Six Creative Halloween Costumes For Writers And Artists (Comic)

Well, since I have a terrible case of writer’s block today Halloween is just around the corner, I thought that I’d make a comic about a few amusing writing/art-based Halloween costume ideas…

(If anyone is puzzled by the second panel, the “Smashwords Grinder” is a tool on the ebook self-publishing site of the same name which checks whether your formatting fits their guidelines.)

[CLICK FOR FULL SIZE] "Six Creative Halloween Costumes" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR FULL SIZE]
“Six Creative Halloween Costumes” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (27th October 2014)

Well, originally, I’d made some fan art of Claudia Black and Lena Headey for today since they’re the two most badass sci-fi/fantasy actresses in the world – seriously, why have they never appeared in a TV show together? It would be amazing!

But my original picture wasn’t really that well-drawn (I don’t know, my drawing of Claudia Black looked like a caricature and my attempt to draw Lena Headey didn’t even look vaguely like her), so I thought that I’d make a quick digitally-edited landscape painting instead for today. Sorry about this.

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

"Nightfall" By C. A. Brown

“Nightfall” By C. A. Brown

Feeling Blocked Artistically? Try A Downgrade.

2014 Artwork art downgrade article sketch

Although this is an article about artistic inspiration, I’m going to have to start by talking about the art supplies that I’ve been using recently. Don’t worry, there’s a reason for this.

Anyway, a while ago, I got some new watercolour paper which was slightly better than the stuff I’d been using previously. It’s “Crawford & Black” 230gsm watercolour paper and it has this wonderful texture, which you can sort of see if you look at the full-size version of this painting:

"Memories Of A Studio" By C. A. Brown

“Memories Of A Studio” By C. A. Brown

Whilst I love this new paper and the texture of it makes my art look slightly more “painterly” too, I’ve been feeling slightly more uninspired than usual recently. And, I think that this might – in some way – have something to do with using slightly fancier art supplies than I’d previously used.

You see, once I switched from the 48-page books of 150gsm “Boldmere” watercolour/cartridge paper that I’d used beforehand, I felt like every painting mattered a lot more. I felt like every painting had to be brilliant enough to justify using a better type of paper.

And, whilst this might sound good in principle, it can be an absolutely terrible thing if you create art regularly.

Why? Because it makes you a perfectionist. And, well, perfectionism is the ultimate enemy of regular painting. If you’re making one painting every month or every couple of months, you can afford to be a perfectionist. But, if you’ve set yourself a schedule of one painting per day, then perfectionism is much more of an obstacle than a benefit.

So, what do you do in these situations?

Well, as strange as it sounds, it might be worth temporarily downgrading your supplies back to what you used to use. This might sound strange, but going back to “cheaper” or “lower quality” art supplies for a while might help you to get out of this nervous, perfectionist mindset.

Basically, when you see your art supplies as fancy things that must be revered and which you must have a justifiably good reason to use – then you’re less likely to throw yourself into creating stuff.

You’re terrified of putting your paintbrush on the page in case you make one mistake and end up ruining a precious sheet of valuable paper. This is not a good mindset to have when you’re creating stuff.

But, if you use more basic and/or cheap art supplies, then it’s no major loss if you mess up a painting.

You can try new things about without worrying too much about wasting your supplies, you can experiment with new things and you can even create the occasional crappy painting (and, let’s face it, making a crappy painting is better than not making a painting at all) without feeling too terrible about it.

So, if you’re feeling uninspired, then maybe try going back to the lower-quality art supplies you used to use and just mess around with them.

———

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

Review: “Stargate (Director’s Cut)” (Film)

2014 Artwork Stargate movie review sketch

Although I have vague memories of watching this film on TV when I was a kid, I didn’t really discover anything “Stargate”-related until earlier this year when I started watching “Stargate SG-1” and, more recently “Stargate: Atlantis” too.

From what I remembered, I knew that the original “Stargate” movie from 1994 was quite spectacular and was set in somewhere resembling ancient Egypt, but that was about it.

