Three Simple Ways To Chart Your Artistic Progress – Past And Future.

2017 Artwork Artistic Progress article sketch

If you’re practicing making art on a regular basis, then it can be very easy to lose track of time and/or to feel like you aren’t progressing. After all, when you’re practicing regularly, you’ll rarely see day-to-day improvements or even have a clue how good your art might be in the future if you keep practicing.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to chart both your past and future artistic progress.

1) Regular remakes: One of the easiest ways to chart your past artistic progress is to choose one significant painting or drawing (either due to it’s quality or when it was made) and to make a new version of it every year or so.

Like this little gallery of all of the versions of the first picture I made when I decided to practice making art regularly. I’ve posted one of these online on the 17th April every year since I started getting into art again (and, yes, the gallery contains a preview of this year’s one):

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

Even if you’re having a bad day when you make the new version of this picture, then it will probably still look better than the old versions for the simple reason that you’ve had an extra year of experience and knowledge. This, incidentally, will also show you what you’ve learnt and how your art style has changed over the past few years.

This is extra noticeable if you, say, remake a picture once every two years or so. The only problem with this approach is that, when you see how terrible your old pictures look when compared to your new ones – you might be worried that your new painting won’t look good in the future. It won’t, but this won’t matter, because you’ll be an even better artist!

2) The art that inspires you: One easy way to see what your art might look like in the future (if you keep practicing) is to take a look at the things that really inspire you. If you aren’t sure what these are, then either take a look at your own art and see if it’s been influenced by anything or just ask yourself “what types of art, movies, comics etc.. do I think are really cool 🙂

Generally, if you see something cool, then it’s probably going to have an effect on your art. You’re probably going to try to learn from it, or use similar techniques in your own art. It’s probably going to shape what you choose to learn and what you choose to practice.

As such, it can be a great way to get a sneak peek at parts of your artistic future and/or a way to consciously shape that future.

3) Intervals: If you’re making drawings or paintings regularly, then it can be very easy to feel like it’s one long, endless, continuous thing. This can get fairly dispiriting and it can reduce any sense of progression or accomplishment you might feel. So, split your practice up into longer segments that can be “finished” at similar intervals.

If you’re making art traditionally, then this is fairly easy to do. After all, if you fill one or two sketchbook pages with art every day then – for example- you’re going to get through a 48-page sketchbook in about a month or so. You’ll have a completed sketchbook, which you can mark with the time and date that you finished it.

If you’re making or editing art digitally, then doing something similar can be a bit more complicated – but you can do things like putting time and date information in the file names of your artwork (eg: with mine, I usually put the date it’ll be posted here in the file name) , starting a new art folder every month etc…

If you split your collection of practice artwork up into time-based segments, then this will help you to avoid the feeling of just adding to a continuous, never-ending collection of art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (27th March 2017)

The right of salvage! This is the seventh comic in “Damania Requisitioned” – a new webcomic mini series featuring the characters from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found in the “2016” and “2017” segments of this page (there are also two in the “2015” segment, but they aren’t canonical).

Finally! The four characters are back together again! Although only Harvey and Roz are actually shown in this comic (and, yes, due to hot weather at the time of making this comic, it ended up being a “talking head” comic).

If you’re puzzled about why Roz is in charge of a pirate ship, then read this comic, this comic, this comic and this comic for more information.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Requisitioned - Salvage" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Requisitioned – Salvage” By C. A. Brown

Four Reasons Why The 1990s Are A Great Source Of Artistic Inspiration

2017 Artwork 1990s inspiration article sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the 1990s. I could spend several thousand words talking about that decade but, since this is an article about art, I thought that I’d look at why you should let the 1990s influence your art.

So, here are some examples of cool things from the 1990s that are also great sources of artistic inspiration:

1) Traditional mediums: Although digital art was a thing during the 1990s (and at least one of the image editing programs I currently use comes from the late 90s), the 1990s was the last decade where traditional art materials were king.

As such, illustrations, comics etc… from the 1990s have a very distinctive look to them. They instantly look like they’ve actually physically been drawn or painted. They look both old-fashioned and modern at the same time.

This particular “look” is obviously fairly easy to re-create. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use any digital tools – just make sure that any digital effects that you add to the scanned versions of your artwork are slightly more basic (eg: brightness/contrast/hue/saturation adjustments, noise effects etc…), like this:

"Salvage" By C. A. Brown

“Salvage” By C. A. Brown

2) The lighting: If there’s one thing to be said about movies from the 1990s, it’s that the lighting in many of them was significantly more interesting than in many modern movies. During the 1990s, one thing that was popular in films was to use gloomy locations that made the lighting stand out even more (in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of old Tenebrist paintings).

As well as looking really atmospheric, it also allowed film-makers (and artists) to emphasise parts of the image through the careful use of lighting.

