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Monday, October 03, 2005


Alec Longstreth here. All of the following will eventually be compiled into a mini-comic I'm planning called "GET TO WORK / TAKE A BREAK!" and includes some of my theories about drawing Comics. I apologize for the horrendous length of this post, but there is some valuable information burried in here!

I draw comics REALLY SLOWLY. Most of my pages usually consume an average of about 40-80 hours of work. For a long time I just "worked as hard as I could" which, when I drew all day, usually ended up something like this:
--Wake up whenever I wake up (10am?) and start drawing
--Keep drawing until I got REALLY tired/hungry (2pm?)
--Eat lunch, get distracted by something else (movies, email, friends, etc.) and then start feeling really guilty that I wasn't working on my comic
--Force myself to sit back down and draw, pushing myself even though I wasn't really into it (IE, NOT doing good focused work!) My mind wandering somewhere else
--And then REPEAT. Get distracted, feel guilty, force myself to sit down, not into it until I I would finally just GIVE UP for the night

I suspect the maximum output I could draw in this way is MAYBE 6 hours a day. And there's no way I could sustain it for more than a few days (if I could GET a few days to draw).

The past 5 summers though I have worked in the University of Washington scene shop as a scenic carpenter/welder. And they work 10 hour days. Over the past 20 years, the boss, Alan Weldin, has continuously refined the work schedule, until at this point it is almost FLAWLESS. The concept is simple: Start with the largest block of WORK. Then have the shortest BREAK. Then, as the day progresses, DECREASE the size of the WORK blocks and INCREASE the size of the BREAKS. It sounds simple, but it really is an amazing concept, when applied to Comics.

When I moved to Portland, I had some savings, plus I was totally unemployed. It took me FOUR MONTHS until I found steady employment so for that entire four months, seven days a week I drew TEN HOURS A DAY using "THE SCHEDULE" totally completing PHASE 7 #004 ( @ 40 hours per page). It breaks down like this:

8am-Noon DRAW
Noon-1pm BREAK (lunch)
1pm-3pm DRAW
3pm-5pm BREAK
5pm-7pm DRAW
7pm-10pm DRAW (dinner + movie / friends)
10pm-midnight DRAW

Just giving myself the STRUCTURE of a schedule totally revolutionized my work habits. Now, in the morning, in that first killer 4-hour stretch, when I would start getting burned out I would be able to think "Yes, I'm tired, but in another half hour I can take a BREAK! Hmmm... what am I going to have for lunch?" THE KEY with "The Schedule" is that when you are on break, you are NOT ALLOWED TO WORK!!! If you work on your Comics during your break you will be totally burned out when you sit back down to work! DO NOT WORK ON YOUR BREAKS!!! It is your chance to read or see your friends or talk on the phone or eat or whatever! But keep an eye on the clock! When it's time to draw--GO DRAW!!!

This also really helped my non-Comics friends understand the time commitments involved with Comics. Whereas before they would bug me to go do something and I would say, "I need to draw" and they would say "but you're ALWAYS drawing!" I could now say, "I can hang out at 7pm on my dinner break" and we would go eat or see a movie and then I'd just have to be home by 10pm to get in my last two hours. Also the afternoon break was good for running errands (laundry, groceries, post office, etc.)

"THE SCHEDULE" in its original iteration has a 10:6 work-to-break ratio. That is A LOT of drawing. As I gained more commitments and started working again, etc. etc. 6 hours was often not enough time to do everything I needed to do (especially if I stuck to The Schedule on weekends). So I developed a few 8:8 work-to-break ratio schedules, because really, getting EIGHT HOURS of drawing in is still pretty good! These really provided a lot of flexibility for various situations (needing to sleep in, needing to get all the drawing done early on in the day, or all at night, etc). So I could just wake up and decide which schedule I was going to use. Here they are with the names I gave them and some of my notes:

SCHEDLUE #1 - "Book-End": Crams drawing into the MORNING and NIGHT, leaving a gigantic 7-hour chunk of time in the middle of the day.

