Today’s (30th June 2015)

Well, I was still in the mood for dystopic sci-fi paintings and I’m quite proud of how the painting I made for today turned out 🙂

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

"Salvage Station Four" By C. A. Brown

“Salvage Station Four” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – June 2015

2015 Artwork Top Ten Articles June

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for me to give you a list of links to what I feel are the ten best articles about writing and/or art that I’ve posted here over the past month. I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

All in all, this month has been reasonably good – even though I’ll be the first to admit that there was something of a dip in quality during a couple of weeks this month, I’m quite proud of some of the articles I wrote for June.

So, in no particular order, here are my top ten articles for June 2015 (plus some honourable mentions):

Top Ten Articles For June 2015:

– “Another Three Ways To Be Creative Before The Apocalypse
– “The One Magic Power That All Artists And Writers (And Some Game Designers) Have
– “Dangerous Settings In Fiction
– “Four Ways To Make Your Story or Comic More Addictive (That I Learnt From Watching “24”)
– “Five Qualities That The Main Character In Your Thriller Story Should Have
– “The Power Of Deadlines (For Artists)
– “One Way To Learn How To Paint Realistic Colours (Using MS Paint)
– “Four Lazy Ways To Be Creative On Lazy Days
– “Three Very Basic Tips For Getting Creative Again If You’re Out Of Practice
– “Should The Main Character In Your Detective Story Be An Official Or An Unofficial Detective?

Honourable mentions:

– “Why Learning B&W Drawing Can Really Useful To Painters
– “Can Artists And Writers Give Their Audiences A Look ‘Behind The Scenes’?
– “You Can’t Copyright A Feeling – My Thoughts On The “Blurred Lines” Verdict

Today’s Art (29th June 2015)

Well, I wanted to experiment with using a slightly different perspective in today’s painting and – although this really didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, I’m still quite proud of how this picture as a whole turned out (even if the perspective is kind of crappy).

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

"City Stairs" By C. A. Brown

“City Stairs” By C. A. Brown

Five Qualities That The Main Character In Your Thriller Story Should Have

2015 Artwork Qualities Thriller Protagonists Should Have sketch

Well, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I’ve been watching a TV show called “24” quite a lot recently. Although I don’t plan to review any of it, it’s probably the closest televised equivalent to a well-written series of thriller novels (such as Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels) that I’ve ever seen.

And, as anyone who has watched “24” knows – the show revolves around a protagonist called Jack Bauer who is, in many ways, something of a traditional “action hero” character. Yes, he’s a little bit more morally grey than traditional heroic characters – but he’s a handsome, muscular, ex-military character who is (mostly, but not completely) emotionless.

But, as anyone with any experience of the genre will probably know – good thriller protagonists don’t necessarily have to be action heroes. In fact, a good thriller protagonist can be literally anyone, as long as they have at least one or two of these qualities. Some of these qualities might even surprise you:

1) Individualism: Thriller novels are at their most thrilling when the protagonist is essentially on their own. This goes back a long way and it can be seen in one of the first modern thriller novels ever written – “The Thirty-Nine Steps” by John Buchan, where the protagonist (Richard Hannay) is on the run from the police for most of the novel, after being falsely accused of murder.

In Dan Brown’s more recent thriller novels – his protagonist (Robert Langdon) is a university professor. He isn’t a member of any organisation and sometimes even ends up being chased by the authorities. Likewise, in Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels, the eponymous Mr. Reacher is essentially just a hobo who wanders around America.

Whilst there are plenty of thriller stories where the main character is part of a team or an organisation (and, technically, “24” falls into this category), a good thriller protagonist will usually find themselves completely alone against the world.

So, why do thriller writers do this?

As well as adding more suspense to the story, it’s also because of the emotional payoff at the end of the story. Basically, it’s a lot more satisfying to see one person defeat a hundred villains than it is to see a hundred people defeat one villain.

2) Intelligence: Even if the main character in your thriller novel is a muscle-bound action hero, then they can’t be an idiot.

Yes, action movies and first-person shooter games might have cemented the idea that heroic characters in thrilling stories should be slightly stupid – but this is most emphatically not the case in the thriller genre.

Why? Because having a stupid protagonist in a thriller story is hilariously unrealistic. If someone was being pursued by a group of powerful villains and/or by the authorities, then they wouldn’t last long if they weren’t intelligent.

Likewise, if your main character is trying to solve a crime or uncover a conspiracy, then they’re probably going to have to be fairly smart in order to do this.

So, brains can often count for far more than brawn in a good thriller story. Not only is it more realistic, but it’s also a lot more satisfying for your audience to see your main character outsmarting the villains occasionally, than it is for them to see your main character fighting the villains again and again.

3) Courage: This one should be fairly self-explanatory, but most people enjoy the thriller genre because thriller stories allow us to vicariously feel like badasses. So, it goes without saying that a good thriller protagonist should be courageous.

However, be very careful not to confuse courage with foolishness. In other words, if your main character is going to do something dangerous, then they better have a good reason for doing it. And they should probably also be smart enough to know if there’s a less dangerous way to do the same thing.

4) An Outlaw: If your thriller story is set in even a vague approximation of the real world, then it’s important to remember that no-one in your story is above the law. This includes your main character too. Generally speaking, the kinds of things that thriller protagonists do tend to be very legally questionable in the real world.

Even if your main character lives in a country with extremely lax weapons and self-defence laws (eg: America), then they’re probably still going to have to answer to the police if they even so much as get into a fist-fight, let alone a gun fight, with anyone.

Likewise, if your protagonist breaks into somewhere in order to gather evidence – then there’s a good chance that they might have to explain their actions in court if they get caught. Plus, the evidence they’ve collected may not even be admissable in court.

In effect, most thriller story protagonists are criminals. But, they’re often very good criminals with good motivations. What this means is that they can’t take a conservative attitude towards authority, rules, regulations and laws. They have to be willing to rebel against authority and break the rules when they feel that it is the right thing to do.

5) Non-aggression: This sounds counterintuitive but, as anyone who has ever taken any martial arts lessons will probably tell you – even half-speed free fights in the safety of a dojo can be painful, exhausting and unpredictable things.

So, imagine how much worse an actual fight (where both people actually intend to injure each other) would probably be.

When I studied martial arts for a while when I was about sixteen or seventeen, I remember the sensei (who was a retired policeman) once pointing out that most real fights only last for something like ten or fifteen seconds. He also pointed out that if the other person is carrying a knife then, regardless of how well-practiced you are at disarming techniques, you’re probably still going to get injured. So, yes, real fights of any kind are something to be avoided at all costs.

Likewise, if you’ve ever been paintballing, then you’ll probably know how unpredictable and painful even a safe simulation of a gun fight can be. How, unlike in the movies, you have just as much of a chance of being shot as you do of shooting anyone on the other team.

There’s a reason why people who have done anything even vaguely close to real combat usually don’t tend to be aggressive people who like to start fights.

Violent conflicts are unpredictable things that – at the very least- tend to result in a lot of pain for everyone involved. So, if the main character in your thriller story is ex-military, ex-police or anything like that and has had actual experience of violence, then they’re probably going to be sensible enough to know not to start any fights unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so.

In other words, a good thriller protagonist should only use violence reluctantly and/or in genuine self-defence (eg: when there’s no way to quickly retreat from the situation or resolve it peacefully).

Yes, hyper-aggressive “action hero” characters might look cool but they’re also hilariously unrealistic – and are probably very likely to spend most of their time in hospitals, graveyards and/or prisons.

———————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th June 2015)

Ha! I’m finally feeling inspired again! Surprisingly, I actually had a fairly good idea of what this painting would look like before I painted it – although the final painting ended up looking a lot gloomier than I’d expected. Still, I’m really proud of how it turned out 🙂

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

"Industrial Wastes" By C. A. Brown

“Industrial Wastes” By C. A. Brown

Drawing In The Dark – A Ramble

(Recycling is good for the environment... and for this blog)

Even though this is an article about artistic inspiration, I’m probably going to have to start with what might be a mildly depressing ramble about something annoying that happened to me a couple of months ago.

Although they’ve long since been repaired, I had a problem with the lights in my room a couple of months ago. One of the most annoying things about this was that – being somewhat nocturnal – it meant that I couldn’t really make any art at night.

Don’t get me wrong, I could sort of manage to make fairly basic drawings if I used a torch (and this is why some of the sketches for the past few articles have been kind of crappy). But, painting in the dark was nigh on impossible.

What this meant was that I had a fairly limited amount of time to make my daily paintings (eg: during daylight) and this had a rather strange effect on how inspired I felt. I’d originally thought that this would have made me more inspired- since I only had a limited amount of time to make paintings, so I had to make it count. But, surprisingly, it had the opposite effect.

Because I had such a limited amount of time and such high expectations about what I should achieve in that time, I felt almost completely blocked. If you only have a couple of hours to make a painting and you feel that it has to be magnificent, then that’s a lot of pressure.

And, whilst a small amount of pressure can be a good thing (eg: setting a daily deadline), too much tends to make me feel overwhelmed and overloaded. I’m not really a high-stress kind of person.

So, the quality my art suffered slightly as a result. I was able to mask this on some days by making slightly lazier types of art (eg: still life paintings, a painting based on an old photo my parents took etc…), but the fact remained that this one little thing had a huge effect on my creatiivity.

And, well, this made me think about inspiration and creativity in general. Whilst having some problems with the lights in my room made me feel uninspired, I’ve also felt uninspired during times where everything is going perfectly (eg: in the days after my lights were repaired). As the old saying goes, inspiration is a fickle thing.

But, I guess that the true test of a writer or artist is whether they’re still able to make stuff when they aren’t feeling inspired.

Inspiration can be a random and strange thing and if you only create things when you’re feeling inspired, then you’re leaving everything to random chance.

So, it’s always a good idea to keep creating stuff even when you aren’t feeling inspired. Yes, you might not create something great when you aren’t feeling inspired- but you will at least feel like you are in control of your own work.

——

Sorry for such a short and rambling article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (27th June 2015)

Well, when it came to thinking of an idea for today’s painting, my mind went completely blank. So, eventually, I looked at one of my old sketchbooks and decided to make a new version of one of my favourite landscape paintings from last year.

The new version I made is slightly better on a technical level, although it’s probably slightly less atmospheric than the original was. Even so, I’ll provide both versions for comparison.

As usual, both paintings in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"And The Devil Came To Kansas (II)" By C. A. Brown

“And The Devil Came To Kansas (II)” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the original version of the painting from 2014:

"And The Devil Came To Kansas" By C. A. Brown

“And The Devil Came To Kansas” By C. A. Brown

Three Very Basic Tips For Getting Creative Again If You’re Out Of Practice

2015 Artwork Getting Creative Again Article sketch

Although this is a short article that is intended to help you get back into being creative if you haven’t made any art or written anything for quite a while, I’m going to have to start by talking about myself for a little while. I should probably also point out that if you read the article I wrote a couple of days ago, then there isn’t a huge amount of new stuff here.

A few days ago, I mentioned that I hardly created any art at all during 2011. In many ways, this is probably why I stick to a daily schedule when it comes to making art (and writing these articles too), since I’m kind of worried about accidentally losing interest and not producing anything for a long time.

Still, if something like this happens to you, then don’t despair. It’s possible to become creative again and I thought that I’d give you a few tips that might come in handy:

1) Done is better than good: I know that I’ve mentioned this old saying before, but it’s something that is worth remembering if you are trying to get creative again.

In short, the most important part of getting back into making art or writing again is to actually make stuff. It doesn’t matter how good it is, the important thing is that you actually make something.

For example, on the day I wrote this article, I wasn’t really feeling very artistic. I’d been feeling uninspired for a while and it seemed particularly bad on that particular day. I’d tried, and failed, to make a couple of paintings and I was ready to give up. But, I told myself “I have to make something today“. So, I did:

"Abstraction Base" By C. A. Brown

“Abstraction Base” By C. A. Brown

It wasn’t anything particularly great, but I’d still actually managed to paint something. So remember, when it comes to getting back into making things again, “done is better than good“.

2) Start Small: When I got back into making art in spring 2012, I set myself the goal of making one small drawing each day. I’m not exaggerating about the “small” part – each drawing was only about a quarter of an A4 page in size. They looked a bit like this:

"Midnight Haunting" By C. A. Brown [26th April 2012]

“Midnight Haunting” By C. A. Brown [26th April 2012]

When I started doing this, it seemed like a gargantuan challenge. But, it also seemed manageable – after all, I only had to fill a fraction of a page every day. And, after a few months, I felt confident enough to start making slightly larger drawings….

So, if you’re getting back into creating things after a long absence, then remember to start small and gradually re-build your confidence.

3) Keep it basic: Generally speaking, doing lots of simpler things on a regular basis is a much better way to re-build your creative confidence than attempting something more elaborate on an occasional basis is. In other words, go easy on yourself.

Yes, your first instinct might be to prove to yourself that you’ve “still got it” by creating a masterpiece. And, if you actually manage to do this, then that’s great (and, more to the point, why are you even reading this article?).

But, if you’ve got less confidence in your abilities, then it can be a good idea to start by making a few simpler sketches or writing a few shorter pieces on a regular basis.

After all, basic things are a lot easier to do well if you’ve already got some experience – so, by doing these simpler things fairly well, you’ll quickly start to re-build your confidence in your own abilities.

———-

Sorry for such a short, repetitive and basic article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art ( 26th June 2015)

Well, I’d originally planned to make a slightly “ordinary” vintage-style painting. But, well, this seemed kind of boring… so, this picture naturally ended up being slightly more gothic than I expected. And, although it required more digital editing than I expected, it didn’t quite turn out as well as I’d hoped.

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

"In The Dark Garden" By C. A. Brown

“In The Dark Garden” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Love Alchemy: A Heart In Winter” (Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Love Alchemy review sketch

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve recently started playing a collection of five hidden object games called “Origin & Fate” (Published by Focus Multimedia).

So, for today, I thought that I would review one of the other games in this collection. And, since “Mexicana: Deadly Holiday” kept crashing, I decided to play another game in the collection called “Love Alchemy: A Heart In Winter”.

