Today’s Art (31st January 2016)

Today’s painting is a bit of a strange one, since it was based on a dream that I had the night before I painted it. In the dream, I was looking through a window at a desolate, eerie, fog-covered “Silent Hill“-esque version of the school that I went to when I was a teenager. Anyway, since it was such a striking image, I thought that I’d try to paint it.

This is also the first time that I’ve really tried to paint fog before and, in the end, I cheated slightly and ended up using slightly more digital editing and effects than I’d normally use after scanning one of my paintings. Even so, I was able to learn the basics of painting/drawing fog.

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

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – January 2016

2016 Artwork Top Ten Articles January

Well, it’s the end of the month and that means that it’s time for my usual list of my ten favourite articles about art, writing and/or comics that I’ve posted here this month. As usual, I’ll also include a few honourable mentions too.

All in all, even though I ended up posting more reviews here than usual this month, I’m quite proud of how many of my articles turned out 🙂

So, in no particular order, let’s get started.

Top Ten Articles For January 2016:

– “Three Geeky Ways To Get Artistic Inspiration (From Playing Computer Games)
– “Some Thoughts About Graphic Design (And An Exclusive Fan Art Painting)
– “Three Ways To Deal With Being Scared Or Disturbed By Your Own Horror Story
– “One Cool Art Composition Trick I Learnt Recently
– “How To Add A Story To Your Art Using Connections
– “Four Futuristic Tips For Making 1980s/1990s Style Cyberpunk Art
– “Telling A Story In Your Paintings or Drawings Using Backgrounds (With Examples)
– “Five Cowardly Ways To Censor Your Artwork
– “Four Sneaky Minimalist Art Tricks
– “How I Learnt To Persevere With “Difficult To Make” Works Of Art, By Playing Computer Games

Honourable Mentions:

– “What Does It Mean To Be A Painter? A Ramble
– “Some Thoughts About Making “Gritty” Comic Remakes
– “The Joy Of… Album Covers
– “When Your Imagination Contradicts You – A Ramble

Today’s Art (30th January 2016)

Well, I just suddenly had this idea for a painting and I just had to paint it. I can’t remember the last time I felt this inspired before making a painting. Anyway, I’m really proud of how it turned out 🙂

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

"Monsters In The Moonlight" By C. A. Brown

“Monsters In The Moonlight” By C. A. Brown

When Your Imagination Contradicts You – A Ramble

2016 Artwork When Your Imagination Contradicts you

One night a few months ago, I suddenly had a brilliantly cynical idea for a topical political cartoon (about a silly controversy involving a politician and the national anthem). It was one of those ideas that just suddenly came to me and it made me laugh whenever I thought about it. However, there was one slight problem.

The idea was for a cartoon in favour of the opposite political party to the group of parties that I mostly (but certainly not completely) agree with. It was a brilliantly cynical and witty idea for a political cartoon, but it was one that I disagreed with. And, yet, there it was in my imagination – making me laugh and demanding to be drawn.

In the end, I scribbled a sketch of it in my sketchbook and decided not to post it online or even to describe it in detail. Even so, I ended up drawing it – and also thoroughly enjoyed drawing it too. Even though it was basically in favour of a political party that I mostly disagree with.

And, well, this made me think about both my own imagination and imaginations in general. In particular, it made me think about the level of control that we have over our imaginations. After all, if I was in total control of my imagination, then this hilariously cynical idea for a political cartoon probably wouldn’t have appeared.

Since everyone’s imagination is different (and the world would be an extremely boring place if they weren’t), I can only really talk about my own imagination here. But, like blinking, my imagination seems to be both a voluntary and involuntary thing. This is probably true for other people too, but there’s really no way of telling.

I can take total control of my imagination if I need to use it for something (eg: if I’m having a long-running daydream, if I’m fantasising or if I’m coming up with specific ideas for comics, paintings etc..) but I can also just let it do it’s own thing (eg: when I make most of my paintings, I often have little to no idea what my final painting will look like when I start sketching).

Sometimes taking total control of my imagination is the better option, but sometimes it isn’t. Both options are enjoyable in their own way.

Most of the time, I take a middle way and give my imagination a few ideas to work on before letting it do it’s own thing with those ideas. For example, when I make an art series – I’ll come up with the general theme of the series, but I often won’t know how long it will be or exactly what each painting in the series will look like until afterwards.

