Showing posts with label project management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label project management. Show all posts

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Project Management by James Burks



All of us here on the blog are big fans of illustrator/marathon runner extraordinaire, James Burks. When I saw him posting his progress screenshots, I had to ask him how he manages to keep track of and get through all of his projects. He was gracious enough to give me some thoughtful answers. He's a real class act!


We’re all impressed and frightened by your workload. Do you have a daily schedule that you stick to? What we really want to know is how you’re managing so much work and still managing to train for and run marathons?

I do have a daily schedule. It’s somewhat flexible since I’m working from home and have two kids who are in elementary school. My day usually starts at 7am. I get up and wrangle my kids into getting ready for school. I drop them off at 8:00am. Then I go out and run between 4 and 10 miles. Come home, eat some oatmeal, drink some coffee, and shower. Then around 10:00 or 10:30am I make the 12 stair commute to my upstairs office and sit down to work. I work until 12:30pm then stop for lunch. Lunch usually involves eating some kind of Mexican food since that’s my food of choice. I eat it so much that they know my order at my local Baja Fresh. I’m usually back to work between 1 and 1:30pm. Then I work until 3:00pm when I have to pick my kids up from school. Afterwards we return home and I try to work in-between helping them with school work, breaking up squabbles, having or taking them to playdates. Then it’s dinnertime around 7:30pm when my wife gets home from work. After a little family time it’s back to work around 9:00pm. How late I work usually depends on how tired I am and/or how much work I still have to do to meet my current deadlines. There may be somedays where I won’t work at all or I may spend hours playing Minecraft with son instead. 

As far as the marathons go I just made running and staying healthy a priority. I always make time for workouts even if I have lots of work to do. It’s just as important to me as eating, sleeping and family. It helps me manage stress. It allows me to get away from my desk and process any notes or problems I may be having with a story or with the art. Running has changed my life. I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been and in turn more creative. 

Current Book Schedule

What tools/programs are you using to keep track of your schedule and due dates?

To keep track of the different book projects I’m working on I created a color coded bar graph using the Apple program Numbers. That way I can see how my various projects overlap and there due dates. 

View of files in Adobe Bridge

For the work itself I work in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Bridge. I use Adobe Bridge to organize and keep track of the various pages for each project. This is something that I picked up while working in animation. Bridge makes it easy to scroll through the pages and to see how the book is turning out. To open a page I just hit enter and it automatically opens in Photoshop. While working in PS I’m constantly saving and it automatically updates the file in Bridge on my second monitor. This allows me to look at the same file from two slightly different view points. I find this helpful for spotting wonky drawings, things that I forgot to draw, or things that just aren’t working right. It’s my equivalent of standing back and looking at my work from a distance. When I’m done with a page I’ll hit [Command 6] in Bridge and it puts a little red bar below the thumbnail image. This allows me to see how much work I’ve completed and how much I still have to do. It’s my electronic version of a check mark. Bridge is also great for making PDFs, renaming files, duplicating files or rearranging the order of files.   

Here's a picture of my desk.

Here is how I have Bridge set up. Thumbnails of all my pages are on the left and it previews the selected thumbnail on the right. 


How do you keep track of changes and publisher notes as you go along? Do you 
create a checklist?

I usually print out the email from my editor or the art director so that I can see what changes I need to make. Then cross them off as they are completed. 


Are you working linearly or jumping from spread to spread or project to project? For instance, do you start with the more difficult spreads or the easiest?

If I’m roughing out a book I like to work linearly. If I’m outlining a story I’ll use note cards and jump around. Then once I have all my ideas jotted down on the cards I’ll start to organize them linearly into a story that makes sense. During the clean up phase of a book when I’m doing the final line work I’ll jump around from page to page. I usually do the easiest ones first so that I can get comfortable drawing the characters and their world. Then when I have a handle on it I’ll start doing some of the harder ones. On days where I’m not getting a lot done or not feeling it I’ll just do the easy ones. The only problem with this method is that I’m usually left with all the hard ones as my deadline approaches. On the latest Bird and Squirrel graphic novel I had set myself a goal of cleaning up 6 pages a day. In the beginning I think I managed 3 or 4 a day and on a really good day I might get 7 done. To get the seven done I’d pretty much have to work most of the day. 

