Today’s Art (23rd April 2014)

Well, I was going to post these two paintings in two daily blog posts, but since the second one is terrible and the first one is average at best, I thought that I’d amalgamate them into one art post and try to produce something better for tomorrow.

I don’t know, I guess that my “Aberystwyth Series” is taking up more of my creative energy than I expected.

As usual, these two paintings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"The Path Of Gloom" By C. A. Brown

“The Path Of Gloom” By C. A. Brown

The Path Of Gloom” was a random heavy metal themed painting which I made a couple of weeks ago. Although this painting turned out ok, it required quite a bit of digital editing and the woman’s arms are kind of badly-drawn too.

"Aurora Bay" By C. A. Brown

“Aurora Bay” By C. A. Brown

Well, I was in the mood for painting landscapes when I made “Aurora Bay” and… well… it ended up looking a lot more surreal than I expected.

I don’t know, I’m absolutely terrible at drawing/painting auroras and I was also kind of tired when I painted this too – so, I apologise about the quality of this painting.

The “Uncharted Territory” Of Your Art Style

2014 Artwork Art Style uncharted Territory Sketch

Before I started painting my “Aberystwyth Series” from a series of photos I took in 2009, I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of what my art style looked like and what it would probably end up looking like after a few more years of practice.

In case you haven’t seen any of my paintings before, my art style looks a bit like this:

"Delightful Ruins" By C. A. Brown

“Delightful Ruins” By C. A. Brown

Then I started painting landscapes and everything changed.

"Aberystwyth - Sunrise Coast" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Sunrise Coast” By C. A. Brown

Ok, this wasn’t a huge revelation to me – since most of my paintings and drawings obviously included scenery in the background. So, I had a vague idea of what various locations looked like in my art style.

But, here’s the strange thing…

I’d always defined my art style by how I drew people, by what people looked like when I drew and painted them.

To me, landscapes were nothing more than neutral backgrounds – yes, I had a few preferences when it came to drawing and painting them (eg: sunsets and oceans), but I never really considered them to be part of my personal “style”.

In fact, when I started painting this series of landscapes – I almost felt like I was “cheating”, by not trying to draw and paint people. I thought that landscapes were easy to paint.

I was worried that all the skills I’d learnt from two years of drawing people every day would start to atrophy and wither away from a lack of practice.

I was worried that people would find my landscapes “boring” or think that they were nothing more than “paint by numbers” paintings which didn’t go above the level of a real artist’s sketches.

In fact, I even tried to borrow other art styles in some of my paintings in order to disguise my own landscape painting style – like in this Ukiyo-e style painting I made of Aberystwyth pier:

"Aberystwyth - Hokusai Pier" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Hokusai Pier” By C. A. Brown

But, after a while, I noticed that I actually had my own distinctive style when it came to painting landscapes. Yes, sunsets and oceans still featured heavily. But, I noticed that I tended to go for slightly bolder and less realistic colours than most people would use if they were trying to paint a landscape from a photograph.

I noticed that, as well as some influences from Japanese art – my landscape art style also looked a bit like a more gothic, dark and detailed type of Fauvist art. This caught me totally by surprise. My paintings also looked a little bit more like something Van Gogh would paint than the realistic landscapes I’d initially expected.

"Aberystwyth - High Street 2009" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – High Street 2009″ By C. A. Brown

But, overall, what this taught me was that my art style was larger and more interesting thing than I thought it was. That there were still parts of it that were “uncharted territory” for me.

I’m guessing that I’m not the only artist who thought that they knew what their own art style looked like and thought that there was no “uncharted territory” left to discover.

So, if you think that you know what your own art style looks like, try painting or drawing something different. If you’re used to painting landscapes, then try drawing people. If you’re used to drawing people, try painting landscapes. If you draw comics, try drawing a still life picture. If you normally paint portraits, then try making a comic. I’m sure you get the idea.

Try it, you might surprise yourself.

——-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful :)

Ten Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For A Year – Part Two

Yay! I've always wanted to say this!

Yay! I’ve always wanted to say this!

Welcome back :) In case you haven’t read part one, this blog had it’s first birthday yesterday. I’ve decided to commemorate the occasion by giving you a list of ten things I’ve learnt about blogging over the past year, which might come in handy if you’re thinking about starting a blog of your own.

Again, I know that I’m breaking the “don’t blog about blogging” rule here. But, don’t worry, normal articles about art and writing will resume tomorrow at the usual time (plus, there will obviously be an art post this evening too).

So, without any further ado, let’s get started on the rest of the list:

6) Lists: As you’ve probably noticed, a fair number of my articles are lists. They usually have titles like “Five tips for…” or “Four ways to…”, there’s a good reason why I do this and why you should do it too.

