My podcast guest today is Michi Mathias. Originally from the States, Michi has lived in the UK for well over 30 years. Her background is quite mixed and includes jewellery making, building work, music making and teaching as well as working for an environmental group. However, primarily Michi is an illustrator and comic book artist, who has a number of creative projects underway. In this episode, she also shares her struggle keeping track of ideas and how she manages to overcome perfectionism.
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Michi rediscovered her passion for drawing
• What creative projects Michi has on the go at the moment
• Michi’s tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
• Suggested creative tools and resources
• A note about perfectionism
As a kid and up until her 20s, Michi was constantly drawing. She aimed for a really tight realism style, and could never quite reach a point she was happy with. In her 20s she got bored of her own style and stopped drawing for decades. One day she got an email about John William’s 30 Day Challenge and says ‘something made me sign up for it’.’ In that challenge, she decided to write an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure book for small kids about being self-employed. She didn’t get close to finishing it in that 30 Day Challenge, but the good news is that it did eventually get completed last year.
Current Creative Projects
After that first 30 Day Challenge, Michi did another one with graphic recipes of simple, family home-cooking for her son to take to university. It turned out to be unexpectedly popular and people wanted to buy that, so it’s one project that continues to this day. She’s now doing a second collection, which she started drafting as a part of Ink-tober in October. The first collection was all vegetarian recipes, so this next collection is a vegan collection as it seems like the next logical step for Michi.
Another current obsession and passion for Michi is to create a graphic novel. Her working title is Ireland on Two Shillings a Day and it’s about a true story set in 1897 of the beginning of cycle camping/bicycle touring. It’s based on a book by the pioneer in camping and cycling, using his own writing but illustrating it with Michi’s art. She’s also trying to get into animation for a music video for a friend’s song. This is an area completely new to Michi but she’s figuring it out as she goes along. She can’t draw her usual style on the computer so it’s a process of doing it on paper as normal and then scanning the pages.
Last month Michi finished a picture book for a Ministry of Stories’ charity in London, which helps kids express themselves. Their Saturday Morning Club with 17 kids was given a task of writing stories for younger kids, and then the Ministry of Stories got 17 illustrators for each of those stories. Now it’s being published by Penguin Random House in a small run for local libraries and schools.
Michi’s tips for inspiration and idea management
Michi gets her ideas from real life. It could be hearing bits of conversation, seeing something really annoying, or doing a really dumb thing. She says things just occur to her and she jots them down in a notebook and then forgets them. She feels she needs to sort out her own system of holding onto ideas and keeping track of ideas. She has tried online systems but prefers notebooks. Michi designed her own diary, which is blank on one side and has the days of the week on the other side, so she can use the blank page for various types of sketching and note-taking. Each big project does also have a dedicated notebook.
Michi feels she does sort of have the problem of too many ideas. She realizes it’s good to focus on one to make good progress on it, so she tries to stick to as few as possible running in the background. The graphic novel is one of these ongoing, long-term background projects. Accountability groups really help Michi stay on track, and she has both an offline monthly meeting and an online weekly meeting. She says it’s not the whole answer because she still manages to not do what she says she is going to do but the deadline, whether self-imposed or not, is really what she needs to be productive and stick to a timeline.
Suggested creative tools
In terms of physical tools, Michi favours her fountain pen, and has also used dip pens but likes a nice dark ink black line. Before the pen stage, she will draft in pencil. She has tried various kinds of mechanical pencil, but the only one she really likes is one made of wood by the Japanese shop, Muji, which feels like a real pencil. She has also tried various kinds of ink and finally found one that is fast-drying, doesn’t clog and reasonably waterproof called Documentis. Michi also uses watercolours, and likes a standard kind of A5 notebook, too. Her light table is also something she finds very useful, especially when doing second drafts.
Michi loves to listen to podcasts while drawing and some of her favourites are Make It Then Tell Everybody with Dan Berry, Own It with Judith Morgan and Nicola Cairncross, The Pen Addict and of course, Radio 4.
