Today’s Art (29th February 2016)

Well, I wasn’t feeling as inspired as I’d hoped, and today’s painting required a lot more digital editing/effects than usual after I scanned it. But, although it ended up being kind of random, I quite like how today’s painting turned out.

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

"A Star In A Moment" By C. A. Brown

“A Star In A Moment” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – February 2016

2016 Artwork Top Ten Articles February

First of all, happy leap year everyone 🙂 Did you know that, in France, there’s actually a magazine that is only published on the 29th February? Anyway, this site updates far more regularly than that, which brings me on to today’s post.

It’s the end of the month and you know what that means. Yes, it’s time for me to give you a list of ten of my favourite articles about writing, comics and/or art that I’ve posted here this month (as well as a few honourable mentions too). So, let’s get started:

Top Ten Articles For February 2016:

– “Two Tips For When You Need To Focus On A New Creative Project (But You’ve Already Got Several Others Too)
– “Four Cool Things That The Horror Genre Can Do That (Most) Other Genres Can’t
– “Four Ways To Add Humour To Interactive Fiction
– “How To Know When You’ve Had An Inspired Story Or Comic Idea
– “Why Are Gamebooks Such An Overlooked Genre?
– “Five Reasons Why Almost All Artists Make Fan Art
– “How To Use Mysterious Locations In Horror Fiction And Comics
– “You Need More Than A Good Concept To Make Good Art
– “Three Skills You’ll Need If You Want To Paint Or Draw With A Limited Palette.
– “Characterisation In Interactive Fiction

Honourable Mentions:

– “Artist, Writer… Know Thyself!
– “Why You Need To Use Eccentric Characters When Writing Comedy.
– “How To Plan A Gamebook If You Have A Short Creative Attention Span

Artist, Writer… Know Thyself!

2016 Artwork Artist writer know thyself

Although this is an article about learning more about yourself, I’m going to have to start by talking about myself for a few paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

Anyway, when it comes to both art and writing, one of the things that I have learnt about myself is that I tend to work best when my art and/or writing includes a high level of either visual and/or emotional intensity.

When I make art, I tend to feel at my best when my art contains bold contrasts between light and darkness. I tend to work best when my art has an underlying gloom, which allows the central parts of the picture to stand out even more by comparison.

After I scan my art, I usually digitally decrease the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels, to give my paintings a “vivid” look. Likewise, I also enjoy producing striking black & white drawings, which require a heavy amount of contrast between lighter and darker areas in order to really stand out.

When it comes to writing, I’ve found that I tend to do my best work when my fiction is related to “emotional” genres like the comedy genre or the horror genre. These are genres that are designed to provoke an intense emotional reaction in the reader.

Interestingly, these genres share a lot of features with each other – from the impish feeling of inventiveness that is needed to come up with good story ideas, to the fact that all of these genres rely on anticipation or suspense (eg: they all use similar types of pacing), to the heavy focus on clever and dramatic descriptions.

Most of my writings that have “pretty much written themselves” have been in at least one of these emotionally-intense genres – for example, my interactive story from last October, includes both comedy and horror.

By learning all of this, I’m able to produce better and more distinctive work by playing to my strengths. But, how did I learn all of this and, more importantly, how can you learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist? There are several ways to do this.

The simplest and most obvious way to learn these kinds of things is just through experience and a lot of practice. If you write a lot or make art regularly, then you’ll eventually learn what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, thanks to lots of practice with making comics, I now know that I tend to produce my best comics if I spend no more than a week on a comics project and if I use black & white artwork for narrative comics and colour artwork for “newspaper comic”-style webcomics.

Likewise, from countless failed attempts at writing novels when I was teenager, I’ve learnt that I tend to do my best writing when I’m writing either short stories and/or novella-length fiction. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn through simple experience and failure.

Another way to work out more about yourself is just to follow your feelings and your instincts. If you’re fascinated by a particular type of fiction or art, then try to make some of it yourself and see how it feels. If the experience doesn’t feel as great as you expected, then either move on to something else or try adding something from another genre that you like. However, if the experience feels more like fun than work, then you’ve learnt something about yourself.

Finally, if you really don’t know that much about yourself creatively, then just take a look at your favourite things. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about your artistic and/or literary sensibilities just from looking at the things that you really love. Although most artists and writers don’t really understand all of their influences until after they’ve been influenced, you’d be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself from just looking at the things that have the most impact on you.

For example, the largest influences on my high-contrast art style include cool things that I loved when I was a teenager (and still do) such as the movie “Blade Runner” (with it’s gloomy settings and neon-lit streets) to Derek Riggs’ excellent cover artwork for many of Iron Maiden’s albums. These were things that I loved long before I really considered myself to be an artist and it’s only within the past couple of years that I’ve realised just how much of an influence they’ve had on my art.

