10,000 Minutes

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Been thinking about the 10,000 hour rule.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in his 2008 book Outliers. Based on studies of elite performers in a spectrum of disciplines Gladwell proposed that people aren't born geniuses, but arrive there through hours upon hours of practice and work.

He contends that “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness."  He backs that up by giving examples of greatness, and how Bill Gates, Mozart, and the Beatles achieved mastery by combining their nascent talent with 10,000 hours of practice.

Whether you're learning to code, play piano, illustrate, or wrangle dinosaurs, Gladwell says it'll take 10,000 hours of practice to master it.

10,000 hours of hard learning is daunting. It can be insurmountable for anyone over 40, and it is crippling to a teen. How can you live a balanced life when 5 hours of free time a day for 8-9 years is spent holed up in your room practicing?

Here’s a question: Maybe you don’t need to be a master in order to be successful?

Sometimes to be successful at something you just need to be above average. Maybe even just 1% better than the next guy. Mastery can come later if you want it. In fact, I think if you spend 10 years practicing at an above average level, mastery will be a nice side effect.

Let mastery happen on its own schedule, In the meantime just strive for being above average.

To get to above average you’ll need a lot less time than 10,000 hours. How about we see what you can learn in 10,000 minutes?

10,000 minutes as about 167 hours. If you attack this full time, and spend 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, you’ll get your 10,000 minutes in a MONTH. I don’t think that’s healthy. Do not try it.

Let’s look at something a little more doable: 2 hours every week day (weekends off) gets you your 10,000 minutes in just 3 months.

That’s way more manageable. You can still have a life while doing this. Which is important for having a well stocked creative bank account.

But not all hours drawing are created equal. Just drawing for fun 2 hours a day isn’t going to get you to above average. You need to make those hours really count.

In order to make this the most effective use of your hours here’s FOUR things you need to do.

1) Define the micro skills

Being a great artist means mastering 40+ different micro-skills. These small skills are stacked on top of each other and make it look like the master artist doing magic, when really she is just doing 40+ small things all at the same time.

Some of these skills are:

Line weight
Tone
Proportion
Silhouette
Light
Shadow
Design
Concept
Form
Composition
Color
Value

That’s a good list to start with. If you want to know more, study up on some of your favorite artists. Perhaps ask them what skills they think are most important, then add those to your list of micro skills.

2) Deliberate Practice

Now that you’ve got the list of micro-skills you need to learn set out to learn each one individually. You do this through deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is seen as one of the most effective ways to learn because it’s about narrowing in on specific sub skills and mastering those first.

For example, line weight is the first on the list there. What you might do is print out a line drawing that someone has already done, then you’ll trace over that drawing trying to copy the line weight exactly. Repeat this as many times as it takes so that you learn when to do thick heavy lines and when to do thin light lines.

Once you’ve gotten good at that, do the same with tone. Copy drawings that are excellent examples of tonal structure. And try to match that with your drawing.

Repeat this for all the micro-skills one-by-one.

Note: this is hard. Professionals who practice this way state that they can only concentrate for, at most, 4 hours every day on learning one specific micro-skill.

So don’t get frustrated if you can only do this for 30 minutes at a time at first.

3) Establish a feedback loop

One of the best ways to spot your problem areas and identify ways to improve is by creating a feedback loop for yourself. For some skills you’ll be able to track your performance by yourself. Just by comparing your line weight to the line weight of the drawing your learning from you should be able to see where you nailed it and where you need improvement.

But some skills are a little more subjective, or you haven’t learned enough yet to know what’s working and what isn’t in your studies. For that you’ll need to either find a mentor or find a community to show your work to. A place like the SVSlearn.com forums is a great place to share your progress and get feedback.

Showing a teacher or a professional is also a great way to get feedback.  Many online schools offer access to their teachers in live classes. Schoolism, CGMA, and SVSlearn.com all have great options. 

4) The 1% Rule

Just try to be one percent better today than you were yesterday. I learned about this from James Altucher who writes about this here.

Do this and you’ll see your expertise compound. Don’t worry about making giant strides every day. Just look at yesterday’s work and try to make it one percent better than it was yesterday.

Do this for 167 days and that 1% becomes… 167% better? I don’t know exactly. I’m not very good at percentages, but you get the point.

Get Started!

So that’s it, forget the 10,000 hour rule and see what you can accomplish in 10,000 minutes.

I’ve seen massive gains in my abilities by doing these four things. Check your own learning regiment and see if introducing micro-skill tracking, deliberate practice, feedback loops, and the 1% rule make any difference in the next 3 months.

