Today’s Art (31st December 2014)

Well, I felt like making another black and white gothic drawing and I’m really proud of how this one turned out. I’m still not sure whether this will turn into yet another art series or not, but there will be a slightly different picture here tomorrow night – although I’m not sure whether I’ll resume these gothic pictures afterwards.

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

"Ghost Bat" By C. A. Brown

“Ghost Bat” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – December 2014

2014 Artwork Top Ten Articles December

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for my usual list of links to my personal “top ten” articles about writing and/or art that have appeared here over the past thirty-one days.

As usual, I’ll probably include a few “honourable mentions” (five of them, in fact) that didn’t quite make it into the top ten too.

All in December has been a pretty good month for me on this blog and I’m quite proud of most of the articles that appeared here this month 🙂

Anyway, in no particular order, let’s get started:

Top Ten Articles For December 2014:

– “Should You Use Your Own Nightmares As Inspiration For Horror Fiction?
– “How To Draw Or Paint Things From Memory (With Examples)
– “Five Ways To Find A Title For Your Drawing Or Painting In Less Than A Minute
– “The Joy Of… Body Horror
– “Four Basic Tips For Making Monochrome/ Black & White Art
– “On Romanticising Your ‘Early Days’ As A Writer Or An Artist
– “Four Ways To Give Your Comic A 1990s (or 80s) – Style Look
– “To Fascinate Your Readers, Think About Their Literary ‘Backgrounds’
– “Four Basic Tips For Writing Criminal Protagonists
– “How Important Is Realism In Fiction?

Honourable Mentions:

– “Drawing As A Language
– “Four Amazing Artists On Youtube (And Cartoon Portraits Of Them)
– “Four Ways To Be Creative When You’re Really Tired
– “Creative Inspiration For Introverts, Recluses And Other Cool People
– “The Joy Of… Spy Fiction

Today’s Art (30th December 2014)

Well, after painting bright, bucolic landscapes over the past four days – I needed something of a break. So, I thought that I’d make some gothic art… in black and white, of course.

I don’t know if this will turn into yet another short art series, but it really wouldn’t surprise me…

Anyway, as usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Absinthe Nights" By C. A. Brown

“Absinthe Nights” By C. A. Brown

NEVER SEEN BEFORE! Sketchbook pages and failed paintings :)

2014 Artwork It's more sketchbook pages again sketch

Well, since I can’t think of a good idea for a proper article today, I thought that I’d take you on yet another mysterious tour through the unseen pages of my sketchbooks.

And, as a bonus, I’ll also include a few failed paintings (in various stages of completion. Most of them are just unfinished lineart, but one is a finished piece of fan art I decided not to post here on the 27th October [?]) and an alternate version of a painting that I posted here back in September.

(Although it’s hopefully obvious, you can click on each of the images in this post to see a larger version of them.)

So, let’s get started 🙂

This is the original colour version of the "Not Quite Bill Hicks" painting I posted here in September.  Unforutnately, I messed up the skin tones in this picture - which made it look like something from a horror movie.

This is the original colour version of the “Not Quite Bill Hicks” painting I posted here in September. Unforutnately, I messed up the skin tones in this picture – which made it look like something from a horror movie.

It's a drawing of a Victorian villain and an account of a dream where I bought  ludicrously overpriced drinks in a restaurant.

It’s a drawing of a Victorian villain and an account of a dream where I bought ludicrously overpriced drinks in a restaurant.

This was a failed idea for a comedy painting that I'd planned to post on here a couple of weeks ago.

This was a failed idea for a comedy painting that I’d planned to post on here a couple of weeks ago.

This was my original plan for the "Seven Useless Sources Of Artistic Inspiration" cartoon I posted on here sometime in September or October (?). Sorry about the censorship, but I'm not quite sure what the rules are for profanity and nudity on WordPress.

This was my original plan for the “Seven Useless Sources Of Artistic Inspiration” cartoon I posted on here sometime in September or October (?). Sorry about the censorship, but I’m not quite sure what the rules are for profanity and nudity on WordPress.

This was an attempt to draw the sea at sunset, based on a scene I saw in an episode of "Burn Notice".