So, a while back, when I saw that 2nd hand DVDs of the original movie were surprisingly cheap, I had to get a copy of it and it turned out that the only version I could find on DVD was the “Director’s Cut”. Yes, I still watch films on DVD – and that’s only because my VHS player doesn’t work any more. I may be in my twenties, but I’m probably a lot older at heart LOL!

Since it’s been over a decade since I saw the original movie, I can’t compare the two versions – so I will be looking at this film on it’s own merits. Plus, although I’ll be comparing it to the TV shows it inspired a bit later in this review, I’ll also try to look at the film on it’s own in this context too. I’ll also try to avoid SPOILERS, but there might be a few in this review.

“Stargate” is a sci-fi/adventure movie from 1994, which begins with a mysterious spaceship landing on earth in 8,000 BC. Many years later, in the 1920s, an archaeological expedition in Egypt (led by a man called Dr. Langford and his young daughter Catherine) turns up a mysterious giant ring-shaped device near a pyramid.

We flash forward to 1990s America, where an Egyptologist called Dr. Daniel Jackson (played by James Spader) is delivering a lecture about his theories regarding the age of various pyramids. His theories prove unpopular and most of the academics present walk out of the hall in disgust.

As Dr. Jackson leaves the lecture theatre, he is confronted by several military officers and a much older Catherine Langford, who ask for his help in translating some hieroglyphics.

It quickly turns out that the hieroglyphics are related to the mysterious device that Catherine’s father discovered in the 1920s and, once Dr. Jackson has been able to decode the symbols on it, the device whirls into action and generates a portal to another planet. After some deliberation, the military finally decides to send Dr. Jackson and a reconnaissance team, led by Colonel Jack O’ Neil (played by Kurt Russell) through the portal, where they discover a planet which looks exactly like ancient Egypt……

One of the first things I will say about this film is that it was a lot more “serious” than I expected. If you’re used to the slightly more irreverent and humourous tone of the TV shows that it inspired, then you might be surprised by this. But, basically, it’s just an ordinary mega-budget action/adventure drama film which takes itself reasonably seriously.

Another cool thing about “Stargate” is that when the main characters arrive on the planet and meet the people who live there, no-one understands each other for about half of the film. As you would expect on a planet that is similar to Ancient Egpyt, the people there don’t speak English.

This sounds like a really small detail, but it adds an extra layer of realism to the film and it really gives you the sense that the main characters are on a world that they know nothing about. Plus, it’s a refreshing contrast from “Stargate SG-1”, where everyone across the entire galaxy somehow speaks perfect English.

The special effects in “Stargate” are fairly good for 1994 too. Yes, the pre-CGI model effects look slightly dated twenty years later, but they still work very well. And, to be honest, the really impressive thing about the film is the story and the settings rather than the effects.

All of the set designs in this film are extremely good too and there are vast city scenes, sweeping deserts, ancient pyramids and pharonic spacecraft aplenty here. Although the special effects might not have aged so well, all of the sets still look absolutely brilliant.

The acting in this film is fairly good too and you get a good sense of who the characters are fairly quickly. Daniel Jackson is the cute nerdy scientist that we all know and love and, if you’ve seen Michael Shanks’ version of Daniel Jackson in “Stargate SG-1”, then you pretty much know what to expect.

However, Jack O’Neil is very different in the film to how Richard Dean Anderson portrays him in the TV show. Kurt Russell plays the character completely “straight” and he’s a serious, no-nonsense military “action hero” with a depressing past and more than a little bit of a death wish.

The only minor criticism I have of the film is the pacing. Maybe it’s because this is the director’s cut of the film or maybe it’s because I’m much more used to TV shows than to movies, but this film moved at a slightly slower pace than I expected it to. Still, in a way, it’s kind of a refreshing change from the perfunctory, ultra-fast pace of most modern mega-budget “blockbuster” movies.

All in all, this is an extremely good film that is worth checking out if you like sci-fi and/or ancient Egypt. Yes, the effects look a little bit dated, but it’s still an atmospheric and compelling film that stands the test of time.

Although I prefer the TV show that this film inspired, that show would never have been possible if it wasn’t for this film. Although, as I mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of “Stargate SG-1” and you’ve never seen this film before, then expect quite a few changes.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would get four and a half.

