Today’s Art (24th May 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Resurfaced” – a mini series of self-contained webcomic updates featuring the characters from my occasional webcomic series (many more comics featuring them can be found in the “2016”, “2017” and “2018” segments of this page).

Previous comics in this mini series can be found here: Comic One, Comic Two

And, yes, it’ll be interesting to see how history views gaming from the 2010s. Given that it’s been one of the more interesting, but controversial, decades in the history of gaming (since it’s when gaming became truly “mainstream” and when indie games became popular too) – this part will be especially interesting. Still, given that the most easily available research materials are critical articles and youtube videos, I’m starting to think that historians might end up with a slightly rose-tinted view of the decade.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resurfaced – History” By C. A. Brown

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Why Creative People Should Be Critics Too – A Ramble

Although I’m more of an artist these days, most of my formal training is as a writer. However, a slightly strange thing about one of the creative writing courses that I took during my late teens/early twenties was that the course would often include more hours spent studying literature than actually practicing writing or even discussing writing techniques.

For quite a while, I thought that this was just “filler” or possibly a way to make the course seem more “prestigious” or something like that. At my most cynical, I concluded that the literature modules were included to make the writing-based parts of the course seem more interesting by comparison.

But, thinking about it more carefully, it was actually a much more essential part of the course than it first appeared to be. In fact, it has even been useful to me after I became an artist. But, why? Because studying literature makes you think like a critic.

There’s often something of an artificial divide between critics and creative people in popular culture. After all, there’s even the famous saying that “a critic is just a failed writer/artist/director/musician” But, thinking like a critic is one of the best ways to get good at writing or making art.

Why? Because, when you strip away all of the pretentiousness, the main job of a critic is to study and analyse other creative works. A critic takes a careful look at something and works out which parts of it “work” and which parts don’t. After this, they also have to work out why.

Once they’ve done this, a critic also has to look at how a creative work relates to other works in the same genre, how it takes inspiration from other things and what techniques the writer, artist etc.. used. A critic has to really “get to know” something and then describe it in a (relatively) concise review.

In other words, a critic has to “dissect” other things in order to see how they work and then distil that information into a small guide. A critic has to be able to look at creative works closely and think about them in a greater level of depth. Over time, a critic will also gain a good sense of both their own sensibilities and the sorts of things that appeal to audiences.

From there, it isn’t too much of a leap to “reverse engineering” other creative works in order to learn how to improve your own creative works.

And this is how you learn how to be a better artist, writer etc… You see what other people have done, you work out how they did it and then you use those techniques in a new and original way in your own works. In addition to this, if you have a basic knowledge of copyright law, you can even go a step further and take inspiration from any works that really impress you.

Part of taking inspiration properly includes being able to look at creative works in a fairly analytical “critic-like” way in order to break them down into the general, non-copyrightable elements that you can re-use in new and interesting ways.

Thinking like a critic means that you can focus on more than just the story that is being told or the image in a painting. It means that you also pay attention to things like story structure, emotional tone, narrative style, chapter length, art materials, colour palettes, lighting decisions, themes etc.. too.

Thinking like a critic also means that you can learn from more than just the things in your chosen field too.

For example, many of the art techniques that I’ve learnt over the past few years haven’t come from looking at other paintings and drawings, or even from reading art tutorials. They’ve come from looking closely at movies, TV shows, photographs and computer games. So, yes, thinking like a critic means that the range of “educational materials” available to you is much larger than you might think.

So, strange as it might sound, thinking like a critic is one of the best ways to become a better artist or a better writer.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (23rd May 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Resurfaced” – a mini series of self-contained webcomic updates featuring the characters from my occasional webcomic series (many more comics featuring them can be found in the “2016”, “2017” and “2018” segments of this page).

Previous comics in this mini series can be found here: Comic One

And, yes, this comic update was initially inspired by a real TV show on a mainstream channel (Channel 4) here in the UK last year. Still, even though said TV show probably wouldn’t raise eyebrows in mainland Europe, it is at least reassuring to know that British television is still less censored than American TV (I mean, I once heard that an American news broadcast actually censored/blurred footage of an Amedeo Modigliani painting!)

This comic update was also originally going to be a much more political one about censorship, but I decided that character-based humour would be a lot funnier. And, yes, Harvey is a little on the prudish side, but “has some knowledge of obscene poetry”.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resurfaced – Late Night TV” By C. A. Brown

Five Things That Two Old TV Shows Can Teach Us About 1990s-Style Storytelling

Although I’ve covered the topic of 1990s-style storytelling in other articles, I felt like taking a more in-depth look at two tonally-similar American TV shows from this decade, to see what makes them so quintessentially “90s” and what this can show us about how to achieve this in our own comics, fiction etc..

The two shows are, of course, “Sliders” and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. Both of these shows are somewhat overlooked (when compared to more famous shows from the 1990s like The Simpsons, The X-Files, Friends, The Fresh Prince etc..) but they are both about as “90s” as you can get. A good example of this type of show from the UK is one called “Bugs” although, annoyingly, I didn’t have time to include it in this article.

So, what can these two shows teach us about 1990s-style storytelling? Here are five things:

Yes, these two TV shows are about as “90s” as you can get. But, why?

1) Familiarity and change: One of the reasons why these shows are so quintessentially “90s” is because they focus on one specific location, but with some really interesting variations on this location in every episode.

Almost every episode of “Lois & Clark” takes place in a few parts of a New York-like city called Metropolis (such as the offices of a newspaper) and every episode of “Sliders” takes place in San Francisco (with the characters often staying in the same hotel).

Yet, in each episode, something new or different happens in these locations. In “Lois & Clark”, the city is often threatened by a new villain of some kind or another. In “Sliders”, the characters literally travel between alternate timelines in each episode (so, there are many different “versions” of San Francisco).

This is a screenshot from season 2 of “Lois & Clark” (1994-5) showing the historical outlaws Bonnie and Clyde holding up a bank in 1990s Metropolis.

This is a screenshot from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995-6) showing one of the main characters getting a visit from the Grim Reaper during a stay in a version of San Francisco where magic and sorcery are considered to be real.

Normally, the combination of the familiar and the unfamiliar is meant to be disturbing (eg: the psychological concept of “The Uncanny). But, in these shows, the familiar locations often serve to create a reassuring atmosphere. Because these locations are repeated, but with enough variations to keep them interesting, they almost become a character in the show. Almost like a member of the team.

Of course, the focus on a single location is also an example of how the people who made these shows were able to be creative despite the limited budgets that they had. After all, television wasn’t as prestigious during the 1990s as it is today. So, this is also a good example of how limitations force creative people to innovate and do interesting things.

2) Team-based stories: If there’s one thing to be said for media from the 1990s in general, it is that there was a much greater focus on team-based stories. Shows like “Star Trek: Voyager“, comics like Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” and games like “Resident Evil” often focused on a group of characters, rather than the much more individualistic focus that many modern films, games etc.. have.

This emphasis on team-based stories is an essential part of both “Sliders” and “Lois & Clark”. Both shows feature a central group of four characters, all of whom are important to the story in some way or another. Yes, even in a superhero-themed show like “Lois & Clark”, the superhero is nothing without his colleagues at the newspaper he works at. I mean, there’s a reason why the show is called “Lois & Clark” rather than just “Clark”.

The four main characters from “Lois & Clark” – (from left to right) Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

The four main characters from “Sliders” – (from left to right) Professor Arturo, Rembrandt Brown, Quinn Mallory and Wade Welles.

So, why is team-based storytelling so important to things from the 1990s? It allows for a lot more humour, it allows the writers to add suspense by temporarily separating the team, it creates a more “community”-like atmosphere that draws the audience in, it allows for more depth (eg: by showing different characters reacting to the same thing in different ways) and it also places more emphasis on the story than on any one particular character.

3) Feel-good stories: Another thing that makes these two shows such great examples of 1990s-style storytelling is the fact that they weren’t afraid to be optimistic, fun, feel-good television. Although each show contains a lot of drama (such as a chilling episode of “Sliders” where the characters find themselves in a city-sized prison), there is an overriding sense of reassurance. There’s a sense that things will turn out ok in the end.