This was an attempt to draw the sea at sunset, based on a scene I saw in an episode of “Burn Notice”.

This is the unfinished lineart for a "Doom" style painting that I'd planned to make a few months ago.

This is the unfinished lineart for a “Doom” style painting that I’d planned to make a few months ago.

This was a failed attempt at making a painting of Claudia Black and Lena Headey. I'd originally planned to post this on here on the 27th October (?), but I didn't really feel like it was quite good enough - so I replaced it with a generic landscape painting at the time.

This was a failed attempt at making a painting of Claudia Black and Lena Headey. I’d originally planned to post this on here on the 27th October (?), but I didn’t really feel like it was quite good enough – so I replaced it with a generic landscape painting at the time.

These were my plans for the "April Fools' Day" article I posted here earlier this year. And, yes, I'd originally planned to include a 'trollface' picture at the end of it.

These were my plans for the “April Fools’ Day” article I posted here earlier this year. And, yes, I’d originally planned to include a ‘trollface’ picture at the end of it.

These were some random doodles based on a webcomic I made in 2010 called "Yametry Run".

These were some random doodles based on a webcomic I made in 2010 called “Yametry Run”.

——-
Although I’ll post my usual monthly “top ten” article here tomorrow, hopefully I’ll think of some ideas for proper (non-filler) articles for January.

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Motivational Poster For Artists (With Art Preview)

"Art Evolution Poster (With Art preview)" By C. A. Brown

“Art Evolution Poster (With Art preview)” By C. A. Brown

Well, I’d originally planned to make several of these motivational posters for a blog article, but I could only think of a good enough idea for one. Anyway, this is a poster about how important it is to keep practicing making art, because you will improve with practice.

Eagle-eyed readers might also notice that the top three pictures in this poster haven’t appeared on either this blog or on my DeviantART page yet. This is because they’re previews of a few paintings that will appear here in the new year (The middle one will appear in late February and the other two will appear in March. )

[Edit: I’ve just uploaded a slightly improved digitally-edited version of this poster, mainly because I really can’t draw people taking “selfie” photos very well. Well, I’ve just made another edit – seriously, how could I forget that things closer to the foreground should be larger? ]

Today’s Art (29th December 2014)

Well, today’s painting is the final one in my “Dorset landscapes” series (based on some photos that my parents took for me when they visited Dorset a couple of months ago).

Unfortunately, this painting didn’t really turn out that well though (seriously, making paintings set during the day still feels really wierd).

I’m not sure what tomorrow’s painting will be (eg: whether it’ll be a stand-alone painting or whather I’ll start another short series). But, as a blog exclusive, I’ll also provide the lineart for today’s painting here too.

As usual, the two images in this blog post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Dorset - Wilds" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Wilds” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Dorset - Wilds (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Wilds (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

Should You Use Your Own Nightmares As Inspiration For Horror Fiction?

But, alas, Scott Cawthon got there first....

But, alas, Scott Cawthon got there first….

The night before I wrote this article, I had a couple of nightmares. Well, that’s not quite true – they were so disturbing that I kept on waking up and falling back asleep at regular intervals. So, it was more like two or three nightmares in ten parts or whatever.

[WARNING: Before I go any further, I should probably point out that since this is an article about nightmares and writing horror fiction, it will contain graphic descriptions of nightmares and it will also include a rather gory splatterpunk scene from an unpublished horror novella I wrote in 2009. As such, the content of this article may be somewhat disturbing, so reader discretion is advised.]

Anyway, since one of the nightmares involved being chased around a giant kitchen by the monsters from a horror game that I’ve never actually played (called “Five Nights At Freddy’s“), it made me think about the connections between the horror genre and the nightmares that we all have occasionally.

The other nightmares were a bit more random, but they still had a surprisingly large number of connections to the horror genre – one involved someone accidentally killing two people with an experimental shrink ray (due to one of the problems with shrinking technology mentioned in this episode of “Doctor Who”) and then pressuring me into covering up the accident for him. A while later, I actually fell asleep within the dream and saw nothing but gory “Silent Hill“-esque images of flayed bodies.