Even so, my imagination sometimes seems to come up with better ideas when I let it do it’s own thing. I mean, I’m certainly not the only person to have ever had sudden unexplained moments of artistic or literary inspiration. Ok, they don’t happen as often as I’d like them to, but they happen occasionally.

In a way, it can sometimes seem like my imagination is something slightly separate from, and much larger than me. It can be like a strange, ever-shifting parliament of thoughts, images, feelings and ideas. It can be like a wild, anarchistic stretch of mysterious unexplored territory. It can be something that constantly surprises me, in both good and bad ways.

If you take a totally “rational” approach to this subject, then it could be argued that the only reason why my imagination is larger than me is because I’ve been exposed to the products of so many other people’s imaginations. I’ve seen more films, seen more pictures, read more books, heard more opinions and listened to more songs than I can count. As such, this gigantic swirling mixture of images, words and ideas can easily end up producing things that I’d never have consciously thought of.

But, at the same time, the idea of my imagination being a separate-but-connected entity has both fascinated and frightened me in equal measure for quite a long time.

On the one hand, it’s kind of cool to have something that can occasionally give me gifts of great ideas and unexpected uplifting daydreams. On the other hand, having something that isn’t above suddenly “trolling” me occasionally (like with the political cartoon I mentioned earlier) can be either annoying or disturbing, depending on what my imagination does. Then again, the good parts of my imagination probably can’t exist without the bad ones and vice versa.

In conclusion, I guess that I don’t know if there’s really anything that you can do when your imagination contradicts you. After all, the same freedom that allows your imagination to come up with amazing moments of inspiration is exactly the same freedom that allows your imagination to “rebel” against you sometimes.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (29th January 2016)

Well, although I might move on to making other types of art, I was still in the mood for making a still life painting, so I ended up painting a (slightly smaller than the last time I painted one) stuffed anteater and a rather retro calendar that is probably from the 1980s.

Although I might have messed up the lighting/shading slightly in this painting, I’m quite proud of how it turned out.

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

"Baby Anteater And Retro Calendar" By C. A. Brown

“Baby Anteater And Retro Calendar” By C. A. Brown

Three Geeky Ways To Get Artistic Inspiration (From Playing Computer Games)

2016 Artwork Computer games and artistic inspiration sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve been in slightly more of a gaming mood than usual over the past few days.

So, continuing with this theme, I thought that I’d take a look at the various ways that computer games (and videogames too, I guess) can be powerful inspirational tools for artists. I’m sure that I’ve probably written about this before, but I felt like revisiting the topic again.

Gaming can be a useful source of inspirational, regardless of which types of computer games that you play but, in my experience, some types of games tend to be more inspirational than others (eg: “point and click” adventure games, old first-person shooter [FPS] games with sprite-based graphics, old-school survival horror games etc..). Then again, these are just some of my favourite types of games – so your experience may vary.

Before I begin, I should probably give the obvious disclaimer that – unless you’re making non-commercial fan art and/or legally-protected parodies – then you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in a game or in a mod. There’s a huge difference between plagiarism and inspiration.

Anyway, let’s get started:

1) Mods: Although I don’t want to get into PCMR-style snobbery here, one of the advantages of computer games over console games is the fact that many computer games can be modified (modded) by their fans and these mods are often shared non-commercially on the internet. Not only can this extend the life of a game very significantly, but a good mod can take a familiar game in a direction that the game’s creators could never have thought of.

Yes, some genres tend to have a lot more mods than others (eg: classic 1990s FPS games often have more mods than anyone can ever hope to play, whereas “point and click” games have virtually no mods) but if a game’s popular enough and it’s been around long enough, then there’s a good chance that you can find mods for it on the internet.

Although I’m not really very good at making mods, I’ve certainly played more than my fair share of mods (mostly for “Doom II”, but occasionally for games like “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Left4Dead2” etc… too) over the years and they can be a surprisingly powerful way to get inspired.

Not only do mods remind you that “ordinary” people can do astonishingly creative things, but they also make you think “if I could mod a game, what would it look like?“. In other words, they get you to think about “ordinary” things in new and imaginative ways. They get you to think about how you can add your own creative ideas to well-established ideas and themes.

