A Few of my Favorite Things (in the Studio)

We all have a favorites. How many times in the span of your life have you been asked, what’s your favorite color? Or favorite season? I love coffee, lattes are my favorite. That doesn’t mean I only drink lattes. But creative individuals take it a step further, especially when it comes to the tools we use to create. I think we tend to have favorites for life, favorites so tied to our process they cannot be substituted. For example, if I’m drawing in pencil I only use these:

Derwent Pencils

I’ve been tempted by others and then cringed as the graphite scratched across the surface of my paper. No. No. No. Derwent pencils are perfect. I know exactly how much pressure to apply to make them glide and become one with the paper. They are my zen. Seriously.

Now you might think I use Derwent for everything then. Nope. When it comes to colored pencils I only use these:


My love of Prismacolor Colored Pencils was the result of supply and demand. I required specific colors and their pencils were the only one in my art supply shop that could be purchased individually. And what a range of colors they supply!

I’m also particular about the brushes I use, the paper, and my brands of paint (Holbein Watercolors and Golden Acrylics). Often times I’ve stumbled into using a new tool and then I become hooked.  Once upon a time I used Staedtler pens for drawing in ink. They come in a range of sizes–good pens. Then I discovered Sakura Micron pens and the heavens opened up with tears of joy.

Sakura Micron Pens

I can’t fathom using any other pen for drawing now. They are available in black and sepia. Sepia! If I’m going on a trip and I want to bring something to sketch with, I usually grab these pens and lightweight pad of Strathmore drawing paper. So what are your favorites? I’m positive I’m not alone when it comes to special favorites in the studio. I imagine even writers are particular about their setup and musicians too.

Leave a comment, let me know!


Slaying the Beast

This week I wanted to write a blog about my favorite love stories (romantic moments) from comic books. A sort of companion piece to Chad’s post yesterday. But I hit the wall hard on that idea, shelved it, and moved on.

I thought about writing specifically on Spider-Man and his “former” marriage to Mary Jane, but it’s still not anywhere near where I would like it to be (it’s coming at some point, I’m sure). So I moved on.

A couple of other thoughts struck me, but all of them required something, some aspect of the blog, that I am not entirely ready to begin/write/end. I put those in the “To Be Done” folder.

And it occurred to me – I think I’ve encountered Writer’s Block for the first time in a long time.


There is a problem to this sort of thinking, though. I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. Much like Santa and the Easter Bunny, I believe it is a mythical concept used by many as an excuse. An easy out that no one really knows how to conquer. Much like the ancient beasts of old, you’d need a knight in armor to slay this dragon. A non-writer might not understand, but they knew enough to know not to probe too deep.

They might whisper to your other friends, “What’s wrong with John?”

“He’s got Writer’s Block.”

“Oh… I better stay clear.” (as if they could catch it)

Fellow writers would go along with the gag. “Terrible thing, that Writer’s Block. Got me back in ’06 for the better part of a year.”

And you would nod and shake your head, but know in your heart of hearts that it was all a lie.

Writer’s Block doesn’t exist.

I did not know this truth for a long time. I leaned on this idea when what I really wanted to do was play video games or watch a movie or do anything other than sit in front of the computer and type out string after string of words. For me, I knew that Writer’s Block was just an easy out.

Turns out, I had it wrong. Writer’s Block as I think of it doesn’t exist. That much is true. Discipline has long been it’s ancient enemy. But this creature out there lives in the shadows of a writer’s mind. It preys on any possible weakness it can find. It whispers terrible nothings into your ears.

Tired? Don’t worry about those words tonight. There is a new South Park on after all.

Fried from a long day of work? No big deal, Facebook will comfort you in this hour of need.

Got some rough edits back and you don’t even know where to begin? Old WB has got your back and has warmed up the XBOX with your favorite game all prepped.

Last night’s writing session go absolutely nowhere and now you’re afraid that all those words you wrote and will write on the project will be absolute dog shit? Well, you’re right. Don’t bother, you suck.


