Workflow Sins

Nice People Eat Vegetables WIP

Nice People Eat Vegetables – collaboration with artist friend Danny Ivan, work in progress

Do you ever feel you’re your own worst enemy?

I do. Particularly when I commit workflow sins that cost me hours of extra effort later in the process.

Here is my list of favorite sins – being more aware of them makes it easier to stop myself from doing these things over and over. Sometimes at least.

Sin no. 1 – Getting paralyzed by a blank page. Once a big project is over and I’m starting something new, facing that blank canvass can often stop me in my tracks for days. This is why I always try to make projects overlap, so there’s always something cooking on the back burner – even if it’s only at rough sketch stage. Anything to avoid that horrifying checkered white and gray PS background.

Sin no. 2 – Jumping around from task to task. Instead of completing my work in phases – first rough shapes/ outlines, then base colors, then shade and highlight, then final polish – I’ll work on one segment and bring it to completion before I start on another. This gives me the satisfaction of seeing in small part what the finished piece will look like, but it means I’m wasting a lot of time juggling layers, selections and tools, when I could be using one at a time.

I’ve also discovered that when you stick with a single task for longer, your hand gets into it and you become visibly better. Also you start to spot patterns in your process and work out simplified techniques cutting out unnecessary steps. This happens less often if your brain is flitting from one task to the next and back like an overly enthusiastic squirrel.

Sin no. 3 – Working on colors/ highlights/ shading before I’ve worked out the final layout of the piece. It means that for every adjustment I make later on, I’ll have to work on not one, but a bunch of different layers. I often jump to coloring too soon because for me that’s the fun part – but it makes later changes take way more time than necessary.

Sin no. 4 – Developing different colorways before finishing the design. This sounds like no. 3 above, but it’s actually far worse – instead of stopping at just working out the colors I want to use for the piece, I sometimes go ahead and make a bunch of different colorways and save them in different files. Which will all be useless eventually when I finish the original file, since the artwork in them is still incomplete.

Sin no. 5 – Taking shortcuts. My pieces are pretty complex, so I’ll spend up to a week working on a single one. This means that by day 3 I’m kinda sick of it, and by day 5 I’m starting to do things the easy way – merging a bunch of layers in order to move them more easily, sticking on additional details on a layer they don’t belong on because it happened to be underhand, etc. But if I leave all of these bandaid solutions in the final file, it means I’ll have to work all of them out at some point down the line when someone wants to buy the damn thing.

Sin no. 6 – Not knowing when to quit. Towards the end of a project, I’ve stared at it in more detail than anyone else likely ever will. At that stage I often find myself zooming in painfully close and working to correct tiny irregularities that nobody else would ever spot. It takes some conscious effort to step back and say ‘Ok, objectively, is anyone going to notice the changes you’re making right now?’ if the answer is yes, I’m all fro working at it until it’s as perfect as you can make it. If it’s no, save yourself a few hours and call it what it is – done.

Sin no. 7 – Not labeling files consistently. I often fall into the ‘Zeno’s Final Versions’ trap, with files named along the lines of ‘Art thing Final‘, ‘Art thing More Final‘, ‘Art thing Final With Adjustments‘, ‘Art thing Final Final with Cherry on Top‘ and so on. This is not unforgivable in the heat of the creative moment, but once the real final version exists, it’s far wiser to cull all the false finals and make sure that, two years down the line when someone wants to buy that artwork, you’re not scrambling around to find the actual file you need.

Another good practice to prevent the Final Versions Trap is to label each next file with a consecutive number, and rename the last one to Final only when you’re ready to fully commit it to that category.

Recognize yourself in any of these, or am I the only one? 🙂 Have you got any of your own? Any clever workarounds you’ve worked out for them? 


4 thoughts on “Workflow Sins

  1. I always name files sequentially, but I have so little faith in the number of revisions I will need that I start my numbering 001 (to allow for 999 versions!)

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