Welcome to another edition of A Day in the Life. Here, creators share some insight into their daily routine, informing how they create and what structure they need (if any) to make a little magic happen. It’s sort of like the comic book version of MTV Cribs — only no one says, “This is where the magic happens.”
Today, Montreal-based artist/graphic designer François Vigneault explains the makeup of an average day (amid the pandemic, mind you). Vigneault’s 2017 graphic novel, the inventive and thoughtful Titan, has been translated into English and will be released this November via Oni Press. His other credits include the YA comics series 13e Avenue as well as comics in The Portland Mercury, The California Sunday, the Monitor, Kayak, and Papercutter, among other publications.
You can find him online via his official website.
What’s the first thing you do as part of your daily routine/workday?
I wake up around 8:00-8:30 (after my partner is already up; she is an early riser), have some coffee and toast for breakfast, and read my emails, scroll through a bit of Instagram, read the [New York Times], and check to see if anyone has reviewed my new book Titan (it’s coming out [in November] and I’m in a mode where I’m honestly a bit overly interested in what people have to say about it… It’s a phase, I’ll get over it soon). After about an hour of that I’m sitting at my desk, drawing a page of comics or otherwise working. In addition to writing and drawing comics, I’m lucky enough to do a lot of freelance work, from lettering to graphic design and more, so my day can vary quite a bit.
Do you keep to a set schedule or just wing it during any given week?
I keep a regular work week, Monday to Friday, 9:30 (ish) to 6:00 (ish). If I am busy, I’ll usually try to work that straight through with a lunch break, but I also allow myself to be flexible… If I need to do some work around the house, run some errands, or just need to give my mom or a friend a call, I just go for it. But having the baseline of a “normal” working schedule is really important to me, I don’t wanna be pulling all-nighters to meet a deadline, or zoning out in the middle of the day to watch some TV or whatever. I used to be much less disciplined in my work and it made it impossible to be productive.
Is there one particular place you work, or a specific set up to be most productive?
I’ve been working from home for the last five years, and I’ve usually split my time, rotating between my desk in the bedroom (for drawing), the kitchen table (for emails, blogging, etc) and occasionally the couch. Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, my partner has joined me in working at home, and she needs to be in video meetings and conference calls all day long, so I’ve found myself setting up exclusively in the bedroom lately.
What’s the absolute highlight of any given workday?
Show and tell. I am often working on projects (like my current main gig) that I can’t talk about publicly, which can be a little difficult at times, since I will often want to share what I am working on with other folks (made even harder lately with all the social distancing rules in place). Luckily, I have a few people (my partner, some fellow cartoonists) that I can privately share my work with, so that gives me that little burst of feedback to keep me grinding things out!
What’s your least favorite part of any workday?
Waiting for email responses. It’s a pet peeve of mine, I feel like culturally people have moved away from email, but I am a dinosaur, it is still my main mode of communication, so I often find myself waiting and wondering if people are ever going to get back to me about stuff.
Are you listening to music or podcasts throughout the day?
Yeah, I mostly alternate between music and audiobooks, depending on what I am doing on any given day: If I am using the verbal part of my brain (writing, editing, lettering, etc) I listen to music, if I am doing something that is purely visual like drawing I can put on an audiobook.
I get most of my music on Spotify (I used to be far more particular and snobbish about my music, but I sold off my record collection years ago and these days I’m just as happy to have an algorithm serve up a stream of indie comfort music (Yo La Tengo, Wilco, and Stereolab feature heavily) with new stuff popping up occasionally (recently I’ve been digging Whitney, Pinegrove, Sjowgren, and a San Diego hip-hop/jazz combo by the name of Parker Meridien). Recent audiobooks I’ve had playing include The Once and Future King by T. H. White (much weirder and more fun than I expected), Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (great and disturbing alternate history, expertly performed by William DeMeritt), and A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie (very cool expansion of his “First Law” world in new directions).
I used to be wild about podcasts and public radio, but I’ve kind of fallen out of the habit. I still like “The Daily” from the New York Times. I recently was checking out Serious Moonlighting from my friend and fellow cartoonist Fred Noland, which might be of interest to readers of this column because it focuses on the work/life balance for artists.
When you work, do you have a daily “quota” to reach (number of pages, word count, etc.)? Are these “metrics” important or not?
Yeah, I have deadlines always coming up so I always have to keep goals in mind, or else things spiral out of control pretty quick. For my current project (a comic I am drawing but not writing) I have a goal of finishing six pages every week, with other gigs squeezed in there whenever I can find the time. On any given day I might draw one or two pages, depending on what level of complexity is going into it.
Do you have any habits or special routines that are essential for a truly productive day?
