Monday, December 21, 2020

Year in Review: 2020

Hello! It's the end of the-year-that-must-not-be-named, and this is my TWELFTH annual year-in-review post! (See also: 2019201820172016201520142013201220112010, and 2009.) This is a self-centric and navel-gazey exercise, but I keep it up because it helps me keep track of my goals, remember what happened each year, and take a moment to say "thank you" for the year.

2020 Accomplishments / Highlights: 
  • Didn’t catch Covid-19 (as far as I know), and so far most of my family was spared from contracting it. Two of my family members caught Covid and got VERY sick, but after some scary weeks, it looks like they are going to be okay. This virus is no joke - it’s scary seeing family members tired, out of breath, and unable to do the things they used to love.
  • I was granted a “Love Is Not Tourism” visa, so I could come to France to be with my fiancé after being separated since late last year. We have been together for 7 years, but this is the first year we have ever spent my birthday, Christmas, or New Years Eve together! The French lockdown is restrictive, and I am certainly not here to be a tourist, but we were able to do some nice things like walk through the city and parks, visit my fiancé’s family in the countryside, and see a few friends outside.
  • I got to work with my dad on a comic project called “Investment Wisdom”, to help folks with financial literacy!
  • I got to storyboard on Encanto, Disney’s fall 2021 film! This was the FIRST Disney musical I got to work on!! Can’t wait for folks to see it next year...!
  • Disney’s “Short Circuit” shorts were released on Disney Plus! “Exchange Student”, the short I directed, is in episode 2.
  • I finished a big project! I can’t wait to tell you about it, hopefully soon. I learned a LOT, got to work with truly incredible artists, and make something that I am very proud of.
  • Had one of my comics optioned for the first time! How cool would it be if it really got greenlit and made...? (*_*) Even if that never happens, I’m very proud of the option!
  • Took Stephanie Stine’s “Storyboard 2” online class and loved it!!! This lit a much-needed fire under my butt to develop my own IP further and board some new samples for myself. I storyboard two original scenes I wrote, as well as a segment of a Hamilton song for our group project. I got to meet 15 other board artists who were SO TALENTED. I absolutely loved it and I recommend it! Stephanie won’t be teaching again until later in 2021, but keep an eye on the site and snag a spot when they’re posted again.
  • I made art tutorial YouTube videos! (Link) This was SUPER fun - I love learning new skills and being a noob at a new art form. :-) It was also rewarding, as I could reach a much larger audience this way than I could via some of my other education / mentorship efforts. The comments on those videos warmed my heart. I don’t know...I kinda expected the worst on YouTube, but people were cool and supportive. I like contributing to free online art education and building people up.
  • Attended a few LA-area BLM events with friends
  • Joined Rise Up Animation (link) as a mentor, met some INCREDIBLE people and artists via those sessions.
  • Organized some talks between artists I respect, to discuss what we need, what has worked to improve studio conditions for everyone, and how we can do better.
  • I made Hourly Comics again this year! That’s 3 years in a row - I’m pround of myself and very glad to have those little time capsules from my life.
  • Fostered 3 kittens for Sante d’Or! That organization is AWESOME. I’m so happy they accepted me as a foster. They were so, so supportive, generous, and friendly. If you’ve been considering fostering in the LA area, I don’t think you could ask for a better organization to work with. If you can’t foster or you’re outside of LA, consider donating to Sante d’Or! They have it down to a science, but they can always use more donations to pay for food, litter, animal medical bills, and spaying/neutering.
  • I also raised about $600 for Sante d’Or during their annual “Treat Jar” fundraiser, by painting watercolor portraits of people’s adorable pets.
Portrait for sweet Finn, a cat I fostered! Follow his adventures: @janineknapp!
  • “I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation” made YALSA’s 2020 “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list!
  • Talked to animation / film students in two university classes.
  • I attended the Annie Awards for the first time.
  • Before quarantine, I made 4 short trips that fed my soul for the rest of the year. I visited San Diego and La Jolla with my friend Mary for a girls’ trip. I got away to Palm Springs to see my friends Terry & Scott for a lovely mini-vacation. I got up to Portland and the Oregon Coast to see my family. Lastly, I visited my friend Sunmee Joh in San Francisco, got to meet her cool husband Jason, see her new SF life, and visit PIXAR with her. ^_^
  • Wedding dress shopping in January / February, and the early stages of wedding planning were really fun.
Oh, sweet February Natalie...she has no idea
  • “Self-care Sundays” were a success! I didn’t make plans on Sunday, and I didn’t put pressure on myself to do anything specific on Sundays. I woke up, saw how I felt, and did what I wanted. That may sound funny now that we’re all in quarantine and our days are less structured, but for the first few months of the year, it was a game-changer for me and my stressed-out brain. I will be continuing this habit and I highly recommend it.
  • Before Covid, I managed to be pretty social, even with my demanding job! I got lunch with some people in animation I wanted to get to know better, reached out to several new people over email/phone, and I organized a few events at my house. I want to keep being proactive and making time for building up my friendships and professional network.
  • Managed a couple of socially-distanced events after quarantine that felt safe and fun. I’m grateful for my friends who stayed in touch, sent care packages, invited me to play Among Us, etc. even though the world was on fire.
  • I maintained pretty good mental health this year, despite some pretty astronomically negative exterior conditions. I saw a new counselor in the first part of the year who was a better fit than my last one, although honestly I’m still looking for a better fit...I’ve found it difficult to find someone in my network who can give career advice and isn’t religious or into pseudoscience. :-/
  • I’m getting close to a major financial goal of mine! (I am a fan of the FIRE Movement as a framework for staying motivated to save and design a great, personalized retirement. Link It’s definitely NOT perfect; it wouldn’t really have helped me much when I was still a comic book artist and my income/expenses had so little margin between them, no matter how aggressively I saved. However, since I started working in animation and earning more money, it has been a helpful tool for me.)
  • I ran 10k for the first time in my life!
  • I got SUPER into fitness for a hot minute there when quarantine was new. In hindsight, it seems like a fairly obvious subconscious reaction to “there’s a deadly airborne virus that attacks your lungs.” I probably wanted to get into the best shape possible to help myself feel safer from Covid. But anyway, I saw abs on myself for the first time in years, and that was cool.
  • Got my braces off!
  • Took a community woodworking class, worked with a bunch of industrial equipment, and walked away with all of my fingers.
  • Le Fiancé & I had our portrait painted by Louis Thomas!