Up until this last year I preferred to work on one project at a time. I have trouble switching gears and focus from one project to the next. That’s just how my brain works. But since I have multiple projects now, I had to come up with a new system. So what I try to do is break each project into pieces. For example: I’ll spend a week or two roughing out a picture book and then send it off to my editor. While I’m waiting on notes for that I’ll start roughing out the next book or writing the story depending on what stage I’m on and then send that off. Hopefully by the time I’m done with that I’ll have notes back on the picture book and will start on the revisions. Then I’ll do the revisions and send them off. Then jump onto the next stage of another project. I just keep doing this until they’re all done. 

It all comes down to time management and organization. As long as I know what needs to be done I can usually do it. When I start to get overwhelmed and want to pull my hair out I go for a run or take a break. Somehow in the end things always manage to get done. One of the many things I love about making books is that I get to set my own schedule. There aren’t too many jobs where you have that kind of flexibility. It also allows me to spend time with my kids. 


How the heck do you manage to be so awesome? I mean really? You must draw and paint as fast as you run!

Aww, Thanks. Can you stand behind me while I’m working and remind me of that? I think working in animation before working in books really helped me learn how to manage my time and to draw faster. The weekly deadlines and tight schedules probably had something to do with it. 



Unrelated question:

Has social media been a good tool for getting work? 


I think so. I’ve have received a few book offers from publishers through my website. I’ve also come up with some great ideas while participating in sketch dailies on Twitter. I recently sold two picture books to Disney Hyperion based on a sketch that I had done for the Dailydoodle on Twitter. I also think social media is a good way to stay connected with friends and whats happening in books and the world. One thing that helps me is chatting with my friends Dan Santat and Mike Boldt while we work through ichat. We’ll share what we’re working on with each other and offer advice if needed or we’ll just talk about whatever is happening that day. 


Thanks so much, James, we're cheering you on! 

To see more of James' work, visit his website at jamesburks.com.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Being an Illustrator with Kids or, OMG what did I get myself into??? Part 2


In my last post, I discussed how being an illustrator with kids is hectic. Heck, being anyone with kids is hectic. But we illustrators come with our own set of issues such as looming deadlines, no "real" weekend and being alone in our studios with just Facebook to keep us company.

In my previous post I promised some methods for how I try to keep it together and make the most out of my sometimes short working periods. So, here are a few tips and tricks I've employed:

1. Warm up drawings
We all learned in art school that warm-up sketching is important. I learned that too. But somewhere along the line, I totally forgot about how important it really is. Up until very recently, my mindset was, "I don't have much time, I just have to sit down and dig into this deadline." So I would just sit and start working on my assignment. Sometimes though, my lines just felt wonky and the drawing didn't turn out right. Then it would be time to pick up my son from school and I would leave, frustrated and waiting for the next chunk of work time so I could fix what I previously attempted to draw.

But recently, I decided that every single time I sat down to work, I would spend at least 15 minutes warming up. Doodling, sketching and hopefully, getting the "uglies" out up front.  It has actually really been helping. Fifteen minutes of getting my muscle memory going and my hand-eye coordination ready really has saved me time in the long run because I'm not wasting time futzing on bad drawings.  My post warm-up drawings are more relaxed and flow much easier. See?

Before warming up...

A warm up...


After warming up...

2. Neatly organize working files
90% of the time these days, I work digitally using many layers (oh how I miss my oil paint though). A habit which I've really found super helpful is to make sure I clearly label my Photoshop layers AS I CREATE THEM. Also, I make sure I create and label groups of files as I go. It saves a lot of time both as I'm working and when it's time to send the files off to the client.  Clicking through 20 unnamed layers to find that little thing I need to adjust the color of is a total waste of time. Now, with my specifically-named layers, I can go straight to the item I need without much fuss.

Also, when a client comes back and tells me they need a revision, having  labeled layers and groups of layers makes it quicker for me when I have to revisit a file days later to make corrections.