Likewise, the influences on my writing include things like the ultra-gruesome second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels that I eagerly read when I was a teenager, to the William Gibson cyberpunk novels (which use a very intense and fast-paced narrative style) that I enjoyed during my late teens and early twenties.

These are just a few of the ways that you can learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist, but if you want to produce things that both you and other people think are cool, then you’re going to have to learn where your strengths lie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (27th February 2016)

Well, I seem to be turning into a perfectionist. I’d originally made another painting for today, but it was a slightly generic (and kind of dull) landscape, so I put it to one side and decided to make a companion painting for yesterday’s painting.

Basically, this is a (fairly heavily) digitally-edited painting in a similar style to yesterday’s painting, but based on the room I lived in a few months after the one in yesterday’s painting.

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

"To Remember VHS Nights" By C. A. Brown

“To Remember VHS Nights” By C. A. Brown

Five Reasons Why Almost All Artists Make Fan Art

2016 Artwork Why Do All Artists Make Fan Art

Although I seem to make way less fan art than I probably should, I thought that I’d devote this article to explaining several of the reasons why many artists often tend to make art based on TV shows, games, books, movies, celebrities, comics etc… rather than thinking of more “original” ideas for their artwork.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that fan art is something of a grey area (in practice, if not in theory) when it comes to copyright-related issues.

I won’t really be discussing this in too much detail here (since I’m not a legal expert), but a good general rule is that you should never sell your fan art.

In practice, most large media companies etc… tolerate non-commercial fan art for several reasons. This is because being mean to their most devoted fans isn’t a good business strategy, because fan art can serve as free advertising and because fan art makes existing fans more interested in their movies, games, comics etc….

Likewise, some types of fan art (eg: parodies) may be exempt from copyright rules, depending on where you live.

But, all of that said, why do virtually all artists make fan art? Here are a few of the many reasons:

1) It’s how all artists start out: A day or so before I wrote this article, one of my relatives found something that I’d drawn when I was about twelve. Back then, I didn’t really see myself as an “artist”, although I used to draw little cartoons quite a lot.

Anyway, the drawings were of various Pokemon, since I was a Pokemon fan back then. If I cast my mind back, I can think of drawings that I made earlier than this which were based on all sorts of computer and video games that I’d either actually played or had read about in magazines.

I’m sure that quite a few other artists did similar kinds of things when they were kids. When you’re younger, it’s more difficult to come up with good “original” ideas for the simple reason that you haven’t really been exposed to enough of the surrounding culture to really come up with great “new” creative ideas.

In addition to this, copying other things is also an integral part of the learning process too.

All artists learn to make art from copying things. Whether it’s their favourite cartoons, whether it’s old paintings or whether it’s just real life, learning how to make art involves a lot of copying.

This is why, for example, I’ve put the word “original” in scare quotes in this article since there are no truly original works of art (since even the most “original” artist has probably learnt techniques etc.. from other artists).

2) Cover versions: Artists often make fan art for pretty much the same reason that musicians often play cover versions of their favourite songs.

With a good cover version, a band will usually take one of their favourite songs and produce a new version of it in their own unique musical style. It’s a way of paying tribute to something inspirational, whilst also getting to hear what that song would sound like if they’d come up with it instead.

It’s the same with art. When we make fan art based on something that we love, we get to see what our favourite things would look like in our own unique art style.

We also get to learn more about the things we love by re-creating them in our own distinctive way. We also get to pay our respects to something that has inspired us, amazed us and/or fascinated us too.

3) Tradition: Artists have been making fan art for a lot longer than you might think. If you look at a lot of famous old European paintings, then many of them will be based on either classical mythology or religious mythology.

Since these two things were much more important parts of contemporary culture back then than they are now, artists instinctively wanted to paint them and audiences instinctively wanted to see them.

The thing to remember here is that the whole concept of copyright is a relatively recent and counter-intuitive invention. When Shakespeare wrote his plays, he often took pre-existing stories and just put his own twist on them. When musicians played music in the olden days, they just played songs and ballads that were popular at the time.

Back then, culture belonged to everyone and it belonged to no-one. This has been the case for most of human history in most of the world.

The skill of an artist, writer, actor, musician etc.. was measured in how well they were able to re-create pre-existing things in interesting ways rather than how “original” their ideas were. In a way, modern fan art is just an extension of this ancient and instinctive tradition.

4) Cynicism: If I’m being cynical, then I’d argue that a small proportion of artists can occasionally make fan art for the sole purpose of becoming popular. This can be seen most clearly on a well-known art website called “DeviantART”.

I’ve been a member of this site for quite a few years and I’ve noticed a very strange trend. Even the most beautiful, elaborate and creative piece of “original” artwork can often get a lot less views than a simply-drawn piece of fan art based on something popular.

In fact, the last time I checked my stats on DeviantART, the most popular picture in my gallery was, by far, a badly-drawn fan art picture that I made for amusement in 2010, rather than any of the much better “original” paintings and drawings that I’ve made in the years since.

The reason for this strange phenomena is that audiences often want to look at interesting and cool works of art but, since they don’t really have the time to sift through literally millions of “original” artworks, they’ll often just search for art that’s related to their favourite TV shows, games, comics etc….

5) Modding and remixing: Finally, artists often make fan art for the same reason that programmers often like to modify their favourite computer games. Not only is it a way to learn more about your favourite things and to get practice, but it also allows you to ask “what if?

It lets you answer your own questions about all of your favourite things for example “What would happen if the characters from two of my favourite TV shows met each other?” etc… Chances are, if you’re asking yourself questions like this, then other people might also be interested in the answers too.

In other words, artists make fan art for the same reason that writers write fan fiction and programmers modify computer games.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (26th February 2016)

Well, although I was planning to make another gothic painting, I suddenly had a very strong moment of inspiration and decided to make another painting of the room I lived in during one of the best years of my life.

This painting required a lot of digital editing/ effects and I still don’t know if I got the gloomy lighting quite right, but I’m quite proud of how it turned out.

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

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

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

Characterisation In Interactive Fiction

2016 Artwork Characterisation in interactive fiction

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of a “point and click” adventure game phase at the moment, I couldn’t help but think of the interactive gamebook-style story that I wrote and posted online in October. So, I thought that I’d look at the subject of characterisation in interactive fiction today.

Although I’ll mostly be talking about gamebook-style prose stories here, I’ll also be talking briefly about “point and click” adventure games too.

Anyway, interactive stories offer all sorts of possibilities for characterisation that more traditional linear stories don’t.

This is especially noticeable in “point and click” games because the high level of interactivity means that literally every interaction with another character and every witty observation of the game’s world can reveal more information about the characters and their worldviews.

Likewise, because computer games are a visual medium, you can also reveal a lot of character information through the actions, appearances etc.. of all the various characters.

But, I thought that I’d talk about a slightly less interactive, and much less visual, type of interactive fiction for the rest of the article. I am, of course, talking about gamebooks.

Gamebooks are kind of interesting when it comes to characterisation since, although you can include interactive dialogue (eg: “to ask about one thing, turn to page 34. To ask about another thing, turn to page 86”) the limitations of the format mean that this kind of dialogue can’t really be as extensive as the interactive dialogue in “point and click” games.

Likewise, it’s more difficult for interactive gamebooks to include the kinds of witty observations that “point and click” games do. Yes, you can include witty descriptions in the narration but, since these books are narrated from a second-person perspective, all this does is give the narrator (rather than the main character) more characterisation.

Since the main character in a gamebook is supposed to be the reader, there is traditionally very little characterisation in order to allow the reader to immerse himself or herself fully in the story. Although I kind of ignored this rule slightly (for comedic purposes) when I wrote my interactive story, the main character in a gamebook-style story is supposed to be something of a “blank slate”.

What this means is that virtually all of the characterisation in a gamebook-style story has to come from the supporting characters. Although you can pretty much write these characters in the same way as you would write a character in an “ordinary” story, you will probably have to place more emphasis on distinctive dialogue and quick characterisation for the simple reason that your readers are probably only going to see these characters for a couple of pages.

Another interesting thing about gamebook-style stories is that, because the reader can usually take several different paths through the story, it’s possible that they might not meet all of the characters. What this means is that, if a character is essential to the plot, then you have to structure your story in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to avoid them.

On the other hand, you can take advantage of the branching nature of interactive stories to convey the same information to the reader in a variety of different ways. For example, at one point in my interactive story, you can choose to take one of three possible routes to the last part of the game.

In two of these routes, you get to meet one of two different characters ( either the Dungeonkeeper or High Priestess Lachard, depending on the route you take). During your dialogue with either character, they will give you a clue which will help you with a puzzle later in the story. But, more than that, their dialogue also discusses the same event from two different perspectives.

If you talk to the Dungeonkeeper, he’ll talk about a mistake that he once made and how High Priestess Lachard still mocks him about it. If you talk to Lachard, then one part of the dialogue will remind her of this mistake and she’ll suddenly burst into laughter with relatively little explanation.