2020 Shortcomings / Lowlights:

Ha ha....what to even say here. You were there, you know what happened. 
I’ll just recap the things that are purely personal:
  • I couldn’t see most of my family, and even when I visited my parents we couldn’t hug each other. I didn’t touch another human for almost 6 months this year and I felt myself going crazy without human contact. My kingdom for a real hug!
  • Getting called out on and reckoning with the racist things I am a part of.
  • My fiancé is French, and normally we’re only separated for 3-4 months at a time. My latest project was set to wrap up in March and I planned a big trip to visit my fiancé in April. Then....bam, Covid. The project couldn’t be finished until late summer because we all got sent home right before it wrapped, the airline canceled the flights, and then the borders closed definitively. My fiancé and I were separated for 10 months, with no idea when we would be able to see each other again, and we just held on to Skype for dear life.
  • My fiancé went through the visa application from hell. Almost a year of preparation, spending his personal time building a case to prove that he had upcoming work in the US, digging up his complete travel history and work credits for the past decade, calling on friends and professional contacts for favors like writing letters of recommendation, spending thousands of dollars on help from a great immigration lawyer (who had successfully guided several of our artist friends through the same process just 1-2 years ago). Immigration in Trump’s America was an absolute nightmare to navigate. The rules changed multiple times during the year we spent working on this. And you know what? My fiancé actually earned that visa. I am so proud of him for that. We got a letter from US Citizenship & Immigration Services congratulating him and giving him the final instructions to get his passport stamped and come to the US. We celebrated - it seemed like such a bright spot in the middle of 2020. And then, right before my fiancé’s appointment at his local American consulate, where he was supposed to simply walk in, get his passport stamped, and come to the US to be with me, everyone’s favorite clown ordered the consulates to reject people at those appointments and revoke their visas if they came in. For the health of the nation? Sure. Because that lines up with everything else he did this year. Our lawyer told us to cancel the consulate appointment and wait, that the new order was illegal and it should soon be overturned. We’re still waiting. 
  • Had to cancel that summer wedding we wanted to have in Oregon with family and friends.
I should have been the one tripping down stairs in a wedding gown.
  • So after spending all that time / money / paperwork-headaches / emotional stress already....I had to spend my time and money etc. etc. applying for a French visa specifically designed for unmarried couples separated by Covid-19 like us. I took a costly 3-month leave from work to come to France and try to marry le Fiancé here instead. (Which would allow us to at least VISIT each other if the borders stay closed next year due to Covid.)
  • We all had to leave the animation studio with little warning in March. I miss my friends, Story meetings, in-person pitches, the normalcy of studio life, perks like free food/coffee, life drawing, the resource library, and the convenience of having tech support in the building SO MUCH.
We only took what we could carry. Good luck, office plants.
  • All the 2020 events that were canceled. I was invited to be a special guest for WonderCon 2020 before it was canceled, and we had hoped to go to Annecy this year, and looked forward to seeing the second Lightbox Expo...
  • A lot of us had to walk a thin line between “staying busy” and “beating ourselves up for not doing enough” during quarantine. I tried to be VERY gentle with myself and not draw when I didn’t feel like it. And honestly....I didn’t feel like it very often this year. I normally feel inspired to draw while sitting in crowds, so... I didn’t really do nearly as much figure drawing or observational drawing as I normally do, and it feels crappy knowing that I’m getting rusty at those things.
  • Two of my government-issued IDs expired in 2020, and the government offices where I need to go to replace them aren’t even taking appointments right now or offering other options online or via mail. I don’t know how I’m going to legally drive in 2021, and I live in LA. :-/

