Review: Draw Stronger: Self-care for cartoonists & visual artists

Draw Stronger

Drawing can be dangerous. Just ask Kriota Willberg, author of the book Draw Stronger: Self-care for Cartoonists & Visual Artists. She draws from decades of experience as a massage therapist (for over 30 years) and educator in health sciences and the arts, which culminated in this very niche book – a guide to injury prevention for cartoonists and artists.

I did some background research on Kriota and found this podcast at Comics Alternative which was really informative. I learned that she was a guest faculty at the centre for cartoon studies one year. And there, she realised how students would draw with sketchbooks in their laps, even if there was an easel or table. They would be curled into a fatal position or hunched, not realising the detriments of a bad posture long term since they were all new to the field. She was concerned about soft tissue injuries and repetitive stress injuries because as a massage therapist who specialised in orthopaedic injury, her day job was in addressing repetitive stress injuries in variety of different context day in and day out.

Draw Stronger

She then tried to do more research online – trying to find resources for cartoonists and artists about injury prevention, in the context and scope that she wanted. She couldn’t find much about it, and so she took it upon herself to put it out there.

That’s just a small part of it. Because the book, as it turned out, wasn’t as comprehensive in the beginning. What you see now (a 136-page book) started out as a 60-page mini comic called No Pain that she passed out to her students who were drawing for class. It was about the immediate basics. Within the next couple of years, she added First Aid for Drawing Injuries. And then 40-page comic on back pain. She then decided to look for a publisher because “stapling 60-page comics is really hard on your hands.” And when she was putting together all the materials for the book, she added a few more smaller chapters to it to round it all up nicely.

My favourite chapters in the book were the ones with various exercises that an artist can do to help counteract the many hours spent in the same position during the creation of their work. She covers hands, wrists, neck, chest, shoulders and back – all illustrated in great detail – and I find myself mimicking all the exercises she recommends just to test if I was as mobile as I should be.

What I liked:

I really liked the format of the book. It’s small, light and easy to carry around (which harked back to Kriota’s purpose – she actually wanted it to be smaller!) I’ve always been interested in body, muscles and movement – I’m that geek who used to go to the library to read up on books on massage, physiology and dance while I was training as a landscape architect. I thought the book is really comprehensive. It doesn’t merely cover a lot of dos and don’ts, but it also tells you why. It illustrates this by diving deeper into anatomy and how the body works too. I really liked the limited color palette and how the illustrations helped to highlight the ideas/advice that Kriota puts forward. I thought that the niche that Kriota picked is really great – there’s a lot of information here that would benefit artists (who are different from other professionals) in how they work from day to day, and I’ve never come across a book that addressed this concern specifically, which is a huge yay.

Draw Stronger

What I thought could be better:

The heading font for the book is a special hand-written font that Kriota created, which really adds character to the book. However, because the hand-written font is mostly uppercase, the text looked blocky (plus, the body text and heading were of the same size on the same page) and sometimes made it difficult to focus because of a lack of hierarchy. There was a lot of great content (text + illustrations), but for me it felt like a lot of the information blurred and blended into one another as though there wasn’t much breathing space. But I understand that it’s not easy to pack the amount of information she did into a small book, so it was just a small (and totally ignorable) gripe of mine.

Overall:

I would highly recommend this book for artists and illustrators. In fact, I think it’s required reading for artists at any stage of their career – Kriota brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that benefits a lot of those who are seeing signs of strain and injury in the course of their creative work. She’s very specific in terms of who will benefit the most from it (not mural artists who work on large artworks etc, but people who draw at a desk who work on small pieces), and thus have gone really deep into this subset of audience. I believe that prevention is always better than cure, but unfortunately I think those who find the book will be those who are already noticing the toll it has taken on their bodies.

If you’re just starting out with no signs yet of body pain (lucky you!), and you are here reading this review – do yourself a favour. Get this book. (Amazon link)

To learn more about Kriota Willberg, head on over to her blog.

[Images from Uncivilised Books]

On starting over

You know how when you start drawing on a sheet of paper and you’re happy that everything is going well? You’re in the flow of things – swish, stroke, draw, paint. This is the best thing ever! 

But then, oh crap. A slip up. No biggie. Let’s deal with that.

Ctrl-Z.

Swish, stroke, draw, paint. Hmmmm.

You erase, move on. Re-do. Undo. Paint over. Undo again.

Undo. Undo. Undo. Argh.

There’s a nagging thought at the back of your mind. This isn’t turning out so well. But it’s half done! It’s almost there! I can almost see it, I just can’t feel it… yet.

So you continue to throw more at it. Layers and layers of lines, paint, and paper. Until you don’t know how you got here. Everything looks like a hot mess. Crap.

Since it took you this long to flesh out the whole thing you decide to keep at it. More. Undo. More. Undo.

GAHHH.