I’d love to know how it goes for you.

Also, let me know what other learning techniques you do that have proven super effective. I’d love to try and apply those to my learning as well.

Thanks,
Jake

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The Pre-History of SkyHeart

As I get close to wrapping up this first volume of SkyHeart I thought I'd share the development history for this project. 

It all started here:

My idea Journal, started in 2001

My idea Journal, started in 2001

I remember having tons of story ideas and I'd keep forgetting them, so I decided to write them down as they came to mind so I'd never lose them.

One of the first entries was for an idea about a planet that had been hollowed out and was now crumbling. I had no idea what to call it so "hollow planet" seemed to work for the time being.

These first few entries were just about world building, not thinking of characters or stories just yet. I wanted to figure out what the parameters of this world was before delving into who my characters were.

First entry for SkyHeart, then titled "Hollow Planet"

First entry for SkyHeart, then titled "Hollow Planet"

Not long after my initial journal entries I started sketching out ideas for the characters and the world they lived in.

I believe this is the first drawing I ever did of Airth. It's not dated, but it was in a stack of drawings from 2001 so it's from that year.

I believe this is the first drawing I ever did of Airth. It's not dated, but it was in a stack of drawings from 2001 so it's from that year.

I knew I wanted it to be about animals in flying machines. But what animals? What kind of flying machines? Here was one of my very first explorations:

One of my first drawings for what would become SkyHeart. A group of crazy animals flying around in a gunship.

One of my first drawings for what would become SkyHeart. A group of crazy animals flying around in a gunship.

As I thought more about the idea and the world I wondered what would a typical day be like for an explorer of this planet. A scene came to mind, not of perilous adventure, but of the mundane act of refueling and stocking up on supplies:

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It's been a lot of fun looking at these OLD drawings now. I wish the Jake that drew these 14 years ago could see what became of this little idea.

The idea simmered in my imagination for a year or so, until I was asked to be a part of an anthology book called FLIGHT. I thought this would be a great time to dig in to this world I was building, figure out some characters, and start crafting a story. 

One of the first things I drew was this:

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Sometimes an idea just hits you and you go with it. In this case it was a boy riding a flying whale with a winged pig at his side. The idea grew on me and a developed the character designs even more:

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As I was drawing these characters I started asking myself questions: What are their personalities? Why are they together? What were they riding in the sky for?

The answers started coming and soon I had a story. It was epic, and had many moving parts. I had no idea how I would ever draw this story, and besides it wouldn't fit in an anthology where I only had 14 pages I was allowed to fill. So I wrote a little vignette about a day in the life of these guys. It was called Hugo Earhart and here's a couple pages from that:

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I loved putting together this little story. It was only 14 pages, but it alluded to the much bigger world I was developing. I started fleshing out the world even more.

Here's some more sketches I found:

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And here's a few development designs for a side character in the story; a sky-elf. She would evolve to become a main character in SkyHeart, but I had no idea she would become that when I was designing her for this story.

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After writing more ideas about the story I decided I wasn't up to the task. It would be too hard for me to draw it and write it. I just wasn't good enough.

I decided to shelve it for a few years as I focused on my Missile Mouse Graphic novels.

A couple years after MM, I launched a Kickstarter for a book that would collect all my short comic stories that I had drawn. It was called The Antler Boy and Other Stories. One of the stretch goals was for me to add a new Hugo Earhart story to it. 

Here's a few pages from that story:

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Crafting this story rekindled my love for this world and I started to think about it a lot. I thought about how I had grown as a storyteller and as an artist. I thought about what I could do with this story and where I could take it. But I still didn't feel like I was ready to tackle an entire graphic novel. 

So I did what I do best: world build! 

I decided to mix some more fantasy elements into it and began figuring out the mythology of this universe. Here's some concept sketches of the new direction:

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It was this mix of fantasy and diesel-punk tech that made me feel like I was really onto something. 

But then again, the world and story overwhelmed me and I decided to shelve it again when I thought I'd be ready. 

For three years distracted myself with Lord Balderben, SkullChaserRocket Raccoon, and Little Bot. In those years I felt like I got much better at my craft, but I knew I would need a real kick in the pants to motivate me to overcome my fears and doubts with drawing SkyHeart.

That kick in the pants came in the form of Kickstarter. That Kickstarter got me to finally put me in a place where I HAD to do SkyHeart whether I was ready or not. I talk all about how doing the book helped me overcome fear and doubt here.

This post is already way too long, so I'll stop. The SkyHeart Kickstarter had it's own development that I'll share in another post. Like, how Hugo went from being a boy to becoming a fox-like character named Wake.

