On Getting Out Of Your Own Way

The attached photo is of artwork for THE FIRST DRAGON, the seventh and final volume of my biggest creative project to date, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica. The writing had been finished — save for a few last editing passes — before the beginning of the year. Thumbnail sketches had been done, and had been enlarged and transferred to the full-sized art boards. I had budgeted sixty days to finish the edits and art, during which I was also going to be working on other projects.

It ended up taking five months longer than that, with delays brought about by a number of factors. Some were my fault (and responsibility), some weren’t, and other things — like a few weeks lost to illness — were simply obstacles that had to be coped with.

All of that made finishing that book very, very difficult to do. I seemed to be constantly working without making noticeable progress, and was frequently revising my work schedule to buy as much room to finish the art as possible — but it seemed there was always something else that needed urgently to be done, and every time I stepped away from the drawing board the harder it became to clear my mechanism to work with clear eyes and a full heart on finishing this book.

I gradually realized, in discussion with people around me, that the biggest obstacle to making any progress on everything else I wanted to do was that I had the unfinished art for this book hanging over me like a twenty-four-page Sword of Damocles. And even though my brilliant Art Director Laurent was being as helpful and encouraging as possible, I still felt almost completely blocked in my efforts to finish it so I could then move on to other projects. I also felt that I was failing in my efforts to be a reliable creator in terms of my publishers trusting I could do what I said I could do.

Somehow, I needed to do to clear my mechanism.

I could not do this work because I was fighting myself — a very formidable opponent — and so I was agonizing over every aspect of the designs, and rendering, and linework, and had built up blocks in my head that told me I could not POSSIBLY create drawings that were as good as those in the previous books. Not without a great deal of agonizing, which I was learning to excel at, so every step was killing me. And with every day that passed, the deadline got moved farther out.

What I needed to do was heed my own teaching, to reassert who we all know I am, and to get out of my own way and do the things I KNEW I was capable of doing, but which quiet admonishment and encouragement I had allowed to be drowned out by the more persistent voices of a Doubting World.

Usually, the full-sized art for one of my novels takes anywhere from one to three days per illustration to complete. At my best, on the fifth novel, I did it all in 32 days, including the cover. With the delays and my own blocks, it had taken me more than five months to finish ten pieces for THE FIRST DRAGON. Three days had been my best speed on any of them — but I had also done commissioned pieces in less time, so it was, to me, something I could push through, and somehow decide to do.

My completing the art for THE FIRST DRAGON would be my way of demonstrating to all of you that once my focus was clear, I would be able to do everything I said each of us is capable of doing if we choose to do the work, believe in ourselves, and then back it up with effort.

And I finished fourteen pieces of art, with NO discernible drop in quality, in just over seven days.

It is possible for anyone to be seized by doubt and fear — even bestselling authors and seasoned illustrators with years of experience and many projects under their belt. It’s also possible to overcome that doubt and fear and do something EXTRAORDINARY. Just sit down, start making lines, then KEEP making them. The rest will sort itself out.

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About caveo

James has written and illustrated six books in the bestselling series The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: Here, There Be Dragons; The Search For The Red Dragon; The Indigo King; The Shadow Dragons; The Dragon’s Apprentice; and The Dragons of Winter. The series is now being published in more than twenty languages. A seventh volume, The First Dragon, will conclude the series in November 2013.

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