Process: Creating the 2016 Calendar

I wanted to separately share a few process-related thoughts I had while putting together the 2016 calendar.

  1. Draw From Experience

If you’re struggling with coming up with content ideas, I think the old advice of “start with what you know” is best. What do you care about? What do you find yourself always thinking about? How can those things be translated into something you create?

Since I tend to draw from experience and emotion, they naturally lend themselves to a series of themes/thoughts. Last year’s calendar was very much the prequel to this in the sense that themes were more about the initial hibernation, slow self-discovery, and gradual awareness. This expands on those themes by exploring themes that come after having take that first leap of faith.

For both calendars, I did not create all the images with the calendar in mind. I drew what felt right at the time, and they happened to fit together in this format. While that doesn’t always work out to be the case, if your creation process is authentic your final product will naturally feel more authentic.


Last year

2. Little Things Take Forever

I guess that’s just another way to say the devil’s in the details.

Like last year, this took a long time to put together. Drawing the pictures and picking the themes is just the beginning. For example, because it’s so personal, it takes me forever to decide on each quote. I’m scouring through endless sources to find the perfect one. At least this year I had the general layout already designed, but I still ended up tweaking it (e.g. adding a margin around the image).

Then there’s the tedious but important things like updating all of the text and spacing (wow, I knew nothing about kerning and leading in 2014). Even when I think I’ve got everything assembled, I’ll print out a sample and go back and adjust everything again because things look more cramped in real life than on the screen. Fun 🙂


3. Building Characters

The most interesting challenge was having this be character-driven. Last year I didn’t think too much about whether the girl looked consistent or not. This year Emme and Hamstarcat were born out of my subconscious, and it is reflected here. That said, I drew them and their crew a little differently each time on IG. Drawing characters consistently is obviously important in character-building and is a skill I have been working on this past year. I took this project as a chance to practice it some more. So even though a version of many of these drawings have been seen on IG before, I actually had to redraw almost all of the images in order to create a consistency.

This project was a good way to force myself to solidify some aspects of characters that had been semi-existing in my mind. Little things that people will never notice take forever to finalize. A good example was deciding how the fox serpent’s spine should look. I went from spiky to round to tectonic and finally settled somewhere in between with wavy flora fins.


The most rewarding part of this exercise is to be able to summarize my year in a neat little package, and also be able to see on a technical level what I learned over the past year.

4. Summary of Steps

If you’re thinking of making your own calendar or similar story-driven item, here’s the general steps I found myself following:

  1. Decide on a theme. What is your message?
  2. Create your key art assets (here, the drawings on photography). Ensure you have style consistency.
  3. Develop your graphic design language to be appropriate for 1 & 2. This includes color palette, type selection, layout, etc.
  4. Develop the system. I would say try to perfect one page as much as you can before you create the rest. Ideally you establish a template you reuse for the remainder.
  5. Tighten up the details, make a physical test print, and finalize.

I’m thinking of making a book or journal based on these images at some point, and will be sure to document how THAT goes… if a calendar is this time-consuming, I can only imagine how long that will take to put together. But I’m excited to!


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