Thanks for reading this far. See you next week.

-Jake

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Why Do You Create?

I was asked this question on the SVS forums several months ago and it has stuck with me. I think about this a lot.

Before I start unpacking this, there’s another (maybe even more important?) question:

Why does knowing why you create even matter?

You need to figure this out because knowing why you create informs everything you do as a creator.

Knowing why you create helps you stave off feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and imposter syndrome that often come with putting your creative self out there for people to see, judge, and respond to.

Knowing why you create motivates you to improve your craft, and sets a foundation for you to build a career on.

Knowing why you create gives purpose to your art, and by extension, to you.

Knowing why you create is key to being a happy, satisfied, and more creative person.

I think there’s three reasons to create. There might be more. If you can think of others, please share in the comments.

A particular act of creation can satisfy one of these reasons, or all of them. I also think that all of these reasons are the right reasons. And you shouldn’t feel bad for being predisposed to one over the other.

But I think these three just about cover everything.

So, why does a person create?

 

Reason 1: Personal Fulfillment

This is the most basic and primal reason for creating. This is why little children pick up crayons and fill sheets of construction paper with colors. This reason satisfies one of our most innate desires: to turn raw materials into something organized; to turn imagination into reality.

I had a knack for drawing early on...but I admit, when I look at my early drawings they look no more special than any other kid who liked to draw. However, I got a lot of positive reinforcement from my parents and classmates, and that gave me confidence to to improve.

I remember getting a rush when I would create things, sometimes with my art, sometimes with LEGO, sometimes it was just combining my toys into new creations. I loved putting something that had my creative fingerprint on it out into the world. I began to crave that feeling and I found myself in what I call my “creative rush” cycle:

- step one: put myself in a position to get the creative rush

- step two: feed off the rush creating something as awesome as I could create

- step three: get positive feedback and reinforcement from parents, teachers, and peers on the thing I created

At every step I was feeling good things, and that's why I did what I did, to feel good. To keep those feelings coming I kept repeating the cycle.

What happens when you do something a lot, over and over and over again? You get good at it.

By the time I was in high school I was the best artist at the school. I was known as the kid who was good at drawing and was sought out to draw things for people. I designed a bunch of t-shirts, I was president of the Art Club (and we went on to win club of the year that year). I won the artist of the year award my senior year. Drawing and art was a central part of my identity.

It is this very personal reaction to creation that I think drives many people to pick up a pen and make something that wasn’t there before.

 

Reason 2: Reciprocation

This is creating as an act of mutual giving and receiving. You create to receive something beneficial in return. Sometimes this is a job or contract work that you’re financially compensated for. Sometimes it’s not for money, but for exposure. Sometimes it’s to build out your portfolio, or to learn how to do something better. In the end, your act of creation facilitated the means to receiving something that benefited you.

When it was time for me to go get a job and make something of myself I realized I wasn't qualified, nor interested in doing anything that wasn't creative. In my early 20's I found myself working for an animation studio, getting married, and having a kid all in the space of 3-4 years

Now my reasons for creating meant doing the thing I was good at to get a steady paycheck. Personal satisfaction would have to take a back seat. For about 12 years I grinded at different studios working on projects that I was sort of interested in (I wasn't super excited designing foliage for background environments in talking animal movies full of fart jokes). But I was getting better at my craft and supporting a family.

I was creating to support a family and a lifestyle, but I still craved the rush from reason 1, so I did a lot of personal side projects that allowed me to go through my “creative rush” cycle. I posted on forums, then blogs, then social media, then got work published. I got the rush of creating things I thought were awesome. These were things that I wanted to create AND got a lot of positive reinforcement from my peers.

Reciprocation is the reason so many things you love were put in the world. Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Spider-man all exist because people had rent due at the end of the month.

 

Reason 3: Societal Enrichment

This reason for creating is based on a selfless need to put something good into the world. This could be because the creator feels indebted and wants to pay back the community. Or a creator sees a need and tries to fill it with something only they can create.

If you’re a storyteller, you hope that your stories strike a chord with an audience, and that the audience is changed by your creation. An artist hopes that her art adds to the conversation that society is continually having about how we should behave and think. The teacher is motivated by his student’s success in their application of his teachings.

While the rush and the financial support are still a part of what I do, I’m finding myself more and more motivated to share what I do with others as a way to improve their life on some level. That’s why I like teaching, I like making youtube videos that unpack issues/problems facing creative people. I like drawing things that have a story to them; they aren’t just pretty pictures, but hopefully they make someone stop and take someone to a place in their imagination.