Since you only get to read one of these two dialogues when you’re reading the story, you get a slightly different perspective on the same part of the story’s backstory. Not only does it provide extra “value” for people who are re-reading the story, but it also emphasises the fact that the characters knew each other and existed before the events of the story. In other words, it makes the “world” of your story feel more like a real, living world.

Likewise, because gamebook-style stories are interactive, you can get a lot of character information across from the way that other characters react to the player’s decisions. You can show whether characters are quick to anger, whether characters are always suspicious etc…

These are, of course, just a few of the advantages that interactive fiction has over linear fiction when it comes to characterisation. But, you’d be surprised at how much more you can do when you’re telling an interactive story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Comedy And Shock Value – A Ramble

2016 Artwork comedy and shock value article sketch

Well, I’m still in the mood for writing about the comedy genre. So, for today, I thought that I’d look at the subject of comedy and shock value. As with all creative things, there are no absolute “right” or “wrong” answers here and this article is just my opinion. After all, everyone has a different sense of humour.

Like with the horror genre, one of the things that good comedy has to do if it wants to work well is to shock or surprise it’s audience. Like good horror, good comedy often relies on playing with the audience’s expectations. To use a non-controversial and well-known example, just take a look at the classic joke “A man walks into a bar… Ouch!“.

As you probably know, this joke works because the beginning of it is similar to many other jokes (eg: “A man walks into a bar”), but the audience’s expectations are suddenly proved to be wrong when it’s revealed in the punchline that the “bar” is actually a metal bar. Although it’s comedic power has long since been blunted by common use, this joke relies on (mildly) shocking the audience in order to amuse them.

Of course, comedy often works in much more subtle ways than this. Good comedy is unpredictable and rebellious in one way or another. Whether it’s something as simple as a writer telling a story which occasionally goes in whimsically surreal directions, whether it’s a parody of a “serious” story or whether it’s very cynical and irreverent humour about a taboo subject, good comedy often relies on “shocking” the audience in some way or another.

Like with the horror genre, comedy – by it’s very definition – can’t be too “realistic” (unless, of course, you’re parodying an unrealistic movie or story).

Comedy has to rebel against expectations, conventions and realism to some level or another in order to work. Comedy relies on exaggerations, twists, taboos, irreverence, offence and other such things. It’s an anarchic and impishly unpredictable genre.

Of course, the real art form here is trying to find funny ways to shock your audience. Merely shocking an audience is not always, in and of itself, funny. After all, horror stories also rely on shocking their audiences too.

In other words, you have to find clever ways to either create expectations (or to go along with your audience’s pre-existing expectations) and then to break them in well-timed and unexpected ways. The only real way to learn how to do this well is to read, listen to and/or watch as much comedy as you can.

But, to give you an example, an ordinary person saying a four-letter word isn’t inherently funny. After all, unless you’re an extremely prim and puritanical person, you probably use your fair share of these words on a daily basis. It’s nothing special and nothing shocking. But, if a prim and puritanical person was to use one of these words, it would be funny because the audience wouldn’t expect it.

This contrast between a person and their actions is also why, for example, things such as [NSFW] these widely-publicised allegations about the (British) prime minister from last year resulted in widespread mockery, ridicule and general merriment rather than disgusted outrage.

If an ordinary person was accused of doing something like this, then it would quite rightly be considered to be disgusting rather than funny. But, because a prime minister (let alone a conservative one) allegedly did something revolting – but also technically harmless – it’s absolutely hilarious because it’s literally the last thing that anyone would expect.

Then, of course, there’s the somewhat trickier question of what is and isn’t “too shocking”. My personal view on this is that, because everyone has a subtly different sense of humour, there shouldn’t really be any formal or informal limits on comedy.

It’s kind of like food – I mean, you can buy hot chilli sauces and you can buy very mild types of mustard. Both of these things are spicy, but you probably prefer either one or the other or, more likely, something in between. If you’re more of a “mild mustard” kind of person and you accidentally end up eating chilli sauce by mistake, then it’s probably not going to be a pleasant experience.

No one would bat an eyelid if you then made the decision not to eat chilli sauce again as a result of this or even if you said that you personally don’t like eating chilli sauce. However, most people would consider it to be laughably ridiculous if you then earnestly called for chilli sauce to be banned from supermarkets and restaurants just because it didn’t fit into your personal tastes.

Not to mention that, as soon as you start trying to put limits on comedy, you also set up expectations… which comedians will just end up breaking for laughs. So, trying to censor or restrict comedy – however shocking it might be- is something of a fool’s errand.

So, yes, whether it’s extremely shocking or very mildly shocking, comedy has to be shocking.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