Don’t ask me why, but people are fascinated by lists. They’re fascinated by titles which suggest that they are going to get to read a list of interesting information or ideas. I first really noticed this trick when I discovered an absolutely hilarious and addictive [but probably slightly NSFW] website called Cracked.

Virtually all of their article titles are things like “Ten Secretly Badass People From History”, “Five Popular Soft Drinks With A Dark History” etc… and, for some reason, it makes them irresistibly interesting. Since then, I’ve noticed this format in all sorts of blogs and I’ve used it in my own.

I still don’t have a clue why it works, but it does. So, use it.

7) Filler: If you’re posting articles every day, then you’re probably going to run out of ideas occasionally. Don’t worry, this is normal. It happens to everyone. But what separates those who are serious about blogging from those who aren’t is what they do when this happens.

If you’ve made a decision to post something daily, then post something daily. Don’t just leave your blog blank for a day. If this sounds impossibly difficult, then don’t worry – there are a few tricks you can use to get an article written fairly quickly.

I’ve written about this topic in much more detail in another article, but one of the many tricks you can use when this happens is to write a filler article.

Whilst you shouldn’t use filler articles too often, they can be absolutely invaluable when you’re short on ideas. These can include reviews of things (since a review is a lot easier to write than an original article), these can include cleverly-disguised reworkings of articles you’ve already written, these can include a compilation of links to various things (like my monthly “Best of the blog” posts) and they can include blog posts where you pose a question to the audience.

Likewise, as this article itself demonstrates, you can fill up an extra day of your blogging schedule by splitting a longer article up into two separate articles.

There are a lot of ways to write good filler content and it’s worth knowing a couple of these before you start blogging (rather than learning them as you go along, like I did), because writer’s block affects us all at one time or another. So, be prepared.

8) Post length: It’s worth working out how long you want your posts to be before you start blogging.

Some sites I’ve read recommend that you keep your blog posts ridiculously short (eg: 400 words or less), so that people can read them quickly. Other sites recommend that you just make your posts as long or short as they end up being once you’ve finished them. There’s really no agreement here.

Personally, I tend to keep my posts between about 500 and 1500 words for a number of reasons. For starters, I tend to be a little bit verbose and I find writing short things a lot more difficult than giving myself a bit more space to express myself fully. Secondly, this is the kind of article length that I personally like to read. Thirdly, I feel like I’m “cheating” my readers if I write a short post (which is why I sometimes apologise at the end of any 500-600 word posts that I write).

I can’t tell you which post length will work for you, but it’s a good idea to work this out for yourself. Try preparing a few articles before you start your blog and take a look at how long they are. If you’re better suited to writing short posts, then write short posts. If you’re better suited to writing essays, then write essays. But don’t try to squash or stretch your articles to fit someone else’s guidelines.

9) Write the kind of blog you want to read: I can’t emphasise this enough. Your blog must interest you, it must be about topics that interest you and it should be presented in a way that interests you.

Yes, your blog should be primarily for your readers rather than for you – but if you aren’t interested in it, then how can you expect them to be?

For example, I love websites that post things daily. I’ll read them almost religiously. So, when it came to working out how often I’d post things on here – it was an absolute no-brainer.

Of course, over the past year, I’ve learnt that posting daily is a bit more difficult than it looks – but it’s given me a lot more respect for the daily sites that I read.

Writing the kind of blog that you want to read also helps you to feel proud of your blog. And, if you feel proud of your blog, then you’ll have a lot more intrinsic motivation to produce more stuff for it and to make it as good as possible.

But, at the same time, remember that your blog must also be something which other people will also be interested in too.

10) Don’t blog about blogging: Finally, if you aren’t writing a blog about writing blogs, then don’t blog about blogging. I’m certainly not the first person to say this and I certainly won’t be the last.

I can probably just about get away with blogging about blogging here only because it’s a special occasion and because blogging is at least vaguely similar to writing. Either that, or I’m just being extremely hypocritical here.

But, if your blog is about a topic which is totally unrelated to blogging, then don’t start blogging about blogging. Stick to the topic that you’re writing about and the topic that people expect to read about when they find your blog.

If you spend a long time blogging about, say, tortoises and then you suddenly start blogging about blogging instead – your readers will be confused at best or seriously annoyed at worst. So, don’t do it.

Yes, if you’ve been blogging for a while, then it’s very easy to write about it. But, don’t.

——–

Anyway, I hope this was useful :) If you’re interested, you can find part one here.

Today’s Art (21st April 2014)

Well, I felt like painting a 1980s/90s-style A4-size picture for today and, although “Highway” didn’t quite turn out as well as I hoped, I still really like it. It’s just a shame that I couldn’t get the blur of headlights in the background to work in quite the right way.

