What do you listen to while you create?

The life of the artist is, at times, a solitary one. Even in today’s digital age we spend an absurd amount of time hunched over a canvas, a pad, a computer, you name it. There’s an awkward silence that drives us to overthink things and kicks us out of what’s called the Flow State AKA the state of mind where you get stuff done.

So what can we do to counteract that? Well here are a few of my favourite options:

Podcasts & Audiobooks

A lot of creatives and teachers will tell you that if you’re going to listen to something, it should be wordless. That makes sense, you can’t have your focus being pulled in too many directions at once.

On the other hand there are those that argue that by allowing the linguistic elements of thought to wander, you’ll be better equipped for purely visual expression.

Now I’m not sure which side is correct, but my short attention span means I fall squarely in the latter camp.

Some favourites at the moment include the Russell Brand on Radio X Podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History (with a special shoutout to the BNI Success podcast if they ever release a second episode). I’ll flesh out the full list of recommendations for those who are interested.

My podcatcher of choice is Pocket Casts. It’s as comprehensive and user friendly as you could hope for.

As for Audiobooks The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman. It’s an engaging look at how we learn and how to optimise that process, narrated by the author himself.

Music

I’m a bit all over the place when it comes to music and I’ve largely favoured Audiobooks  for a while now but I still go back to some old favourite artists.

My playlists are often juggled between comedy and over the top rock, with some sprinkles of pop thrown in there too. I’m currently listening to The Lonely Island’s Popstar having only just seen the movie. Along with themes from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure parts 1-3, a bit of Fallout Boy and some occasional Lady Gaga.

Deezer is my streaming service of choice. Initially because I got a good deal on it with my phone contract but I’ve actually grown to prefer it to the other services I’ve used.

YouTube

YouTube might seem like an odd choice. You can’t watch videos while painting or designing, right? Well no, so I don’t.

For me YouTube essentially functions like a mini-podcast service. I’ll load my Watch Later up with a bunch of interesting videos from creators like exurb1a, CGP Grey, or Kurzgesagt and just let them run until I reach the end of the playlist or I finish work for the day.

So that’s what I listen to. I’d love to hear some of your recommendations down in the comments. Join me next week when I’ll be putting an end to the Wacom vs. Apple debate!

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My History as an Artist Part 2: Going Digital!

Welcome back to the epic journey of artistic evolution that is my life!

A parody of the famous image
The Ascent of Ben 2/3

I kid. But if you haven’t read part 1, click here to learn more about my early influences and how I’ve evolved over the years.

But now we’re finally venturing into the digital world…

Digimon Season One Logo
No, not that one.

The world of digital art!

Adobe Macromedia Animate Flash!

Once again Center Parcs changed the course of my artistic life. A few years after the discovery of Dragon Ball Z, my mum took me to a short workshop in which, along with probably ten other kids, learned how to animate. We made some stick-man animations that lasted about 5 seconds each but the fire was set.

When I got back I cracked open Movie Maker and Paint!

No, really. That’s how I thought it was done…I had no idea what I was doing.

Soon after I discovered Adobe Animate CC. Actually at the time it was called Macromedia Flash MX. It would go onto be called Macromedia Flash 8, then Adobe Flash CS3, CS4, CS5, CC and finally a total rebrand as Animate. (So yes. Feeling old over here).

But my aspirations went beyond what a mere keyboard and mouse could satisfy…

My First Drawing Tablet

I got my first drawing tablet around 2006. Back then Bamboo equivalent didn’t have pressure sensitivity so I opted for a step above. The Wacom Graphire!

An antiquated looking silver drawing tablet with a pen resting on top and a USB cable extending from the top-left corner.
Some aethetics don’t age well…*

It was amazing. But daaaamn, was it hard to use at first.

I still remember unpacking this tiny box, no bigger than an A4 piece of paper, and sitting in front of my ancient PC with its dial-up modem. That tablet blew my tiny mind. It led to the creation of my first webcomic and Flash animations (which I will absolutely not share here), as well as my DeviantART account, Elfwood, and plenty of terrible DBZ fanart.