Yes, this is a little bit predictable. But it is also part of the charm of these shows. The emphasis changes from “will the main characters win?” to “how will the main characters win?“. And this is designed to evoke a sense of relaxed curiosity in the audience, rather than nail-biting suspense. These shows make up for the predictability of “the good guys always win” by making the audience intrigued about how they will win.

Likewise, both shows include a lot of humour too. This often includes things like sarcastic dialogue, character-based humour, hilariously surreal background details and even some good old-fashioned slapstick comedy too. This is because these shows recognise that one of the roles of storytelling is to make people feel better about the world, to lighten the mood of the audience etc…

4) Subtle politics (sometimes): Even the politics in these shows is handled in an interesting way. Although both shows can occasionally make political points in a hilariously heavy-handed way, they are often a lot more subtle about it than some modern media. Most of the time….

But, yes, these shows can be hilariously heavy-handed sometimes. For example, the episode ”The Weaker Sex” from season 1 of “Sliders” includes a reversed example of 1950s-style gender politics. But, for the most part, the politics in these shows are handled in a more intelligent way than this.

In other words, they often quietly make points about various topics through setting an example.

For example, by the standards of the time, both shows can probably be described as “feminist”. Whilst this is occasionally presented in a hilariously heavy-handed way (such as the example above), it is often presented in a much more subtle way by just making sure that the female characters in both shows are intelligent, witty and resourceful people. They are shown to be important characters in their own right, rather than just members of the supporting cast.

Plus, each show also takes a fairly equal attitude towards the topic of fashion, style etc… But, each show does this in a slightly different way.

A scene from season 1 of “Sliders” showing both Quinn and Wade wearing fairly understated, practical, realistic and “unfashionable” outfits.

A scene from season 2 of “Lois & Clark” showing both Lois and Clark looking rather stylish (by 1990s standards).

In “Lois & Clark”, both Lois and Clark are shown to be incredibly stylish people. By contrast, in “Sliders”, there’s relatively little emphasis on style, fashion etc.. amongst all of the main characters – with the emphasis being firmly on the actual practical events of the story. Both of these shows handle this topic in a slightly “non-mainstream” (by the standards of the time) way, but they do it subtly.

So, yes, keeping any political points subtle and making them through example is a good way to add some 90s-style sophistication to your story or comic.

5) Quirkiness and personality: Simply put, both of these shows have their own unique “quirks” that make them what they are.

For example, in “Lois & Clark”, the newspaper’s editor is obsessed with Elvis (and also uses the phrase “Judas Priest” as an expletive). In “Sliders”, many parallel universes feature political/military conflicts with Australia (of all places!) and there are also a few amusingly dated references to moral panics about toy guns during the 1990s.

These are all fairly subtle things, but they show that an actual person has created the show. They aren’t hip, self-conscious modern “nerd culture” references. They’re just some totally random plot elements that help to give these shows a bit more personality. You can tell that whoever wrote these shows was relying on their own thoughts, memories and opinions rather than just trying to appear “hip” or “cool”.

So, don’t be afraid to give your stories and comics a bit of “personality”. Don’t be afraid to be slightly random or silly. But try to make sure that any quirkiness comes from your own sense of humour, thoughts, memories etc… rather than just whatever happens to be “cool” at the moment.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art ( 22nd May 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Resurfaced” – a mini series of self-contained webcomic updates featuring the characters from my occasional webcomic series (many more comics featuring them can be found in the “2016”, “2017” and “2018” segments of this page)

Wow! This comic update ended up being a lot more detailed than I’d originally expected 🙂 Yes, the humour is a bit on the character-based side of things, but it’s a good introduction to Roz, Harvey, Rox and Derek if you’ve never read the comic before (and, yes, Derek really likes the idea of being an absolute monarch, of the villainous variety.)

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resurfaced – Utopia” By C. A. Brown

How Artists Work Out Their “Process”

If you’re new to making art or are curious about making art, it can sometimes be strange to read about how artists make their work look like their own work. Often, artists will do very specific things, follow their own rules, use very specific types of materials etc… and you might be wondering “how did they work that out?“.

The simple answer is, of course, “trial, error, circumstances and research“.

For example, most of the techniques that I use in my own art were either the product of experimentation, gradual research and/or looking at other works of art. They are also a product of circumstances too. They make my art look a bit like this preview of a digitally-edited painting that I’ve prepared for next month:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 15th June.

For starters, my rule that “30-50% of the total surface area of each painting should be covered with black paint” wasn’t something that I worked out instantly. I mean, if you look at some of my older art (from back when I made pencil drawings rather than paintings), you’ll see that I don’t always follow this rule.

This is a drawing of mine from 2012. As you can see, less than 30% of the total surface area of the drawing is covered with black pencil. (“Attic Lab” By C. A. Brown
[10th June 2012])

No, I learnt this rule through lots of gradual experimentation, through careful observation of anything that I thought was “cool” (eg: computer games, heavy metal album covers, films/TV shows from the 1980s and 1990s etc…), from needing to make paintings in a hurry sometimes and through just making art that I liked (and then realising that it tended to include a lot of black paint).

Once I’d worked out that there was a rule, I was able to use this technique in a much more thorough and conscious way. Like this:

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, the current 18x18cm size for most of my paintings has a rather long story behind it. When I started making daily art back in 2012, most of my daily drawings were just under a quarter of an A4 page in size. This was a small area that I felt I could comfortably fill with art every day. When I got a bit more confident, I expanded to half an A4 page and then I’d often make A4-sized pieces. I didn’t really go any larger than A4 both for time reasons and because I worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit my art into the scanner that I use to digitise it.

When I switched over to using watercolour pencils in very late 2013/early 2014, also I switched back to only using half (or less) of an A4 page for a while. This was mostly to conserve the limited amount of watercolour paper, waterproof ink pens and watercolour pencils I had at the time. Of course, once I’d amassed a decent amount of low-mid range art supplies, I could make my paintings a bit larger.

After a bit of trial and error, I think that I eventually settled on the 18 x18 cm size for several reasons. It was small enough for me to make daily paintings and it had the advantages of both portrait and landscape formats, not to mention that the square format meant that the picture still looked fairly clear when automatically resized on the internet. After a while, I started adding 1.5cm black “letterboxing” bars to the top and bottom of most of my paintings. Initially, this was to make my art look more “cinematic”, but it also saved a bit of time and helped me to stick to my “30-50% black paint” rule more easily too.

These are the “standard” guidelines that I draw before making most of my paintings. And, yes, that little square in the bottom corner is for the title graphics for these articles too.

Likewise, most of the digital editing techniques that I used on my paintings after I’ve scanned them were things that I learnt from gradual experimentation and research. Initially, the only thing I really knew how to do was to crop pictures to the correct size. Then I learnt how to adjust the brightness/contrast levels in images. Then I went through a phase of using “blur” effects in all of my drawings (since it disguised the pencil lines slightly) etc…

And, gradually, I learnt how to do more and more. Sometimes, I’d learn by just messing around with the programs that I use and, sometimes, I’d learn through reading about what other artists did.

For example, I worked out how to add realistic skin tones to my art digitally after reading this “making of” article by Winston Rowntree. Initially, I selected each area manually, but then I eventually realised that most image editing programs have tools for selecting larger areas quickly.

Likewise, as I’ve mentioned before, my current palette was mostly inspired by the use of colours in these fan-made “Doom II” levels. But, even this followed several months of occasional experimentation with limited complementary colour-based palettes.

So, yes, an artist’s “process” is usually the result of things like trial and error, practical concerns, artistic research and experimentation. This is why, when you read about how an artist makes their art, it can sometimes sound a bit strange. There’s no standard “one size fits all” process for all artists. We usually have to work it out for ourselves.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (21st May 2018)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling very inspired. So, today’s artwork is a digitally-edited drawing (rather than a digitally-edited painting) of some kind of random formal party.

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

“Manor Grounds” By C. A. Brown