"Highway" By C. A. Brown

“Highway” By C. A. Brown

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

Ten Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For A Year – Part One

Yes, one whole year of blog articles and cutting-edge up-to-date video game references.

Yes, one whole year of blog articles and cutting-edge up-to-date video game references.

Woo hoo! This blog celebrates it’s first birthday today! It really doesn’t feel quite that long to me, but “PekoeBlaze- The Official Blog” has been going for an entire year!

And, well, this blog has come a long way since my very first “Hello World” post a year ago. In fact, it’s probably close to about a thousand posts long at the moment (ok, only about 250-300 of them are actual articles like this one, rather than reviews, art posts etc..) and I’m not even going to try to estimate how many hundred thousand words I’ve written over the past year.

But, enough bragging. You’re not reading this to hear me boast about my blog.

One of the reasons why it surprises me so much that this blog has been running for an entire year is because my previous two attempts at starting blogs haven’t lasted anywhere near this long.

I started one when I was eighteen (which I’ve since deleted, since I was basically “eighteen going on eighty” back then ) which lasted for about six months and I started one when I was twenty which lasted for a grand total of two months.

So, why did this blog succeed when the others failed miserably?

Well, here are a few things I’ve learnt over the past year that might come in handy if you are thinking about starting your own blog. Yes, I know that I’m breaking the “don’t blog about blogging” rule, but.. .well… it is this blog’s birthday.

Plus, since this is going to be a fairly long article – I’ve decided to split it into two parts (the second one will be available here tomorrow at 3:11pm GMT / 4:11pm BST). Wow! This is my first two-part article! I feel so… Professional!

Anyway, let’s get started:

1) Teach something: The number one reason why my previous two blogs failed miserably was because they were personal blogs. Whilst it was kind of nice to keep an online diary, it doesn’t have quite the same intimacy as a traditional diary (since literally anyone can read it) and the details of my everyday life aren’t something that people are going to be that interested in.

I can’t remember the amount of traffic I got on my previous two blogs but, in total, it was probably less than I get on a slow day on this blog. And I think I know why….

I can’t remember where I first read this wonderful piece of advice, but if you want to make a blog that lots of other people will want to read, then you have to teach people something. You have to give them information that they are interested in and which is useful to them.

In other words, your blog can’t be entirely about you, it should primarily be about providing something of value to your readers.

So, if there’s a subject that you know a reasonable amount about – then blog about it. Even if, like me, you’re at an intermediate level of skill (at most) at one or two things that you do regularly or have done regularly in the past (eg: writing and art), then teach this at a beginner’s level.

You don’t have to be an expert in whatever you blog about, you just have to have slightly more knowledge about it than an absolute beginner does.

Everyone has something they can teach. But, if you can’t work out what it is, then you can still provide value to your readers by doing things like writing reviews of films you’ve seen, books you’ve read, games you’ve played etc…

2) Schedule! Schedule! Schedule!: WordPress, and probably other blogging sites too, has a schedule feature. This allows you to write a blog post and then choose exactly when it is automatically posted. Regardless of whether you’re writing daily posts, weekly posts or monthly posts this is the most useful tool any blogger can have. Use it!

I only discovered this feature a couple of months after I started this blog. For the first two or three months, I would literally spend every day rushing about to write a daily blog post – it was pretty hectic. Not only that, they would be posted at all sorts of irregular times of the day. It’s a wonder that this blog stayed afloat back then, since it was stressing me out a bit.

These days, I’ve worked out how to use scheduling to my advantage and it’s made things a whole lot less stressful. For example, I’m actually writing this post on the fifth of April. It, along with all my other articles, will be posted at exactly 3:11pm GMT (4:11pm British Summer Time). Don’t ask me why I post at this particular time, it just kind of happened that way.

If you use the automatic scheduling feature on your blogging site, then it will allow you to post at the exact same time every day (or two days or week, whatever your schedule is) – this gives your readers a good indication of when they can expect a new article and it also saves you the trouble of having to log in at a certain time every day.

3) Make a buffer: In the last point on this list, I mentioned that I was writing this article on the fifth of April. This means that I have sixteen days’ worth of articles queued up before this one. This “buffer” of articles means that I can take the occasional short break from my blog and/or work on other things as well (like my art). It also means that, if I get writer’s block on a particular day, I won’t miss an update.

When I started this blog, I made the mistake of not preparing several days’ worth of articles in advance. As such, I was rushing about every evening and I was panicking whenever I couldn’t think of an idea for an article.

Over time, I’ve managed to build up (and maintain) a fairly decent buffer of articles – but this is a lot more difficult than if I’d been smart enough to write a few articles before I started this blog.