What Did We Learn?

  • I learned a lot of gratitude this year. Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, right? I’m grateful for my job, my healthcare, my daily life, access to food and housing and family and friends. 2019 looks like a dream now, hopping on airplanes, hugging my family, sitting in crowds just drawing people, going to the movie theater, sharing food, having house parties and camping trips with friends. I MISS that. I don’t know when/if I’ll have that again. But I’m really grateful I had it, and I don’t think I’ll take it for granted if I have it again.
  • I’m very, very, very grateful for all of the things I did before Covid-19 struck, especially the travel I did with people I love. I frequently find myself reflecting on past travels while I’m stuck inside, reliving the foods and sights and moments with friends. The weird thing is, I enjoy those memories in such a vivid way, it’s as if I’m back on those trips again for a moment. There are always plenty of reasons not to take a trip - money, work, etc., but now that it’s no longer possible to do those things, I’m very grateful I went ahead and traveled while I could.
  • Losing so many things I took for granted and seeing death around every corner made it much clearer what is and is not important to me. It was as if dozens of layers of my life and who I thought I was got peeled away. I felt naked and empty, and I had to just sit with that for months, alone. It was uncomfortable, but probably a good thing. I was reassessing my identity, how I’ve been spending my time on this planet, what things I do that are a waste of time or inauthentic to me, who my real friends are when the chips are down, and what actually matters to me in life.
  • I made a lot of progress on big life decisions like what my career aspirations are, plans with my partner, and if/when/where I’d want to “settle down” (which means different things to different people. To me, “settling down” means having enough money to only take jobs I care about, and more free time for my partner and self-care and my hobbies).
  • I’ve been scaling back my events / appearances steadily for years, as my responsibilities at work have ramped up and up. I’m acutely aware of the toll that events take on me. At my last convention appearance, I hid under my table for the last 2 hours because the crowd atmosphere was so overwhelming. I think I will abstain from conventions / classes / workshops / podcasts / interviews for the foreseeable future. I like making things - that’s where I want to put my limited resources. 
  • Neil Gaiman said, “There was a day when I looked up and realized that I had become somebody who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. (...) I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.” I...physically...cannot answer all of the messages I get from well-meaning artists asking for advice or help. (-_-) I hate that, but it’s true. And me feeling bad about it doesn’t change reality. I’m going to try to let go of the guilt and accept that this is how it is now. I am allowed to have my own life and focus on my own work.
  • That, mentorship, and “holding the door open for the next person” are still important to me. I’m looking for ways to scale my contributions up in a smart way. I want to make the best use of my time/energy and help the most people possible. We’ll see how it goes, but I think this is going to take the form of public FAQs and tutorials, so everyone has access to the same info and it can stay out there in perpetuity to help more folks. The YouTube video I made this year about figure drawing felt like a really good ratio of time/effort to people I could help. Same with the “Investment Wisdom” comic I made with my dad.
  • It’s been a while since I tried making a comic at the same time as working full-time, and in 2020 I realized that it’s not feasible for me anymore. Could be because I’m older or lazier, or that 2020 emotionally drained me, or that I just have better things to do now than work two jobs at once, but I’m not going to do this to myself again next year. No more side quests! If I do anything creative outside of work, it’s going to be for meeeee and it’s not going to have deadlines or external approval.
  • I am really glad I fostered cats this year, but I learned that I definitely prefer my quiet, calm, clean life without them. It might have been different if I didn’t have an extra-demanding position at work in 2020, or if my partner was in LA with me. As it was, it did not work. I don’t want to be a single-catmom of 3! I think that fostering is AMAZING - I felt very fulfilled by that experience and I still get to follow the cats now that they are in their forever homes. I highly recommend it before adopting a new pet! You can always foster an animal and then decide to adopt them if they are a great fit. :-)
  • “If you aren’t hearing ‘no’ 50% of the time, you aren’t asking for enough.”
  • When I go above and beyond at work, and turn in my scene ahead of the deadline or add fancy toning effects that aren’t necessary, I pressure everyone else to do that. It’s not just “caring about my work” or trying to “do my best” - it’s a kind of aggression that can hurt the newest / most vulnerable artists on the team.
  • I replaced my own graphics card for the first time, with help from my friend Jason! Like he says, it’s basically just adult-legos, but, still, I was very pleased with myself. :D Thanks, Jason!
I can’t find a fitting place in the post for this gif, but I really want to include it anyway

