the blue using a combination of airbrush (with texture) and watercolor brush settings. Then, I duplicated the layer and set both to “multiply” (this is a great effect; it brings out what it underneath, almost like using a magic marker over a black line would). I called up the “Burn” tool and darkened the edges a tad. You may also have noticed the face: in the photo above, with the bad dress colors, it is darker; however, in this shot, it’s much subtler. I utilized the blending tool, as well as the “Dodge” tool, to pull this off. I think that if you can paint the skin of a character to be unnoticeable, you’ve pulled it off. In my opinion, the stronger artists can do things that look so damn easy, but are difficult to duplicate if you aren’t them. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that this is me.)

Now I was feeling like it was almost ready. I switched over to greyscale (on a Mac: Command + 4, then try Command + 3 … Command + 2 will bring it back – this has to do with the settings of the color and is another post in itself) to check the quality of the color work. This is a huge piece of determining how finished you are. Most people don’t bother. I am a firm believer in it.
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I noticed some shading discrepancies in the wagon, so I fixed them up.

And that was that. I felt good about it even the next morning after some time away. Of course, this is where I am now. In 2 years, I may look at this with new eyes and information and experiences and might pull it off in a whole new way. But for now, I am very satisfied!

Pumpkin

To summarize, from this:

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To this:

Pumpkin

And onto my portfolio, at art.patrickg.ca.

Gratitude

I often wonder if our happy baby is a result of our outward gratitude.A little over a year ago, my wife and I started practicing daily gratitudes. We had tried keeping Gratitude Journals, but they always went by the wayside. There was no immediate pressure to write in them, and so after a week or so, they were lost in the ongoing to do list. We are not religious people, but we wanted something to ground us and our family. We had a baby on the way, and we didn’t want to just start something up for the sake of starting it up when the baby was “old enough to notice” – so we started saying something that we were grateful for every night before dinner, in place of where some families may say Grace.

This was a life-changing move.

“The Secret” promotes the act of gratitude and talks about putting your dreams into the Universe; the idea is that what you put out and believe in comes back to you. It sounds like Hocus Pocus. It works.

What happened shortly after we started to say, out loud, what we were grateful for, was that we started to notice all of the things we could be grateful for. We became happier. We became calmer. All from a 2 minute change in our day.

We have even peer-pressured family into taking part when they have dinner with us. A year ago at Thanksgiving, we sprung it on them, and it was clearly an uncomfortable event; this year, however, it was a deep and meaningful three or four minutes before dinner. But it’s not just about Thanksgiving day – it’s about every day; every single day we have dozens of things to be grateful for.

I'm grateful for morning coffees with my best friend.
I’m grateful for morning coffees with my best friend.

It goes like this:

Mommy: “Kingsley, what are you grateful for?”
Kingsley: throws his hands around, or stares blankly at us … for now. In the future, this will be the routine he has always known and he will naturally engage in it.
Daddy: “Oh, good one Kingsley. What are you grateful for Mommy?”
Mommy: “I’m grateful for a ruggedly handsome husband.” (Right? This is every night! I am very handsome, clearly.) “And what are YOU grateful for, Daddy?”
Daddy: “I’m grateful for ….” this list usually goes on for a while.

Sometimes we expand on them. On grumpy days, we usually don’t get too deep, but we say them anyway. It’s important to maintain the ritual of expressing thanks. To be honest, it makes me reconsider my mood most of the time. There are days where it is a list of little, tiny things, like “the leaves that are so freakin’ beautiful right now and the view on my way into work and that someone took my suggestion today!” and other days it might be one giant thing. There are the days where we go back to the old steady gratitudes, too, which is important and okay. (The: “grateful for my wife” and “grateful for this meal” (especially when it’s made with food we grew ourselves) and “grateful for this beautiful baby boy who amazes me every second” gratitudes.)

What does this have to be with being a Creative Daddy?

Everything.

Without the act of being grateful, I truly believe that my focus in life might shift from a family-focused, positive one, to something more internal and selfish. I express gratitude, I model positive living, and I create opportunities for expression, risk taking and making time for little things. Because in the end, it’s all about the little things – they quickly add up to become the big things.

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