That antiquated bit of tech was a universe in a box.

Intuos

A dark gray drawing tablet featuring buttons on the left and a pen poised to draw.
And some designs stay beautiful.

A few years later I upgraded to the Intuos range. The Large version to be specific, and my horizons expanded even more. As my skills increased I made use of the hardware more and more. In fact, I used the beauty so much that the USB port on the tablet wore out. At the time, it was cheaper to replace it than get it fixed, so I bade it a solemn goodbye before replacing it with the newer equivalent (a wireless version that wouldn’t have the same problem).

These days I’m using a Cintiq Companion 2 but hoping to upgrade to a Huion GT-220 v2 with some kind of otherwordly super PC. Hoping being the operative word.

Check out the Resources page for my current setup and what I’d recommend if you’re starting out or going digital.

A Break from Art

I studied English Language & Literature at university. Weird choice, right? Well, yes and no. I studied English because I felt that studying art was damaging to my love of it. Maybe that was a mistake, maybe not, I’ll never really know.

There was a long quiet period in my artistic journey.

Until…

Next Time!

Come back for My History as an Artist Part 3 when we’ll be discovering when and how I decided to go pro!

*Linked for entertainment purposes only. Please don’t buy one of these unless you live in 2005…

My History as an Artist Part 1: My First Inspiration

Drawing is my life.

A parody of the famous image "The Ascent of Man" in which four caricatures become increasingly sophisticated from the left of the page to the right.
The Ascent of Ben 1/3

There’s no way around it. But that’s been true in different ways throughout my life. Now it’s how I make my living, but once upon a time, it was all-consuming.

Yes, that sounds dramatic but indulge me. Because it all started with a little boy with a monkey tail…

My First Influence

I’d always drawn characters like The Hulk and various Pokémon and Digimon, but everything changed when the fire nation attacked when I was around 6 years old. That was when I discovered a man who would become my greatest artistic influence for the decade to come…

Smiling photo of Japanese manga author, Akira Toriyama. Creator of Dragon Ball.
Akira Toriyama, author of Dragon Ball.

A Pivotal Moment

Back then not many people had cable. It was channels 1-5 and that was it (god, I’m old). So, it was only when my mum took me to a holiday resort called Center Parcs that I discovered something that would change my life.

I can picture the scene perfectly, even now. My mum and I were sitting in the front room of a chalet. The décor reminded me of somewhere a woodcutter might live, high up in the mountains of Norway or Canada. My mum got up, picked up her bag and we were about to go for a swim when I flicked the channel over to Cartoon Network.

What I saw was beyond bizarre. A muscular man with messy black hair was holding his hands to the sky while an androgynous lizard dude punched him…

I was instantly captivated.

Goku vs Frieza
An older (but less mature) me might read something into this scene.

The Fallout

Eventually I would learn that this was Dragon Ball Z. The messy haired man was Son Goku. And the lizard dude was Frieza.

It would be another 2/3 years before I even saw another episode of Dragon Ball Z. Back then we didn’t have streaming (god, I’m so old), or if we did it was probably only available at NASA. Even so I spent hours on Google Images seeking out these crazy characters and copying them like a medieval monk copying holy writings.

Crudely drawn Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z
It uh, it wasn’t great. But it was the start of something.

At the time my art teachers begged me to stop drawing these muscular men with square eyes but I refused.

If I’d listened there’s a good chance I’d be well beyond my current ability. But who cares?

I did things how I wanted to do them and progressed naturally.  It worked for me. In fact…

How it Shaped my Path

Toriyama’s unique drawing style was the basis of my understanding of human anatomy. And a bit of body dysmorphia. But hey, no show is perfect.

Legendary Super Saiyan Kale from Dragon Ball Super. An extremely muscular women with no pupils and excessively spiky green hair.
Maybe ten thousand push-ups between each paragraph will get me halfway to that physique…

A few years later we would return to Center Parcs and I would attend an animation workshop (yes, at about 8 years old) that would change my life yet again…

Next Time…

Come back next Saturday when I’ll be delving into digital!