Calvin has it more right than even he knows.

This is the enemy. Writer’s Block is the thing that squeezes its vice-like grip around my brain and tries to convince me in any and every way possible to not write.

And the sad thing is, IT wins a fair amount of time. Sometimes without even trying.

But… but… but… I have found the best defense for it is a good offense. When I really get going on a project I have far fewer of the nights where Writer’s Block seeps in and prevents words from appearing on the screen. Instead, more ideas begin to flow out from me. My fingers struggle to keep up with my thoughts and I wonder how many more ideas get lost in the shuffle between brain and keyboard. When things are going well there is no such thing as Writer’s Block. It truly does become just another arrow in the excuse quiver. And you forget it even exists at all.

But don’t forget about it. Use it as further fuel for your own creative fire. Before beginning this blog I had not seen that old boy for a few years. Instead my nemesis has been TIME more than anything else. I have about 25 short stories that exist in some form or fashion. I have about 5-6 comic story arcs that could see the light of day someday if only I wrote them (and then convinced someone to actually draw them). And I have about 4-5 novels that I want to write. So Writer’s Block hasn’t had much of a chance to do anything to me. I forgot that it really existed, and in that moment it drew itself back into my soul and waited until there was a perfect time to strike.

Yet, here I am, near the end, and I’m not sure if he really was here at all tonight. The words did come. Maybe, just maybe, I imagined the whole thing.


And then again…



John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Time Enough for…

With the coming of February all I have to show for it so far is long days at the Day Job and almost every Sunday worked already. So what does that mean for the night job of writing? It mostly means that I’m squeezing 10 pounds of writing into a 5 pound bag. It means that there is too much to do and not enough time to do it in.



Did you know that on Mars the days are 40 minutes longer than they are on Earth? During the Curiosity flight to Mars one of the NASA engineers had his family adopt the Martian clock. What was of more interest to them was the fact that slowly they began to un-sync with the rest of us on Earth. Soon their days were our nights, their breakfast was our dinner, and so on. And all of that is interesting to a point, but…

I was more intrigued by the idea that they were gaining 40 minutes a day. What could I do with just 40 minutes more a day? Sleep, read, write, goof off… anything I wanted.

We schedule so much of our time away. The job takes 8, sleep another 6, travel to and from work another 1, eating is another 1 1/2, showering is 1/2, etc. It starts to disappear very quickly.

So how do I find that extra 40 minutes? That’s the question I’m constantly asking myself. Where can I subtract from my current Earth Day in order to get what I need/want/must get done on the writing side of things?

Sadly most of the time it comes from my sleep allotment (and it is sad… I love my sleep). I get the majority of my writing done during the hours of 11 pm to 2 am probably 5 nights a week. When I’m really rolling on a project or nearing a deadline (external or internal), that is when I really bear down and use that time efficiently. I know I’ve had a good night when it gets to 2 and I’m want to keep going because I’m in the flow of things. The bad nights are when I spent too long checking websites and blogs and email and Facebook and watch too much tv or play too much video games and the time slips away from me and it is 1 before I even open Word to start my night. It’s kinda hard to really get things going when I’ve shrunk my own time by 2 hours.


It all starts with a schedule I set up for myself. Maybe its the engineer portion of my brain, but I need milestones. When I laid out my goals for this year a month ago it was from having a decent idea of how much work I can produce on a daily basis. Then I take those projects and set up the next 3 months of my calendar. Putting it writing so that I can not only track my progress, but I can have those goals staring at me on a daily basis. I really do believe that left to my own devices I would find more and more ways to distract myself. But I look at the schedule and see that this week I’m supposed to be starting on a new novel and then think “I’m already 2 days behind this week”. It helps get my ass in gear

As to my nightly writing plan? 5 nights a week producing 1250 words done in a night. The industry standard for what 1 page of a book equals 250 words, so my number basically has me write 5 pages a night. That’s the bare minimum I want to get when I sit down at the computer to start hammering on the keys. It has to include all the false starts and stops. The nights when the words just won’t flow and every single letter disagrees with all it’s neighbors. They squabble until I begin to wonder if I have any ability to string 2 words together, much less 1250. Comic projects take a different amount of work as I typically do different passes. First draft is mostly dialogue with a little panel description, second draft is making sure I have a decent rhythm throughout, and then it is onto a more final draft that I then turn into whomever are my editors on that particular project.