Review: “Doctor Who – In The Forest Of The Night” (TV Show Episode)

2014 Artwork Doctor Who Forest Of The Night Review sketch

I’ve just finished watching the latest episode of “Doctor Who” – so, I thought that I’d review it. Sorry about yet another lengthy plot summary, but I’ll mark where the summary begins and ends in case you want to skip it, since it takes up between about half and two-thirds of this review.

As I say every week, I’m not sure how many episodes of this series I’ll get round to reviewing (or even how promptly I’ll be able to review them) but I’ll try to look at as many as possible.

Before I go any further, I should also point out that this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS. You have been warned.

—- Beginning of plot summary ——

“In The Forest Of The Night” begins with a schoolgirl running through a forest until she finds the TARDIS. She knocks on the door and, when the Doctor answers, she tells him that something is chasing her. He invites her inside the TARDIS and is surprised that she isn’t shocked that the TARDIS is larger on the inside than it is on the outside and that she also seems to know a lot about who he is too.

The Doctor tells the schoolgirl that he had meant to travel to London, but that the TARDIS has been malfunctioning. However, it quickly turns out that the TARDIS is already in London – and that the entire city, as well as the rest of the world (yes, other places than London actually exist in the “Doctor Who” universe), has been mysteriously covered by a giant forest.

Meanwhile, Danny and Clara are with their year eight class at a sleepover at the natural history museum – however, when they all leave in the morning, the museum doors won’t open properly. And, after they manage to prise them open, they see nothing but a giant forest. Clara calls the Doctor about this and is surprised to learn that he’s already in London with a member of Danny and Clara’s year eight class called Maebh (pronounced “Maeve”).

It also turns out that Maebh has been experiencing psychological problems after her sister went missing a year earlier and that she needs regular medication (which Clara has), otherwise she starts hearing voices.

So, after an argument between Danny and Clara, they decide to find Maebh and the Doctor. They lead their year eight class into the forest until they find the TARDIS. The Doctor seems totally bewildered by the newly-grown forest. Especially since, from examining the trees, it quickly becomes clear that they have no roots and that they are less than one year old. The Doctor fears that this may have been done in order to quickly increase the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere, as a prelude to an alien invasion.

However, by the time that they have worked all of this out, Maebh has run off again – so The Doctor and Clara go off to search for her. In the process, they are almost crushed by Nelson’s column and they briefly meet a government deforestation team who are trying unsuccessfully to burn the trees with a really cool-looking flamethrower.

Eventually, they find Maebh, but she is being threatened by a group of ferocious wolves that have escaped from a nearby zoo. The Doctor and Clara manage to save her and they stand together in a large group in a hope of scaring the wolves away. The wolves flee a few seconds later, but it quickly becomes obvious that they’re actually fleeing from something else.

Needless to say, a tiger from the zoo saunters into view and growls loudly at them. But, before it can attack, it is frightened away by Danny (and the year eight class) who dazzle it with a powerful torch that one of the kids had brought to the museum earlier.

After this, Maebh starts flailing her arms wildly and Danny tells Clara to give her her medication, but the Doctor disagrees because he thinks that the voices Maebh hears are actually some kind of alien message. Whilst they’re arguing about this, Maebh runs off again and everyone starts chasing her as soon as they notice that she’s gone.

Eventually, Maebh stops in the middle of a cobweb-covered clearing and starts talking about how there are thousands of thoughts flashing through her mind and about how she fears that they might have caused the trees to grow. The Doctor creates a gravity well near her using his sonic screwdriver and lots of strange firefly-like creatures emerge from Maebh.

The creatures speak through Maebh (in a vaguely “Exorcist”-like fashion) and tell the Doctor that they are timeless beings who have existed longer than the earth and that they will even exist long after the Doctor eventually dies. They possibly also mention something about a solar flare, but I can’t remember exactly.

Anyway, when everyone returns to the TARDIS, the Doctor runs a scan and learns that there is a giant solar flare that is about to destroy the Earth. He tells everyone that he can save them in the TARDIS, but most of the kids want to go home – so eventually, Clara tells the Doctor to save himself, before leaving with Danny and the year eight class.

The Doctor leaves in the TARDIS, then he suddenly realises something and returns to London. Apparently, during the past few giant solar flares, the earth has been saved because the flares were attracted to forested areas (due to the large amount of oxygen that the trees produce). So, the mysterious forest is actually the timeless aliens’ way of protecting earth rather than conquering it.

Since the government is about to spray the area with herbicide, the Doctor calls the year eight class back into the TARDIS and gets them to compose a message to send to the world. After this, he uses the technology in the TARDIS to call literally every phone on the planet and asks Maebh to read the message to the world. Surprisingly, it actually works. It also reassures Maebh’s mum, who is in the forest looking for Maebh – and finds her fairly soon after the phone call.

The Doctor asks everyone if they want to stay in the TARDIS and watch the flare from outer space, but most of the kids just want to return home and Danny gives a rather moving speech about how his experiences in the army have made him focus on Clara and the rest of humanity rather than grand things. So, everyone except the Doctor and Clara leave.

The Doctor and Clara then watch the solar flare from space and, the next morning, the forest begins to disappear – as thousands of the firefly-like timeless aliens fly away from the earth and back into space. Maebh’s sister also mysteriously re-appears too.

In another unknown location, the mysterious woman who has appeared at the end of a few other episodes (I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned her in these reviews yet) watches everything that has happened on a screen.

—- End of plot summary —–

One of the first things that I will say about “In The Forest Of The Night” is that I absolutely loved the concept behind the episode.

Seriously, the idea of a giant forest suddenly covering the earth is almost straight out of an old J.G.Ballard novel from the sixties (before he started writing more urban and dystopic fiction) and it’s great to see some classic “golden age” science fiction in a modern TV show.

Another good thing about this episode are the special effects in it – the CGI scenes of the heavily forested London landscape are amost movie quality. And, although some of the CGI effects are slightly noticeable (eg: the scene when the wolves jump over the gate), they still work fairly well and help to give the episode a slightly more cinematic quality.

These CGI scenes also help to break up the monotony that comes from the fact that most of the episode takes place in a fairly “ordinary”-looking forest.

But, these are about the only good things that I can think to say about this episode. I found the central plot to be slightly confusing at some points and some parts of the story are never really quite explained properly. For example, why did Maebh’s sister mysteriously disappear and re-appear? There isn’t really much of an explanation for this given in the episode.

Still, saying this, the storylines in most episodes of “Doctor Who” are at least slightly confusing and ambiguous in order to fuel fan speculation. And the main part of the storyline isn’t too confusing, so I guess that this isn’t a major issue. But, even so, the ending to the episode seemed more than a little bit contrived.

In addition to this, whilst there thankfully aren’t a huge number of arguments between Clara and Danny, their relationship is still at least slightly antagonistic and they often end up bickering about various things. Even though the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara is better than it used to be earlier in the series, it’s still kind of annoying to see any of the three main characters argue with each other on a regular basis.

Talking of annoying, whilst the fact that the main characters are followed by an entire year eight class adds some comedy and drama to the episode – I think that the episode would have probably been better with a slightly smaller cast of characters.

I don’t know, The episode just felt slightly crowded by all of the different characters and some of the scenes where Danny and/or Clara were talking to their class were kind of an annoying distraction from the main storyline and felt more like filler material than anything relevant to the main story.

All in all, this probably isn’t my favourite episode of the new series. But, at the same time, it isn’t really a “bad” episode either. Although it’s really nice to see some classic 1960s-style sci-fi on TV, I guess that I’m also slightly disappointed that this wasn’t another horror-based episode.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would probably get three and a half.

Today’s Art (25th October 2014)

Although I’ve never really studied art formally, I have a lot of great memories of hanging out with the art students in their studio during breaks when I was in 6th form.

So, in a mildly nostalgic mood, I decided to try to paint the studio from memory. Since I haven’t seen it for about nine or ten years, I’ve probably got a few details wrong. But this painting was still surprisingly nostalgic to make.

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

"Memories Of A Studio" By C. A. Brown

“Memories Of A Studio” By C. A. Brown