So, before you start your new blog, make sure that you’ve already written at least three or four articles before you post the first one. Not only that, keeping a “buffer” of articles also gives you time to go back and edit articles before they’re published – seriously, you would not believe the number of spelling and grammatical mistakes in some of my really old articles!

4) Politics and/or religion: Some people do quite well blogging about their own political and/or spiritual beliefs.

There are no shortage of atheist blogs, agnostic blogs, New age blogs, Christian blogs, Islamic blogs, Jewish blogs, Hindu blogs, Sikh blogs, liberal blogs, conservative blogs, feminist blogs, anti-feminist blogs, LBGT blogs (including, technically, this one), social justice blogs, secularist blogs, theocratic blogs, environmentalist blogs, conspiracy theorist blogs etc….

If you want to write about politics and/or religion, then you can probably do quite well from this. But, be prepared for arguments – be prepared for at least half of your readers to, at best, vehemently disagree with (or absolutely hate) your blog. Be prepared for your views to come back to bite you in the ass if you change them in the future and your old blog articles are around for other people to quote at you.

The fact is, political and spiritual views polarise people in a way that nothing else does. So, think about this before you start your blog. Personally, I’ve found that it’s generally best to mostly keep my strong (and occasionally quite changeable and contradictory) political opinions and philosophical beliefs out of this blog – which, if you’ve ever met me, you’ll know is no easy feat.

Yes, I’ll occasionally talk about my political or philosophical views if they’re relevant to the subject of art and/or writing (which is why I talk about things like censorship or copyright reform occasionally).

Plus, very occasionally, I’ll even talk briefly about LGBT topics (with an emphasis on the last two letters) – because, well, just because….

But I made a conscious decision that this blog shouldn’t revolve around politics before I started it, because I wanted the focus of my blog to be on art and writing. Plus, I didn’t want the inevitable long and vitriolic political arguments in the comments section either….

So, it’s up to you whether you want to blog primarily about politics and/or religion. But, make sure that you decide one way or another before you start blogging.

5) Images (and copyright): If you read any article by anyone about blogging, then this subject will probably appear at some point. People like to look at pictures. So, be sure to include at least one image in most of your posts.

Since I’m an artist who has a scanner, this isn’t that difficult for me. With the exception of screenshots in game reviews, I can make all the images I need for this blog. But, if you can’t do this – then don’t worry.

There are loads of Creative Commons-licenced images on the internet (including quite a few that I’ve made) which you can use without paying royalties or asking permission. However, be sure to check exactly which type of Creative Commons licence something has been given before you use it – since some types of Creative Commons licences come with various restrictions.

For example: The Creative Commons licence I tend to use (CC-BY-NC-ND) for a lot, but not all, of my art allows you to post it on your own blog – as long as you credit “C.A.Brown” or “PekoeBlaze” as the author. But it doesn’t allow you to alter, copy or manipulate my art (with some exceptions- see my article about fan fiction/fan art for more about this) or to use it in a commercial way (eg: you can’t sell it, use it in advertisements etc…) without permission.

However, some people even release images on the internet without any copyright at all. It’s usually a good idea to read their site very carefully (and check if they have the right to do this – eg: if they’ve made the image themselves and they’re not based on another copyrighted work), but these can be a good source of free images for your blog. If you need to find one of these sites in a hurry, then check out WPclipart.

Likewise, if you’re using really old images (eg: where the creator has died over 70-100 years ago), then you’re usually ok. But, be sure to do your research here, since there are sometimes exceptions to this [eg: some of Matisse's early paintings are out of copyright in the US, but they are still covered by copyright in Europe].

In addition to this, most copyright laws allow a certain level of “fair use” or “fair dealing”. This means that you may be allowed to post or use copyrighted images on your blog (without permission or royalties) in certain circumstances and contexts. The exact rules vary from country to country, but a common example of “fair use”/”fair dealing” is using stills from a film or screenshots from a game in the context of a review.

As long as you do your research and remain aware of all the relevant rules, then finding interesting images for your blog shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

—–
To be continued….

Today’s Art (20th April 2014)

Well, today’s painting took a lot longer to make than I expected (seriously, it took an hour and a half! For someone who makes fast art, this is almost an eternity!) But I’m quite proud of it nonetheless :)

"Arrow" By C. A. Brown

“Arrow” By C. A. Brown

As you can probably guess, “Arrow” is based on old point-and-click adventure games. I don’t know why, but I usually get fascinated by this genre for a few times every year. I’m still not quite sure why, it’s probably both because of the retro appeal and because they’re one of the most explorative and art-based genres of computer game out there.

(As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.)