Year Eleven

A stream of consciousness blog about drawing daily for ten years.

The moment that it started is still stuck in my mind. Driving home from an evening work shift, I was approaching the long bridge to the other side of the bay. Most evenings, at the time, my only thoughts when arriving at home were to make something to eat, collapse onto my futon, and play some video games and try to get enough sleep to make it to the next day. That’s when a thought popped into my head. Why not draw things daily?

The very first “Thing a Day” upload. A simple sketch that I described as “a character of a friend.”

I’ve always enjoyed the act of drawing. My parents still have a giant Sonic the Hedgehog I drew on dot-matrix printer paper using magic markers, and there’s surely boxes full of 8.5×11 sheets of paper with various pencil doodles in their garage. I was one of a few students who managed to get into my school’s art classes in high school, and all I wanted to do was draw characters and other designs (while often losing interest in things like pottery or painting). Hell, I even wanted to start a webcomic before I had even graduated.

But in early 2011, I’d get home, look over at the little outdated Wacom pen tablet that I had for years, consider opening a blank page, and then ultimately ignore it to while away my few evening hours on video games or old Simpsons episodes that I’d seen dozens of times since moving out years before.

That day, I told myself, things were going to be different. I was going to go home, I was going to turn on my PC, plug in that tablet, and start up my copy of Manga Studio 4 EX and just draw something. I told myself this was the day that things were going to change, and that I’d need to devote at least 15 minutes of my time each day to keep those creative juices flowing. If that much was possible, then it could become a habit, and if it could become a habit, then I was well on my way to being the greatest artist the world had ever seen.

That last part may be embellished slightly.

At the time, I called the project “Thing A Day” as a nod to Jonathan Coulton’s series of songs, Thing A Week, 52 songs that were written and recorded in one year. I also made the decision that the best way to keep myself on task was to upload what I was working on to DeviantArt (which I was active on at the time) as a form of accountability. If I didn’t draw, the followers I had, however small, would know about it. A form of self-shame to keep myself on task.

And here we are, ten years later. Today is day 3,653. With the exception of a day here and there due to illness, exhaustion, or other factors (and sometimes drawing in spite of those things) working on illustrations and drawings has been part of my daily routine. The “official” anniversary was on January 3rd, since that’s when the project began back in 2011.

Circa 2015 was when my art and coloring style started to develop a more distinct visual identity.

A lot can happen in ten years, too. In that time I left my job of nearly six years because it felt (and was) dead-end. I was unemployed for a while, hoping that my art would carry me through (it didn’t). Some of my friends had kids. I found new and significantly better employment that I’ve been at for over six years. I’ve been promoted twice in that time. We all watched President Obama begin and end his second term, and then watched, in shock and horror, as a con-man and reality TV star was elected the President of the United States of America.

Some of my other friends had kids. There were massive protests calling for real, meaningful change after so many Black men were murdered by police. I moved in to a new apartment. It was long overdue to move out of my relatively small place that I had called home up until that point, which was slowly falling apart while management constantly increased the rent under an ownership change. They hadn’t even bothered to update the date on the form letter – which still had the date as 2016 – complaining how hard and costly it was for them to keep the place maintained. (After I moved out, I learned the building was originally dormitories for nurses that worked at the local hospital, converted into an apartment building.)

2020 happened. Some of the above stuff happened during 2020. It’s hard to remember sometimes. The President of the United States of America was impeached, but not removed from office. COVID-19 swept through the United States. I began working from home. My friends’ kids had birthdays. I couldn’t see anyone in person. When the lockdown was relaxed, The local independent single-screen movie theater opened back up for two days with a 25% capacity and strict social distancing rules, so I saw Back to the Future in a spread-out audience of maybe ten people before the theater closed once again two or three days later because the lockdown was reinstated. A full year felt like one endless month of March that stretched on for years, yet somehow was compressed into one week. 2021 happened. The President incited an insurrection on Twitter. A single week felt like it stretched out for a year. A lot more has happened in that time, but you get the idea.

An illustration of Nova in late January, 2011.

Through everything, I’ve found time to draw and create. When family members were sick and in the hospital, it gave me a place to distract myself. When I was sick and could barely think, it gave me a distraction and task to keep my mind on. When money was running out, it gave me a focus for the future. When one of my closest friends approached me about joining a table-top game with other close friends involved, it gave me a reason to make a new character design that I will always cherish and friendships that will last a lifetime.

More than anything, it gave me a reason to focus on something that I enjoyed doing, even if I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to do with it yet. It gave me a path to self-improvement that I didn’t know I needed at the time, and became a transformative moment in my life. Without the Thing A Day project, I wouldn’t see the sort of improvement I’ve made over the last ten years. It’s very likely that I never would have achieved my goal of starting and maintaining a comic like Terraform, much less in the form that it’s in now.

And without those first steps, I may never have the drive or inspiration to do what I do now; take bits and pieces of spare time to work on drawings, illustrations, comics, prints, stickers, and more in an effort to improve what I like to do and spread a little cheer. And, sometimes, if there’s time, I’ll play a video game.

An illustration of Nova in early December, 2020.

The daily uploads portion of the Thing A Day project ended a few years back. It was, in part, because I had succeeded in my goal of a daily drawing habit, but it was also to reduce some of the stress that came with requiring myself to have a meaningful thing to show each time. The daily drawings continue, though with a little less personal pressure, now. It’s probably a bit overkill to say that the project gave me a purpose, but that does often feel like the case when I look back on how things started. It set me on a path of self-improvement that has had a profound effect on my life, one that I can be a bit obnoxious about telling other people to try when I hear things like “I could never draw like you do” or “I could never do something like that.” But I’ll insist on it anyways, because very few people are prodigies. It’s easy to focus on the big flashy narrative and ignore how people get to that point. We often get lost in who’s the best and who’s getting the most attention, but we can all improve ourselves in small ways.

Personally, I think it’s irresponsible to say that anyone can do anything they put their mind to. That’s simply not true, and it ignores that everyone has their limits. You can’t eat the sun. We all live different lives, and some of us are more fortunate than others. But, oftentimes, you can do a lot more than you think you can.

We all have to develop our skills for them to truly shine. I’m no exception there, and chances are you aren’t either – and that’s okay. If there’s one thing that the past ten years have taught me, it’s that it’s never too late to begin on a new journey with the tools you have at your disposal at the time.

You never know where you’ll end up 3,653 days later.