8-noon DRAW
noon-7 BREAAAAAAAK (!!?!)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #2 - "Sleep-In": As the title suggests, gives you more time in the morning to sleep in. Good to use after a schedule that ends at midnight ("I'm going to bed late tonight, I'll implement a schedule tomorrow that lets me sleep in")

8-10 SLEEP
10-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-3 DRAW
3-7 BREAK (!!!)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #3 - "Night-Off": A rigourous morning schedule that allows the artist to completely stop working by 6pm.

8-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-3 DRAW
4-6 DRAW
6-mid FREEEEEEE!!!
SCHEDULE #4 - "MORNING-OFF": An expiremental schedule (a reversed "Night-Off") which might be useful for morning tasks, etc. Allows the artist freedom until 2pm but then occupies the rest of the day with a pretty heavy drawing schedule.

2-6 DRAW (is this actually possible?--WORST time of day!)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW
SCHEDULE #5 - "EVEN-STEVEN": A mathmatically-based schedule with two-hour shifts oscillating between drawing and breaks. Good for days around the house, running errands, doing laundry, working on other projects. Allows the artist to go to sleep early. (Can easily be switched to the "reverse Even Steven" by starting with sleeping in from 8-10 and oscillating in the opposite direction!)

8-10 DRAW
10-noon BRUNCH
noon-2 DRAW
4-6 DRAW
8-10 DRAW
10-mid sleep!
SCHEDULE #6 - "Business-Hours": Perhaps the most balanced schedule, allowing an extra hour of sleep in the morning and a good-sized 5-hour break in the afternoon to allow the artist to visit businesses during their 9-5 hours.

9-noon DRAW
noon-1 LUNCH
1-2 DRAW
2-7 BREAK (includes dinner)
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW

I also developed one 11:5 hour work-to-break ratio schedule for a particularly hard crunch I had before moving to New York to finish off PHASE 7 #005 and get it to the printer. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS SCHEDULE EXCEPT FOR EXTREME EMERGENCIES!!! I only maintained it for three days, and most of my breaks consisted of exhausted sleep or staring at the wall, trying not to CRY. But for all the masochists out there:

SCHEDULE #7- "Hardcore": The utterly ridiculous 11-hour work day. EXTREMELY RIGOUROUS.

8-11 DRAW
11-noon LUNCH
noon-2 DRAW
3-5 DRAW
7-9 DRAW
9-10 BREAK
10-mid DRAW

So that's that. I've only tested these theories on MYSELF (which worked great!) and with Aaron Renier (which ALSO worked great--probably DOUBLING his productivity through the last 50 pages of Spiral-Bound). The main thing to keep in mind is that when you are in a block of WORK time, you need to be sitting drawing, NO MATTER WHAT! If you get distracted by something, block it out and remind yourself "I can do that distracting thing ON MY NEXT BREAK which is __ minutes away!" AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT when you are on your break DO NOT work on your Comics! This is NOT "being productive" or "getting more done" all it will do is suck out your energy and BURN YOU OUT for the next block of work. If you REALLY take a break on your breaks, you will sit down refreshed and energized for your next block of drawing. Remember! Drawing Comics is not a sprint--it's a MARATHON!!!

Also, I should say, that for the last year I have been living in New York, working full time as an office temp. So I have not had much of a chance to draw 10 or even 8 hours a day. But the BEDROCK PRINCIPAL of "The Schedule" still holds fast! If you come home from work and you have 5 hours until you have to go to sleep then break it down! An hour to eat, two hours to draw, an hour off and then one more hour of drawing before you go to sleep. It helps SO MUCH!!!

One last thing I should mention is MATH. YOU CANNOT BEAT THE MATH. I really think it is CRUCIAL that you chart your progress, or at the LEAST, write down on a calander each day that you complete a page. It is the only way you will be able to tell how fast you are drawing and whether or not you are improving. The more you keep track of your page rate, the more accurately you will be able to determine the completion dates of your projects and your ability to meet deadlines! If you chart your progress for a few months and you are getting 2 pages done a week CONSISTANTLY, then you will be able to very accurately project when the story will be done (assuming you know the number of pages). The Schedule and Math go hand in hand!

