Just to tie things off, a lot of the stuff I've shared over the last week I've found before COVID-19 and during it. It works for both my own art stuff and for my day job, and it's still stuff that I'm figuring out for myself. I'm sure the appeal of parts is fairly specific to the way I'm wired and probably won't work for a lot of work styles out there. But figured it was worth recording all the same. At the very least the next time I'm in a rut, I'll be able to remember some ways to get back on track.
I started working from home on March 9, so it's been almost two months. I started working on this chapter around the same time, so I'm averaging about one page per week, which is faster than I expected, even if it feels slow when looking at the project as a whole. This chapter has around 50 pages. I've finished six.... which means I have about 40 more. That said, only 12 more are the same 16-panel structure so I'm a third through those; after that it opens up into quadrant panels, full page splashes, and pretty stark pages with very little illustration at all. Hoping things will speed up by then! Might get there by... August? *shudders*
Above is an example of one panel with some two-point perspective. Below are all of the pages so far. All six of them haha. It's still satisfying to see them all together though! There are almost 100 individual panels here!
Escapism is such a useful tool, whether it's through movies, music, podcasts, books, or something else. Lately, I have looked for things that transport me to another time and place and that has mostly been through film. On an average week in normal life, I usually read on my way to and from work, typically an hour each way. With the current circumstances, I’m not commuting, so I'm able to repurpose that time for writing and drawing. Unfortunately, with less time accounted for in my commute, writing and drawing fall higher on my list of priorities than reading so I haven't read in quite some time.
Reading is also a more active form of entertainment in that it requires conscious engagement. I feel like it activates the same imaginative part of the brain that is accessed while writing and illustrating, which also require conscious engagement, so in a way replacing reading with writing and drawing is an equal swap - at least as far as engagement levels go. But I still feel there is an escapism void that can't be filled by my own work, so movies have been filling that instead.
Comics are an interesting blend of movies and novels; they are stationary moments in time but the reader must fill in the blanks between each panel. The visually represented moments are similar to film, and the reliance on the reader to imagine what's happening in the blank space mirrors the need to conjure up a mental visual when reading. It's fun to think about how movies insert ways to show and not tell, and how books find ways to tell without ever showing. For comics, the impulse I often run up against is to tell everything, so seeing how movies do the opposite is really helpful. For instance, a character may say they are doing one thing, but the next scene juxtaposes them doing the opposite. It creates tension and says something about how the character wants to be seen versus how they actually are.
Lately I've been looking for movies that are highly driven by memory and character development, high ranges of emotion, creative explorations of the passing of time, and introspection. Here are a couple that I've been thinking a lot about over the last couple weeks:
Call Me By Your Name: I read a review of this movie that compared it to the book, in which they suggest “The book is a mature and thoughtful vintage; in the film, we’re still picking the grapes.” I’ve yet to read the book (it’s on my shelf!), but the film exudes a nostalgia for a summery world that is at a total standstill, and so much of the characters’ motivations are shown almost imperceptibly through body language and double-edged comments. I love how subdued every moment is, but with a heightened sensitivity at the same time. The movie shows a past teenage romance being felt as if it's still in the present, as opposed to reflecting on it years later, and this causes it to feel more immediate. On top of this, Call Me By Your Name shows a world that is fairly isolated because it takes place in the summer when most people in town are on holiday, so there's a parallel of spending most of one's day at home with family and finding ways to fill the time. There are very few gatherings of more than a handful of people at a time, mirroring the contained world that we are living in right now. It is still magical and exquisitely rich despite the small-scale interactions.
Interstellar: While this is a fairly sensational sci-fi box office hit and it really speaks to my interest in any kind of space movie, what I love most about Interstellar is the cross-generational storytelling; the message is that heartbreak, longing, inspiration, and wistfulness can span any distance and any stakes. I also relate to the hurt the characters feel as their family is rendered inaccessible, causing thoughts and reflections that they had longed to share to be lost in the ether. In ways it's also about letting go of longing for a person's physical presence and focusing instead on their emotional impact, which I think we all experience when we suffer a loss. It makes me think about my grandmother’s dementia, and how there were so many parts of her that were lost before she was really gone. And how I wish that I had started writing about my grandparents earlier so I could share with them how deeply they impacted me, just so they knew. The most painful scene for me is when Coop - frozen in middle-age - leaves his elderly daughter on her deathbed, surrounded by her descendants, because she feels that no parent should experience the death of their child. I love the reversal of roles, of a child giving permission to their parent to feel release and forgiveness, when usually the parent takes the lead. Coop's son also loses a child due to illness, both of his children lose their father due to his mission, and his colleague loses her father due to time. There is a lot of loss across generations and experienced at extremely varied distances.
As much as I get energy from creating something and feeling productive, there are days where I need a day off. For instance, if I’ve put in two 8-hour drawing days over the weekend, have a long day at work on Monday, and am just not finding the motivation to draw later that evening, I designate it as a rest day and go all-in on the recovery (for example, a movie, ice cream, and comfy clothes). I’ve found that if I force myself to work when I’m not feeling engaged with the project, I won’t do my best work, and those feelings will only be compounded each day I feel that way. With creative projects, it’s important to feel excited to work, otherwise the lack of interest with show through.
There are little tricks that I use to see if I genuinely need a break, or if I'm just feeling lazy. Some moments of waning motivation are salvageable. It's one thing if I really can’t get into the headspace that I need to be productive, but it's another if I would prefer to just watch another episode of whatever on Netflix. In those moments, I try to find a quiet and introspective task like boiling water and making herbal tea. I put the cup of tea on my desk, set up the project I’d like to work on, and set up my workspace as if I am about to work. I let my tea cool for a few minutes, drink it while looking at everything in front of me, and often by that point, something grabs me and I’m good to go. Other times, I kick up my feet and start looking at pictures of my niece on Instagram or start making a playlist. If working is not in the cards, I try not to force it.
I have also noticed that I have a tendency to collapse after a long day of work and all I want to do is go to bed. If I’m feeling that temptation bubble up at 2 or 3pm, I will sometimes make a cup of lightly caffeinated tea to perk myself up but not keep myself awake at bed time. Usually at those points, my goal is to remove napping from my list of motivations; I know I will get sleep later on, but there is no need to dive into a nap at 5:30pm, feel disoriented when I wake up, and then struggle to go back to sleep when it’s actually bedtime.
I’ve been listening to Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s quarantine podcast, in which they share the insight, “You are not working from home; you are trying to get work done during a global crisis.” I try to remember that whenever I feel like I’m not being as productive as I'd like to be. While I've celebrated having more time and space to work over the last couple months, the normal measures of productivity just don’t apply right now. I try to walk the line between taking advantage of the extra time and not holding myself to an unrealistic standard given everything that is going on.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based in Mansfield, MA.