Most of us are familiar with doing personal work. We give ourselves assignments to fill our portfolios and show prospective clients the kind of work we like to do and what they can expect from us.
This approach works, but lately I've noticed the cycle of going from one individual piece to the next has left me feeling empty because the things I'm doing don't lead to anything bigger. Every time I finish a piece for my portfolio, the story ends and I find myself in limbo until I come up with the next assignment.
I dread this because it removes me from making art. Sometimes I'll spend weeks researching a topic, unable to settle on a concept. And although this is an essential part of the process, it feels like progress has stalled which puts me in a bad place mentally.
The idea of a personal project is really appealing for a lot of reasons, but primarily because it's easier to maintain momentum when your brain can stay immersed in a theme or story as you make a collection of pieces. But once you have your theme or story, what should your personal project actually look like? Here are some different formats you might consider for your personal projects:
Online Graphic Novels
For a long time I've been in love with the idea of serialized web comics. These are produced at intervals over long periods of time to eventually make up a long-form comic called a graphic novel. Raina Telgemeier's popular Scholastic graphic novel Smile began as a serialized web comic about her childhood. Many artists I admire have published, or are in the process of making, inspiring online graphic novels or web comics including:
- Starspun by Laura Diehl
- Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske
- The Unlikely Adventure of Pip Swiftfoot by Kimberli Johnson
- Montague Mouse by Kiri Leonard Ostergaard
- My Sister the Freak and Little Women by Dani Jones
- Copper by Kazu Kibushi (Author of the Amulet series)
Annual Sketchbook Collections
A graphic novel is an impressive goal, but also a daunting one. A graphic novel could take years to complete. For someone who needs a more attainable goal, Cory Godbey has a particularly interesting approach to personal work. He creates a focused collection of approximately nine pieces all related to one story or theme. He calls them "annual sketchbooks" because when he is done, he assembles them into a printed booklet. In this article on Muddy Colors he talks about why he has chosen this approach to personal work http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2013/11/personal-work-making-it-count.html
Have you noticed posts on social media using the hashtag #100dayproject? This post from The Great Discontent explains how to get in on the action, but all you have to do is make work and post it using the hashtag. One hundred days is a LONG time, but it recently occurred to me that it doesn't have to be 100 consecutive days. You can find some really great inspiration by browsing the hashtag. Try choosing a theme that is specific rather than "I'm going to make 100 illustrations" because often, self imposed limitations actually fuel creativity. The lovely Blythe Russo has been working on a Kids and Their Pet Pals #100DayProject lately that is amazing. My fellow PuddleJump Collective illustrator Gladys Jose also completed a really fantastic kidlit #100dayproject a while back and you can see the entire thing here.
Make a Finished Book
It's common for author/illustrators make book "dummies" or small, rough versions of a picture book to show publishers how a finished book might look. Dummies typically have rough sketches and one or two spreads with finished art.
But what if you just made the entire book? That's what Shawna J.C. Tenney did for her spectacular picture book Brunhilda's Backwards Day that was picked up by Sky Pony Press. Her intent was to show it to publishers, but she planned to publish it as an ebook regardless of how it was received. She just acted like she already had the job she wanted to be hired for and did her best work.
What personal projects have you seen others do that you found particularly inspiring? Please share them in the comments!