Of course, all of this stuff also raises the question of whether we should use our own nightmares as inspiration for the horror stories that we write. Since this is one of those questions that doesn’t really have any clear “right” or “wrong” answers, this article will just be my opinion on the subject and nothing more.

But, before I go any further, I should point out that you obviously shouldn’t directly use any nightmares based on pre-existing horror movies in your fiction for copyright reasons. If you’re going to use something from a horror movie-based nightmare in your story then be sure to make substantial changes (eg: use completely different characters and/or monsters) and to add a lot of new and original details, so that no-one can accuse you of directly ripping off someone else’s work.

Anyway, the main reason why nightmares can be useful for a horror writer is that they can give us a glimpse into our own fears and anxieties. Whilst some types of nightmares are fairly universal (eg: being chased by monsters, experiencing your own death, nightmares featuring horrific injuries, nightmares based on horror movies etc…), many nightmares are often a lot more specific and are only scary because they tap into your own personal fears.

For example, if you’re afraid of clowns, then a dream set in an old-fashioned circus would be absolutely horrifying. But, if you aren’t, then it would probably just be bizarre and whimsical.

Likewise, if (like me) you don’t exactly like spiders – then a dream about a giant spider/crab creature crawling across your bedroom window would scare you senseless. But, if you aren’t, then it probably wouldn’t.

Nightmares based on personal fears can be invaluable to horror writers because a good horror story should be as scary (if not more) to write as it is to read, but they can also cause a few problems too.

Why? Because not all of your readers will have the same fears and anxieties as you do, so your story probably won’t scare them as much as you might hope it would.

So, if you’re going to write fiction based on your nightmares, then it’s best to focus on the “universal” types of nightmares that I mentioned earlier. Yes, this won’t produce anything stunningly original, but there’s a good chance that the exact details of your nightmare will probably be at least slightly unique. After all, everyone has a subtly different imagination and this will inevitably be expressed in different ways.

For example, one of the strange quirks of my subconscious mind is that most of the nightmares I’ve had that involve me sustaining horrific injuries rarely feature any blood. It’s almost like my body in these nightmares is actually one of Dr Gunther Von Hagens’ “plastinated” bodies. This isn’t too disturbing in the nightmares where, say, I only lose a finger – but it can be downright horrifying and unreal for more serious injuries.

So, this is the kind of thing which would be perfect for a horror story. It taps into a universal fear (eg: serious injury), but at the same time, it contains enough strange and unique details to ensure that even the most jaded fans of the horror genre are shocked and surprised.

In fact, I actually used one of these nightmares in an unpublished horror novella I wrote in 2009 called “Ostenta” (although I’ve edited it for quality here, it was written in just three days – and it shows!) Or, rather, I cruelly inflicted my nightmare on a random character in order to add some melodrama to the story. Here’s the scene in question:

He opened the door of the en-suite bathroom and pressed another light switch, the bathroom bulb flickered several times before coating the coffin-like room in dim light. He walked two steps to the sink and reached for the empty glass beside the taps, not really looking up at the mirror. He filled the glass with cold water and began to drink. As he finished the water, he saw himself in the mirror. He almost dropped the glass.

The skin beneath his right eye seemed scarred and twisted, as if it had been caught in a fire. The skin seemed to be lumpy, parts of it were twisted into tight raised lines. Slowly, he reached up and scratched it. The dull ache disappeared in seconds, replaced by a harsh, stinging agony. He tried to wince but only his left eye closed itself, he could barely see anything through his right eye. He felt a wetness in his hand. He was holding something, sticky and leathery. He dropped it.

Despite the pain, he managed to open his left eye and saw a red blur on the tiled floor. He turned towards the mirror again. The scarred skin below his right eye was gone and he could see every muscle around his eye- red, taut and twitching. He could see the bottom of his eyeball, the dim light above him shining off the white orb. The wound did not bleed. The pain grew more intense. He screamed.

As you can see, this scene taps into some fairly universal fears (eg: mysterious injuries, disease, the human body, blindness etc…) but, at the same time, it includes enough strange and unique dream-like features to make it unpredictable and, therefore, genuinely shocking.