Again, you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in a game. But, once you’ve thought of a great idea for a mod, then make a piece of art that gets this idea across without actually including any copyrighted content from the game that inspired you. For example, here’s a digitally-edited painting of mine, based on an idea for a “Doom II” mod that I had:

"FPS 1994 - Pyro War" By C. A. Brown

“FPS 1994 – Pyro War” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, here’s a drawing that I made when I wondered what a “Resident Evil”-style zombie survival horror game would look like if it had a 1980s cyberpunk setting:

"Dead Sector" By C. A. Brown

“Dead Sector” By C. A. Brown

2) Thinking three-dimensionally: Last autumn, I read a really fascinating BBC article which talked about all of the benefits of playing computer and video games. Anyway, one of the things that the article mentioned was that games can help you to think three-dimensionally.

Although I already knew about this from experience, knowing how to think in three-dimensions is an essential technical skill for any artist.

But, more than that, it also helps you to think of ideas for drawings and paintings too. Because you think of the settings and characters in your artwork in a holistic three-dimensional way, it’s easier to come up with dramatic settings, intriguing compositions and interesting backstories for your artwork than it is if you just think about making two-dimensional images.

If you think three-dimensionally, then you’re more likely to see your drawings and paintings as snapshots of a three-dimensional scene or part of a larger story. This can help you to create some absolutely amazing artwork.

As well as being exposed to a lot of three-dimensional objects (that are presented on a two-dimensional screen), playing computer games can also be a potent source of creative inspiration because they immerse you in an interactive three-dimensional world. This tends to work best in “point and click” adventure games (even ones with 2D graphics), but it can also work well with FPS games too.

When the almost-omniscient experience of being immersed in interactive fictional worlds becomes familar to you, it’s a lot easier to think about your paintings and drawings in this way.

"Stratopolis" By C. A. Brown

“Stratopolis” By C. A. Brown

For example, when I was making this painting, I tried (and failed) to include realistic reflections in the rain-soaked courtyard in the distance. Because I thought about the setting of the painting as a whole (as if it was part of a computer game), I was able to remember to include details like this fairly quickly.

3) Mindlessness: I’ve probably mentioned this before, but playing a familiar (but unpredictable and challenging) computer game can be an almost meditative experience. You can just kind of zone out slightly and focus on playing the game for the sake of playing the game.

This works best with incredibly challenging old-style FPS games played on the higher difficulty settings (eg: since you have no hope of winning, you can just focus on playing), but it can also work very well with modern “casual” games too (such as hidden object games or fast-paced puzzle games like “Peggle” or “Luxor”).

One of the main sources of artist’s block can be trying too hard. If you just sit around frantically racking your brains for a good idea for your next painting or drawing, then there’s a good chance that you won’t come up with one. You’ll probably just feel frustrated and miserable.

So, zoning out and playing computer games for a while can be both a great way to distract yourself from this frustrated mood (giving your mind room to work on creative ideas in the background) and a good way to get into a “productively bored” state of mind which is very conducive to daydreaming. And, when it comes to getting inspired, it’s always a good idea to start daydreaming.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (28th January 2016)

Well, I’m still in the mood for still life painting – but I thought that I’d try something a bit more challenging for today’s painting. So, I ended up painting this small statue of a tortoise (and some polished stones).

All in all, I quite like how this painting turned out, although I messed up the background and the composition slightly.

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

"Tortoise Statue And Stones" By C. A. Brown

“Tortoise Statue And Stones” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Valiant” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

2016 Artwork Valiant WAD review sketch

Well, I felt like taking a bit of a break from “Reelism Gold“, so I thought that I’d check out a “Doom II” WAD called “Valiant” after seeing it mentioned on Doomworld.

As usual, I played this WAD using the “GZDoom” source port. Plus, at the time of writing this review, I’ve played almost all of “Valiant” (eg: I missed the second secret level and I’m currently stuck on the final level), so this review will only reflect my impressions for the game so far.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Valiant”:

Screenshot_Doom_20150915_200555

“Valiant” is a 32-level megawad which features new monsters, redesigned weapons, new music and new textures. Unlike many “Doom II” WADs, “Valiant” is actually divided into five separate episodes, each of which has their own distinctive aesthetic.

Interestingly, the fifth episode is fairly similar to Skillsaw’s amazing “Lunatic” WAD and it even references this WAD at one point – which caught me totally by surprise, since I didn’t realise that both WADs were made by the same person.