At this point you start to sweat. You’ve done something alright, but you’re not happy. It doesn’t feel right. Or for that split second when you rationalise with yourself that hey, that’s pretty decent. Not great, but just okay. Nothing wrong with it being just okay, right? Right? Plus, look at all this time you’ve put into it! 3 hours! 10! What about the time you lost sleep over it? Surely it means you’re onto something worthwhile? No? What? No?

Listen, you’re not getting that time back. What you can do is to not sink more time and energy into something that you know deep down won’t work.

We can’t turn back time, but we can learn from it. Take your finger off the CTRL-Z button. No more undos.

Take a deep breath.

You know what you have to do.

You’ve got to start over.

It’s hard. Look, I totally get it.

But shittier things have happened. Natural disasters wiping away cities down to nothing. Earthquakes that swallow up whole postcodes. Families get torn apart. People divorce. But people rebuild. That’s what they do. They start from scratch again. Things will and can collapse, but we have a choice to rebuild. It’s not a question of do or don’t. It’s a question of when. When you fall down, you dust yourself off, and get back up.

Sure, you’ll mourn what could have been. You’ll stumble along the way. That piece of paper could have turned out great. Your time, effort and energy didn’t have to be wasted.

The same could be said of every disaster, hardship or challenge faced by people everyday. That accident could have been avoided. They looked so happy. No one predicted that the storm would be that devastating.

Today, it’s between you and that sheet of paper.

Starting again is scary. But so is holding on to something that you know can be so much better.

It’s natural to worry about the what if’s when you put aside that mangled piece of paper. It’s the fear that your work will never be the same again. Or that you couldn’t possibly recreate it again. It may not be a bad thing though. Let’s face it – your new work could go bad. Really bad. Or, it may very well be amazing. You could even outdo yourself. You could discover a completely new side to your work. Serendipity could pay dividends – but only if you’re willing to take the chance to walk through that door.

The point is, you’ll never know what will happen until you start fresh, without all the baggage that came with the old.

When we put so much expectation onto that one sheet of paper, it’s hard to move beyond the sunk costs. Darn it, I invested time and effort into this piece – it should pay off! I should be able to finish what I started on this sheet itself! It should look great!

But life doesn’t always work that way does it?

I’ve recently learned the hard way how true this is. The act of holding on to something that you’ve poured your heart, sweat and tears into, one that no longer fits – is painful. Learning to let go, to set it free and to try again takes a lot more courage than we dare to admit. But that’s what we have to do, even if it feels like conquering Mount Everest. Even if it’s letting go of a piece of paper.

So do yourself a favour – take one small step today.

Time to take out a fresh sheet of paper.

White. Empty. Fresh. New. The possibilities are endless.

Ready? Go on, make your mark.

Again.

And again. And again.

Pretty soon, you’ll realise that starting over gets a little easier everyday.

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As I write about starting over, I’m hitting the reset button myself. I’m launching a new online class in September (based on the feedback you lovely readers have generously shared with me!) More details will be afoot in a couple of weeks, so watch this space!

Illustration by Ryo Takemasa

A zine on friendships and loss

Friends,

I have been missing in action for a few months now, and I’m sorry I didn’t leave a note or an explanation. So many things have happened in between then and now – life got in the way (among many other things) and I just couldn’t bring myself to write for the past few months. The good news however, is that I’m easing myself slowly into being back into the groove of things (it feels like 2018 has just begun for me!)

While I didn’t do much writing here on the blog, I do have something new to show – I created a new zine in collaboration with Weng Pixin and it talks about friendship. Or rather, the lack and loss of it, all wrapped up and titled “This Ship’d Sailed”. Now, I’ve experienced friendships that have gone on and off, or perhaps even on again. We’re not bitter nor angry about them – we just felt that there’s a certain mystery about friendships, of how feelings and emotions tied to such relationships can affect us so much.


Who hasn’t lost a friend in their life? Or who hasn’t felt the stung of rejection that arose from not feeling like they belong? Or what about feeling less than memorable? So much so that you feel tossed aside and ultimately forgotten? It hurts a lot, and I can relate.

This was the reason why Pixin and I decided to create this zine – it’s 40 pages long (yes!) and consists of 7 artists sharing their stories of lost friendships – from friendly fallouts to eventual growing-apart-itis. It’s a less talked about subject – so many people were celebrating friendships that we thought that it might be interesting to talk about the flip side to BFFs.

Having had my fair share of friendships that did not turn out as well as I had hoped, I was hoping that I wasn’t the only one who felt hurt, left out and bewildered by such incidences. Turns out, it’s quite normal (if what I see and read from the contributors are anything to go by). Perhaps you’ve gone through something like this as well, to which I say sharing is really caring.

So do share with me:

Have you ever lost a friendship that was near and dear to you? Or perhaps you’ve felt a little sidelined by a group of friends before? I’d love for you to break open those floodgates and release your frustrations and feelings, and share them with me. Who knows? You might just help a friend or two (even if you don’t know them as one yet).

To see the insides of This Ship’d Sailed zine in all its full-colour glory, head over to my Etsy shop for more pictures and to get yourself a copy!

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