I track my time on everything and have been for years now. I use TopTracker which is a free web-based application, but one could use whatever. Tracking my time has totally transformed the way I work and think about my workday and I honestly believe everyone should do it. Not only does it let me know how long something actually took me to do (allowing me to prioritize work and dedicate the appropriate amount of energy and time to projects, i.e. not take so long on a gig that I am getting paid $5 an hour), the actual behavior of turning on the tracker keeps me focused on the task at hand. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for creative workers to keep track of their time… I think most artists have a tendency to think of themselves as passionate creators, but if you are trying to make a living at this it is also a job, you’ve got to understand the value of your time.
I have been working digitally for the last few years and I really appreciate how much it has cut down on the non-creative elements of the work that used to consume a lot of my time: Scanning drawings, cleaning them up, etc. I draw my comics and illustrations in Photoshop, and I use a large but very basic Wacom tablet that I scored at the thrift store for $25 bucks. One thing I really appreciate is that by working in Photoshop I am always learning more and more about what is probably the most commonly used graphics/photo/etc app out there (keyboard commands, actions, tools, brushes, etc) and for me, working also as a freelance illustrator and designer, I think it is really a good thing. I use a simple application add-on called Hej Stylus that has some great tools like rulers and pressure smoothing that I find invaluable.
How important is diet during the day? Do you drink 10 gallons of coffee or a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal at 11 a.m.?
Not super important, to tell the truth. I’m not particular. In addition to the aforementioned cup of coffee and toast, my partner and I have lunch together (sandwich, salad, smoothie, whatever) and then I fix dinner after I am done working. We subscribe to one of those “meal kit” services, and since I am not passionate about cooking and I am the one who cooks 98% of the time, I appreciate that it makes it simpler for me to make a wider range of stuff than I otherwise would. I used to love going out to restaurants, but that has been declining for years as I tried to save money, and now has come to a complete halt, of course. We usually get something delivered about once a week though… Pizza or some such. I was a vegetarian for over 12 years, and although I definitely eat meat, I’m always trying to cut back, and make it more of a “special treat” rather than an everyday staple.
Do you read/consume comics or other media during the day? Or do you need to keep a distance from that while working?
No, not really. Other than stuff like audiobooks that I can listen to while I work, I don’t read or watch anything during working hours. Occasionally if I am taking a break to fold laundry or whatever I’ll put something on the TV while I do that. More rarely I’ll take a full-on break and lie down and read a chapter of something.
Are you working steadily with breaks or do you tend to work in spurts?
Pretty steady, though like I said, there can be a lot of distractions, so I roll with it. As a rule I try to work consistently on one project throughout the day so I can get in the specific rhythm (like the particular drawing style or what have you), but if I am finding it hard to concentrate I’ll switch back-and-forth: Emails, drawing comics for a few hours, research, errands, back to drawing. The key for me is to stay at least somewhat productive throughout the day, even if that means doing the dishes or whatever. I’m naturally distractible and disorganized, so I have to fight against that tendency.
How do you usually wind down the work day — emails, more reading, etc.?
Once the work day is over I’ll have a beer, cook dinner, chat with my partner, read some more news online, etc. I’ll also feed Sid and Sam, a couple of the neighborhood alley cats who have adopted us, or vice versa.
My partner goes to bed a couple hours before me, so I’ll take that time to read stuff online (I’ve been avoiding most social media for a few years so it is mostly articles, blog posts, etc, but also just looking at art and nice photos of animals), chat with friends on the West Coast, and sometimes watch a movie or TV show. I consume a lot less media than I did a few years back, and there is so much more stuff coming out, so I have a huge “to watch” list that never seems to get shorter, but some things I have enjoyed lately include the German show Dark (it recently wrapped up its final season and they nailed it, excellent stuff) and Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick (I’m finally finishing it up years after starting it, and Soderbergh is one of my favorite directors so it’s a real treat).
I wrap up my day around midnight at the latest (I am a night owl, I would naturally stay up later but I don’t let myself) with some reading in bed (still on the computer, but books only, nothing interactive, or else I’ll never get to sleep). I’m currently pinging back-and-forth between a few different things: The End of October by Lawrence Wright (the oddly prescient pandemic thriller that came out this year, it’s a page-turner for sure but I’m not sure if I like it), Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (brilliant and charming as can be, a wonderful escape from daily stresses), and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (finally reading this sci-fi classic now that I am finished with my book Titan and I don’t have to worry about being unduly influenced).
On the weekends my partner and I like to go camping whenever we have the chance; canoeing, birding, hiking, etc. Outdoorsy stuff to get us out of the day-to-day. We are in the process of doing a camper van conversion which is a ton of work but also a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to getting out on the road more… With the lockdown this year we are really itching to get out of the house!