There are other things, but I need to save them for another post. I gotta get to bed, I've got the day off tomorrow and I want to get my 8 hours of drawing in!!!


At 11:35 AM, Blogger Mikhaela said...

Alec, you are so awesome. Your dedication and mastery of time management is totally inspiring, and makes me ashamed of any claim I have to time management. Because my work cycle looks more like this:

7:30 p.m. Get home from work. Tell myself how exhausted I am, fantasize about taking a nap before drawing my cartoon.

8:00-9:00 p.m. Where has the last half hour gone? Maybe I should eat something. And maybe I should call my best friend and talk about my cartoon idea while standing at the kitchen counter eating a peanut butter sandwich and a Tofutti Cutie. Or maybe I'll just play with the cat.

9:00-10:00 p.m.Maybe I should turn on Fox News to make me angry and agitated and motivated. Oops, I can't stand that for more than five minutes, think I'll play with the cat and check my email.

10:00-11 p.m.Dammit, now it's too late to take a nap. Well, guess I better start getting any photo references I need to draw complicated poses or ugly politicians.

11 p.m.-midnightOh jeez, I'm really tired. But I should probably sketch the cartoon out before I go to sleep. OK, I've drawn a barely legible rough and scribbled down a few of the words. Time for bed!

7:00 a.m. Wake up, hit snooze for an hour.

8:00-9:00 a.m.Oh crap, I really have to get drawing! So I finish laying out my cartoon panels in InDesign and printing out any references, print out the panel layout and trace it on my light table, and pencil like mad.

9:00 a.m.-10 a.m. After the most ridiculously rushed inking job (thanks Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush pens!), scan, add lettering and grays in Photoshop (thanks Wacom tablet!), and email to my clients.

And then, off to work! Phew!

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Greg said...

Alec, that was fasinating! I'm totally impressed. I'll have to try some of these schedules soon. I can't wait to see the final comic/thesis, it'll make a nice compliment to Aaron's piece from "Vote Longstreth."

What's your 24 hour comic schedule like?

What's your "I'm a full time art student with homework" schedule?

My current drawing schedule is:

8-10: check email.
10-12: draw
12-11: slack off
11-12: cry that I never get any drawing done.

So you can see that I need to work a new one out. Reading your article is a big help. Thanks.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger Alec said...

I'm glad the schedules helped! Or at least got the thought process going.

You can see Mikhaela, how a simple shift of thought could really help. Instead of getting home and being on "pseudo-break" but feeling guilty that you're not working and then "pseudo-working" when you really need a break you could just come home and say, "The next hour is BREAK and I can eat and play with my cat and call my friend, etc. etc." and then take the next hour and say "I am now WORKING, looking up visual reference, researching the topic, drawing, etc." Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

My 24-hour schedule is that I get 1 hour per page, so I try to have each page done in 50 minutes so I can take a ten minute break to eat, go to the bathroom, stretch my back, close my eyes, shake out my hand, etc. If it takes you 60 minutes to do a page you don't get a break! And you have to get the next one done EVEN FASTER so that you CAN have a break. 24 hour comics are totally hard, but it does set a nice up-ward limitation to Comics output. I know that if I REALLY had to meet a deadline, I could draw for 24 hours straight!

My "full time art student" schedule has mostly consisted of NOT working on my comic (ACK!) or giving up sleep for drawing time. (IE "It's midnight and I need to get up at 7am for my classes, but giving up one hour of sleep and being tired tomorrow to pencil a panel or two of Basewood is TOTALLY worth it). Also I try to utilize the days when I only have one class (or none) so that the "WORK" blocks become school work and the "BREAK" blocks become Comics... but that can lead to a sore wrist... Basically I'm just not getting as much done (AT ALL) and trying to let that be okay, instead of driving myself nuts about it! There's not much I can do at this point!

At 9:04 PM, Blogger robyn said...