Woo hoo! Remember when FPS games used to have episodes? :)

Woo hoo! Remember when FPS games used to have episodes? 🙂

This level from episode one also reminded me very slightly of a level from "Duke Nukem 3D" too :)

This level from episode one also reminded me very slightly of a level from “Duke Nukem 3D” too 🙂

My favourite episode, in visual terms, is probably episode four.

My favourite episode, in visual terms, is probably episode four.

Yay! I remember this area from "Lunatic" :)

Yay! I remember this area from “Lunatic” 🙂

Having to start each episode separately means that you’ll lose all of your weapons every five or six levels or so. This links in to something in the WAD’s documentation, which suggests that each level should be played from a pistol start. I didn’t do this. In fact, you’d have to be an absolute fool to play each level from a pistol start.

Why? Because “Valiant” is the kind of enjoyably and fiendishly challenging WAD that will test the skills of even the most experienced “Doom” player. And this is just if you don’t play each level from a pistol start.

Although “Valiant” usually isn’t quite a “slaughtermap” WAD, each level still requires a combination of perseverance, constant movement, quick thinking, clever tactics and an intimate knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom” in order to complete. Personally, I absolutely love fiendishly difficult WADs like this, but they probably aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

As well as containing a decent number of mid-high level monsters in each level, this WAD keeps the difficulty up through the occasional use of a few hilariously evil set pieces too:

 If you kill one of the mancubi in this level, several arch-viles will spawn near you. So, aim carefully.

If you kill one of the mancubi in this level, several arch-viles will spawn near you. So, aim carefully.

Yes, you have to fight a cyberdemon in a confined space once. This will either make you chuckle or it'll make you feel frustrated. If you feel frustrated, then you probably shouldn't be playing this WAD

Yes, you have to fight a cyberdemon in a confined space once. This will either make you chuckle or it’ll make you feel frustrated. If you feel frustrated, then you probably shouldn’t be playing this WAD

Then there's this near-impossible boss battle at the end of episode five.

Then there’s this near-impossible boss battle at the end of episode five.

Interestingly, the only “slaughtermap” level that I’ve seen in “Valiant” is the first of the WAD’s two secret levels.

This level is surprisingly easy to find (it’s behind the locked door near the exit to level 15) and it has a really cool retro cyberpunk aesthetic – as well as over 2000 monsters! Seriously, this level would work really well as a stand-alone level, rather than something hidden in a much larger WAD.

Oooh, this also reminds me of two of the levels from "Reelism Gold" too :)

Oooh, this also reminds me of two of the levels from “Reelism Gold” too 🙂

As for the level design in “Valiant”, it’s fairly good. All of the levels I’ve played have been fairly non-linear levels that require exploration and thinking, but aren’t too puzzle-heavy.

In other words, I’ve only had a couple of times where I’ve been “stuck” on a level because I can’t find a switch, door or key. The level design also relies on the fact that the creator of this WAD took the traditionalist decision to disable jumping by default.

Although each level is fairly challenging, most of the levels in this WAD don’t really outstay their welcome – which can sometimes make some levels feel slightly shorter than you would expect. However, thanks to the challenging combat, none of the levels I’ve played so far felt unsatisfyingly short.

Like many great WADs, “Valiant” contains both new monsters and changes to the weapons, which help to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting. Although many of the new monsters you’ll find in this WAD are fairly similar to ones that I’ve seen in other WADs, there are a couple of fairly innovative touches that caught me by surprise.

The first one of these is the fact that when you defeat one the “arachnotron” monsters, they will sometimes detach their “brain” from their metal legs and turn into something similar to the “octobrain” monsters from “Duke Nukem 3D”. Although I’ve seen these monsters in other WADs, this is the first time that I’ve seen them emerge from an arachnotron this way.

 Although, if they have the ability to fly, then why do they bother with clunky metallic legs at all?

Although, if they have the ability to fly, then why do they bother with clunky metallic legs at all?

The second innovative new monster that I saw was a “Doom”-based version of the “beheaded bombers” from the old “Serious Sam” games.

If you’ve never played any of the “Serious Sam” games, then these are monsters that do literally nothing but run into you and explode, whilst screaming loudly. It doesn’t matter if there’s both an arch-vile and a chaingunner nearby, you should always shoot these monsters first! And, yes, these monsters use the exact sound effect from “Serious Sam” too:

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! It's so nostalgic :)

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s so nostalgic 🙂

As for the weapons, there aren’t too many changes here. Although the chaingun has a slightly different sprite, the most significant change is to the basic pistol. Not only does it look a lot more futuristic than you would expect, but it also has a slightly faster rate of fire too – which is surprisingly useful at the beginning of each episode.