Books and courses Michi likes
As for books, people or courses, The 30 Day Challenge is the main one that has influenced Michi because it’s what got her back into drawing after decades. She has also enjoyed The Creative Focus Workshop by Jessica Abel and is looking forward to her upcoming book called Growing Gills.
A note about perfectionism
Michi used to really suffer from perfectionism, but has sort of gotten over that by allowing things to be a bit wonkier than they used to be. Sometimes she will have trouble with the finishing stages for somebody else and has to fight the tendency to over draw in order to keep the looseness. There’s always a fear when you have to show it to somebody else, but she reminds herself that they liked the draft so why worry about whether they will like the final copy?
Connect with Michi
Using the image strip technique, here is another character image I created based on the punchbag in the corner of my office (don’t mess with me 😉 )
This was another one of my experiments while I was on holiday last week to create ideas for characters. I really enjoyed the experiments, they were very unlike how I would normally work. In general, I have a character concept to start with and work from there. These experiments let the visual content become the starting point. However, you could still start with a concept and use this method for inspiration for shapes and colour as well.
Tear up old magazines
I tore up bits from my boyfriend’s old magazines, which I thought could be made into characters. This included pictures of things such as a game remote, gold clubs and a trophy. Around them, I added strips of colour from the magazine. Then I took a photo.
Use the image as character idea inspiration
Then I pulled the image into Procreate on the iPad, reduced the opacity and started working over the top. Using the shapes and colours from the magazine montage as a starting point I created little characters.
Something to explore more
This is something that I would like to explore more and spend a bit of time on. The same method could also be used to inspire other things such as product ideas or pattern and textile design.
Following on from my Idea Generation Experiment 2 I’ve been experimenting with creating more characters using image strips as inspiration. While I was on holiday we had a few rainy days so I took photos of a few things around the house to use as my starting point.
The random objects
I used photos of a Woodburner, vacuum cleaner, and some items on the coffee table; an iPhone, a box of tissues, remote control, and a USB charger.
Using an image strip for character inspiration
I then took a strip of each image and reduced the opacity on Procreate on my iPad. By turning the images in different directions I found elements that I could use as starting points for character doodles.
Putting the character doodles together
I then retraced the doodles and arranged them to fit in one image and coloured them up.
The bird poo pony snorted,
at least it did in my head.
I snorted back with regret,
that I had no camera to capture its form,
then I could tame him,
draw reigns on his digital image
Seeing the bird poo pony
OMG, I have just gone all poetic about a bird poo splat I saw walking my dog. But, there it was clear as day, a 10cm bird poo splat in the shape of a pony on the tarmac path. If I hadn’t had my crappy £5 dog walking phone (no camera) on me I would have snapped a photo. I would have then felt compelled to digitally draw on it to fully complete the bird poo pony.
The bird poo pony is your (probably) bad idea
We all know we have a mix of ideas, both good and bad. The problem is that it’s so hard working out which is which. Even as I am writing this post I think of that bird poo pony, my bad idea, and imagine what it could have been. It could have been a whole series of bird poo images. It’s not quite a fluffy cloud lamb though is it, but then again the fact that it is weird and stomach churning makes it noticeable. Noticeable could mean shareable, even virability. It’s like the ridiculousness of how some modern art, unmade bed, formaldehyde cow etc becomes famous for their weirdness.
Think about other ideas that seemed bad too. Did you know that the invention of parrot nappies made millions? The first fart noise app on the iPhone made a million dollars too so there’s no accounting for taste or the lack of it.
So how do you know if your idea is bad?
I don’t think you ever really do. Well not at first anyway. Massive products like the iPhone were once thought to be a fad that would never catch on. So there is no easy way to judge our more humble ideas.
How do you decide which idea to pursue
This is something you have to decide upon by weighing up three things:
- your conviction in your idea
- the cost to pursue your idea
- the time needed to develop your idea
So in the case of the bird poo pony, I could have tried the idea out for nothing in just a few hours. The thing that was missing for me was the conviction in my idea.
