Slooooooowww....


  • SVS OG

    I want to ask your opinions here, especially some of you who are now getting into, or have already gotten into, the professional sphere and may have seen how this trajectory goes:

    I'm really frustrated lately with how slowly I work. I can only seem to put about ten piece on Instagram a year (for the past three years), whereas I see other people posting as often as once a week. I see other people participating in Inktober, the monthly contests, Folktale Week, Childhood Week, Illo Advent, etc. and I can't seem to get to those events often because usually I already have something on my plate. Even my Slowvember piece has bled over into a Slow-cember one! And I would like to participate in more critiques here, but I tell myself, "No, get back to work!" It's not just the comparison monster that's eating at me. I can imagine that this slowness could be a problem when I start to work professionally, and so I really want to speed up.

    Every piece I work on in Photoshop gets weighed down with almost a hundred layers and 5-7 file versions of 1GB each, because I am afraid I'll need to step back and won't be able to find some underlayer or past version. I regularly spend too much time scrolling through layers looking for the one I want, and sometimes even looking through files for the one which has the right layers. Plus, does everyone else get those stray marks that they have to go back and clean up, if only you could find the layer they were on? (Scroll, scroll...) As a result, I think I get bogged down and start to overwork pieces.

    Yes, I know I can partly ameliorate this problem with a good file-naming system and color coding/folders in my photoshop files, and I'm doing that. But I think the real problem is more basic. I think I lack the confidence to throw things out or work on fewer layers. I lack the confidence to say to myself, "This is how it should look. Go for it!" Part of it is my generally slow-to-react/bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew personality, but I would love to cut to the chase sometimes.

    So, for those of you who have tackled this problem and overcome it, what helped?



  • I am writing not so much as helping solve the problem, but to say that I completely understand what you are going through! I am very much the same way. It takes me forever to do a project. I am also still working on my Slowvember piece, but I am okay with that piece taking longer because it is a "slow" project, and I want it to look nice when I am finished. I would love to do all the art challenges, but until I can draw or work faster then it may not happen. I just have to be okay with doing the art challenges after the the event, and doing them for myself and the joy of doing it. At least for now. When I was in school, we were required to turn in 100 nice sketches in a sketchbook every month on top of everything else for a class. So it ended up being around three sketches per day. I ended up getting really fast at drawing because of those sketchbooks, but I haven't done them for such a long time that I am really slow now.
    I only use Photoshop to clean up my traditional sketches and then to do the coloring, so I am not an expert on drawing in PS and having all those layers too. When I work in PS, I notice that I have quite a few layers and usually can't find things easily if I am not organized from the beginning. Every once in a while I will go through and throw layers away or cut and paste tiny changes from one layer onto a different layer that makes sense, so I don't have so many to go through. I have also had to stop myself from just adding a new layer, and taking the time to go find a layer that makes sense to put it on (usually by making it visible and hiding it to see what disappears). Labeling the layers has also helped me, I hate doing it, but it is so helpful.
    By the way, I think your illustrations are great, so even if you are not doing challenges or you feel too slow, they are really nice! I love all the work you have done for the Narnia illustration.


  • Pro

    @LauraA Your art is wonderful 🙂 I think speed and confidence comes with more practice, but of course it's hard to get lots of practice if it takes you so long to make a piece! It's a vicious circle. Do you make proper preparation before you do a piece? Thumbnails for the composition, small light/shading studies for tone, a color test, etc? If you have all those decisions made before your start on the final image, then it's much easier. You simply follow your plan and execute 🙂 If you do prepare like this but still find you have this problem, I would suggest trying out a piece where you merge down layers as you go. Create a new layer when adding a new element, and when it looks good mercilessly merge down. A lot of the time even if you merged you'll be able to fix it still if you really want to, though maybe not as easily. If you get nervous just tell yourself this is an experiment in merging down and working more decisively, and if you mess up the piece it doesn't matter because it's part of the experiment to see how this goes. But my guess is it will go well and you'll gain confidence that you don't have to work so cautiously because you do actually know what you're doing 🙂



  • @LauraA I would suggest doing a bunch of master copies. You get to work as a different artist for a while - I found this really exhilarating - and the result is not a worry! It's a stress free way to move through the process in an entirely different way. It might help you get perspective on your own process, which sounds very heavy to me. I have the same concerns about needing to find a layer later on, but now I duplicate files, and then flatten. I may save the layer, but at least it's out of my way. The funny thing is that I never, ever need it again.



  • @LauraA I agree, the comparison monster is quite the enemy. Aside from being an artist, as humans, we have a natural tendency to compare everything. The problem I see is when you focus on someone else's progress, you inevitably lose focus on your own progress. Stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on you. Everyone is going to have a different workflow. I'd rather see 10 really good pieces you're happy with than 100 mediocre throwaways.

    As someone who works mostly in traditional medium, I can't quite relate with the extent of your problem working digitally. If you think you lack the confidence to throw things out, it sounds more like a struggle with commitment. The fact that you have the option to go back doesn't help, but you can perhaps minimize that by limiting yourself.