On good nights it takes about a hour and a half to get my work in. On bad nights it might take four hours and I may only have 500 words done. But when that clock strikes 2 am and I begin to turn into a pumpkin, I have to start wrapping things up if I want to have any use the following morning.


This is how I feel it is for me every morning.

The other thing it does is lay out everything in writing that I want to do. Sometimes we get bogged down by the sheer thought of all these tasks and projects, but I find that laying them out removes some of that stress from my brain. It lets me know that today I’m doing the blog, but tomorrow I have 1250 words of the new novel to write, and maybe on Thursday I have some editing to do on Hollow Empire (though I typically don’t jump around that much – I find focusing on one project over the course of a week is better to ensure I get into that groove).

Does my technique work for everyone? I’m guessing not. I think creative people enjoy flying by the seat of their pants. And they also may only have one project going at any one time.

Me? I gotta have a dozen pans in the fire as I’ve seen too many things have false starts or never get off the ground at all.

And crossing things off your to-do list is a small jolt as well. Knowing that you are that much closer to having a final product is probably the best thing.



John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

My Creative Arsenal


Primary Tools – Laptop, Intuos4 Medium, ImagineFX Magazines, Windows 7, Photoshop CS6,  and more.

I moved house in June; which meant planning a new studio space. My setup hasn’t changed too much since moving, but it’s always evolving. For example, I found an incredible deal on eBay for an Intuos4 Medium. I still have my Small in its box as a backup. There’s also a new tower under the desk (not shown) that I’m upgrading. As you can see from the photos, I have a second monitor that I could not live without. I’m hoping to add another once I’m working from the desktop.

Photoshop is my painting program of choice. I’ve tried ArtRage and Corel, but neither felt “right.”  I have everything I want in Photoshop and just how I want it too. The brushes I use are a mix of my own creation and those I’ve picked up from ImagineFX artists.

I may be focused on digital painting, but I haven’t left my traditional roots behind me. I have a closet full of supplies and other storage containers with craft supplies, pens, pencils and paints. It’s difficult for me to paint in acrylics these days due to an autoimmune disorder attacking my joints, so I most often work in pencil and pen.

Secondary Tools – Inspiration, Motivation, and Sustenance.

My secondary studio tools are those that keep me happy and sane; which in turn keep my muse content and those creative juices flowing. I’ve come to deplore silence in the studio. Music is very important to my painting process. I don’t have a stereo or iHome at the moment, so I’m just plugging in via my iPhone. There are definite patterns to my music choice, depending on what I’m painting. I’ll have to write up a painting soundtrack post. Also having something to munch on when I don’t feel like stopping for lunch is vital. My snacks of choice in the studio are walnuts and Newman’s Own Raisins.

Last, being surrounded by things that make me smile. Loki (and Thor) — my figures, comics, artwork, etc. The art you see on the wall above is a painting I did based on Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of the Norse God. What you don’t see in the photos above is my massive collection of pebbles, feathers, nests and whatever else I pick up on my nature walks. Most of my natural history collection is unpacked and sitting on display just behind where I sit.

This is where you’ll find me most days and when I’m not there I often wish I were. Below is my current painting work in progress:


You can stay up-to-date on my creative projects via my Facebook Page. I often share WIP images and tidbits on my process. You may even occasionally see some photos of me in the studio. 😉

Her Domain WIP by Amanda Makepeace