Another thing that correctly labeling your layers does for me is shorten the time it takes to get my files ready for delivery to the client.  In the past, I have spent hours the night before a project is due labeling and grouping layers so it was clear for the client. I finally figured out I could save so much more time if I do the labeling as I go.

3. Tune out
We all know that social media is the like the office water cooler for us illustrators. Because illustration is often a very solitary activity, things like Facebook and Twitter keeps us looped in with fellow illustrating friends. However, when it's time to get down to the nitty gritty, to really hit that deadline, social media can really provide too much of a distraction. It can become a means to procrastination and really get in the way of getting work done. DUH! We all know this, it's nothing new. 

But, did you know there are apps that exist which will keep you off the internet for a predetermined amount of time? I mean they REALLY keep you off the internet? Like in a kind of scary (but good way)? I've used one of these apps before, called Self Control and it's pretty amazing. Obviously, it's not going to keep you off your iPad or phone, but it does it' job for keeping you from trolling around on your computer when you're supposed to be WORKING. There's another one you can try called Freedom that is pretty popular too.

Another way I tune out and keep the distractions away from my workspace is to either shut down my email application or change the settings so new email only comes in every hour or so. Also--turn off the distracting "you've got mail" sound in your email preferences so you're not tempted to check to see if that three-book deal came through.

So, these are a few things I've employed which really help me to streamline work and get it done in those small chunks of time I have. I know it sounds like doing simple things such as layering your files aren't important, but time spent doing these things as you go really shave off wasted time down the road. 

I'd love to hear what your time-saving tips and tricks are! What do you do to make the most of your precious work time?


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Illustration Project Management with Evernote

This summer was a doozy, I'm SO GLAD that it's almost over.
My son was on summer vacation and work poured in. I had to figure out how to get super-organized with my projects really fast.


After some trial and error I figured out that I needed a system where:

  • I could easily see all of my deadlines for all the stages of my projects in one place
  • I could get a pop-up or email notification about the deadlines
  • I could gather all of the little bits and pieces of information and feedback about projects in one easily accessible and organized place
  • The project information can be synced between my computer and phone 
I played with a few todo apps and calendars and in the end what worked the best for me was Evernote.
Evernote is a free software/service where you can gather and organize all of your notes. The great thing about this service is it's available on the web, Mac or PC, and all mobile devices. And did I mention that it's free???

Here's how I have my projects set up in Evernote:

As you can see, it's fairly simple. I have an overall notebook that contains all of the individual illustration projects that I have going. I did this mainly to keep work stuff away from all of my other notes (recipes, inspiration, etc.) and to have my work deadlines displayed only within this folder.

Now, on to the features that I use for managing my illustration projects:

E-mail Project Notes to Evernote
This feature is a crucial part of what makes this service work for my projects. Since all of the information for my projects come to me through e-mails from clients, it saves a lot of time to just forward them to Evernote rather than typing the information out.




Adding Checkboxes:

Once the email shows up in Evernote, I like to convert the various items into clickable checkboxes boxes just so it's easier to see what I need to do. You can find the check-box feature in the formatting bar.




Reminders:

The Reminders feature was added to Evernote this summer. It's this feature that turned Evernote from a "meh" program to the most useful thing in the world to me.

Reminders displays what's due within the folder you created it in. I like this since it keeps everything organized within the project folder. I have all of my projects contained within an overall "Illustration Projects" folder so I can see all of the Reminders for all of my projects displayed at once. This way I can see which deadlines for which project will come first.

Another thing I like about Reminders is that it can send notification pop-ups or e-mails to you.




Syncing:

It's so helpful that all of my notes and reminders sync across various computers and devices. I was out and about a lot this summer with my son so it was nice to have all of my information on hand all the time.

So far I'm really pleased about how simple and flexible Evernote is. I've tried other "to do" apps in the past and I've always fallen out of the habit of using them over time.  I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to stick with this system because of it's simplicity. 

To find out a little bit more about Evernote, take a look at these videos and see if it might work to manage your  projects:



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