But what sets Smeck apart from anything else I’ve done is my whole approach doing the finished art.
There were a few contributing reasons why I did it this way. The big one was the circumstances in my life at the time of starting the final stages. In 2013 I became a proud dad. With the financial pressures that come with parenthood I decided illustration was no longer a financially viable way to support my family. For almost 15 years I had always just managed to scrape by on my meagre earnings from freelancing, but in the five or more years leading up to 2013 I was finding it particularly difficult. The cost of living was increasing and my income and workload had decreased. It was time for a change. So I got a “real” job. I became a "Logistics Assistant" (that’s fancy talk for ‘Mailman’).
But having a full time job and being a parent posed a serious hindrance when it came to illustration. I didn’t want to give up on books altogether, but spare time was in critical short supply, and the idea of illustrating a book was extremely daunting and impractical. The problem was I had one contract already signed and committed to, along with another book I had expressed interest in. The first one ‘Smeck’ was one that I had written, and Windy Hollow Books had agreed to publish it thanks to Helen Chamberlin whom I had worked with previously. The other one was for Koala Books (Scholastic). Despite doing a lot of character sketches and roughs for the latter, as I hadn’t signed a contract by that point, I reluctantly declined to proceed with it and focussed solely on my own book.
By mid to late 2013 I had already finished all the rough art, which had been approved by the publisher.
Now, having only weekends at my disposal I commenced the final stage. I was keen to get back into using oil paints, which I had not used since my early books (The Great Montefiasco, Circus Carnivore). Oil paints, to me, are like fine china to be brought out only on special occasions. I love the endless possibilities and the vibrancy of oil paint, and was enjoying working this way, but I soon hit a snag.
Before hand, when I was illustrating full time, I had so much time on my hands that I would procrastinate endlessly. I could sit and stare at blank paper for as long as I needed, patiently waiting for inspiration to come. If it didn’t I’d put a movie on to help, or listen to some music, or watch some other creative person at work on YouTube. I could take a walk in the park and read a book, or just kick a ball for my dog. Eventually, after some time ‘warming up’, it would hit me. A creative burst would spring forth and I would work intensely for hours and hours, not stopping until physical and mental fatigue kicked in. It didn’t always happen like this, but there was that time at my disposal if I needed it.
That is how I used to work.
With my new lifestyle change, there was no longer any room to work in this manner. The weariness that comes with getting up at 4:45am every morning, and working an 8 hour day, then coming home to a young needy child and exasperated wife, along with the mental exhaustion that comes with that, doing any art in my usual fashion was near impossible.
Being a parent has made me realise how precious and how fleeting time is. It’s a trite thing to say I know. But I have learned in the last 3+ years how to squeeze the most out of my day, how to utilise every spare minute. Procrastination has become a dirty word. The internet is perfect for procrastinators, Social Media in particular. I withdrew from social media almost altogether. Blogging and making Facebook posts would just use up my valuable time.
I spent my weekends trying to paint. With the knowledge that no time could be spent ‘warming up’ anymore, I tried to hit the ground running every time I started a painting, and subsequently everything I was producing just plain sucked! I did several paintings and hated them all. I then changed mediums. I tried acrylic, it was worse. I tried pen and ink cross-hatching...
I desperately needed to try my hand at something different, something exciting. But what?
I abandoned the line work, and tried other mediums I had less experience in — lead pencil, coloured pencils, oil pastels, even scratchboard.
I was used to starting and restarting artwork with previous projects, but never to this extent. Nothing was working for me. By this stage I was extremely frustrated and on many occasions so very very close to emailing the publisher to say “I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. Here’s your advance back, please terminate my contract, I’m done!”.
TO BE CONTINUED...
TO BE CONTINUED...