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

Since this wasn’t one of the games I bought the collection for, I didn’t really have particularly high expectations about “Love Alchemy” before I started playing. But, was I wrong? Let’s take a look:

love alchemy title screen

“Love Alchemy: A Heart In Winter” is a horror/fantasy/romance hidden object game where you play as a character called Alison who is in love with an artist called Charles.

She travels to France to visit Charles’ ancestral castle – because, well, this game would be kind of boring if Charles lived in a flat.

They make a really cute couple....

They make a really cute couple…

... And what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

… And what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

One morning, you wake up and find that Charles is gone. So, naturally, you start to explore the castle in the hope of finding him and it isn’t long before you notice that this castle has a dark secret.

As well as secret passages and hidden crypts, the castle also contains seven portraits of women from different times in history. These portraits are covered with chains and you must find keys to unlock each one.

When you do, the painting will turn into a portal – allowing you to travel to the time and location where it was painted. In each of these locations, you will find one of Charles’ past lovers who has been cursed, trapped or disfigured in some way and it is up to you to save them.

Unintentional narrative innuendos aside, this game is also a cautionary tale about why standing in cement mixers is a bad idea...

Unintentional narrative innuendos aside, this game is also a cautionary tale about why standing in cement mixers is a bad idea…

When you save each one of Charles’ lovers, they will give you a vial of “essence of love” [insert double-entendre here] which you can pour into a cauldron in order to reveal some of the game’s backstory and unlock items you will need to progress further in the game.

I won’t spoil too much more of the plot, but this game certainly has much more of a dramatic storyline than I was expecting. Another interesting thing about the story of this game is that it actually has two possible endings.

Which ending you get depends on a decision you make near the end of the game – although it should be fairly obvious which choice leads to the good ending and which one leads to the bad ending.

The first thing I will say about “Love Alchemy” is that, to my surprise, it actually works really well as a horror game. Although it won’t make you jump out of your seat, the storyline and many of the settings are surprisingly creepy. Seriously, this is a much darker and more disturbing game than I expected.

Hell, even the CATS look scary!

Hell, even the CATS look scary!

Plus, “Love Alchemy” looks absolutely spectacular too. Seriously, the beautifully-painted graphics go a long way when it comes to adding atmosphere to the game:

Seriously, I wish that I had a room like THIS.

Seriously, I wish that I had a room like THIS.

As for the gameplay, it’s relatively easy. There are surprisingly few hidden object scenes in this game and most of them aren’t too difficult if you’ve played hidden object games before.

What this means is that most of the puzzles in this game are traditional puzzles and inventory puzzles. Although a few of them are kind of contrived, most of the inventory puzzles are fairly self-explanatory – although there’s always the trusty “hint” button if you get stuck. Well, when it works….

One of the issues I found with this game was that sometimes the hint button would just refuse to work after it had recharged. Whilst this was easily solved by just quitting to the main menu and then resuming the game, it got slightly annoying sometimes.

Even so, you get to use teleportation in this game.

Even so, you get to use teleportation in this game.

On the plus side, “Love Alchemy” also features a fast travel map feature, which can save you a lot of tedious backtracking in some parts of the game.

Although this game has a fairly well-written and genuinely creepy story, some of the dialogue and text narration can be kind of clunky sometimes. Thankfully, there is no voice-acting in this game. But, it seems like the text in this game has been translated from another language, but hasn’t been proof-read properly.

However, the dialogue can occasionally lead to some unintentional humour:

This is a computer game. The main character should at least know how to use a computer...

This is a computer game. The main character should at least know how to use a computer…

No wonder this game is set at night, the main character turns into a crowded place during the day...

No wonder this game is set at night, the main character turns into a crowded place during the day…

But, although this game is slightly on the easier side in terms of gameplay (and can be completed in a couple of hours, if you use the hint button fairly regularly), it makes up for this with the sheer variety of different settings on offer. Even though most of the locations you visit when you step through the paintings are fairly small, they’re all fairly distinctive.

Yay! Ancient Japan :)

Yay! Ancient Japan 🙂

And you get to visit a cool-looking desert... in France, no less!

And you get to visit a cool-looking desert… in France, no less!

I really loved this aspect of the game and it reminded me a lot of the first two “House Of 1000 Doors” games (you can read my reviews of them here and here).

In fact, it really wouldn’t surprise me if these games were a fairly large inspiration for “Love Alchemy”. But, if you’re going to be inspired by something, then it makes sense to be inspired by something great.

All in all, this game was a pleasant surprise. Yes, it isn’t a perfect game – but it’s a lot more atmospheric, dramatic and creepy than I was expecting. It’s no “House Of 1000 Doors”, but it’s still a fairly enjoyable and atmospheric horror game.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get a four for story and atmosphere, a three for gameplay and a two for dialogue.