So, what I’m trying to say here is that it’s a great idea to take inspiration from your nightmares when you’re writing horror fiction. However, it is also a good idea to make sure that you only use the nightmares that you know will scare other people too.

Likewise, it can also be a good idea to take strange things from your nightmares and use them in scenes which aren’t directly connected to your nightmares.

——

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th December 2014)

Well, today’s painting is another landscape based on some photos that my parents took of Dorset for me when they visited there a couple of months ago.

I’m not quite sure how long this short painting series will be (for starters, it’s still kind of strange to paint scenes set during the day), but it’ll probably go on for at least another day or two.

As with the previous two paintings in this series, I’ll also provide the original lineart for this painting as a blog exclusive too.

As usual, the two images in this blog post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Dorset - Four Of Wands" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Four Of Wands” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Dorset - Four Of Wands (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Four Of Wands (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Bio Menace” (Freeware Retro Computer Game)

2014 Artwork Bio Menace Review sketch

Despite being both a massive fan of action platform games and of classic Apogee/3D Realms games ever since I was a kid, I didn’t actually play “Bio Menace” for the first time until I was about eighteen. Yes, I know, I should have been playing this game when I was eight – but I unfortunately hadn’t heard of it back then.

Anyway, I was trying to clear some space on my hard disk when I rediscovered my old copy of “Bio Menace” and decided to review it. You can get the full version of the game as freeware from the 3D Realms website – although you’ll probably need to use DOSBox to play it. Although 3D Realms now seems to be hosting a revamped version of the game on their site, this review is of the original version from the early-mid 90s.

Although I played “Bio Menace” quite a bit a few years ago, I only really had a chance to re-play it (using my old saved games) for about an hour before writing this review – so this review reflects both of these facts.

Anyway, let’s get started:

Yes, this game is gloriously retro AND badass!

Yes, this game is gloriously retro AND badass!

In “Bio Menace”, you play as a CIA operative called Snake Logan, who is ordered to fly a plane into Metro City (*cough* Escape From New York *Cough*) in order to stop an evil scheme by the fiendish Dr. Mangle .

Dr. Mangle formerly worked with the US government on an secret project called Operation Bug Glow, which was a series of experiments aimed at enlarging various insects for unknown reasons. However, Dr. Mangle “spliced some very violent genes into the mix” and has used his newly-created army of evil mutants to take over Metro city.

But, as Snake flies his plane into Metro city, it is shot down by one of Dr. Mangle’s robots and he must fight his way through the city and rescue as many survivors as possible.

Ah, remember the days when the story was an add-on to the gameplay rather than the other way round....

Ah, remember the days when the story was an add-on to the gameplay rather than the other way round….

Like most of Apogee’s games, “Bio Menace” is split up into three individual episodes – so you basically get “three games for the price of one” when you download this game.

Another cool feature is that you can “practice” any level in the game- this is basically a level select feature which allows you to select a level and play it for exactly 15 seconds. The time limit is kind of annoying, but I guess that they didn’t want people to feel that they’re cheating.

Yes, you can select ANY level... for only fifteen seconds.

Yes, you can select ANY level… for only fifteen seconds.

It also seems like “Bio Menace” uses the same game engine that Apogee used for “Commander Keen 4 -6“. How do I know this? Well, in case you haven’t noticed yet, just take a look at the game menu. It’s a heavily modified version of the one from “Commander Keen 4”:

But WHERE is "Paddle War"?

But WHERE is “Paddle War”?

The gameplay is, as you would expect, classic action platformer gameplay. You have to explore non-linear levels, fight monsters and find keys in order to progress.

One interesting feature of this game is that you also have to rescue a survivor in every level too.

Like this one.

Like this one.

And, before certain well-known critics on the internet start complaining that this is a “damsel in distress” game mechanic – there are a fairly equal mixture of male and female survivors that have to be rescued. Yes, the company that created “Duke Nukem” can actually be more progressive than some critics give them credit for.

See!

See!

The level design in “Bio Menace” is reasonably good and there are a moderately interesting variety of settings on offer here – such as cities, forests and robot bases.