This gothic, shadowy, ambient style of lighting was surprisingly popular in the 1990s, and even classic computer games like “Doom” and “System Shock” tried to use a more primitive version of it to lend their locations a rich sense of atmosphere (although, from what footage I’ve seen, their modern re-makes seem to do this better).

So, yes, learning how to draw or paint realistic lighting and shadows is totally worth it just to be able to re-create this awesome type of lighting:

"At Midnight" By C. A. Brown

“At Midnight” By C. A. Brown

"And I Fell Into Yesterday" By C. A. Brown

“And I Fell Into Yesterday” By C. A. Brown

3) Imagination and freedom: Culturally speaking, the 1990s was a more imaginative decade than the 2010s. The world seemed more optimistic overall, Hollywood actually produced new and imaginative films more regularly, computer games tended to be less “realistic” (in terms of story, graphics etc..), comics were still an “alternative” medium etc…

I was also going to write about how the 1990s seemed like an age with more creative freedom (despite there being stricter official censorship and fewer ways for creative people to get their work to the public). But, every time I tried, this article got a bit too opinionated.

So, all I’ll say is that whilst there seems to have been more formal censorship during the 1990s, there seems to have been a lot less informal censorship. If someone disliked or disagreed with a creative work, then they either ignored it (and looked at something else that they actually liked). Or they grumbled to their friends about it in person. Or, at worst, they wrote to their local paper and/or MP. What they certainly didn’t have was something like Twitter….

As such, there was more of a gap between creative people and their critics. So, creative people didn’t have to worry as much about negative opinions, and could express themselves more freely as a result. Whilst this is no longer the case, it can at least be encouraging to think that there was a time when it was.

4) Stylisation: Since the internet was still very much in it’s infancy in the 1990s, the options for creative research and obscure cultural references were somewhat more limited.

Although I certainly wouldn’t like to be an artist in those days, one cool side-effect of the relative lack of instant research materials is that art, comics, movies etc.. were a lot more stylised than they are now. They tended to rely more on imaginative uses of well-known tropes than on meticulous research. This gives art from the 1990s more of a timeless and stylised kind of look.

And, even though doing a bit of research first (so you know what things are supposed to look like) is probably a good idea, it’s still a good idea to use slightly stylised versions of events, settings etc… in your art if you want to give it an imaginative 1990s-style look. Like this:

"1990s Tropical Paradise Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Tropical Paradise Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

"Sail Ahoy!" By C. A. Brown

“Sail Ahoy!” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (26th March 2017)

More rum! This is the sixth comic in “Damania Requisitioned” – a new webcomic mini series featuring the characters from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found in the “2016” and “2017” segments of this page (there are also two in the “2015” segment, but they aren’t canonical).

If you’re wondering why Harvey is riding a pedal boat, then look at this comic for an explanation.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Requisitioned - Pursuit" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Requisitioned – Pursuit” By C. A. Brown

Three Simple Ways To Improve A Comic/ Webcomic Plan

2017 Artwork Improving Comic Plans Article Sketch

Although this isn’t an article about how to plan comics or webcomics, I thought that I’d talk briefly about what to do after you’ve made your initial plan.

The thing to remember here is that comic plans aren’t set in stone, they’re supposed to be an easy way to try out ideas and as a way to avoid the problem of feeling uninspired halfway through making a comic. They’re a guideline, rather than an order.

As such, here are three very simple things that you can do to improve your comic plans:

1) See what can be condensed and/or added: During the rough planning stage, it can be very easy to make your comic plans slightly bloated.

So, looking over your plans before you make the comic is a perfect opportunity to see if any of the dialogue can be trimmed or if any panels can be merged. Since this will probably free up some extra space, you might also think of some extra stuff that you can add to your comic.

For example, whilst making a short webcomic mini series that will appear here at the beginning of May, I had space to add some extra humour to one of my comic updates because I condensed two panels into one – like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is an example of how I condensed two panels of my plans for an upcoming comic into a single panel.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is an example of how I condensed two panels of my plans for an upcoming comic into a single panel.

2) Caption panels: If your planned comic update is just a “talking head” comic (where two characters stand next to each other and talk for the entire comic), then it’s worth seeing if you can replace any of the dialogue panels in your plan with a caption panel.

A caption panel is a panel where one of the characters’ dialogue is placed in a caption, whilst the illustration below is of whatever they are talking about. Although it won’t work in literally every comic, it’s a classic way to break up the monotony of a “talking head” comic. An example can be seen in the second panel of this comic:

"Damania Revived - Memento" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revived – Memento” By C. A. Brown

3) Give it time: Often, the best way to improve a plan is simply to leave it for a while and then return to it again before you make your comic.

If you start making your comic within a couple of hours of making your plan, then it probably won’t be any better than your plan was. In other words, plan out your comic updates a day or two before you actually make them.