What’s your bird poo pony?
Today’s show features Stephanie Bisby, a writer who writes under her maiden name Stephanie Cage. Currently based in Yorkshire but from the south of England originally, Stephanie writes mainly romantic fiction. Having worked a lot in marketing, business, and communications, this tends to creep into her writing too. Her most recent book The Crash is an experiment in blogging a book releasing a chapter at a time on her website.
What you will learn in this episode:
- What creative projects Stephanie is currently working on
- A word on traditional and self-publishing
- Stephanie’s tips for finding inspiration and managing ideas
- Why too many ideas are not the problem you think they are
- Stephanie’s Favourite Creative Tools
Current creative projects
Stephanie’s current novel is called The Crash and it’s about a businessman who runs a car parts firm. It’s a little inspired by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in that it’s about a person who completely changes their outlook. It also combines Stephanie’s two fascinations, business, and fiction, because although it’s a novel, it teaches some of the lessons she feels are important to learn in business. It’s not a romance but rather a didactic novel that aims to teach about people and principles, similar to Eli Goldratt’s The Goal.
This project is interesting because Stephanie is blogging it one chapter at a time. The book is complete in draft form already, and putting in on her website means she can polish one chapter at a time and receive feedback from the public. It was a kind of personal challenge to do it this way. At the end, she hopes to self-publish through Amazon CreateSpace, hopefully in July or August this year.
A word on Traditional vs. Self-Publishing
Stephanie has done both traditional and is currently in the process of self-publishing. Her romance novels are published by Crimson Romance, which has now been bought by Simon and Schuster. She hasn’t gotten too far down the self-publishing route yet so it’s difficult to compare them. One reason she’s leaning towards self-publishing currently is because of the amount of work the author still has to do in traditional publishing. Unless you are a big name like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King or somebody coming into publishing with a following from another field, you have to do so much work yourself in terms of marketing and promotion, that in a sense a lot of the hard work is still yours whether you’re traditionally publishing or not. Stephanie decided that because of this, and for the sake of having control as well, it might be worth taking on some of the rest of the work.
She finds marketing other people’s things very easy but doesn’t find marketing her own work easy at all. That’s scary, British people don’t blow their own trumpets! Stephanie feels too close to it and so involved that it’s difficult not to give too much detail, which isn’t necessarily what you want when you’re pitching a book.
Tips for inspiration and ideas management
Some of Stephanie’s ideas come from her work, but her other passion is dancing. Her biggest romance novel is called Perfect Partners and was sort of inspired by Strictly Come Dancing. Crimson Romance take individual books and create box sets of a collection of books with a common thread, for example, stage romances, or second chance love stories.
Stephanie’s general experience of ideas is they tend to happen when something meets something else. She loves looking at the different ways people approach stories. She says she will have all kinds of ideas all the time, for example, she might see somebody interesting on a bus and go off on a flight of fancy, but it’s not an idea yet. When it becomes an idea is when it bumps up against something else.
Stephanie says she has ‘an awful lot of notebooks.’ She has one she carries with her, one in the bedroom, several around the house as well as using both her computer and mobile phone to keep track of notes. She likes going over the notebooks because each notebook will be a series of notes from different times and that’s when the things bump up against each other and become ideas. She will often have half an idea floating around already, and then something else will come up and bump against it, and then it flows and comes out very quickly. This is how Stephanie wrote The Stone Child, a short story for a 24-hour story competition.
Why too many ideas are not a problem
Stephanie doesn’t think too many ideas are really a problem. It’s the nature of creative people to have too many ideas and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with developing two in tandem or 4 or 5 of them as long as they’re progressing and as long as some of them at some point reach a conclusion. There are times when she is writing one story and interrupts herself part way to go write something completely different. Then, when eventually she comes back to the first story, she is much fresher and feels her writing is better off for having the time away.