Alec, I'll donate my body to science! The next time I have a whole day free I'm trying your schedule. But I'm touring with True Porn 2 for the next two weekends! This business stuff is such a time killer.
It's really tough for me to have a consistent schedule with the school going. Seems like I'm working for CCS 24/7. I hope I can settle into a schedule soon.
GREG! Email me ok!

At 9:07 AM, Blogger CamChes said...

Your schedules astound me! Very inspiring... I work a full-time job, and my wife and I are expecting a baby next month, so my time-constarints for comics are going to be even more limiting (which is something I have been worried about). Your schedule analysis has given me some reassurance...
By the way, I think we're neighbors, from looking at your website.... I'm on 102 and B'way.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Alec said...

Yeah! I'm just up the street from you. It's good to know there are people making Comics in the direct vacinity. It's a small world after all... (or just a BIG CITY!)

Good luck with fitting Comics into your increasingly busy schedule. I just went back to school, so my Comics time has been cut down too. :( Keep fighting though! Even if it's only an hour a day--slow and steady wins the race!

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Marko said...

Hi! I'm not a comic artist, I'm a senior in el. engineering, mastering the fine art of procrastination of work on my diploma/class/______ (fill in the blank) project; by means of of course.

Still, programming fits a similar frame as comic writing/drawing does: sit at your desk; take your pen/pencil/writing tool; do sth with it; work at computer; stare blankly at the wall; eat something; curse yourself for slacking; eat something;... hmm... wonder what's on TV?... you know the procedure.

And now, I see the light: I'm trying your "Night-off" schedule tomorrow and I'll see if I have the discipline to stick with it. I sure have work to do for next 8 months. And it starts tomorrow.

Keep up your writing, your blog goes straight in my "check for new posts"... in that 3-4PM break ;)

Maybe I'll even start drawing :))

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Alec said...

I've TOTALLY read your comics! My good friends Frunch and Gwyn just started at Stanford (for their PHD studies) and they bought me the "PHD" collected volume last year right after they got settled. Good stuff! You should totally keep drawing.

Yeah, I think The Schedule can work for almost anything. As I said in the post, it was origianally intended for Scenic Carpentry, not Comics!

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Marko said...

Have I misunderstood what you just said or have you really assumed I draw PhD? :D Sadly, nowhere near, I just obsesively read them on the Internet :) Jorge Cham draws the PhD, but I have to agree, the comic is awesome! :))

Keep up the good work comic artists, the rest of the world will provide an audience :)

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Alec said...

Yeah, sorry I misunderstood. I thought you were saying you procrastinated from doing work on your PhD by DRAWING that comic (not just READING it!) I guess I shouldn't assume everyone posting on here is a cartoonist! Sorry about the mix up! But I'm glad that we agree the comic is good... I'll shut up now.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger nate beaty said...

As usual, I am also amazed by the venerable Longstreth's math-tested work schedule. Good lord, what a workhorse. I chime in with my own pitifully flimsy schedule, just for fun:

10am: wake up, spend a good hour cooking myself some ridiculous breakfast that should feed 3. Usually waffles. Mm, waffles.

11-1pm: mindlessly answer emails, roam the net and address the slew of little bugs in the slew of websites i singlehandedly administer.

1-3pm: cook & eat a similarly overcomplicated one-man meal.

3-5pm: attempt to work. think about drawing.

5-8pm: hang out with girlfriend. weird things like sheetrock or fix bicycle or gasp! draw a thing or two.

8-10pm: cook & eat, once more, a handcrafted masterpiece meant for 10, this time with my girl.

10-12pm: movies, sex, etc.

Where the hell do I fit the Longstreth schedule in there? How do I do it? Impossible! Hopeless!

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Alec said...

Forget Schedules Nate, we're on whole different WORLDS! I WISH I had to grapple with fitting things like "waffles" "girlfriend" and "sex" into my daily schedule...

I should note with all of this that "THE SCHEDULE" is mostly useful for when you have a WHOLE DAY (or SERIES of days) completely free. And it's pretty grueling and lonely. You get a lot of work done, but that's not ALWAYS what you should be doing. Friends are important too...

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Viagra said...

You have a very busy schedule!


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