Audiobooks in the Studio

July 11th, 2006 | Posted in General

I work out of a studio in my home, and people often ask me how that “works for me”. The quick answer is that it works fine but presents it’s own challenges.

I am never away from the office, and that makes it difficult to relax with the family, especially if I have a number of projects going at once. It always seems like work is beckoning me down to the basement. That one just takes some getting used to. On the other hand, I don’t have to waste time traveling to and from the studio, unless you count the stairs. I can also work in my underwear, but end up with eraser shavings stuck in my leg hair…. that’s another blog topic waiting to happen.

No, the biggest problem with working out of your home is the distractions. My wife and kids try very hard to respect my working time, but invariably interruptions happen. Telephone calls, broken things needing fixing, the rotting half carcass of a rabbit left on the doorstep by our cat needing removal… not to mention the place you are most comfortable in your life being just on the other side of the door when you are just plain sick of working. Even a small distraction can cost me a 1/2 hour of studio time. This is not because it takes a 1/2 hour to scrape that half a rabbit off the porch, but because it takes me time to get my attention focused back on the task. I usually end up going to the ‘fridge and looking for something to eat although I’m not hungry. The newspaper will catch my eye and I’ll read an article I missed earlier, I’ll go through the mail while I’m up there and end up opening a letter or two. It takes some time for me to wind back up and get in front of the job again. These are the things that make having a home studio a challenge. Years ago I discovered a secret to staying focused and on-task with work, or at least with certain stages of a job. That secret: audiobooks.

What I found with listening to audiobooks while working is that it gives me an immediate reason to return to the studio and get back to the job at hand. I think it must be human nature that when listening to a story to want that story to continue. I find myself actually wanting to get back to the drawing board to allow the magic voice to keep telling the tale. This is especially true for jobs that take an enormous amount of time, like a multiple page parody for MAD. The job itself can be so daunting, knowing how many hours of work are still in front of you. Listening to the audiobook gives that passing time another layer of purpose. Whatever the reason, it works.

Of course, this doesn’t come without caveats. First, I can’t listen to an audiobook when I am doing the conceptual or final drawing stage of a job. That demands too much concentration, and I am distracted by the story. I just listen to background music at this stage. The time for the audiobook is during the inking and coloring stages, which seem to allow for split attention. Second, even though inking and coloring doesn’t require all my gray matter, they require too much of it for me to listen to anything but books I’ve already read. That’s right, I only listen to books I’ve read and/or listened to before. That turns it into a ‘background book’. In this manner, I can lose myself for a time in the art I am working on and return to the book in progress without having to rewind and listen to what I missed. Another interesting thing about listening to audiobooks while working is that you end up associating pieces of art with the book you listened to while working on it. Every time I see that “Wizard of Oz” painting I posted a few days ago I think about Stephen King’s “Wizard’s and Glass“.

For years I went to the library and checked out cassette tapes of books, which was a pain since I had to keep changing tapes all the time. Then came CD audiobooks, and thanks to a 5 disk changer I could listen for 5-6 hours before needing to change the disks. Now of course we have mp3 players, where I can save a book and listen to it without ever needing to change anything. I have an iPod hooked up to a small stereo in my studio with a remote. Did you know the Lord of the Rings (unabridged) is 52 hours long? I do.

Sources of audiobooks for an mp3 player vary. The most expensive is iTunes, but they have a large selection. I have transferred all of my CD audiobooks to my iPod, but that is a painstaking process at best. HERE is a link with a tutorial on how to do it so it works best for listening. My main source of audiobooks is For a reasonable monthly fee, you can get a certain number of audiobooks a month (I am on the $22.95/2 audio credits each month plan) plus a 30% discount on any other purchases. Your audiobook credits roll over if you do not use them up to 12 credits (books). It’s a great deal. I just finished listening to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” on my last long job. I listen to a lot of Stephen King, Fredrick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Dan Brown, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle??ᬨ‚Ćand J.K. Rowling as well as many classics. Always unabridged, of course. I refuse to listen to abridged work. I have Thomas Harris lined up for the next big job. I wonder if I’ll associate some innocent illustration of bunny rabbits with Hannibal Lecter serving the sweetbreads of a murdered orchestra musician to his dinner guests? One can only hope.


  1. Eddie says:

    Always great to hear what other artist listen to as they work. I find that when I’m drawing from life or blocking out storyboards, classical or film scores is the way to go. Anything with lyrics throws me off and the music takes the forefront of my attention. However, if I’m doing any follow up work (inking, animation cleanup, etc.), I listen to audio books or talk radio (Art Bell rulez!) Recently, I’ve been listening to this obsure work:


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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