Goals for 2021:

  • Get married and don’t let ourselves get separated long-term again in 2021.
  • Don’t catch Covid. Get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to me. Stay vigilant even after inoculation to protect others.
  • I’m starting on an exciting new unannounced project in January~! Will try to do my best and learn a lot!
  • Pitch my own original feature film ideas for the first time! (Gulp!)
  • Ideally, we’d go to Portland for the holidays next year since I missed all of them with my family in 2020.
  • I gotta find a counselor I can talk to while quarantine is still in effect. I think my former counselor takes phone appointments. It’s ironic how even SETTING UP therapy is emotional labor.
  • Keep working on my ability to identify what I’m feeling in the moment. Get better at putting those feelings into words / advocating for myself so that other people understand what I need (and I’m more likely to get it).
  • Re-open my online shop or sell stuff via Instagram - try to clear out my books and some original art that I don’t want to store anymore.
  • Make new free art tutorials on YouTube for folks - those take a lot of time to make, but they’re fun and rewarding.
  • Upgrade my home computer system! If I decide to go for another tower, possibly follow a building guide like this and learn lots more about how computers work and how to upgrade my own system when certain parts become obsolete.
  • Try to stay intentional about my spending! Resist lifestyle inflation. Remind myself what I’m saving for and how hard I worked to get to this point. Embrace minimalism and embrace the capsule wardrobe philosophy. Think overnight before buying anything beyond necessities.
  • I’m really overdue for an eye exam and new glasses. Make an appointment and go!
  • Do my best with exercise, without beating myself up about it, cuz we’re still in a global pandemic and stuck at home and everything. Try to leave the house everyday and walk. Stretch before bed. Do a Pilates / yoga / HIIT exercise on YouTube whenever I feel up for it, and pat myself on the back every time I exercise, no matter how little it is.

Notable Media I consumed in 2020:

Books: *cough*
Films: Wolfwalkers, Midsommar, 8th Grade, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Expecting Amy, It Follows, The Business of Being Born, Hereditary, Over the Moon, Death Becomes Her, La Cite des Enfants Perdues, Booksmart, 13th, Onward, Bandwagon
TV shows: Queen’s Gambit, Close Enough, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, The Great, Unbelievable, Workin’ Moms, When They See Us, His Dark Materials, Night on Earth, Big Mouth, Emily in Paris, Tiger King, (Un)Well, Truth Seekers
Shorts: Canvas, If Anything Happens I Love You, Il y a un chat sous la voiture
Podcasts: Men, Her Money (particularly the dominatrix episode, and the “Why Happiness Eludes Overachievers” episode), La Matrescence, Mommy Needs a Break, Why Mommy Drinks
YouTube essay: “Artists & Fandoms” by Philosophy Tube
Instagram accounts: I highly recommend @whodisbaby for feral cat TNR content, and @youngestoldcatlady for inspiring kitten transformations via fostering.

Favorite Memes / Jokes / Whatever :
Passed the Brush by Leif Gantvoort 
Kylie Brakeman’s Trumpbot impressions
@Moschinodorito’s “Barenaked Ladies” TikTok
@abiclarkecomedy’s “Happy Monday” TikTok
@yoleendadong’s “Hello Beautiful” TikTok
@hiramaja’s dressing up TikTok
@athecurlyvshow’s “Rise up to a new level” TikTok
@theryangeorge’s “If 2020 gave us zombies” TikTok