But, whilst this game features the kind of non-linear level design that makes 90s games better than most modern ones, the levels are all relatively small when compared to some other Apogee games (eg: the old 2D “Duke Nukem” games). So, by 90s standards, “Bio Menace” is a fairly easy game – even if it’s still a fairly challenging game by modern standards.

But, the small levels are made up for by the many fiendishly difficult adversaries that you will have to fight. Many of these are fairly tough and require a decent amount of firepower to destroy, some can only be killed by grenades and some are best dodged rather than fought.

...And if you've seen the movie "Critters", you'll recognise the creature at the bottom of the screen.

…And if you’ve seen the movie “Critters”, you’ll recognise the creature at the bottom of the screen.

Another interesting feature of “Bio Menace” is the sheer array of weaponry that you can find throughout the game. Your default machine gun can only fire in short bursts, but you can find a powerup that will give you 100 rounds of fully automatic fire.

This can be combined with another power-up that quintuples the damage that your bullets do (although this power-up can be used on it’s own too). Plus, you can also find a power-up that converts your machine gun into a laser gun.

There’s also a secret weapon too – if you hold the “up” arrow for long enough, you will hear a strange sound – if you then hit the “fire” button, Snake will fire a large green energy pulse out of his gun. This is cool, but it comes at the cost of several health points every time you use it:

It's SO awesome, that you will actually disappear for a second when you use it!

It’s SO awesome, that you will actually disappear for a second when you use it!

But that isn’t the coolest thing about the weapons in this game. No, you get grenades too. This is literally the only 90s platformer (for the PC, at least) that I can think of where you can actually throw grenades at things.

Yes, you can throw grenades here. (And.. wow... Cosmo the alien has really let himself go in this game)

Yes, you can throw grenades here. (And.. wow… Cosmo the alien has really let himself go in this game)

As well as “ordinary” grenades, you can also find incindiary grenades which will set fire to anything within a certain radius and land mines that you can place on the ground too.

Although the text that appears when you pick up the land mines for the first time is probably, well, slightly ill-advised from a modern perspective:

"Cool! Land Mines!" ... Yeah, this game probably would be made these days....

“Cool! Land Mines!” … Yeah, this game probably would be made these days….

Still, “Bio Menace” absolutely littered with cool easter eggs. Although I didn’t get round to rediscovering most of them when I briefly re-played it for this review, you can find references to most of Apogee’s other games hidden in each episode. And, for a 90s geek like myself, this is absolutely heavenly!

Awww... It's a yorp! :)

Awww… It’s a yorp! 🙂

Even though, like most Apogee/3D Realms games, “Bio Menace” thankfully doesn’t take itself very seriously – it’s slightly more “gritty” than most early-mid 90s action platformers are.

In fact, this game was one of the earliest games to include FPS-style ludicrous gibs whenever you kill a monster. Every creature that you destroy will explode into a satisfying pile of bones and body parts – seriously, not even the old 2D Duke Nukem games included this!

Splatterific!

Splatterific!

In addition to this, the very first level of the game is literally littered with the corpses of everyone who didn’t survive the initial assault by Dr. Mangle’s mutants. Seriously, for a kids’ game from the early 90s, this is refreshingly dark and it just makes me wish that I’d actually played this when I was a kid in the 90s even more.

Yes, kids. Alien mutant invasions aren't all fun and games...

Yes, kids. Alien mutant invasions aren’t all fun and games…

All in all, “Bio Menace” is a game which sums up why games from the 90s are still much cooler than most modern games are.

Yes, in terms of level design, graphics and/or gameplay, it isn’t quite as good as other games from the time (like “Duke Nukem II”), but it’s still an incredibly fun and cheesy game which is worth checking out if you love platform games.

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

Today’s Art (27th December 2014)

Well, since I still can’t think of any good ideas for new paintings, I’ve decided to turn these paintings of Dorset (based on some photos my parents took for me when they visited there a couple of months ago) into a small art series. And, yes, I know that they are brighter than my “normal” art is.

Anyway, this is another rural landscape painting and – as a blog exclusive – I’ll also provide the original lineart for it in this blog post.

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

"Dorset - Giant Garden" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Giant Garden” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the lineart:

"Dorset - Giant Garden (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Dorset – Giant Garden (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown