Looking for inspiration for illustrating a short story

First things first... I can’t attempt to make a graphic novel, no matter how short, without understanding what great looks like. Enrolled in the city library to explore its graphic novel selection.


Some ideas I captured from Hilda...


Use of colours to convey level on intensity/anger

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

Conveying vastness

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

Action sequences from multiple perspectives

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

Credit: Luke Pearson, Flying Eye Books

DC Comics are very advanced. The drawings are absolutely gorgeous!!

Credit: DC COMICS, Earth One by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

Credit: DC COMICS, Earth One by Geoff Johns & Gary Frank

What attracted me most was the storytelling techniques by Scott Snyder. Sometimes, the narrative is driving a tangential point the drawings, while matching the sequence perfectly. These tangential sequences are used to add depth to the story; to reveal something about the world without taking you away from the immediate action. It is very clever!

Volume 1 of Batman: The Court of Owls featured a script, a format I can use for my own story!

Credit: DC COMICS, Batman: Volume 1, The Cour of Owls by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo Jonathan Glapion

Credit: DC COMICS, Batman: Volume 1, The Cour of Owls by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo Jonathan Glapion

Lastly, I bought a fiction writing course on Audible. I’ll share some insights from it in a future post. 

Learning to draw through rapid visualisation

I’ve started to do some research on techniques to do sketches and drawings on my iPad. Running through lots of YouTubes like this one:

One of the interesting things about Procreate is its ability to draw in layers. All artists use techniques like this whether through tracing or letting oil paint dry layer at a time. In mediums like comic books, this is especially true where the storywriting, sketching, inking, colouring and lettering are done by different artists. Sketching is done by the Penciller, who would go through multiple layers of drawings that eventually get traced on with an inking phase to give the final refined, consistent look.

With “rapid visualisation”, ideas start off as basic shapes. Through multiple iterations, we can start to increase detail and fidelity. Over many layers, we can drive the character or object towards the feel we want.

Let’s try to draw an elephant as an example...

Colouring would work in a similar way...

I’m having a lot of fun learning and improving my drawing skills. I obviously have a long way to go... ;)

Time for a non-programming hobby

By the time 2018 ended, I was feeling really tired and demotivated. I spent a lot of my time slaving away at a computer from start to end on most days. I do believe that I achieved a lot during this period. However, this seemed to have come at the expense of personal relationships and just general health and wellbeing.

Prior to 2017, I spent my time between my job and my hobby company making iOS apps. 60Hz was the main focus and it gave me an incredible hands on experience at all things product development. I did designs, coding, marketing and customer support. I made YouTubes along side apps, maintained social accounts, read UX books and dealt with B2B relationships. Once the app building stopped, I filled the void by taking on more work hours. This brought me a lot of success in my job. My 5.30AM coding runs for the iOS app transitioned easily to working with my US team mates.

While I am happy with 12-14h days of making products, it does take a massive toll on everything else. During the Christmas break, I went in search of a new hobby, something that will disengage me from work and coding while giving me an outlet to be creative.

I spent the first part of my break rewatching the Harry Potter movies. They made me want to write a short story of my own. If you got this far in this post, you’d realise that I am not a strong writer; “C” student when it came to English at school. Nevertheless, I started dreaming away about a short story I could bring to life.

Around the same time, I was finishing up the “Hilda” series on Netflix. I LOVE HILDA!!


The character is so wonderfully free spirited. The creativity displayed by Luke Pearson in the graphic novels are just phenomenal — from furball flying creatures, to the witty woodman, to the invisible little elves who are highly bureaucratic — he had managed to create a world worthy of Hilda’s adventures!

Reading more about the Hilda graphic novels rekindled my intrest in sketching and drawing. Hey, maybe I’ll draw that short story instead of writing it like a novel!

Yep, that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to work on a short graphic novel as my hobby. I know nothing about creating a graphic novel or writing stories so I’m hoping this will be a fun learning experience. I don’t have high expectations or even know if I will be able to stick to it for months and years. I’m still excited to give it a shot.

I’ll write regular updates on my progress and my journey. Use this link http://dinethmendis.com/?category=undersea to follow along. Yes, working title is “undersea”

I’ve got my iPad, Procreate app and an Apple Pencil to begin with. That should be enough, right?

Do "basics" well

High performing teams are about interperson chemistry that is built on a foundation of the “basics”.

Take sports for example.

Learning to play a sport require you to learn the rules and develop basic skills to play. For soccer, it would be passing, tackling, lobbing and shooting.

When you join a team, there’s drills, runs and short set plays. These are repeated over and over during practice. During a full game, these disconnected pieces mix together to form fluid play. Play together with your team for long enough and magic starts to happen — team members anticipate each others moves to outplay opposition.

Drills, runs and set plays allow you to improve and build on the basic skills: passing, tackling, lobbing and shooting. They improve player fitness and execution during gameplay.

The act of continually working on the basics seem to lead to continued advancement. This is an interesting idea as it would be easy to assume the opposite — to advance further, one has to work on increasingly complex drills. I think it comes down to the fact that most complex things are built up from very basic elements. The more confident and efficient we are with basics, the more opportunity we have to put them together to do complex things.

Therefore, I believe, basics and chemistry form important attributes for any team.

Chemistry can be a complex thing to establish, with time, environment and the individuals themselves. It’s a whole other discussion.

It is easy to establish basics when talking about soccer. What are the basics outside the context of sports? I’ve been trying to figure out what forms the basics for a software engineering team. Is it design patterns or code reviews? Is it practicing readiness to production issues? Or perhaps, it is our ability to document and capture tasks in Trello? These seem to be the essential building blocks in a life of an engineer; solving problems by applying technical concepts into code, that outputs a product to deliver value.

Software is more than just code. At the heart of it, it is empathy and collaboration. It is a bunch of people, observing and acknowledging pain felt by themselves or others, deciding to take upon themselves to resolve that pain. Solutions doesn’t just come from one individual. It is the work of many, fusing their minds, disciplines and skills together to make something truly valuable. For me, the basics for a team are contained in these core values.

Basics has to be more around the idea of problem solving. That is all we do as a team, every day. Even our individual disciplines themselves are various ways dimensions of problem solving — research, design, engineering, analysis etc.

This idea became clearer when I recently read the book “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle. The book investigates the elements of highly successful groups. There is a great case study around Danny Meyer’s wildly successful restaurants. In a restaurant, how should one go about preparing staff for both conveying the right feel to customers and be able to react to new and complex issues that come up? It is impossible to cover all the bases and situations.

Danny uses the idea of “heuristics”. He captures the behaviours and his ideology in short, catchy phrases that are used in high frequency. Staff learn to apply these heuristics in every day complex situations, leading to very delightful customer experiences. Applying these heuristics seem to be the basics Danny get his staff to focus on.

These “heuristics” aren’t the same as rules. They are shortcuts for understanding and applying “guiding principles”. They convey a behaviour that is core to situations that arise in a restaurant environment. They allow staff to be thoughtful and creative, while being aligned towards providing customers with a unique, delightful experience.

Heuristics based in problem solving… these can be our basics.

Here are some ideas for heuristics I’ve been collecting with the help of others:

  • Just start.
  • Try and try again.
  • Optimise for fast recovery.
  • Act like it is your company.
  • Coaching over management.
  • Challenge assumptions.
  • Understanding the problem is half the solution.
  • Ask why.

“Just start” — we can apply this heuristic over and over in many occasions, whether people are stuck on a decision or unsure of estimates. It embraces the culture of a “maker” in having a bias for action.

Whenever someone asks me why we allowed a bug to go to production, I like to say: “Making mistakes is part of the job. We’d be better off if our system was optimised for fast recovery instead.”

We do workshops to help everyone understand how to write a good problem statement. Because “understanding the problem is half the solution.”

I believe that practicing these basics of problem solving can lead to powerful teams. They can provide the fundamentals that enable magic to take place.

Keep practising. Keep doing basics well.