    And as for confidence, "Go for it!" Make mistakes, learn and keep moving forward. All the best!



  • Ctrl-z and lots of layers can definitely hinder more than help when lack of confidence is an issue. (Btw, lack of confidence ≠ lack of skill. One can easily have one without the other, both, or neither. We're all somewhere on the spectrum, though; even the greats struggle with these feelings and worries.)

    An exercise for working through that is to work traditionally with an un-ersable medium, or to limit yourself to one layer. "New layer" is out of the question, and no control z either. Pick a number of pieces between 5 and 10, and complete them using only one layer. They don't have to be fully rendered masterpieces; it's just an exercise. It might be a good exercise to implement before every art session: two unedited sketches before starting in on the "real" work.

    You know what looks good. You don't have to trust yourself yet, but if you try to do so anyway, you'll end up surprising yourself in a good way, I think.


  • SVS OG

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies! I think a good summary of what you said might be "Just hold your nose and try deleting. It's freeing!" 😆

    @NessIllustration I think you got at the heart of it when you said that speed and confidence come with practice but it's hard to get lots of practice when you're slow. I really think that is a big part of the problem and that's one reason I made myself do Childhood Week this year. It was a crazy week (I didn't so much as cook), and not every piece was a keeper, but I have gone back and revised my favorites and that gave me pieces to enter and post elsewhere, even here. The main thing was that I saw I could produce in a pinch. But I can't keep up that pace for long.

    And yes, I am doing all the thumb-nailing, value study, and color study steps, and I'm counting that as part of the slow process. It does cut down on the late-stage redos and I hope gives me better ideas.

    I also like your, and @carolinebautista's, @Debra-Garcia's and @Flow's idea to challenge myself to throw away layers, and a good intermediate step might be Caroline's idea of saving them elsewhere and flattening, which I actually did yesterday to try out a new color method on my Narnia piece. (I also irrevocably flattened the whole drawing on top of a rough value sketch once by accident!) In the past, I actually have wanted to go back to old layers, but it would probably be a good exercise to try not giving myself that option--after I finish the narrative sequence! 🙄

    @Kim-Rosenlof and @Flow I appreciate your encouragement, and I can understand the psychological/comparison aspect and discipline of traditional media. Until I started studying illustration about four years ago, I was always a traditional artist and worked mostly in oils or pencil. They allowed for some amount of correction, but not for endless stepping back. I was slow then too, but I accepted that I had to produce and so I did. I am pretty sure part of the problem is my late start in illustration. I really want to prove, more to myself than anyone else, that this isn't just me dreaming and I could really be an illustrator.

    So, if 2017 was the year of learning Photoshop by copying, 2018 was the year of exploring how illustration differs from other forms of art, 2019 was the year of learning to create my own images, and 2020 was the year of ideation, then perhaps 2021 can be the year of confidence!



  • Hi Laura! So I totaaally agree with "don't compare yourself to other people, compare yourself to yourself" to see if you've improved from where you were before. You are an incredibly skilled illustrator, even if it does take you awhile, you get a beautiful end product!

    Some things that have helped me with speed. I had an assignment in college where we covered a piece of paper in charcoal, and you created an image erasing. There ALWAYS got to a point where you had to give up, and start back over again by filling it back in and losing the work you had made. I learned that it's super scary to have to recreate something that you made before and lost, but that you CAN make it better the second time and you WILL make it faster than you did the first time, and your work will improve when you are able to stop treating it like something that is precious. I actually wonder if you made yourself work on one layer, if you would actually finish it more quickly just because you couldn't get too attached or go backward.

    The other thing that made me gain speed, was being forced to go quickly. When you're only allowed a day to create an illustration, and you do that consistently, you are forced to move more quickly, make decisions fast and "just go with the flow." I find when I'm going "slowly" it's often because I haven't totally decided where I want to go, so the slowness is more of meandering through the art piece, rather than being slow at actually painting or drawing it.

    So I know you do thumbnails and value studies, but have you tried doing your detailed value and color thumbnails before you do the clean drawing? That way you can do them super small and really nail down where you are going before you invest too much time and investment into a drawing you don't want to lose.



  • I also started duplicating and flattening with my last project, and I didn’t go back to the multi-layered files. That’s good advice!
    Also, in case something thst interested you, I joined Loish’s patreon a few months ago. She puts the layers ina group every so often , then duplicates the group, then merges the one she’s working on. I was doing that for a while but in procreate I’m more limited by layers so duplication of the file was working better on my last go round.
    The other thing that Loish does is constantly merging, and she’s very often working on one layer. It’s rather amazing. I’m going to keep practicing. I suppose with her typical one subject style it might be a little easier? But she’s got a good and efficient system.
    I’m trying to work my way down from sometimes 50, some times 40, sometimes 30+ hours on one illustration down.....making progress!


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