If I have a mission now, it’s to help elevate people’s ability to create good things. I want people to have that awesome feeling you get when you make something, I want them to get positive feedback from peers, and I would love it if they could someday turn it into a career or a way to supplement their income.

Whether it’s the impetus or a side-effect of a creative work, societal enrichment is a beautiful reason to create.

As I look at these reasons through the lense of my own creative life it’s interesting to see what was driving my decisions at different times of my life.

At first I was drawing because I wanted to do what was good for me.

Then that turned into drawing because it was a means to do what was good for those I was immediately responsible for.

Then that turned into drawing because I want to do what is good for the larger community.

Creations that have the biggest impact in the world satisfy these three reasons. They fulfill your needs, they fulfill the needs of your responsibilities, and they fulfill the needs of the community.

That said, not everyone sets out to impact the world with their art, and that’s perfectly fine.

If a drawing puts a smile on your face, that’s reason enough.

-Jake

Why You Need To Finish Your Project

This is a stack of 126 hand drawn comic pages. I started drawing this in 2016 and it's taken me two years to finish it. 

In that time I've had a lot of serious doubts about the story, my strengths as a character artist, and my ability to write good dialogue. It's been nearly debilitating at times. I've read so many amazing graphic novels that I sometimes wonder, "who am I to contribute anything to this medium?" A few times I've had to pause production, take a step back, and think about it before cautiously resuming work on it again. 

For years my main hang-up with drawing SkyHeart was that I wasn't a good enough artist to draw human characters, I wasn't good enough to tell the story, and my dialogue writing was stiff. So I kept putting off this dream project until I got better at my craft. I think that's a fair approach: get good at something by practicing on a smaller scale before taking on something BIG. 

But when is a creator ever good enough? When you compare yourself to your influences and idols, you always come up short. At some point you just have to start your big project, realizing that if your idol waited until they felt like they were good enough, they would've never started either. 

But starting a project and finishing a project are two different things. Just because I made the resolve to start didn't mean I had overcome my self doubt.

Self doubt can wreak havoc on a project. Concerns about one's abilities are legitimate, but it shouldn't stop a project from happening. What's amazing to me is that as I flip through my SkyHeart pages I see a rad story unfolding, I see an artist gaining confidence in his character drawings, and I see dialogue flowing more naturally. 

All of that came about because I pushed through and kept working on it. I'm a firm believer that you learn more from doing X than from studying X. However, when you're lost in the weeds of a project it's hard to remember that. I clearly forgot about that during the duration of this graphic novel. 

I'm posting this here to remind me that regardless of how I feel about the quality of the my work on a project, halting it until I get better at the craft is not the answer.

Roman Emperor and part-time philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote on this. He said:

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

In my case, my abilities were my impediment to finishing SkyHeart. They were a roadblock standing in my way of finishing this book. Ironically, finishing the book was the only way to remove that roadblock. 

In short, getting better at the craft happens only by working on and finishing things.

That's the outlook that sees me through the next 126 pages. 

-Jake

Blogging Again

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Recently, I had to research something for a project I’m working on which required me to use the wayback machine to track down some dates on my old blog.

I got sucked in and started reading 10 year old posts I wrote.

It was incredible to revisit old artwork and be reminded of my thought process back then. I may have gotten a little nostalgic, but more so I was reminded of what an engaging medium blogging is to to tackle subjects and share process.

I began to wonder why I ever abandoned my blog.

Then it hit me, I stopped blogging around the time I started using Instagram.

I exchanged the ease and glitz of social media for my lame-o blog that didn’t even show how many followers I had, and couldn't tell me if people liked my post or not.

Social media has been great, and there’s a bah-jillion artists on there to follow. But I’ve been feeling this urge to engage in deeper ways with people online that I’m not getting that with tweets, grams, and status updates.

I think social media values and promotes the superficial and easily consumed. Because of that, creators are trained to create work that fits those needs. As a result everyone is interacting in increasingly smaller ways with increasingly more people.

A blog post asks a person to settle in. Whether you’re sharing your process, unpacking an idea, or telling a story, you’re asking for a more captive audience. You’re requiring more attention, and the audience that accepts that invitation is more likely to build a stronger bond with you and your work.

That’s why I’m blogging again. I know only a small percentage of my online following will read my blog posts, but I’ll know that those that do are my people. They are the ones who will want to connect on a less superficial level.

To my blog: Sorry I tucked you away in a little box and abandoned you. I'm back now, and will never leave you again.

- Jake