The Mailbag: A Day in the Life of a Comic Book Artist. Schedules. Time Sheets. And Stuff.
Dear Ms Doran,
I have been getting a lot out of your books and blog, which I have found really helpful. There are a lot of posts missing, and I hope you put them back up or put them in a book. I liked your post about your schedule and how you use a time sheet, but that post is gone? Could you put it back up and show what your work day is like?
I’m so glad you wrote, because I haven’t used a schedule in months. I need to get back to it. Between travel and the holidays, I’ve gotten sloppy. There are days when I wonder “What happened to the time?” and “How could I have forgotten that thing I was supposed to do for the last six months? When I keep to a schedule, that almost never happens.
This time sheet from last February shows an average of 50+ hours per week, but I tend to work more than that. 60-70 hours is normal for me. 100 hours is my outside limit, but I don’t recommend it. Ever.
Administrative work like mail order, taxes, email, internet time, etc. can really eat into your creative space. It’s frustrating being in the studio, not making any progress on the art, and not really understanding why. Write it down.
Writing things down by hand makes some people remember better, and that’s why I use plain old pen and paper. I use a Planner Pad, which is a really great way to help you prioritize, especially when I’ve got a lot on my plate. But do whatever works for you.
I use my computer calendar for bills, check it every day, and set alarms for payments due. This makes me more aware of spending. Also, I quickly caught several attempts to hack my financial accounts over the last couple of years. (People like to believe artists just float around from inspiration to inspiration and don’t want to be reminded we have to be concerned with pesky things like deadlines or paying bills, do they?)
I use a calculator to estimate hours needed to complete major jobs, and put a schedule on the wall to mark off pages as I complete them. Tally the average number of hours per page and divide by days left. Expect to lose a half day to make corrections and/or to get the job in by the end of the work day of your client, especially if they are in another time zone. And expect to always be wrong about how long a page takes to do. One page takes 6 hours, the next 12, the next 16.
Here’s the pagination sheet for Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee. When a page is penciled, I strike the block with yellow, and when it’s finished it gets a big red mark. (I kept the pagination taped to the wall for months, and didn’t realize the markers bled through to the wall until the job was done. Now I have to repaint.)
Underestimating production time needed for cleanup, and uploading art to client’s websites can be a real problem. That can take an hour a page, at least. On a big job, it really sneaks up on you.
We all like to pretend we just get chosen by the muse and out comes glory, but planning is everything.
When I first posted my time sheet last year, a blogger snarked it looked like a train schedule. I guess if all I had to do was post links to other people’s blogs and add a couple of paragraphs of original content a week, I wouldn’t see the value in a time sheet, either. Basic things like time sheets are always new to somebody, and I am happy to share the info.
Also, I live in a very rural area, and every day is like The Lord of the Rings where despite the urgency of an impending orc invasion, people just sort of wander about for 27 chapters. Without the external stressors of city/office living, you lose drive. I need a schedule.
Fifty to eighty work hours a week seems like a lot of work (and it is,) but remember that while you will probably work more hours than most people with day jobs, the trade off is no commuter traffic, never having to dress for work, and if you turn off the internet, a pleasant limitation on unnecessary daily stress.
Have a nice cup of tea, put on some good music or a nice book from Audible.com, and go draw something.
That’s what my day is like.