Sunday Mailbag

February 24th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: As a college art student, or a freelancer, one is faced with many late nights in a row working to meet deadlines. I’ve had many of these instances and I found myself very sleep deprived, but I still had to push on through. I found that the motor skills start to detiriorate after several days of little to no sleep. Inking becomes very difficult and even sketching can be a challenge, not to mention trying to be creative in such a state. Have you ever experienced this, and how do you deal with it.

A: Monster Lo-Carb.

Seriously, I know what you are saying. Yes, doing art is mentally demanding and requires sharp motor skills, especially at crucial times like when you are inking or painting. You have to be at your best during those times especially.

I try and save the late nights and all-nighters for those points in a job where I don’t need to be razor sharp to get things done. For my particular style of illustration, and especially the line and color stuff like I do for MAD, the coloring stage is one where I can kind of zone out and just render the crap out of whatever is in front of me. That I can stay up all night doing without the quality of the work suffering. Doing layouts and pencil work I can also do when I am getting tired as the pencil is very forgiving and I am somewhat loose at that point anyway.

It’s either when I am doing final pencils, inking or doing a full digital painting of something that I need to be alert and have all my faculties running at 100%. That work I try and save for late morning into the evening time when I am at my most focused. I also try to avoid caffeine and high carb foods during this time as they can make you either shaky or sleepy. I drink plain water or some sugar free and caffeine free beverage. You’d be surprised how much the food you eat affects your energy levels and motor skills.

Sometimes there is no getting around having to do the finer work when you are exhausted due to deadlines. In that case I take moderate amounts of caffeine interspersed with water, still stay away from the carbs and try and stay as focused as I can. If I find my concentration slipping and the work getting sloppy, the only solution to that is a power nap. I’ve found that, in a deadline crunch, I can take one to two hour naps periodically and keep going for days. If I pull a full all-nighter, I need almost a full day to recover from it. The power nap doesn’t satisfy your need for sleep entirely, but it will give your body just enough rest to keep going and maintain an acceptable level of concentration.

Gotta go… I need a power nap…. and then a Monster Lo Carb.

Thanks to Marc Anderson for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here. I’m running low!


  1. cedricstudio says:

    Tom, you are the guy who introduced me to Monster Lo-Carb. It has helped me get through more than one crazy deadline, although I don’t drink it unless I absolutely have to. What is in that stuff? The first time I drank a can I wanted to run around the block! I also noticed a warning on the label not to drink more than two cans in a twenty-four hour period. Weird.

    Of course I try very hard to avoid those situations, but sometimes deadlines collide and there’s nothing you can do about it. I like the power-nap idea, I’ll have to try that.


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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