Creator Spotlight: PJ Day

I spoke with PJ Day, one of the creative talents in Zarfling Platoon, to learn more about him. It is an insightful conversation for those who balance their creative side with the rest of their lives.

Travis Blair: Hey, PJ! Could you please tell me a bit about yourself, and how you like to express yourself creatively?

PJ Day: My name is PJ Day. I live just outside of Phoenix, az. I live here with my wife and two daughters, two dogs, and a hoard of cats. I’m a creative person. I’m always looking for a thing to build, or draw, or make. Everything I do seems to tie into my creative soul. My career has spanned 30 years and has been connected with the art field in some way. I started out as a technical illustrator and then just moved about in the field doing everything from draftsman to graphic multimedia designer. Even when I’m doing programming, I consider that as artistic as well. The idea of creating something from nothing is the basis for art. When I’m not at work , I find other ways to be creative at home. I have an online comic strip called Flatt Bear that I do three times a week. I do commission work as an illustrator and graphic designer. I’m also a musician who plays guitar, drums, bass, and recently, the mandolin. I have a little home recording studio that allows me to write and record songs. Even my home improvement projects allow me to stretch my creative legs.

Travis: You do enjoy a variety of outlets! What does creativity provide that makes everything from graphic design to guitar so appealing?

PJ: I like creating things. Not sure why the attraction. I like making something out of noting I guess (no, I’m not talking about unnecessary drama either). All those things I mentioned before are just that, creating something that didn’t exist before I had a hand in it. As artist, we are all looking for that approval from other who view our artwork. We want people to see result of our creative energy. Maybe it’s a desire to leave my mark on the world, leave my mark on myself (usually I do that when I’m doing those home improvement projects), a mark on other people’s lives, or some sort of weird notion that that I’m some sort of artistic god. “And on the third day, Pat said, ‘Let there be cabinets.’.”

Travis: You're certainly creating something out of nothing when creating three comic strips a week out of thin air. How do you maintain such a schedule with regard to time and material?

PJ: Coming up with material to write isn't normally a time issue for me, especially if I'm writing a story arc. I know where the story arc will start and where the arc will end, all I have to do is fill in the middle parts with stuff. And I'm always coming up with "stuff" even when I'm out and about. Ill start thinking about what's next for the week and make mental notes of ideas or text myself those idea so I won't forget. Now, actually writing the dialog and drawing the strip? That's the time-suck. Since my updates are Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I'm beavering away Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. I never have a buffer of more than a few minutes at best so I'm writing and inking minutes before I post the strip. This is just a hobby at best and I'm not making any money off of Flatt Bear, so this hobby is taking away a lot of time from my family life some weeks. it's hard to justify that and sometimes I feel really guilty. I'm trying to figure out ways of becoming more mobile with my setup so I can at least be in the same room as the rest of my family when I'm drawing.

Travis: Keeping family #1 while still pursuing creative interests would be challenging. What ways have you become more mobile? And speaking of improving how you do things, do your different creative interests ever benefit each other? I'd think the discipline needed to maintain a web comic would carry over to other things.

PJ: One of the reasons I went digital was to be more mobile with my setup. Thinking I didn't have to drag pens and artboards around the house was going to make my life easier. I bought a Wacom Companion which is a small digital pen display. I didn't really work out like I thought it was going to. The Companion had a rather large collection of cables and cords and a power connection that's rather poorly designed and susceptible to breaking. Not to mention I have to be tethered to a laptop which adds more cables and hardware. Then, to top it off, I’d go downstairs with my rig, get setup, start drawing for forty-five minutes, then everyone would head off to bed leaving me alone downstairs. So I gave up. Recently, I’ve decided to try it again, but I suspect it will turn out the same way in the end. As for different creative interest benefiting each other, I suppose so. I know when I’m working on character designs for the Spellcasters VS: game, those character design skills help me in character design for my comic strip. Maintaining a consistent schedule for posting a strip three times a week helps with planning other projects. I know how long it “should” take me to do certain projects and plan accordingly. I think, too, that the different interests can also interfere with each other as well. I will sometimes find that if I’m working a particular project and I’m pouring a lot of creative energy into it that zaps the creative energy in other current projects. In this business, I think one can overextend themselves creatively if you’re not careful. I think this is how some people burn themselves out creatively with comic strips. They suddenly wake up one day and say, “I can’t do this anymore” because they’re just creatively drained.

Travis: I agree, and would say there is a discipline/passion balance for creative ventures. What would you say to others interested in creating that are unsure of how to approach it all?

PJ: Don't be afraid to try something... whatever it is you're thinking of doing. Just do it. Don't spend a ton of time thinking about how-to's or should-you. I spent in limbo because I was overthinking the mechanics of making a comic strip instead of just pressing on. If it doesn't work, stop and start from another direction. Don’t be afraid of what other will say about your work and don’t spend gobs of time and energy trying to anticipate what other will say and tailor your work accordingly. You're never going to please everyone and the world is full of haters who want to hate. I found if you do something that makes you happy, it'll come through in your work. Lastly, use the internet as research tool. Not only as a platform to showcase your material, but you have a limitless supply of peers that can help with what you're trying to accomplish. YouTube videos, chat groups, Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, and yes... even Google Plus groups all can help answering questions, and inspiration as well. I wish I had the internet when I was just starting out, my artistic life would have been much different.

Travis: Great words of advice! The internet sure is great for research and making connections. One last thing, if I could ask. You've got your comic, and you mentioned working on the SpellCasters VS: series. What do you see on your artistic superhighway ahead?

PJ: I'm exploring the possibility of putting my strip into a book. After almost 600 strips, I'm way overdue. I have a few more things to do with the SpellCaster VS series down the road. I would like to work on character designing. Working on the SpellCaster cards, I've run across some great artists and have deconstructed how they put together a character. Being an artist means not be complacent. One should always look beyond what you're doing. If you're too comfortable with where you are as an artist, you need to shake things up Maybe from there, work towards book illustrating. Definitely pulling me out of my normal box.

Travis: You do make excellent character designs! I look forward to seeing your book and other future projects. Thank you, PJ, for taking the time to speak with me!

PJ: Thank you. The pleasure's mine.

Find PJ's work at Zarfling Platoon here, and also on his website here!