Seriously, why wasn't this in the original "Doom" games?

Seriously, why wasn’t this in the original “Doom” games?

Musically, this WAD is fairly good and it contains lots of cool 80s/90s-style background music, as well as the occasional piece of background music from “Rise Of The Triad: Dark War” too.

All in all, I really like what I’ve seen of this WAD. It’s challenging, innovative and visually appealing. Yes, the episodic structure can get a bit annoying at times, but it’s still an extremely fun WAD.

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

Today’s Art (27th January 2016)

Well, I was still in the mood for making still life paintings and, although this painting required a lot more digital editing than usual after I scanned it, I’m quite proud of how it turned out 🙂

Anyway, I was kind of in a 1990s mood, so I thought that I’d try to paint a couple of really cute plastic frogs that I’ve had since I was a kid. In fact, when I got my first computer when I was about 12/13, they actually used to sit on top of the (CRT) monitor too. I think that there were actually four of them, although I can only find three these days. But still, I miss the days when you could put cute things on top of computer monitors.

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

"1990s Frogs And More DVDs" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Frogs And More DVDs” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… “Point And Click” Game Art

2016 Artwork The joy of point and click art article sketch

A while back, I read a really fascinating (but possibly slightly NSFW) interview with Charles Cecil, the designer of the “Broken Sword” games.

Although I’ve only played the first two of these “point and click” adventure games, the interview intrigued me because he pointed out that artists that can produce high-quality 2D digital background art are in short supply these days.

Personally, I’m kind of sceptical about this claim – since I’ve played at least a few relatively modern games with high-quality 2D graphics (eg: “Deponia” springs to mind for starters, as well as a few hidden object games ). But the article is still absolutely fascinating because Charles Cecil talks a lot about the differences between 2D and 3D artwork in computer games. Seriously, it’s well worth reading.

Anyway, one of the great things about both old-style “point and click” games and modern hidden object games (and, to a lesser extent, 1990s sprite-based FPS and platform games) is that they are some of the most artistic genres of computer game out there. Unlike modern mega-budget games, they don’t focus on making the graphics as drearily “realistic” as possible.

Initially, this was probably due to the limitations of computers during the 1990s. But, by using stylised 2D graphics, these games often had much more of a “personality” to than modern “realistic” games ever will. Because the 2D graphics were created by an artist, each game contains it’s own unique art style. Not only that, the “cartoonish” graphics make these games almost seem like a comic book that you can actually interact with.

In addition to this, the fact that these games look obviously unrealistic lends them an imaginative and fantastical quality that you don’t really see in games with “realistic” 3D graphics.

Because these games use stylised 2D artwork, they can also include far more detailed and complex settings than many low-mid budget 3D games can. After all, if an artist is spending a fair amount of time on making interesting art then it makes no difference, in terms of cost, to paint a vast cityscape (with lots of amusing background details) than it does to paint a few basic rooms.

In other words, these games have the same level of creative and imaginative freedom (eg: what the author Matthew Reilly calls “the unlimited budget of the imagination”) as novels and comics do. “Realistic” 3D games, on the other hand, only have about the same level of creative and imaginative freedom as movies and TV shows do.

Likewise, the slow-paced gameplay in old “point and click” games (and modern hidden object games) means that the player has time to sit back and admire the game’s artwork in a way that they wouldn’t in a more fast-paced game. And, yes, these games are works of art. Here are a few screenshots from various old and modern games to show you what I mean:

From "Beneath A Steel Sky" (1994)

From “Beneath A Steel Sky” (1994)

From "House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets" (2012)

From “House Of 1000 Doors: Family Secrets” (2012)

From "Deponia" (2012)

From “Deponia” (2012)

Finally, if you are an artist yourself, then seeing 2D artwork in computer games can be a really amazing experience, since seeing someone else’s art “come to life” in a computer game can make you think about your own artwork in a much more vivid and much less “static” way.

Not only can it be a powerful way to remind yourself of the sheer amount of storytelling potential that art can have, but it might also prompt a few inspirational daydreams about what an adventure game in your own art style might look like. Even though you might never get the chance to make this game, daydreaming about it can provide you with a lot of artistic inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