If you allow yourself some thinking time (a day or two is best) between finishing your plan and starting your comic, then you’ll often come up with better ways of making your planned comics, alternative ideas for jokes etc…. for the simple reason that you’ve had more time to think about your comic.

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Sorry for the ridiculously short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (25th March 2017)

Loot and treasure! This is the fifth comic in “Damania Requisitioned” – a new webcomic mini series featuring the characters from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series. Links to many more comics featuring these characters can be found in the “2016” and “2017” segments of this page (there are also two in the “2015” segment, but they aren’t canonical).

Yeah, 18th century pirate ships really don’t have the same level of drama and menace as they used to…

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Requisition - Loot" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Requisition – Loot” By C. A. Brown

Three Ways To Deal With Production Troubles In Webcomics

2017 Artwork Webcomic production troubles

A few hours before I wrote this article, I was reading random articles about classic movies that could have been different if not for production troubles. Sometimes, this results in improvements (like the famous scene in one of the “Indiana Jones” movies where Indy shoots a sword-waving villain, because Harrison Ford was too ill to film a long sword-fight). Sometimes it doesn’t.

Yet, there seems to be a strange romanticism about the whole thing when it comes to films. It makes me think of directors having to think on their feet and/or editors having to salvage greatness from the ruins of a movie. It plays into old-fashioned notions of greatness coming at a price. It plays into the idea of directors and actors telling “war stories” about troublesome movies etc…

And, yet, whenever I’ve had production troubles with one of my webcomic mini series, I’ve rarely felt this sense of noble endurance or fast-paced thinking. Most of the time, it just results in feelings of frustration, grim determination and/or despair.

Still, it’s not really as bad as it used to be and I thought that I’d share some techniques that have worked for me. This article won’t really cover how to get inspired, but how to deal with some types of practical issues that might get in the way of making a webcomic or a webcomic mini series.

1) Change the format: There’s a good reason why I also said “webcomic mini series” in the previous paragraph. This is mainly because, after being completely burnt out on making comics by the end of 2013 and taking pretty much all of 2014 off from making comics, I was only able to start making comics again by changing the format that I made and released them.

Instead of making a single comic continuously until I’d run out of endurance, I now tend to make shorter self-contained groups of 6-17 daily comics (with a break in between groups). I go all out on these mini series in the same way that I used to do with my longer comic series, but I finish before my enthusiasm for the medium of comics itself has run out. It’s an unusual way to make and release a webcomic – but it allows me to bypass some of the problems I used to have.

So, if you’re experiencing production troubles with your webcomic, then look at what you can change to lighten the load. Reduce the number of updates per week, make mini series instead, increase or lower the number of panels in each update, make your updates even further in advance than usual, switch from self-contained comics to short story arcs, reduce the colour palette etc…

2) Lazy art tricks: Yes, you probably shouldn’t cut corners when making the art for your webcomic – but, if you have a choice between a finished webcomic update and an unfinished webcomic update, always go with the finished one.

There are plenty of ways to cut corners with the art in your comics that aren’t immediately noticeable. For example, when a character is saying something dramatic, you could just use a plain black background for that panel. Likewise, once you’ve established what a complex background looks like, you can get away with a slightly scribblier and quicker version of it in subsequent panels of that one comic update.

Sometimes, this can be worked into the design of the comic itself. For example, the mini series that is being posted here at the moment started out well but, due to a sudden heatwave a day after I started preparing it (quite a while ago), I found that I had much less energy and enthusiasm than I expected. Fortunately, the comic was set outdoors during the summer. What this meant is that, for many panels in the later updates, I could just use a quick clear blue sky as the background – allowing me to focus my limited energy on the characters and the dialogue.

3) Edit mercilessly: Short, finished and good is better than long, unfinished and terrible. As such, don’t be afraid to cut away anything unnecessary if you feel that it will help you to actually finish your comic updates. This is obviously best done at the planning stage, but it can still be done whilst making a comic (albeit with more difficulty).

Likewise, if your comic is divided into mini series, chapters, story arcs etc… then think realistically about how long you’ll be able to make each one. Remember, it’s always better to plan something short and expand it (if things go well) than to plan something longer and leave it unfinished because of production troubles.

For example, a narrative mini series of mine that will appear here in early May will only be eight comics long. The idea behind it is really cool and it’s really fun to make but, I’m glad it’s only eight comics long. This is mostly because of the fact that the detailed backgrounds take longer to make than I expected and because of everyday stresses that I didn’t anticipate. Still, with only eight updates, it’ll get finished and it’ll be reasonably good. If it had been 12-14 comics long, I wouldn’t be so sure about this.

So, don’t be afraid to sacrifice length for completion, quality and/or your own sanity.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