Barbara Sher’s book What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything? has been enormously influential for Stephanie, both in allowing her to work with many ideas and in using the school day model for working out her time. She finds she focuses in very short bursts and gets really bored if she has to do one thing for very long. What works for her is to have a period of time when she will focus very intensely on one project, but then later in the day might choose to focus on something completely different.
When managing multiple projects, Stephanie can’t be at the same stage with several projects at once. Therefore she will tend to have one project in the first draft phase, one project in the 2nd draft phase, one in the final edit and one that she’s marketing and promoting. She doesn’t always schedule her time but does find, unsurprisingly, that it’s the time when she does schedule that she gets more done. Working full time at the moment she is trying to schedule writing on weekends and bank holidays, but otherwise, it’s just a case of fitting it in where possible.
Stephanie’s Favourite Creative Tools
Stephanie is a huge fan of pretty notebooks and her small ASUS T100 computer. She tends to write factual rough drafts on paper, and fiction rough drafts on the computer. She used to use Microsoft Word for this but she’s now experimenting with Scrivener.
She enjoys The Creative Penn Podcast with Joanna Penn
Books she recommends include Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Artists Way at Work, Writing with Power by Peter Elbow, and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
Connect with Stephanie
This is the second idea generation experiment using 5 random products bought for £5 from Poundland.
Idea generation inspiration
You know when you see something on social media and you think – now that’s a cool idea? That’s what I thought when I saw an image created by Joanna Blaylock @joglassjo on Instagram. She’d taken a strip of image from her business card and used it as the starting point for an abstract painting.
I wondered if I could use a similar technique to create character designs from my random items. So I stole the inspiration and started by taking some quick photos.
Step 1 photos of the random items
Step 2 draw on a strip of the image
Then using a strip of a couple of the images, they became the starting point for little doodle characters. I used an iPad pro and scribbled on them using the Apple pencil.
Putting the doodle ideas together
I then traced over the characters, removed the starting images and coloured it up in the ideamedic colours.
It was a fun experiment to try and I’ll probably do it again.
What don’t you give it a go or steal it and adapt it to be something new.
Check out a series of videos created by Canon all about creativity. This one features 3 photographers who are blindfolded while they eat food prepared by a chef. They can use their other senses to touch, smell and taste the food, but are not allowed to look at it. They are then asked to interpret what they experienced through photography.
Another video shows photographers who are given the brief of shooting an empty studio
You can find the other videos at The Lab, Canon
Stephen Key and Andrew Krauss from Inventright.have some of the best information I’ve seen on getting your product ideas licensed. I followed their methods to license a simple candy idea. Unfortunately, my product idea only made it to sample stage, as the product couldn’t be made cheaply enough. What I like about Stephen and Andrew’s approach is that they don’t talk about spending loads of money on patents. Instead, they give you a step by step process from initial idea to presenting to potential companies without spending a fortune.
One Simple Idea Books
Stephen has several great books as well as an Inventright Course. The two books I really like are both called One Simple Idea. The yellow version of the book is for anyone wanting to license their product idea for a royalty. The benefit of licensing is that you don’t pay for manufacturing, instead, you receive a small commission on each product that sells. The red book version of One Simple Idea is ideal if you are looking to manufacture your product idea yourself.
Inventright also has a series of free videos available with advice on getting your product idea to market.
If you are looking to are looking to license your ideas, check out what they have to say.
Protecting Your Idea as Easy as 1-2-3
What is Licensing?
Inventor friendly industries for Licensing Product Ideas
Ideo have a free pdf book you can download which teaches the method they use for designing products and services. I’ve just downloaded it to see if I can adapt any of the methods to use myself.
“The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design reveals our process with the key mindsets that underpin how and why we think about design for the social sector, 57 clear-to-use design methods for new and experienced practitioners, and from-the-field case studies of human-centered design in action. The Field Guide has everything you need to understand the people you’re designing for, to have more effective brainstorms, to prototype your ideas, and to ultimately arrive at more creative solutions.”